Five memorable soundbites from the NYT Schools for Tomorrow conference

This year’s New York Times’ Schools for Tomorrow conference focused mostly on higher education, but there was plenty of chatter about hot-button K-12 issues such as overtesting, tenure, and the importance of college rankings. In case you weren’t at the stylish midtown TimesCenter, here are some soundbites you missed:

  • My favorite moment of the conference came during lunch when a conversation about testing was snapped back to reality by a question. Martin West of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education pointed to polls that showed the public favored more testing than is already being done, while fellow panelist Richard Barth, KIPP’s CEO, said students were undertested. Jere Hochman, superintendent of New York’s Bedford Central SD, was incredulous, saying, testing “has taken over everything we do.” He said testing and pre-testing have crowded out arts and other subjects, and responded to Barth’s estimation that testing only occupied 12 to 24 hours for students, by saying, “There’s an entire other side to your story."
  • Martin West’s research turned up one dichotomy that might not be surprising. Polls showed the public wanted teachers evaluated more by using student test scores, while teachers themselves favored having their principal’s evaluation count more than test scores.
  • Michelle Rhee, the now ex-CEO of StudentsFirst, surprised the crowd by declaring, “I don’t have any problems with unions.” Rhee, who famously fired a principal on camera while she was running Washington, D.C.’s schools, did admit that she opposed layoffs due only to tenure. But she also pointed out that a contract she hammered out with the union changed tenure and the pay scale to reward the most effective teachers. Years later, the district is keeping effective teachers at twice the rate as ineffective ones, she said.
  • "Technology has allowed us to change every industry in America for the better, except for education,” said Robert Mendenhall, the president and CEO of Western Governors University. Western Governers is a private, online school based in Salt Lake City.
  • The conference kicked off with the Times’ David Leonhardt unveiling the paper’s new college rankings, focused on the most economically diverse top colleges. The next day, Leonhardt hosted the DOE’s Ted Mitchell, who promised that the federal college ranking, version 1.0, would be released this fall.

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