Flypaper

Liam Julian

Joanne Jacobs features a thorough article, from Houston, about the new voc-ed--you know, voc-ed for the 21st-Century, not your grandfather's voc-ed, etc. The benefits of such programs are numerous. One ought not forget that, in some ways, high-school students are supremely practical, and 16-year-olds who know either that they aren't prepared for college or that they don't want to attend college directly after high school have few reasons to stick around in class and read Lord of the Flies. Many are going to drop out and find jobs that, while low-paying, are at least paying.

A fine method for keeping such students in high school is to provide them with training that is practical and profitable. They'll stay in school, they'll graduate, and they'll emerge with useful skills that can help them find lucrative employment. Some will go to college after several years in the work world, others won't--but all will be demonstratively better off than if they had attended a regular high school, one with a "college or bust" mindset, and dropped out.

Liam Julian

Jeff calls California's governor a "dismal failure" when it comes to fighting for better education. But Schwarzenegger is battling on behalf of parents in the Golden State who want to homeschool their children but, according the 2nd District Court of Appeal, can do so only if they possess teaching credentials (background here).

Jeff Kuhner

For years, the media has been obsessing over the rise of "Islamophobia" (never mind that America's Muslims enjoy full political, religious, and civil rights--considerably more, in fact, than their co-religionists in Europe, Africa, and even the Middle East, where tyranny and Islamic sectarian violence are rife). No country--with the possible exception of Canada--has been better to its Muslim citizens than America. A clear example of this can be seen in our nation's high school textbooks. Rather than promoting racist stereotypes or religious intolerance, textbooks often portray the very opposite: an idealized, often glamorized--and inaccurate--depiction of Islam. This is the conclusion of The American Textbook Council, which just released "Islam in the Classroom: What the Textbooks Tell Us." The report reviewed the ten most widely-used world history textbooks for high school and junior high students.

The ATC's findings should raise alarm bells about the politicization of the world history curriculum. In particular, the report says "Many political and religious groups try to use the textbook process to their advantage, but the deficiencies in Islam-related lessons are uniquely disturbing. History textbooks present an incomplete and confected view of Islam that misrepresents its foundations and challenges to international security." It emphasizes that Islamic activists and lobby groups are using multiculturalism to manipulate the curriculum. They are seeking to "sow misinformation" and "expunge any critical thought about Islam from textbooks" to further a political agenda. Their goal: to ensure that "Eurocentric" and "triumphalist" notions about Western history are not transmitted to...

A teachers union negotiating with a public school district to eliminate seniority rules? That's what's happening now in Washington, D.C., according to today's Washington Post . This comes on the heels of a recent Post article that highlighted the inner conflict roiling the Washington Teachers Union. That piece quoted union president George Parker citing charter schools' encroaching market share in the district as a major culprit:

"We have lost 1,500 members in 10 years, all because of charter schools. Our very survival is dependent on having students remain in [traditional] public schools," Parker said. "If we don't get on the ball in terms of improving our schools, the charters will have the majority of our students."

Mike said it yesterday : Washington, D.C., is the new "it" town for education reform.

I was reviewing a federal evaluation report that came out last week on small schools (also known as schools within schools or small learning communities). The idea is that large high schools are made impersonal, in part, by sheer magnitude; thus, efforts should be made to cut down on class sizes as to render a more individualized and personal education to students. As most folks who follow ed policy know, the Gates Foundation has done the most in recent years to bring attention (and money) to this issue. So I was interested in what the researchers at Abt Associates had found.

Turns out that reading about the key study finding (i.e., most schools are creating freshmen academies and career academies) wasn't as interesting as another thing I noticed. And that is that most teachers received little more than three days of professional development per year related to teaching in small learning communities--these would be things like tailoring instruction to individual student needs. Talk to most any teacher and she will tell you that differentiating instruction based on student ability is one of the hardest things to do in a classroom; my former professor in graduate school, Dr. Carol Tomlinson, has written much about how to do this well. So I was struck that teachers participating in SLCs had received such paltry training in how to do what their school had presumably received a nice chunk of change to do.

It's unfortunately typical...

Liam Julian

Don't let anyone tell you that ed reformers are a ragged bunch. The crew I'm observing right now is as sartorially sophisticated as they come. Especially noteworthy: Ben Wildavsky, wearing a particularly natty sport coat, and our own Amber Winkler, whose skirt is multi-hued, multi-pleated, and strikes one as a fresh burst of springtime.

Update: Rick Hess just arrived; he's sporting a heather green polo, another shirt draped casually around his shoulders, and he's dancing.

Liam Julian

We're throwing a little soiree at the Fordham offices. The crowd is filing in, and one question is on many minds: How's the food?

Meat on a stick I give two thumbs up. It's a little dry, but it's still red meat and it's on a stick. Fresh fruit and crackers are a nice touch, but the mini eggrolls steal the show: each bite is truly packed with egg roll-ish flavor, and smoky notes linger long after the last bite. Well done, eggroll chef.

It's twenty minutes into his speech, and Cory Booker is finally starting to talk education. He describes walking into excellent charter schools in Newark--Northstar, KIPP--and seeing "what's possible."

Now he's describing walking around Newark, asking parents where the "good education" is. Their answers are sophisticated. They know, they all know. He decries what "our Democratic party does too often, the 'infantalization' of poor people, thinking they don't know what's best for them." Provocative!

And...the education discussion is over.

As is the conference, save for more networking. That marks the end of our liveblogging. To recap: there was more talk about the "stuff" of education than I expected, though still not a lot; and nobody (as far as I heard) talked about the crisis in Catholic schools. That's a lost opportunity. Maybe next year.

UPDATE: Booker got a standing ovation nonetheless.

I'm hardly the first person to note the striking similarities between Cory Booker and Barack Obama. (Whitney Tilson, for example, discussed this connection long ago.) But their commonalities are overwhelming. Both men are black, highly educated, eloquent, inspirational, former community organizers and exude post-racial post-partisanship. (Booker reported going for a run on the national mall this morning, listening to Alicia Keyes and Neil Diamond on his iPod. It doesn't get much more post-racial than that.) And, as with Obama, I can't help but sense that the audience wants to like Booker, is soothed by his soaring rhetoric, but can't quite get a handle on the substance of what he's saying.

UPDATE: Now he's talking about fighting crime in Newark and is getting more specific. The police department's gang task force worked 9 to 5 but "gangs don't tend to work a 9 to 5 schedule." Big laugh. He's got the audience again. But when is he going to connect this to education

After a long hiatus for lunch and some break-out sessions, the liveblogging returns. As someone who's helped to organize many an education conference, I can't help but be impressed by the full room this late in the day. It's either because:

a) People really want to hear Newark mayor Cory Booker speak. (He's about to start.)

b) Everyone is hanging on for the final late-afternoon networking session. (Networking is what today is all about, after all.)

c) These overachieving edu-preneurs want to demonstrate their boundless energy and stamina.

Not everyone is staying till the very end, however. One friend just ducked out after spotting the high school choir now sitting at the front of the hall. He has a rule: "I leave when the kids start singing."

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