Flypaper

Liam Julian

Ed school professor Brad Olsen writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that "we don't much hear from, or about, teachers' experiences in--and perspectives on--what's happening in schools these days." Really???Just yesterday we published in The Gadfly this item, about a teacher who thinks "unconditional love" is the solution to k-12 education's human capital problem.??Lots and lots of??newspaper articles about education feature quotes from, and the perspectives of, educators.??

Certainly education policy could learn more from the best practices of the best teachers, and certainly more avenues should be available for just that type of exchange. But instead of hearing from teachers in that way, it seems, we're always hearing from those who "represent" them--e.g., the unions and ed schools, neither of which toils on behalf of kids.

Left unspoken* at yesterday's White House summit on faith-based schools was whether the idea of religious charter schools has any merit. Of course, this is no surprise. There are enough opponents of charter schools, of vouchers, and of any co-mingling of church and state, that direct funding for overtly religious schools would be a combustible mix. It's controversial enough that D.C. is converting seven Catholic schools to charter status, stripping them of their "Catholicity," and besides, yesterday's conference had plenty else on the agenda. Yet given the success Catholic schools have shown in educating poor and minority students, and the likelihood that that's because of their Catholicity, it's an idea that warrants more of an airing. (Two prior Gadfly op-eds provide a bit, at least, here and here .)

I was reminded of this yesterday when I met Lawrence Weinberg, author of Religious Charter Schools: Legalities and Practicalities (2007), a book I'm now curious to read. Checker and Mike have argued that the Zelman decision paved the way for religious charters, at least insofar as the U.S. Constitution is concerned, but (at the risk of mischaracterizing his work) Weinberg replies that the legal landscape is a little more complicated than that (both because of state-level issues, like Blaine amendments prohibiting state funding of religious schools, and because Zelman is not the only relevant Supreme Court case). Of course, practically speaking, charter schools have to be approved by authorizers, most of which are districts...

The website RateMyProfessors.com has been the subject of much criticism as it has grown in popularity. For instance, a professor from Central Michigan University ran some numbers and found that "the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they'll get rated as a good teacher."

Inside Higher Ed reports today, however, on a couple studies that have found high correlations between RateMyProfessors.com and official university student-evaluation systems:

A new study is about to appear in the journal Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education and it will argue that there are similarities in the rankings in RateMyProfessors.com and IDEA, a student evaluation system used at about 275 colleges nationally and run by a nonprofit group affiliated with Kansas State University.

What is notable is that while RateMyProfessors.com gives power to students, IDEA gives a lot of control over the process to faculty members. Professors identify the teaching objectives that are important to the class, and those are the measures that count the most. In addition, weighting is used so that adjustments are made for factors beyond professors' control, such as class size, student work habits and so forth--all variables that RateMyProfessors doesn't really account for (or try to account for).

And at least some professors, it seems, find the reviews on RateMyProfessors.com useful for evaluating their own teaching strategies:

"I've been an instructor for 10 years. I look at it," he said, adding that he has found insights "that weren't on my

...

The White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools, underway at this moment, has about 300 attendees, all of whom already agree with each other about nearly all the issues on the table. No bad thing to rally the troops or (changing metaphors) preach to the choir. But I didn't spot anyone there whose mind needed to, or was likely to be, changed by the proceedings. Hence the main value of this event beyond the Ronald Reagan Building amphitheater (normally occupied by the satirical Capitol Steps) depends on whether word of it percolates out and anybody pays heed.

Four more takeaways, two of them admittedly churlish:

    • The President gave a good talk, peppered with positive examples from the world of Catholic schools (never mind the ecumenical audience and many flavors of faith-based schools) and from the recent Fordham Institute report on same. He called on states to repeal their Blaine Amendments. He was in excellent humor and form but also showed faint signs of final-year-in-office enervation.
    • Though the Fordham Report and its case studies permeate this event, it is never named, quoted from or referenced. Even session moderator Scott Hamilton, who edited it and has a Fordham tie, is identified on the program by another part of his work life. We don't need to ask why the systematic shunning. It's payback for Mike's and my occasional truth-tellings about the Secretary of Education (here, for instance).
    • The social science evidence offered (mainly by Cal
    • ...

