Board's Eye View

Well, it's official.? According to Sam Dillon in the NYT, Steve Barr and the charter organization he founded, Green Dot, are going their separate ways.? In fact, the separation has been long in coming.? Barr stepped down as chairman of Green Dot, which runs 16 charter schools in Los Angeles, in 2009. It's a little vague what happens next ? Barr is changing his New York Green Dot America operation to Future is Now Schools -- but Alexander Russo, whose Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School, which tells the story of Barr's greatest achievement and will be out in a couple of weeks, probably has it about right. As he tells Dillon:? ?Steve is a hard-charging visionary, as many founders are, and as Green Dot got bigger, people struggled to find an appropriate place for him in the organization.?

Going to scale may not be for everyone.? But let's hope we can always find places for visionaries.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

Though Deborah Meier's newest post on Bridging Differences is ostensibly about hypocrisy (she says she tells her left-wing friends that ?we should honor hypocrisy?), I was drawn to her reference to habits of mind.? The phrase is one of the most useful in understanding the huge responsibility of our public school system.? In fact, the epigraph I chose for my story on the Catalyst charter schools in Chicago is all about habits. It's from the Old Testament (Proverbs 22:6): ?Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.??

The power of a habit should be indisputable, but the nature of the habit, especially?a habit?of the mind,?is subject to some misdirection.? (Dare I remind our readers that drug addictions, etc. are also habits.)

Meier suggests a 2007 blog essay by Bruce Schauble (who says he is Director of Instruction at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii) as a good summary of the field; and I trust her judgment on this. Schauble reviews?Ted Sizer's habits of mind ? perspective, analysis, imagination, etc., -- and Meier's habits ? evidence, connections, viewpoints/cause and effect, etc. ? and those of Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, at the Institute for Habits of Mind ?? thinking and communicating with clarity and precision, managing impulsivity, gathering data through all senses, etc. ? but he leaves out Sizer's important introduction to the whole?subject:

Good schools are places where one gets the stuff of

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While having a very interesting conversation over at my post about The Digital Divide and the Knowledge Deficit (about the recent MacArthur sponsored conference at Hechinger), I noticed a fascinating story by Sharon Begley at Newsweek called ?I can't think!? that deserves special mention.? There seems to be new evidence to suggest that information overload is just that ? and the bombardment harms our decision-making faculties. Writes Begley:

The research should give pause to anyone addicted to incoming texts and tweets. The booming science of decision making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret. It has shown that an unconscious system guides many of our decisions, and that it can be sidelined by too much information. And it has shown that decisions requiring creativity benefit from letting the problem incubate below the level of awareness?something that becomes ever-more difficult when information never stops arriving.

Decision science, as the new field is called, would seem to raise many questions for educators, since the emphasis on "critical thinking" and "self-expression" has a great deal to do with the interchange between information and decision-making.? "[D]ecision science," writes Begley, "has shown that people faced with a plethora of choices are apt to make no decision at all."??And the alert for ciritical-thinking and self-expression adherents is this:? "One of the greatest surprises in decision science is the discovery that some of our best decisions are made through unconscious processes."?

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NPR's Morning Edition has been running a series on youth violence in Chicago ? this morning's story is here.? And it's worth paying attention to. ?I just finished a story for Ed Next on two new charter schools in the badlands of Chicago's Westside (Catholic Ethos, Public Education) and know that if there's any single challenge that defies a quick fix in our inner city schools, it is this: violence.?

I have, over the years, done a great deal of reporting on childhood violence (see my book Death of Innocence), meeting my share of horror along the way.? It is not a continuum; it is a swamp.? (The book I wanted to write on the subject is called The Triple A of Childhood Violence: Armed, Angry and Amoral.) There is nothing worse than seeing a child arrive at school in the morning?bearing the scars of such terror -- these kids are victims.? (I have met kids who, academically, are reading two grade levels ahead of their peers, but who are unable to eat lunch using a fork and spoon.) But I can't help but looking at these kids and thinking, `They are learning the ways of violence.' ?And though there is plenty of research linking environmental and domestic victimization of children -- sexual abuse is a terribly underreported story here -- to future behavioral problems (that's the anger part), I'm sure anyone who has ever worked in a school in a violent neighborhood knows the scene.?...

