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Kudos for Carnegie

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

One of America’s most influential education foundations has picked a superb new president, write FREDERICK M. HESS and ROSEMARY KENDRICK.

Bryk_feature.jpgLate last week, Anthony S. Bryk was named the next president of the Stanford-based Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Bryk, a Stanford professor and one of the nation’s foremost education authorities, will assume the post this August, when the respected Lee S. Shulman retires. For the school reform community, the announcement comes as welcome news. 

Andrew Carnegie established the eponymous foundation in 1905, charging it “to encourage, uphold, and dignify the profession of the teacher and the cause of higher education.” It has since become an enormously influential institution. As an operating (rather than simply a grant-making) foundation, Carnegie provides a platform for significant change. Bryk is the rare scholar and reformer equal to the opportunities it presents. 

For most of the latter half of the 20th century, education reformers seeking to pursue fresh initiatives on teacher licensing, salaries, governance, and school choice felt that the major U.S. foundations were more invested in preserving the status quo than in supporting efforts to tackle tough questions relating to accountability, autonomy, and incentives. But recent developments have been promising. Major new donors such as the Gates, Walton, Broad, and Dell Foundations have, to varying degrees, embraced accountability, choice, entrepreneurship, transparency, and reinvention as core values. The fact that Carnegie would offer its presidency to Bryk makes clear that some of the new ideas are reverberating into established institutions. 

Recognized as a bold and scrupulously fair intellectual, Bryk does not shy from the kind of audacious rethinking America’s schools demand. As he commented in accepting the Carnegie position, “Today we confront a transformative moment in education. Larger social, economic, and technology forces are calling us to reinvent schooling—where students learn in different ways and to much higher standards, where teachers and students engage with new technologies as well as with deeper knowledge, and where all are prepared for work and life in a global society. What is needed is a serious transformation in the ways we develop and support our teachers, the tools, materials, ideas, and evidence with which they work, and the organizational and institutional contexts in which all of this occurs.” 

Bryk is unusual among education scholars for his openness to entrepreneurial and choice-based reform.

Chester E. Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and chairman of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, says Bryk is eminently qualified to promote such a transformation. “Tony Bryk is not only one of the smartest thinkers in American education, he’s also one of the most creative and reform-minded, as keen for effective charter schools and choice-style reforms as for high standards and effective pedagogies.”

Bryk is unusual among education scholars for his openness to entrepreneurial and choice-based reform. “Many of the core problems of school improvement are really organizational—how to develop better human resources, the startup of new charter management organizations, and the strategic redesign of complex bureaucracies,” he has said. “These are problems that have been confronted in the private sector, and I hope to help bridge the divide between the two.” 

His acclaimed book, Catholic Schools and the Common Good, which he coauthored, is regarded as perhaps the definitive account of how effectively Catholic schools educate disadvantaged students. At the University of Chicago, Bryk was instrumental in founding the Consortium on Chicago School Research, a pioneering organization that coordinates research on the city’s schools. Still not replicated after more than a decade, the Chicago Consortium continues to be perhaps America’s leading laboratory for understanding the challenges of urban school reform.  

Bryk, who currently holds the Spencer Chair in Organizational Studies, a joint position at Stanford’s education and business schools, is the rare education scholar who draws upon business thinking in his work. Last October, in a widely discussed paper he prepared for an American Enterprise Institute research conference on the future of educational entrepreneurship, he articulated a bracing new vision for how to construct a research-and-development capability in the education sector. Bryk has stressed that the kind of R&D taken for granted in private business and medicine is simply absent in public schooling. As Carnegie Board chairman and D.C. Circuit Court Judge David S. Tatel commented in the Carnegie press release, Bryk “has tremendous ability to think and act across disciplines and to bring together theory and practice.” 

Whether his appointment ultimately delivers on its promise remains to be seen; but it is a wise decision by the Carnegie Foundation and an encouraging signal for education reformers everywhere. 

Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Rosemary Kendrick is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

Image by Corbis.

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