Board's Eye View

From where I sit, a member of the local school board and
head of our board’s curriculum committee, I appreciate what No Child Left
Behind and Race to the Top have meant for our district: forcing accountability
on a school district that pushes inexorably against it. And I see the Common
Core as promising us a curriculum where none has ever existed.

The Common
Core promises us a curriculum where none has ever existed.

Sure, we have plenty to worry about when it comes to the
role of the federal government in our lives. The current cover story in the Economist is about an “Over-regulated
America,” smothered by a wave of “red tape” that may crush the life out of
America’s economy. It sure seems to have already crushed much of the life out
of America’s public education system.

Coming at the question from a different direction, David
Brooks
recently suggested that the United States is just as freighted by central
government as the Europe is; we just do it differently—and not so well. Our
economic briar patch, says Brooks, is in the tax code.

There should be a lesson here for our education policy-wonks
and -makers: instead of getting hung up on which government agency is making
the rules, let’s dig a little deeper into the question of red tape, at all
levels, and find out exactly which ties are binding so...

The governor of New
York, Andrew Cuomo, received some well-deserved
praise last week for bringing the state education department and the teachers
unions together on a new teacher evaluation rubric. (See here.
And here.
And here
and here
and here
and here.)
As Joe
Williams
wrote in the Daily News:

Weeks after declaring he would be a “lobbyist for students,”
Gov. Cuomo delivered his 2.75 million young clients a major victory Thursday,
using the weight of his office to break through the logjam blocking a
common-sense mechanism for evaluating teachers based on whether children are
learning.

Though there will be much grousing about how common-sensical
it is to judge teachers based on how their students do on standardized tests
(40 percent of the evaluation)—“it’s a dark day when politicians impose an
untested scheme on educators,” wrote Diane
Ravitch
—the more fascinating part of this story is the New York City
subplot.

New York's new 'impartial' observors promise to add yet another layer of bureaucracy to an already bloated
system.

The United Federation of Teachers, which represents Gotham’s 75,000 teachers, negotiated an additional deal
(also with Cuomo’s help), to include, according
to the UFT
, “third-party, independent validation of teacher ratings.” Though
this applies, ostensibly, only to the appeal of decisions about a teacher’s
effectiveness, it introduces an...


Mount Rushmore
Past presidents might not be too happy with the current state of education.
 Photo by William Andrus.

This is not the time for federal intervention is what they
would say. But I would imagine most of our great presidents would be somewhat
appalled by the barnacled bureaucracy that now counts as our public education
system. I would love to hear what they had to say about these four recent
stories: 

  • Not
    to be missed
    . Scot Simon’s report for National Public Radio on Kansas City’s failed school system is a needed reminder
    about the delusional thinking of those who defend the current American public
    education system. K.C. is part of a long-line—think Detroit, Newark, Chicago,
    New Orleans—of failed city school systems. 
    One simply cannot take the attacks on school reformers seriously when
    seen through the prism of reports like Simons’.
  • Embracing
    Common Core
    .  This is a
    wonderful symposium by Fordham's Ohio team about the meaning of the Common Core and how to
    implement it.  See also Education
    Next’s
    debate on the math part
    of the CCCS.  And, of course,
    always interesting, if somewhat
  • ...

Every time I see a “poverty and education” story I think of
the famous line from the New Testament in which Jesus says, “The poor you will
always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” 

So, with education. Want a convenient scapegoat for our
problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy. 

Want a convenient scapegoat for our
problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy.

I sat through an hour meeting of our small school district’s
budget committee last week, most of it devoted to bemoaning our fate as a “poor
district” (over 60 percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced-price
lunch, the standard definition of “poor” for schools) in these recessionary
times. State aid has been nearly flat and the Governor punched through a two
percent local property tax cap. Woe is us. There goes sports. Not mentioned was
the fact that we spend over $22,000 per student! 

Diane
Ravitch
has been hitting the poverty gong for some time, most recently in Cleveland, where, she
says, “the level of urban decay is alarming.” I was just in Cleveland and, while I can appreciate the
sentiment, I fail to understand how she gets to the next sentence: “Yet its
municipal leaders have decided that their chief problem is bad teachers.” 

Huh?

I visited a couple of successful Cleveland public schools during
my visit—successful in educating...

In the midst of the waiver
news
last week—which set many a reformer’s teeth on edge—came a few events
and reports that provide some interesting ringtones for the current debate over
the federal role in education.

Let
the dollars follow the child
was the proposal from the Hoover Institution’s
Koret Task Force, which also makes a compelling case for the federal government’s
“central role” in our nation’s education future. Let
the feds butt out
was the message delivered by Rep. John Kline, Republican
chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, as he explained two
ESEA rewrite bills at an American Enterprise event. And Unconstitional!
was the Pioneer Institute’s conclusion about the federal government’s support
of the Common Core:

Actions taken by the Obama Administration signal an important
policy shift in the nation’s education policy, with the Department placing the
nation on the road to federal direction over elementary and secondary school
curriculum and instruction.
One wonders whether
“states’ rights” are being invoked to cover up the very inequities that NCLB was determined to remedy.

I hesitate to invoke Civil War analogies here, but there are
some troubling signs in the current dust-up that make one wonder whether
“states’ rights” are being invoked to cover up the very inequities—the “soft
bigotry of low expectations”—that No Child Left Behind was determined to remedy.
In a...