A brilliant report from Mike Antonucci at?the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA) paints a dark picture of what the recent public union defeats in Wisconsin and elsewhere mean to the National Education Association.? ?There should be no mistake about it,? he writes, ?NEA sees them as a threat to its very existence.?

Antonucci makes a compelling argument to buttress his case that the NEA has reason to go to war in the face of the recent existential skirmishes.? After several decades of membership increases (making it the largest union in America) and ?a virtually non-stop expansion of the scope of public sector collective bargaining,? he reports,?NEA numbers are down in 43 states. And, he says, ?the union faces a $14 million budget shortfall?? ??

Here's the battle cry, according to Antonucci:

`We are at war,' incoming NEA executive director John Stocks told the union's board of directors last month, outlining a plan to keep NEA from joining the private sector industrial unions in a slow, steady decline into irrelevancy to anyone outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. And like any good war plan for an army under siege, it allows for a defense-in-depth while preparing for a decisive counterattack.

Antonucci is by no means draping any coffins here. The NEA ??is still a political powerhouse, and will not be content with lying against the ropes, being pummeled by Republicans,? he reports. ?And ?despite its budget shortfall and freeze on executive pay, the national union is...

At last night's school board budget ?workshop? I felt the sinking sensation that passengers on the Titanic must have felt:??it's too late for life boats. The trouble is, I felt that way last year as well.??The big difference between the Titanic and my school district is this: our ship doesn't really sink and we don't change directions.? What happened between last year's iceberg strike and this year's?? Nothing.? We threw a bunch of people overboard and kept on sailing ? and we'll do the same this year.?? No offense to Mike and my Stretching the School Dollar colleagues at Fordham, but out here in the trenches, it's budgeting as usual, which means politics as usual, which means balancing layoffs and tax increases, which means: the education equivalent of fighting over the deck chairs.

Last night, for instance,?with the administration suggesting that we lay off 10% of our teaching staff (but only 3% of the aides and no one from Central Administration), we heard impassioned speeches from two nurses, who knew their positions are not ?mandated? and thus vulnerable.? Individual teachers have lobbied me to save their jobs or their program, but no teachers spoke last night because we are in the middle of contract negotiations -- and I can't talk about that.? (I once suggested these public union contracts?be negotiated in public, an idea that was greeted with as much enthusiasm as if I'd suggested a class field trip to Mars.) Why aren't vocational teaching jobs on the...

To walk from a conversation about the need for a common core curriculum to one about turning schools into digital gaming parlors modeled after Grand Theft Auto ? well, it's what we in the business call a head jerk. ?But the good thing about the recently concluded marathon conference at the Hechinger Institute (sponsored by the MacAruthur Foundation, which has a major digital learning initiative) was that you didn't have to walk anywhere.?

In less than 24 hours ? sleeping was off-campus ? a small group of education journalists sat mostly well-behaved in room 177 of Grace Dodge Hall at Teachers College, Columbia University, and listened to a couple dozen experts ? plus or minus, depending on plane and train schedules ? challenge them?to keep up with fast-paced rounds of panels (I counted eight, but who was counting) about ?Digital Media, Children's Learning and Schools.? I wondered at one point whether lunch would be delivered virtually. ?My head is still spinning.? (Dave Murray, veteran education writer for the Grand Rapids Press, kept his cool and had three stories about the conference posted before he even left it. See here. Laura Fleming, another participant, reported on the conference here.)?

