Board's Eye View

Alfie Kohn is the latest to weigh in on ?the pedagogy of poverty,? as he calls it, with his ?How Education Reform Traps Poor Children? commentary in Education Week ? and he does it as crudely as Joe Nocera did it in the Times the other day (see my Education Unbound*): first by distorting ?the proposals collectively known as `school reform,'? then by ignoring the facts. ?(See the letter to the editor of the Times by teacher Neal Suidan, who says that, ?In the absence of an immediate plan to fix poverty, family structure and school funding, the only place where we can influence the fate of these students is in the classroom. That's where the focus should be.?)

Flypaper's Kathleen Porter-Magee jumped all over Kohn for his ?pedagogical strawman? -- ?in fact, she says, ?the pedagogy that is used and encouraged at the most successful urban charter schools around the country? are actually designed to create the conditions where student thinking and learning can actually happen?? -- and Core Knowledge's Robert Pondiscio did an excellent counterpunch by pointing out that ?a lot more damage [is] being done to low-income urban kids in the name of `authentic learning' and a refusal to acknowledge the cognitive benefits of a knowledge-rich core curriculum.?

Indeed, Kohn sticks the ?pedagogy of poverty? labels on the wrong foreheads.? He confuses cause and effect and, in a typical ruse of rhetoric, blames those trying to fix the problem of...

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In a generally positive profile of Jean-Claude Brizard, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's pick for new Chicago school system chief, the Sun-Times applauds the nominee for ?the charismatic way? in which he refused to talk to the paper's reporter, who then notes that that?.

?is typical of the ambitious former physics teacher who emigrated from Haiti as a boy, used the U.S. education system to drag himself up by the bootstraps from housing project poverty, then applied the same zeal to reforming the system that helped him, say friends and enemies alike in this upstate New York city of 210,000.

This jumped out at me in part because of the recent Joe Nocera Limits of Reform op-ed column in the NYT ? please see my Education Unbound* and the accompanying Comments (other interesting Comments on the Education Next version) and my Culture of Poverty?or the Poverty of Culture? post in Flypaper last October.

My argument about poverty is simple: there are too many millions of people like Brizard who ?used the U.S. education system? to drag themselves out of poverty to count them as exceptions that prove some demography is destiny rule.? (I'm sure Randi Weingarten would agree.) There are also too many charters and charter networks and private systems (e.g. the Catholics) that are getting the job done to dismiss them as anomalies.

No, these successful ? and, yes, increasingly replicable and scalable ? school (not social service!) systems are educating poor kids...

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Forgetting for a moment the perhaps unfortunate coinincidence of another Bush governor taking his state education formula national (remember NCLB?), we have a pleasant story in today's Times about former Florida governor Jeb Bush traveling the country talking education.? In fact, there is much to admire about what Florida has done ? see Checker's Let's Hear it for Florida! and Eric Hanushek's Florida Positions Itself at the Forefront ? and this story mentions some of them:

He has hopped around the country to campaign for candidates, hold meetings and lobby for Florida-style changes. They include private-school vouchers, online courses and requiring third-graders to pass reading tests before they move up to fourth grade, rather than being pushed along with their peers ? or ?social promotion.?

We learn that Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education ?received $2.9 million in 2009 from the Gates and Broad foundations, ?among others,? and that he has been ?closely involved? in education reform initiatives in a half dozen states, including Minnesota, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Utah. Go, Jeb, Go.

Is he running for president?? Of course not.

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Unfortunately, in his Limits of School Reform essay this morning, the newest op-ed columnist for the Times, Joe Nocera, shows the limits of logic in thinking about the subject ? or writing about it.? After throwing up the standard straw men ? ?At its core, the reform movement believes that great teachers and improved teaching methods are all that's required to improve student performance, so that's all the reformers focus on,? ?reformers act as if a student's home life is irrelevant,? ?Dodd [the teacher] does everything a school reformer could hope for?? ? he rolls out the woefully tired and hopelessly unhelpful nostrum: ??What needs to be acknowledged, however, is that school reform won't fix everything.?

Thanks, Joe. I didn't know that.

In fact, Nocera, who wrote the Talking Business column for the Times before landing the plum assignment on the paper's prestigious op-ed page, will one day see this essay as beginner's jitters.? He does hit all the high notes ? the ravages of poverty, the lessons of James Coleman, the further lessons of Richard Rothstein, even bringing in Joel Klein as the heartless reformer who thinks a student's home life is ?irrelevant? ? but ends up being completely off-key,? forgetting that we now have dozens, if not hundreds, of schools that are succeeding in educating poor children. He also conveniently forgets that the Catholics have been doing it rather successfully for many decades, if not centuries. And, in fact, Nocera ignores most of the last...

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Though Mike wouldn't allow me anywhere near today's Fordham event, Are Local School Boards Vital in 21st Century America? I will answer the question here: Yes, more so than ever.? But if you're not in Washington this afternoon and can't make it over to 16th Street, tune in on the Web, 4pm.

The discussion features Anne Bryant, head of the National School Boards Association; Chris Barclay, president of the the Montgomery County (MD) Board of Education; Checker Lost at Sea Finn; and Gene I. Maeroff, Founding Director, Hechinger Institute, Teachers College, Columbia University and author of School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy.

Here's the quick argument for ?more so than ever?: ?If we are able to create differentiated instruction for children using digital technology, we should be able to use computers to put the demos back into education governance.? Like it or not, school boards as an expression of our democratic values and practices are vital.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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The Fordham panel on school boards this afternoon, most of which I caught on the web, was an important one and I recommend it to anyone interested in school governance issues. (We were told that the video should be available on the Fordham website by Thursday).