I came to the world of public education late in my career, but through
a golden portal, E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Cultural
Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know
, a book of such broad
intellectual depth and revolutionary import that it was a national bestseller
in 1987
Amazingly, more than twenty years later, very few educators have
read it (see here).  That’s too bad.  If they had, they would not make statements
like the one Josh Thomases, deputy chief academic officer for New York City’s
Education Department, gave to the New
York Times
just the other day:

The core problem of literacy in middle school is you’re
transitioning from learning to read, to reading to learn.

Wrong. The problem of literacy is that the transition from decoding
skills to comprehension should happen long before middle school.

The problem of literacy is that the transition from decoding
skills to comprehension should happen long before middle school.

Thomases means well. And he’s trying to clean up the anti-academic
middle school mess that has persisted for far too long (see my Ed Next story).  But like far too many educators (including
the authors of No Child Left Behind, who wrongly set reading up as a skill
divorced from content), he misunderstands the nature of reading.  As Hirsch writes in his second, and arguably more
important, book about education, The
Schools
...

My email crackled early the other morning, a message from a friend who
monitors the Police band on his CB*:

Police and fire department as well as Rescue squad are enroute
to the new Junior Senior school as someone did not want to be late for class
and drove into the building. Police report it as" car vs.
building"… 

A few minutes later, another email, from a parent:

As I was driving my son to school this morning 3 police cars
were speeding up to the high school doing at least 45 to 50 mph around the
curves up the avenue. Thank God nobody was run over. Nothing is more important
than the safety of the people along that road. So much for the walking school
bus idea.

Ah, yes, the walking school bus. An idea that seems to be sweeping the nation, conquering the
obesity problem, saving gas-guzzling millions—not here. We’ve been discussing
it for a couple of years. I was pulled aside in the bank a couple of weeks ago.
“I heard you’re for the walking school bus,” said the woman, an African
American mother of six. It was not a question. “Don’t you know about the
perverts?” That too was not a question.

A few days later, I received an email from a local real estate broker.
It had a “busing” subject line and began “What a...

I’m not sure what was more disconcerting from the blogosphere last week:
Deborah
Meier
’s comparison of KIPP schools’ “ideology” to that of Nazi Germany or Jay
Mathews
’ hesitation in suggesting that Washington, D.C., shouldn’t be a
city of charter schools.

Meier writes:

What troubles me most about the KIPPs of the world are not
issues of pedagogy or the public/private issue, but their "no
excuses" ideology implemented by a code that rests on humiliating those
less powerful than oneself and reinforcing a moral code that suggests that
there's a one-to-one connection between being good and not getting caught. It
tries to create certainties in a field where it does not belong.… As we once
reminded colleagues, Nazi Germany had a successful school system—so what? I'd
be fascinated to interview some KIPP graduates to learn how its work plays out
in their lives.

Yikes. That’s quite a leap.

In his Washington Post column Mathews, who wrote a book
about KIPP (Work
Hard, Be Nice
)
, was describing a new report that suggested that the D.C.
public school system either close 38 struggling schools or send their students
to charters. Mathews notes that charters are already so popular in the nation’s
capital that 41 percent of the city’s students attend them with more on the way.
He writes:

This charter fan doesn’t think that’s good. It is not...

In case you missed them, a few notable events from the last month (or so):

An amazing story from Erik Robelen at Education Week begins…

Overriding the governor’s veto, New Hampshire’s Republican-led legislature has enacted a new law that requires school districts to give parents the opportunity to seek alternatives to any course materials they find objectionable. The measure, approved this month, calls on all districts in the state to establish a policy for such exceptions, but sets two key conditions. First, the district must approve of the substitute materials for the particular child, and second, the parents must pay for them. Although at least a few states, including New Hampshire, already have laws giving parents some explicit recourse in particular subjects, such as sex education, this policy appears to be more expansive in its potential reach.

Robelen quotes Fordham’s curriculum guru, Kathleen Porter-Magee, leaning toward parents:

I don’t think it’s crazy to say parents should have a say in what their kids are learning, especially when it affects issues about their faith and belief system,” Ms. Porter-Magee said. “The problem is that the bill is written so broadly.

This is certainly not the first shot fired in what will be a prolonged battle to decentralize education, but it surely brings the fight to the curriculum trenches. 

***

Teachers really really do count. Kudos to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times for appreciating the stakes of the debate over the Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff study called ...

In a recent New York Times column
about Steve Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside
the Fight to Fix America’s Schools
, Joe
Nocera
, says

“[Y]ou simply cannot fix America’s schools by `scaling’ charter
schools. It won’t work. Charters schools offer proof of the concept that great
teaching is a huge difference-maker, but charters can only absorb a tiny
fraction of the nation’s 50 million public schoolchildren. Real reform has to
go beyond charters – and it has to include the unions. That’s what Brill
figured out.”
Nocera makes the
mistake of confusing pedagogy and governance.

Wrong. Like many education establishmentarians, Nocera makes the
mistake of confusing pedagogy and governance. The former—e.g. great teaching—is
a hard nut to crack and Nocera is right to suggest, as does Brill, that there perhaps
aren’t enough great teachers in the pipeline (or in charter schools) to educate
all 50 million public school students.

But there is certainly no such impediment to `scaling’ charters. Every
public school in America could be a charter school tomorrow if policymakers
would allow it. Would that “fix” America’s schools? Not necessarily. But it would
help.

The other problem with the scaling argument is that it assumes that big is beautiful—that no matter how
successful you are, if you can’t replicate your methods of success, then your
model won’t be useful to the American public school system. That is true only
...

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