Board's Eye View

Mike's ?Stop the Madness!? plea to New York makes a lot of sense. ?But, for better or worse, education governance is nothing if not political, which, as we know, is nothing if not a tad bloody.? And New Yorkers were reminded of that again yesterday, when the state's comptroller pulled the plug (New York Times) on a multi-million-dollar no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to set up a data-base for New York City's schools.

The intricate system of checks-and-balances that is a hallmark of our aging republic often seems more checks than balances. And the subject of Mike's madness essay yesterday,? a court battle between State Ed and the state's teacher union (round 1 to the union), sure seems worthy of an insanity verdict.? And today, as I read comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's decision, I would tend to agree with State Ed spokesman Johnathan Burman, who told the Times' Sharon Otterman,

The comptroller has allowed political pressure to get in the way of vital technology that would help our students.

In this case, however, perhaps political pressure was a good thing.

Indeed, the $27-million Wireless Generation contract to monitor student performance is the result of a rather tangled web ? WG was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in November, just after it announced it was giving Joel Klein, who had pushed the WG contract forward as the city's education chancellor, a job.? Given WG's sterling reputation (it was already running a successful data system...

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Yes, believe it or not, the ideological wars can be brought to the teaching of mathematics.? So argues a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education, Tonya Bartell, in an article she's written for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:? Learning to Teach Mathematics for Social Justice: Negotiating Social Justice and Mathematical Goals.? According to the abstract,

This article describes teachers' collective work aimed at learning to teach mathematics for social justice. A situated, sociocultural perspective of learning guides this examination of teachers' negotiation of mathematical goals and social justice goals as they developed, implemented, and revised lessons for social justice.

Sol Stern, where are you? (See here and here and here.)

In fact, as Stern has written, teaching social justice through math is a well-practiced craft among certain mathematics teachers.?? Eric Gutstein, a Marxist education professor at the University of Illinois and also a full-time Chicago public-school math teacher, wrote Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice a while ago (Routledge, 2006)? The work combines, says Stern, "critical pedagogy theory (which depicts the United States as an evil nation rife with injustice) and real-life math lessons that Gutstein piloted with his predominantly minority seventh-grade students."

The question is, do kids learn any math?? Here's what Ms. Bartell writes,

Education is intricately linked to economic, political, and social power structures in society that serve to perpetuate inequity in both schools and society

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Of the many theories that have overtaken educational policy and practice, few have been as influential as the belief that every child learns in his or her own way (see Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind:The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983, which set the ?one size fits all? world on fire).? Just as ?rote memorization? has been booted from school houses, so ?customized learning? has become a battle cry for modern pedagogical movements like child-centered classrooms, schools of one, individualized instruction, ad infinitum, so to speak..... ? As Mike Petrilli wrote in his Education Next piece on differentiated instruction earlier this year,

The greatest challenge facing America's schools today isn't the budget crisis, or standardized testing, or ?teacher quality.? It's the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom.

Thanks to a wonderful report by Patti Neighmond in today's Morning Edition (National Public Radio), we may get back on the path of common sense in our approach to the "enormous variation" challenge.? Reports Neighmond, a new meta-study (a study of studies), by University of South Florida psychologist Doug Rohrer, suggests that that there's no scientific evidence to show that? the learning style movement has done anything for student learning.? Rohrer tells Neighmond,

We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these [learning style practices]?? and until such evidence exists we don't recommend that they be used.

Wow.

No doubt, we'll hear from...

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It's back to school ? and perhaps to court -- for the New York State Board of Regents (NYBOR) and the New York State Education Department (NYSED).? On Wednesday a state judge in Albany ruled that student test scores on state exams could not be used for 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation and that NYBOR's and NYSED's cut scores for grading teachers was unfairly slanted to favor those student scores. (See Jacob Gershman in the Wall Street Journal, Sharon Otterman in the New York Times, Rachel Monahan in the Daily News,Geoff Decker at Gotham Schools, ?Yoav Gonen in the NY Post, Robert Lowry at the New York Council of School Superintendents, and the National School Boards Association.)

[pullquote]It was pretty radical, by New York standards, ordering school districts to evaluate teachers using student performance data as one of the key measures of teacher competence.[/pullquote]

The ruling was the result of a suit filed in June by New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the Empire State's famously powerful (it claims 600,000 members) ?teacher union. Though the decision received wide coverage (per above) and throws New York school districts a curve (they are supposed to have an evaluation policy in place by September 1), it's not clear that the decision will have any major implications for other states that are considering linking teacher evaluations to test scores (except as inducement to make sure their regulations correspond to their laws). It is,...

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The big news out of Gotham this week (Times,? Daily News) is the ?sharp rise in accusations of cheating by educators? (NYT), with the assumed follow-up question: Is New York the next Atlanta? ?(Michelle Rhee is off the hook, for the time being.)

If the response to that news by the city's new chancellor, Dennis Walcott, is any indication of the city's attitude about cheating, we should be worried.? As Walcott told Sharon Otterman of the Times,

People are reporting things, that's fine; we want people to report things?. [P]eople could be reporting for real and necessarily real reasons.

Uh? That means, I suppose, that this is not Atlanta; not to worry, Gotham just has a reporting spike.

The ed department's chief academic officer, Shael Polokow-Suransky, tried to explain Walcott's odd comment by telling Otterman that, ?When there is conflict that exists in a school ? sometimes between teachers, sometimes between teachers and administration ? it is not unusual that there are reports and allegations made as a result of that.?

