Board's Eye View

Perhaps it’s in the air, like the flu bug.  But I’ve noticed a rash
of hacking statements of late, made by adults, that makes me wonder who
among our edu-cators and -crats need a refresher course in critical
thinking skills.

Here’s one from Michael Powell in the New York Times,
rebutting Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion that we cut the number of
teachers in half and pay the remaining ones twice the salary:

In fact, studies show class size makes a substantial
difference in lower grades. Studies are more ambiguous about higher
grades. Prof. Aaron M. Pallas of Teachers College at Columbia University
says no academic study has explored the effects of doubling the size of
a public school classroom.

Is that a string of non-sequitors or what?  Powell goes on
to tell stories about his sons and a friend who teaches in Brooklyn
Technical High School. But the subject of “studies” that do and don’t
show something  — anything! — is dropped.

Here’s one from Tom Ash,
legislative director for the Buckeye [Ohio] Association of School
Administrators, speaking about international test results and what makes
some countries more successful:

It’s not just the number of facts you can regurgitate, it’s whether you have developed the ability to learn.”

Why does vomiting facts suggest an inability to learn?  What if we
merely wrote the facts?  Slowly spoke them?  What is...

The Education Gadfly

Chris Cerf, New Jersey’s acting commissioner of education, stopped by last Thursday’s Rethinking Education Governance conference to deliver a thought-provoking address on the role of governance in improving public education’s outcomes. Drawing on his experience with education systems in New York City and the Garden State, Cerf gave his take on “a new and improved model of government.”

Want more? The first and second panels can be viewed online and we’ll be releasing the rest of the footage tomorrow on Flypaper.

The Education Gadfly

The second panel at last Thursday’s Rethinking Education Governance conference examined one of the most entrenched aspects of our governance system: local control. From interstate standards to mayoral control, experts Margaret Goertz, Kathryn McDermott, Ken Wong, Rick Hess, and Jeffrey Henig evaluated our other options in a lively discussion.

To learn more, download drafts of participants’ full papers and watch the first panel on Flypaper.

If you missed last Thursday’s Fordham-CAP Rethinking Education Governance conference, you’re in luck: In the coming days we’ll be posting all the action here on Flypaper. To start off, Cynthia Brown, Michelle Davis, Marguerite Roza, and Steven F. Wilson provide a primer on what’s wrong with our governance system, breaking down how it hinders innovation while perpetuating inefficiency and inequity.

To learn more, download drafts of participants’ full papers and keep an eye on Flypaper for more footage from the conference.

t was a bit odd to see Charles Blow (of the New York Times)
take out after Newt Gingrich for saying that “really poor children in
really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody
around them who works.” I had just returned from an inner city school
where teachers and administrators and parents were saying the same
things as Gingrich.  In fact, I’ve been hearing these complaints from
teachers – and business leaders – for years.  Teaching children the
“habits of working” is a growing part of the school reform movement.

For the last couple of weeks Gingrich has been tossing read meat to
the liberal wolves in ways that only the Grinch who stole Christmas
can.  He has also suggested that poor kids do janitorial work in school –
and earn money doing it.  According to politico.com,
the former West Georgia State College history professor told a Kennedy
School of Government audience that. It’s worth an extended quote,
because Gingrich needs context to make up for the  lightning-bolt
phrases he drops in throughout:

This is something that no liberal wants to deal with…
Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against
children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in
schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the
United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what

...

Though I would much prefer to write about “democracy,” which is the
hot topic these days, or even mention our pilgrims progress, those
pioneers who survived rough winters and stopped to appreciate their
bounty, I must interrupt this program to urge Flypaper fans to cozy up to ednext.org and be thankful for the new issue of Education Next.  Cover-to-cover, it’s a blessing.

Okay, I’m a dying breed. I carried the print version of the Winter
2012 issue around most of the last several days – scribbling in the
margins, spilling coffee on the pictures, throwing pages on the
passenger seat, breaking the binding back and perching the salt shaker
on it at breakfast – I guarantee you this is a  Thanksgiving feast. 
Even online! (Full disclosure, I am a contributing editor at the
magazine, have a story in the issue (see below), and am biased.)

But I guarantee you, you won’t leave this issue hungry:

Play Ball!
This June Kronholz cover story takes us curriculum afficianados to a
new playing field. “There’s not a straight line between the crochet club
and the Ivy League,” writes Kronholz, “[b]ut a growing body of research
says there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from
high school, going to college and becoming a responsible citizen.”

This story sets us on a trajectory of common sense that is much
needed in our polarized and partisan education policy...

