Flypaper

Liam Julian

The forthcoming debate between Sol Stern and Chris Cerf, over at Eduwonk, should be must-see blogging.

Liam Julian

This news item out of the U.K. truly confounds.

Liam Julian

The teachers, it seems, are upset with me. I annoyed more than a few of them when I wrote, in my review of HBO's Hard Times at Douglass High, that the educators at Douglass High School in Baltimore "weren't cutting it." The documentary seemed to make that pretty clear; so, too, the school's culture and test scores. And yet, as so many classroom managers are quick to note, I've just missed it all so very badly.

Take this chap, for example, a teacher who in a particularly fired-up blog post tagged me with a rather unflattering sobriquet. He did not like my diagnosis of what ails Douglass High. But as a co-worker pointed out, when one takes to the blogosphere to rain insults upon others, one should, as a matter of course, take pains to do so in a grammatically appropriate manner. Our friend (the, ahem, teacher) has failed in that task through his predilection for inserting apostrophes whenever he deems them necessary, proper grammar be damned--e.g., "According to its author, Liam Julian, it's incompetent administrators' and teachers' who are to blame for the fact that Douglass is failing just like thousands of other urban schools in the United States." I'm just saying.

Our friend also dislikes my prescription for improving the health of an English class, which, I wrote, eschews "having a valuable conversation about Nick Carraway's flaws, say,...

If you're the type of Flypaper reader who only has time for the latest postings, not those published a whole two hours ago and invisible without scrolling, I commend to you Liam's update to this post; after reading it, I think you'll agree, you'll be better informed about blogging etiquette and, frankly, kind of glad that William Buckley-esque wit lives on.

Gadfly wasn't pleased with the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, as the paper saw only bad news in the Philadelphia School District's decision to take back six of the 38 schools that have been managed by private operators since 2002. Well, Sunday's Washington Post didn't find any silver linings either, calling it a "severe setback" and closing with a quote admonishing the supposed "quick fix" mentality behind this reform plan.

We can agree to disagree. But at least the Post did here what it does well--sniff out the politics at play. It reports (and perhaps editorializes) that since 2002, "What has changed in Philadelphia, as elsewhere across the country, appears to be the political atmosphere. Pennsylvania's governor is now a Democrat, Edward G. Rendell. And the privatization wave now seems a little pass??."

I hope that seeking out quality school managers--and yes, it's possible those could even exist outside a district bureaucracy--never becomes "pass??." But one fears this could get worse in Philly before it gets better, so I'll be watching to see if recently-hired schools CEO Arlene Ackerman, a sensible reformer, will withstand or join this anti-privatization wave.

The conversion of seven Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., to charter schools is off to a rough start, as the Washington Post reports today that the city's budget failed to provide funding for these schools, and they won't get their first payments in July.

Robert Crane, of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, is quoted saying "I told [D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C.] Gray's people repeatedly that the kids were going to show up in the public schools one way or the other," and Public Charter School Board chair Tom Nida gets right to the point, that "this couldn't have been to anyone's surprise."

No, anyone reading the Post , or better yet, Flypaper and Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools ? would have seen this conversion coming from a mile away. Fortunately, the schools plan to open using loans and philanthropy. I just hope the District catches up soon.

At first glance, this New York Times article on Brooklyn's Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice looks to be another feel-good story about the small schools initiative. It mentions the usual statistics--93 percent of seniors graduated, most are going to college, etc--but then the article takes a moment to focus on the dedicated teachers who make it all possible. As in many high-performing charter schools, this specific small school has a young principal (Elana Karopkin, 32). For four years she's led the school and produced what on the surface appear to be positive results. But, Ms. Karopkin is leaving her school to become an assistant superintendent at Achievement First. Here's what she has to say about the move:

Ms. Karopkin said it would be unfair to say she was burned out, but admitted she was nothing less than "exhausted," both physically and emotionally. "You are taking a bunch of hyper, type A perfectionist people and giving them a herculean task," she said. "People have to work much too hard to do what we are doing. People cannot work at this level all their lives and nobody is prepared to do something at a level of mediocrity."

I'm not sure that Achievement First will be much different (although perhaps in an oversight role the pressure subsides a smidge), but that's beside the point. Ms. Karopkin's comments are a rare, frank look at what happens when the raw enthusiasm of a twenty-something out to change the world collides with...

Liam Julian

Checker takes to the Wall Street Journal's op-ed pages to communicate to Ohioans this message: Wake up.

As a fellow insect-themed edu-blog, we feel a certain kinship with our friends at BoardBuzz, produced by the National School Boards Association. But the Buzzers went bust with their analysis of our recent high-achieving students study. Let's tackle their misstatements, one by one:

Contrary to the thinking that high achieving students have been left behind, the report actually found that high achieving students (those scoring in the top 10 percent on NAEP) have been making similar gains on NAEP over the past 20 years. BoardBuzz hardly thinks that's being left behind. On the other hand, low achieving students (those scoring in the bottom 10 percent) have been making 4 times as many gains on NAEP since NCLB was enacted compare to before.

Ah, watch those apples-to-organges comparisons, NSBA. Yes, if you go back to the early 1990s, the progress of low and high achievers looks roughly the same, at least in some subject-grade combinations. But upon closer inspection the story is very different. Basically the 90s were quite good for high achievers (particularly in states without accountability systems); the post-2000 years have been quite good for low achievers (perhaps due to NCLB). The story since 2000, though, is straightforward: anemic gains at the top versus dramatic gains at the bottom. No, our top students aren't doing worse, but is their "languid" progress (Tom Loveless's word) good enough in today's competitive world?

Then the Buzzers say:

If you had listened to Fordham you

...

The newest issue of The Economist has a piece on international comparisons that offers a couple interesting lessons. The first is to be wary of them. In a recent analysis of Finland's PISA scores, which routinely top those of all other comers, Jarkko Hautam??ki and his colleagues at Helsinki University found

only one big policy element that could easily be replicated elsewhere: early and energetic intervention for struggling pupils. Many of the other ingredients for success that they identify--orthography, geography and history--have nothing to do with how schools are run, or what happens in classrooms.

In Finnish, exceptionally, each letter makes a single logical sound and there are no irregular words. That makes learning to read easy. An economy until recently dependent on peasant farming in harsh latitudes has shaped a stoic national character and an appetite for self-improvement. Centuries of foreign rule (first Swedes, then Russians) further entrenched education as the centrepiece of national identity. So hard work and good behaviour are the norm; teaching tempts the best graduates (nearly nine out of ten would-be teachers are turned down).

So American education wonks are missing the point when they say, for instance, that we should emulate Finland and make teaching more tempting to college graduates.

Some argue, though, that PISA has at least been successful inasmuch as it has increased the pressure on countries to improve their education systems to avoid humiliation.

[Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's head of education research], says international comparisons teach a

...

Pages