I would like to make four quick observations prompted by the discussion:

1.? Size matters.? It seems clear that we need to think along two tracks in redesigning school governance structures for the future: forms of direct democracy and those of representative democracy. Clearly, consolidation of authority (either through state-wide governance systems or mayoral control) will take us in the latter direction. The question for Americans, steeped in a culture that prizes autonomy and diversity, is whether we know how to do the consolidation thing very well.

2. Responsiveness matters. Whether it is responding to the parent with a concern about a teacher, digesting a research study on best practices, or meeting the challenges of a crumbling economy, the school system that can adjust to such varying kinds of inputs is no doubt better off than one that can't. The need to be responsive on these various levels is what should guide us in working out governance issues for the future.

3. Finances.? This is the toughest nut to crack and I got no special insights from our panelists on the subject today (though I admit to taking a couple of breaks and may have missed something). The best...

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In a major profile of the new chancellor of New York City's schools, the Sunday Times headline writer sums up Dennis Walcott nicely: A Schools Chief With a Knack for Conciliation. While, over in the Windy City, the Tribune went to slightly greater length to explain the appointment of Jean-Claude Brizard to head its schools:? New CPS chief leaves old district mired in questions, controversy.

Other than the size of the challenge (New York's is the largest school district in the nation; Chicago, the third largest), one of the things the two appointments have in common is that they are creatures of mayoral authority.? Michael Bloomberg, who stumbled into his third term as major domo of the Big Apple (no one calls it that any more), tripped badly when he tried to force another non-educator on the system.? He recovered quickly and moved one of his loyal deputies,? Walcott, into the job.

Chicago, on the other hand, is about to get a new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who, while no slouch in the politics department (serving six years in Congress and several as a senior advisor to two presidents, including two as Barack Obama's chief of staff), has never run a city, much less an education system.? He might do well to talk to Adrian Fenty, the one-term mayor of Washington, DC., as well as Bloomberg, since, at first glance, Emanuel seems to have tripped coming out of the gate (he's not sworn in until next...

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In my interview with outgoing New York education commissioner David Steiner, whose passion for curriculum has been no secret, I asked about curriculum and the common core and I think it is worth excerpting some of our conversation:

EN (Education Next): How do we get teachers to see the need for a rigorous, aligned, and common core curriculum?

DS (David Steiner): Oh, I think that by and large they do.

EN: And who should write such a curriculum?

DS: Well, first of all, when I discuss the idea of a state wide curriculum with the leaders of both the NYSUT and the UFT [teacher unions], they were and are enthusiastic.? They are our partners in this work and I think that the key is the design.

You don't want a kind of French straightjacket, where you say that at 11:15 on Monday morning every 11-year-old is opening the same page of the same text.? That doesn't seem consistent with our traditions, our history, and our culture.? On the other hand, it's true that right now we have a total fragmentation and even within the same large high school, within the same grade, you might have teachers teaching at a very different content level and [different] content itself.

So how do you build a really attractive, flexible curriculum that has modules that could be used, not only for students who are on grade level, but for those who may be a year behind, for the

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The other day Jay Greene unveiled his Tight-Loose Travel Agency, as a followup to his Fordham Report Drinking Game.? ?What the two have in common is anyone's guess, which is a tipoff to Jay's tipsy logic in trying to expose what he thinks will be Fordham's vain attempt ?to explain their support for a nationalized set of standards, curriculum, and assessments while also embracing local control and federalism.?? Jay thinks that is an? ?attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable with a variety of oxymorons and otherwise empty phrases.?

In fact, I think Jay continues to miss the point of a common curriculum, which is to impart important knowledge (the "stuff of education" as Ted Sizer says), to be used to communicate with others. A national curriculum ? and what's in it -- is? "the coin of the realm" -- or should be.? The correct analogy here is not travel agency (or drinking game), but currency exchange. Today we treat American public school students like they live in different countries, each teacher handing out different coins (based on what? the kids' poverty and racial status?) -- coins not accepted by the next teacher, or the next school, or the neighboring state's test writers--right on up to Dropoutville, where you don't need no coins.

Sure, you could argue that having a national currency infringes on local control; but no one does anymore.? That's because the goal of a common? currency, as with the goal of a common curriculum, is...

No one ever said that education reform was easy.? And no one said that Race to the Top, the Obama administration's signature education law, was perfect.? But when David Steiner, a reformer's reformer, announced last week that he was giving up the reins as New York state's Commissioner of Education, the education world seemed to take a collective deep breath. Steiner's announcement, after less than two years on the job, was what Philissa Cramer of Gotham Schools called a ?rattling? surprise.

The announcement rattled me, since I was just finishing up a feature story for Ed Next on Steiner's brilliant leadership in taking the moribund Empire State to the RTTT winner's circle in nine short months ? the equivalent of turning on a dime in the education reform world.? Much of the credit, of course, goes to RTTT itself, which set broad but rigorous reform goals, then dangled a nice prize in front of cash-strapped states ($700 million in New York's case) that proved they were serious about attaining them.? States rushed to join in the competition. But no one gave New York much of a chance ? and in fact it finished far out of the money in Round 1.? Steiner arrived in October of 2009 and by the end of May the following year, at three in the morning, stood with Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and his deputy John King, in the State Assembly and watched the vote that raised the state's charter cap...

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