Reading Thomas Friedman in this morning’s New York Times,
I couldn’t help but think of the Shel Silverstein classic, “Clarence
Lee from Tennessee,” a 1993 poem suggesting that kids could trade in
their parents for new ones.

Clarence Lee from Tennessee
Loved the commercials he saw on TV.
He watched with wide believing eyes
And bought everything they advertised

I used to read this to the kids whom I tutored in reading and also
brought it with me to classrooms, to share with whole groups of
students.  The poem introduced these youngsters to narrative rhyme —
and  the ubiquity and charms of advertising:

Powder for his doggie’s fleas,
Toothpaste for his cavities,
Stylish jeans that fit much tighter.
Bleach to make his white things whiter
Spray to make his hair look wetter
Cream to make his skin feel better

It was a set-up, of course, to the punchline: parents were just like
toothpaste: trade ‘em in for better ones. And, of course, it was funny
because the kids Silverstein addressed actually loved their parents,
despite the fact that they made them do things they didn’t want to do,
such as go to school, read, do homework, take the garbage out.

But I eventually stopped reading the poem in my school, as I realized
that its punch line — that the kids could trade their parents in for
...

It's hard to tell whether Joe Nocera's op-ed essay in the New York Times last week, ?Teaching With The Enemy,? is wonderfully nuanced or just silly.? That's surely what some education observers might wonder about the notion that Randi Weingarten, former head of New York City's teacher union and current head of the American Federation of Teachers, should be chancellor of New York City schools.*? In fact, Nocera notes that he himself ?nearly fell out of my chair? when Steven Brill told him that Weingarten, who is ?the enemy? of Brill's new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools, threw him a book party.

This, of course, is vintage Weingarten, described by Nocera as ?whip-smart? and ?politically savvy.?? But the larger question is what happened to Brill, founder of American Lawyer and Court TV and a formidable presence in the New York media scene, on the way to the education repair shop?

Himself whip-smart and politically savvy, Brill made instant news when he took on the city's teachers union in a 2009 New Yorker story about the city's notorious ?rubber rooms,? where bad teachers went to soak up full salaries while doing nothing.? In that story Brill described Weingarten as such a ferocious defender of teachers that she ?would protect a dead body in the classroom.? ?That was meant to suggest that teacher unions weren't so good for our kids.

And indeed, in the ensuing book's first 420 pages, as Nocera...

I awoke this morning thinking about test scores ? New York State releases it's 4th- and 8th-grade reading and math scores tomorrow and our little district ? 50 percent poor, 30% black ? rarely hits the 50 proficient rate.? My next thought was how the school administration will present the results at tomorrow's board meeting (it's not so bad, we're working on it, we've got many challenges, especially the budget cutbacks), and then, how the local press would play it (quoting the administration) ? if at all.? Over the years the school community has gotten used to failure (it tends to see? "failure" as a judgment made by ivory tower bureaucrats and outsiders who don't understand the realities of local life)? and the local press, which reports almost exclusively the words of the administration, and depends on ads from local business, which is supported in part? by consumers with a stake in the school district, etc. The press as a bullhorn of failure, oddly enough, is reassuring. Plus c'a change, plus c'est la meme chose.

I am not one to blame the press for problems, but I do take seriously the founders' belief that the democratic experiment won't work without an informed public.? It is not about taking a stand for or against; it's about reporting the facts -- all of them, including those from dissenters, reformers, and researchers.? As the Fox News anthem has it, ?We inform, you decide.? The problem is that even if the public is...

Just when academic excellence ?seemed to be making a comeback with our educators and policymakers we face the challenge of another wave of education tool and die makers whose products are confused with, er, knowledge.? Yesterday, I was happy to report that differentiated instruction guru Carol Tomlinson recognized that DI [differentiated instruction] was just a tool and that the nation had better get its content house in order before DI could do much good.

Today we are treated to a long, front-page story in the New York Times featuring cracks in another idol of modern education: technology; in this case, the ?software? that hides in said magic box.

What the Times says is already a $2.2 billion industry may just be producing more educational snake oil. The paper cites the federal Education Department's What Works Clearinghouse, which conducts rigorous studies of the research that many of the software developers allude to in their promotional materials, and concludes,

Some firms misrepresent research by cherry-picking results and promote surveys or limited case studies that lack the scientific rigor required by the clearnhouse and other authorities.

An interesting irony here is that the Times has a story in the same edition of the paper about a growing chorus of Republicans calling for the abolition of the federal Education Department. ?It would seem that some members of the GOP have gone back to a rather narrow states-rights parochialism, forgetting their party's individual rights roots and the core values...

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