It was a wonderfully eclectic gathering of new media watchers and educators, befitting the infinitely anarchic nature of the digital revolution. There was Mizuko Ito, a cultural anthropologist of technology use from the University of California, Irvine, talking about breaking down ?authoritarian forms of knowledge.?...

I emerged from our Board of Ed Curriculum Committee meeting yesterday smiling.? Despite agreement by Karl Wheatley and John Thompson, regular commenters on Flypaper, about the need to define curriculum before we start talking about it (see Curriculum Confusions), I was heartened by the fact that the dozen teachers and administrators sitting around?our conference table?didn't discuss the definition ? though I'm sure each had a different idea about what it was.? A few years ago, I would have been discouraged by that fact -- but?a few years ago the discussion would have gone like this: We don't have a curriculum. Yes we do. No we don't.? Then again,?a few years ago, we didn't even?have a Curriculum Committee!? As a friend of mine told me recently, you don't have to talk about Hirsch anymore.?

In fact, at the local level, in New York state and many other places, thanks to the tireless efforts of a generation of reformers ? I am lucky enough to have gotten to rub intellectual elbows with some of the best, at Fordham and Education Next and Core Knowledge ? the curricular train is finally on the tracks and pulling into a district near you. And guess what?? The teachers are so relieved!

For the first time in my district, teachers are talking about aligning content, vertically and horizontally. Okay, so it's just a reading textbook (Journeys), but it is the first time that K?6 teachers have ever used the same text!? And they...

You shouldn't need 3-D glasses to see the need for a good curriculum. So why, then, does Neal McClaskey at Cato think that a national curriculum is ?not possible in this dimension?? ?Or why does former Gates Foundation education honcho Tom Vander Ark say, ?A ?common curriculum' (whatever that means) is the wrong idea when we're about ready to develop ?school of one'"?? Which sounds a lot like Sarah Engel's recent New York Times op-ed Let Kids Rule School? (see Liam's brilliant From the Department of Bad Ideas on that one.) ?Or even Fordham's ?Kathleen Porter-Magee's Stop Seeking Curricular solutions to instructional problems.

Curriculum is the newest old question of the hour (see Liam's The Same Thing, Over and Over), brought on by a ?a bipartisan group of [250] educators and business and labor leaders,? according to the NYT, signed on to a Shanker Institute statement in support of a national curriculum. Unfortunately, it shook some old trees, which brought a flutter of dead ideas back to clutter the education sky.?

Could someone explain why educators ? and Cato -- are so afraid of curriculum? I thought we were beginning to overcome our fear of knowledge. I recall the first time I showed my school district's Curriculum Director ? a former psychologist ? a copy of the Core Knowledge K-8 Sequence and her remark was, ?No, we don't do that. Our job is to teach children how to think critically???...

So, I watched Katie Couric's 60 Minutes segment about The Equity Project (TEP) charter in New York City. It was all wine and roses school reform, with 34-year-old principal Keith Vanderhoek walking and talking with the swagger of a man who knows what he's doing:? he pays teachers $125,000 -- yes, a great wage --?by cutting costs elsewhere (the school is housed in trailers), having no tenure ? the teachers don't even get a contract ? and by laying off?teachers?when they aren't performing.? So, it was somewhat sad, at the end, when Couric says,

But is the model working? When the fifth graders took the New York State math and reading exams, the results were disappointing. On average, other schools in the district scored better than TEP.? Some people watching this might be thinking, "Hey, they're paying teachers $125,000 a year. They've attracted the best and the brightest. These results don't really add up."

The camera cut back to Vanderhoek and to my eyes I saw the previously self-assured and articulate young man look as if the blood had drained from his face. I thought I saw sweat.?

"We don't have a magic wand,? he said,?a bit?defensively. ?We're not gonna take kids who are scoring below grade level and bring them up in a year."?

Part of the shock here, of course, was that the piece had seemed so sympathetic to what TEP was trying to do -- even the teacher who was dismissed said...

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