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Joshua P. Starr

CEO PDK International

Non-profit leader committed to public ed for social justice, former superintendent, husband, father of 3.

Bachelor’s degree in English and History from the University of Wisconsin- Master’s degree in special education from Brooklyn College- Doctorate in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.


Kappan Column
Small steps, big changes -

The most powerful forms of school improvement aren't necessarily the most glamorous. When talking with potential funders and organizational partners, I'm often asked what I see as the biggest problems that need solving in public education. "The real challenge," I like to say, "is to shift the distribution of average."
Armed officers in schools: The good, bad, and ugly -

In the wake of horrific shootings in Parkland, Fla., and elsewhere, Americans have grown increasingly concerned about school safety. That doesn't mean they want teachers to carry guns, however. In this year's PDK poll, only about a third of respondents said they would support that option.
Which kind of bold leadership? -

If they want to take bold action to confront inequities in their school systems, superintendents must be willing - and able to afford - to burn some bridges along the way. Typically, when school board members set out to hire a new school superintendent, they come up with an extremely ambitious wish list.
The silent, reasonable majority must be heard -

The loudest voices don't always represent the majority. It's essential for school leaders to listen to everyone, including those who aren't so easily heard. In today's political climate, extremism often seems like the norm. On cable news, ideologues shout their talking points.
Reducing suspensions or building relationships? Reframing the problem -

Whenever I hear education policy wonks arguing about the topic of student suspensions, I'm reminded of the Rorschach tests I learned about in Psychology 101. Show people an inkblot, the theory goes, and the picture that jumps out at them (a butterfly, say, or a monster) will reveal a deeper truth about their personality.
Let's be precise about personalization -

As a district cabinet member and superintendent, I spent countless hours in planning sessions, retreats, and other meetings where system leaders are supposed to come up with a new strategic vision for their schools. Often, the day would begin with a hands-on small-group activity in which we would be asked to discuss our core values and beliefs about the mission of public education.
2 challenges for community schools -

I wrote my doctoral dissertation, back in 2001, on the topic of collaborative leadership. More specifically, I focused on the need for superintendents and directors of community service agencies to work together in support of at-risk youth. My interest in the topic stemmed from my time as a teacher of severely emotionally disturbed adolescents in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Betsy DeVos isn't listening to parents: Column

Education secretary is out of step with public views on vouchers and school spending. Betsy DeVos, our new secretary of Education, claims that she wants the federal government to become more responsive to the will of the American people.

The Aspen Institute
Taking SEAD To Scale: the Educator Perspective - The Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute's National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development is focused on helping our nation's schools support the holistic development of our young people. The Commission's Council of Distinguished Educators includes practitioners in a wide array of roles, from classroom teachers to big city superitendents, who are identifying challenges and opportunities for taking efforts to support the whole student to scale.

The Edge
Follow the data to frame new questions

This year’s PDK/Gallup Poll on the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools marks a shift in both the poll and PDK International.

The Hechinger Report
Guest Post: A New Approach to Accountability

School districts across the country are in the middle of the very difficult work of revising and reshaping their curriculum to align with the Common Core State Standards.

AASA | The School Superintendents Association

Before Day 1 of his new superintendency, the author launched a systematic plan for listening to a wide array of perspectives while infusing a new spirit of community engagement.

Education Next
A Testing Moratorium Is Necessary - Education Next

Meaningful assessment data reveal what students know and are able to do, and provide teachers with the information they need to track student progress and to identify and support students who are struggling. Assessment data give central-office administrators and school boards the crucial information they need to allocate and evaluate resources effectively and to set policies.

Education Next
Examining High-Stakes Testing - Education Next

WINTER 2014 / VOL. 14, NO. 1 More than 40 states plan to assess student performance with new tests tied to the Common Core State Standards. In summer 2013, results from Common Core-aligned tests in New York showed a steep decline in outcomes.


Shanker Institute
Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform

Chapter 8: Organizing Adult Learning for Adaptive Change (Harvard Education Press, 2017) provides new evidence from a range of leading scholars showing that teachers become more effective when they work in organizations that support them in comprehensive and coordinated ways.

Blogs and Interviews

Kids, Grades, and Becoming a Functional Member of Society

This is the seventy-ninth episode of Public Interest Podcast with Josh Starr, former Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent, who speaks about the importance of caring for the social and emotional well-being of students as much as about the academic achievement of students.

Education Week - Rick Hess Straight Up
Theories Must Be Put to the Test

Back in the early 2000s, I worked for Joel Klein in New York City schools for two years, one of which was as director of School Performance and Accountability in the Chancellor's Office.

Education Week - Rick Hess Straight Up
Is it Time to Rethink Standards?

Note: This week, Joshua Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International and veteran superintendent, will be guest-blogging. See his earlier posts here and here. When I was a new teacher in the mid-1990s, I hated the idea that people far removed from my school could determine the academic standards against which my students were to be assessed.

Education Week - Rick Hess Straight Up
10 Questions About Our New Federal Education Agenda

Note: This week, Joshua Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International and veteran superintendent, will be guest-blogging. See his earlier post here. There's a scene from the movie Moscow on the Hudson that has stuck in my head since I first saw it 32 years ago (on VCR, kids, if you even know what that is).

Justin C. Cohen
Guest Post: Josh Starr on Anti-Racist School System Leadership

Josh Starr is the CEO of PDK International. He spent twenty-two years in public schools, as a special education teacher in Brooklyn, a central office leader in the New York City metro area, and ten years as a Superintendent of Schools, in both Stamford, CT and Montgomery County, MD.

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