    Not so many moons ago, Boston University's college of education was the brightest spot in the dim universe of U.S. ed schools, full of heterodox thinkers on important issues (e.g., Charles Glenn, David Steiner, Kevin Ryan, Steve Tigner). Some of those thinkers are still there, but the school's leadership--recently in Glenn's able hands on an "acting" basis--is about to be turned over to a far more orthodox sort.

    Last month B.U. announced the appointment of Dr. Hardin Coleman, a psychologist specializing in counseling, currently at the University of Wisconsin, a well-known warehouse of conventional thinking. Coleman's main stated interests are topics like "identity formation" among "culturally diverse" adolescents. He is reportedly hostile to charter schools and high-stakes accountability and just about everything else worth being in favor of nowadays--and just about everything that Massachusetts is celebrated for doing well.

    As B.U. heads back into the ed school sheep pen, let's at least note that it wasn't always there and didn't have to return.

    Are you a teacher looking for field trip ideas, now that testing season is over? Do you live in the greater Washington, D.C., area? Would you like to totally gross out your students? This oughta do the trick.*

    *Moms, and Dads, you can get in on the act too... don't miss Sunday's special event.

    Liam Julian

    The Economist has an article about the challenges confronting South Dakota's rural schools and school districts.

    In many of these cases, virtual education could be a solution. Education Sector's Bill Tucker recently wrote about virtual education, albeit as a catalyst for high-school reform, in The Gadfly.

    Liam Julian

    Now is as good a time as any to mention that the deadline for Fordham Fellows applications--the day by which all those who wish for Fellowship must submit the apposite materials--is nearing: April 30th it is.

    Fordham Fellows is a 9-month program that endeavors to bring bright young things to Washington, D.C., and introduce them to the world of education policy by setting them up with work at one of several top-notch education-policy organizations. Furthermore, Fellows earn the equivalent of $25,000 for their 9-months of work ("equivalent" not because we pay in yuan, but because we're including healthcare and transportation subsidies in the sum).

    Click here for information, and hurry!

    Liam Julian

    You can find a different take on George Will's column over at The Quick and the Ed. The author, Kevin Carey, is a very detail-oriented guy, but one wonders if today he hasn't missed the forest for the trees.

    It's no secret that George Will's writing is less than confident (realistic, perhaps?) about the future of public education, but is Carey's assertion that Will "believes that public education is irredeemable, that efforts to improve it are basically useless" correct? One can't know what George Will thinks, but one can know what he writes, and his article today is simply a clear evaluation of the "reforms" that have predominated in the k-12 sphere. Like it or not, they've largely failed. Whether or not Will thinks the whole operation is "useless" and "irredeemable" is never stated, and it isn't all that important, anyway.

    Carey nitpicks about some of the least important parts of Will's piece, and he doesn't like Will's harsh tone. Yet, Moynihan (who is mentioned in the column) did not soften his tone when deriding the more-foolish strategies that run amok in America's schools, and neither does Checker. But beyond all that, can Carey truly argue with Will's larger point: that dumb ideas have taken public education in the wrong direction?

    According to Sol Stern, it's not his (literal) bomb-throwing past but his (figurative) bomb-throwing present:

    Instead of planting bombs in public buildings, Ayers now works to indoctrinate America's future teachers in the revolutionary cause, urging them to pass on the lessons to their public school students.... As Ayers puts it in one of his course descriptions, prospective K-12 teachers need to "be aware of the social and moral universe we inhabit and... be a teacher capable of hope and struggle, outrage and action, a teacher teaching for social justice and liberation."

    Nor is his thinking outside the "mainstream" of the ed school professoriate; Stern reports that Ayers was recently elected Vice President for Curriculum of the American Educational Research Association. Perfect.

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