Protesteth too much?? Plenty of personnel ? and personal -- battles are fought by filing pre-emptive (and bogus) charges. God knows, there are enough rules and regulations to give even Attila the Hun some cover while he complains.? But that debate is a distraction: Was there cheating or not?

According to the city's special commissioner of investigation, Richard Condon, whose report is the cause of the current uproar, cheating complaints...

To follow up on my Taunting Michelle Rhee post yesterday, I note that Whitney Tilson reminded his email readers today that

Michelle Rhee was of course aware of the risk of increased cheating and took strong steps to make sure it didn't happen, including hiring an outside firm, Caveon.? In addition, she's strongly supported that independent investigation of issues raised by the USA Today story.? Finally, it's nonsense that she's ducked this issue.

Tilson directs his readers to a number of post-scandal interviews Rhee gave, including one with Ben Smith at Politico, Jay Matthews at the Washington Post, Tavis Smiley at PBS, and Kojo Nnamdi at NPR.

Though this deflates much of the Michael Winerip complaint, it still doesn't explain why Rhee wouldn't talk to the USA Today team that broke the story or speak out more forcefully now about a subject that is of growing importance to the accountability arm of the school reform movement.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

Having been stiffed by many a good (and bad) source (including a few educators) in my career as a journalist, I was tempted to advise Michael Winerip to lay off Michelle Rhee for his Eager for Sptlight, But Not If It Is On a Testing Scandal column in today's New York Times. But despite some petulant prose ? ?she preens for the cameras? -- and questionable assessments ? has Rhee's reputation really ?rested on her schools' test scores?? ? Winerip is right: Rhee really should discuss the brewing Washington, DC, public school cheating charges that a USA Today reporting team unearthed last May.

Is DC different than Atlanta, which Winerip has written about (see here)?? You bet.? The reporting on the latter case (by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) was ongoing, for several years, before it hit nationwide scandal status.? And Atlanta's superintendent, Beverly Hall, was in charge of the district, before, during, and after the scandal broke ? she retired just before the hugely damning governor's investigation was released in July.? Rhee, in charge of DC schools for barely three years, can hardly be said to have presided over a cheating scandal, but not talking to USA Today, a reputable national news outlet, surely doesn't do her protests of innocence (on the ?Tavis Smiley? show, according to Winerip) any good.

Face it; one of the more egregious faults of our public school system is its lack of responsiveness ? to students, parents, the public, the press, reality,...

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The Times Fernanda Santos profiles five New York City schools to give us some lessons in austerity. Though there are not a lot of new ideas ? lay off teachers, lay off teachers, lay off teachers ? the fact that principals have some autonomy about how they tighten their belts is good news.? With budgets cut over two percent, Santos writes,

To make ends meet, principals have trimmed after-school programs, shrunk their support staffs and tightened their schools' use of things like printing paper, markers and Post-it notes. They have dismissed coaches who used to help teachers prepare for their lessons, and teachers whose salaries they could no longer pay.

The best part of the story is the sense of ownership of the challenge on display. Everyone is upbeat! Principals and their assistants are rolling up their sleeves and getting back into the classroom and the hallways.? "I don't need anyone walking the halls," says one principal. "I can do that myself." If they can keep the kids learning, we may be on the right track. And New York continues to show us how to transform a school system into a system of schools.? Hopefully, these principals all have copies of Stretching the School Dollar.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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The other day Michael Winerip raised what has come to be an increasingly contentious question in the public education reform debate ? the use of private money for public purposes. Though he unfortunately veers off into a spat between long-time contenders for control of New York State's public school system (and doesn't touch the deeper questions), Winerip's story is nonetheless a good one: a state education department whose budget has been slashed 35 percent in the last two years, solicits ?private donations to set up a panel of 13 ?research fellows,? paid as much as $189,000 each, to advise the state's education commissioner on matters of education policy. ?As Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch, herself one of New York's richest, told Winerip:

People in the department were burning out?. This was a great way to enhance our capacity.

Sounds reasonable. These are tough times and deep-pocketed individuals are stepping up to the plate to help out. Is that a good idea?? Aside from Jay Greene's recent advice (which is old advice), that ?Philanthropists with billions of dollars to devote to education reform should build new institutions and stop trying to fix old ones,? the question posed, by innuendo, by Winerip, is whether this sort of private? salting of the bureaucracy is kosher.? The Board of Regents had no say in the selection of the research fellows, who went on to make a number of recommendations, the most contentious of which was to increase the importance of student test...

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So suggests Sam Dillon in his New York Times report this morning, ?State Challenges Seen As Whittling Away Federal Education Law.?? Dillon tracks the origins of the newest revolt against No Child Left Behind to Montana, where its education secretary, Denise Juneau, wrote to Arne Duncan last April informing him that the Big Sky state wasn't going to follow what was once considered the nation's premier accountability law.

?We won't raise our annual [NCLB-mandated] objectives this year,? Juneau later told a group of school chiefs from ten rural states, Dillon reports. And ?we're not asking for permission.?

Dillon says that ?half a dozen other states have joined the chorus in recent weeks, using less defiant language but still asking for relief from the testing mandates.?? But he quotes Larry Shumway, superintendent of schools in Utah, another breakaway state, sounding pretty inflammatory:

Pretty soon all the schools will be failing in America, and at that point the law becomes meaningless?.? States are going to sit and watch federal accountability implode. We're seeing the end of an era.

That may be how it looks to some failing states.? But the picture is far more nuanced than that; in fact, if you throw waivers and cheaters and union-busters into the debate, one might say that we're experiencing a bit of an accountability brain freeze at the moment.? And the Republican-controlled House of Representatives seems content to do nothing about it.

But before wading into the politics of it,...

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