Flypaper

I’ve never been to the annual conference of the National Education Association and I’ve never regretted it, but it would have been fun to be a fly on the chandelier at last week’s shindig in Denver.

For starters, the delegates voted to ask Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign. Similar resolutions had been introduced at previous NEA conferences but never passed. Media coverage indicates that it was Duncan’s (muted, even ambivalent) response to the Vergara court decision in California that “broke the camel’s back.” Education Week’s ace journalists note that Duncan has for some time served as flak catcher for the NEA’s mounting unease with various Obama administration policies, enabling the union to “shoot the messenger” rather than denouncing a President that it ardently supported in both 2008 and 2012. (Duncan scoffed at the resolution.)

Then Dennis Van Roekel, outgoing from the NEA’s presidency after six long, slow, boring years, gave a long, rambling valedictory speech. It wasn’t surprising that he attacked Michelle Rhee—but the other “corporate reformers” whose “onslaught” he described include Democrats for Education Reform!

Do you share my sense that perhaps the historic coupling of the NEA and the Democratic Party is loosening a bit?

Which sense was reinforced by a third event at this year’s convention: accompanying her overwhelming election as the next NEA president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia has made clear in interviews that among her missions—above all, “winning back public trust” for teachers—is loosening the partisan bonds and beginning...

ACCESS TO SCHOOL CHOICE
A great new CRPE study finds that many parents—in particular, parents with special-needs kids and lower levels of education—face barriers to school choice, even in areas with an abundance of options. (Charters & Choice)
 
PRE-K TEACHER SHORTAGE IN NYC
With New York City set to provide up to 53,000 full-day pre-K seats this fall, private preschools are worried about keeping their teachers—even accusing the city of poaching. (New York Times)
 
FINANCIAL LITERACY
Most fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. struggle with personal-finance concepts, such as taxes and retirement savings. Compared to other OECD countries, U.S. students scored in the middle of the pack, while Shanghai, China, took the lead. (Inside School Research)
 
SCHOOL SPENDING AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
A new CAP report creates an ROI index by rating school districts on how much academic achievement they gained for every dollar spent, concluding that school districts and states should spend on education more strategically. (Washington Post)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
New York Post: “Scaling up for success: KIPP’s formula for great schools”...

Just as the education-reform movement is starting to figure out how to use test-score data in a more sophisticated way, the Obama administration and its allies in the civil-rights community want to take us back to the Stone Age on the use of school-discipline data. This is an enormous mistake.

We all know that there are real problems with the ways that discipline is meted out in some American schools today. You can find campuses where huge numbers of students are suspended or expelled, particularly African American and Latino teenagers and mostly boys. Those young people are extraordinarily likely to end up in America’s bloated prison system as adults, causing all manner of societal suffering along the way, not to mention blighting their own lives. “Zero tolerance” policies—by removing administrator discretion and treating all offenses as equally injurious—have arguably made things worse.

I whole-heartedly support efforts to improve the ways that schools handle these issues; tips and training on creating a positive school culture and reducing suspensions and expulsions are welcome. Nor do I doubt that some of America’s 100,000-plus schools discriminate against minority children. Russlynn Ali, the former assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, talks about the district where a black Kindergartener gets suspended for pulling a fire alarm while a white tenth grader does the same thing and gets off with a warning. That’s wrong, and I’m grateful that students...

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NEA CONVENTION
Delegates to the National Education Association’s annual convention called for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign and approved a policy statement strengthening their opposition to the use of tests in teacher evaluations. (Answer Sheet and Teacher Beat)
 
GRADUATION RATES
While the graduation rate in Prince George’s County went up slightly from 2012 to 2013, the percentage of those who graduated on time in 2013 (74.1 percent) was down from 2010 (76.2). (Washington Post)
 
FOOD ACCESS
For children in rural areas, summer means having a tougher time finding fresh fruits and vegetables. (Hechinger Report)

COLLEGE GRADS FINDING WORK
A new NCES report finds that most of those who graduated college during the recession (in the 2007–08 school year) were employed four years later. (Institute of Education Sciences)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
StateImpact Ohio: “The Process of Picking Principals
WABE: “Why is a Good Principal Hard to Find? (And Keep?)”...

The most interesting story coming out of the landmark Vergara and Harris decisions is the coming irresistible-force-immovable-object collision of reformers’ aggressive new litigation strategy and teachers unions’ stout-defense approach to leadership.

These cases provide the nation’s unions an opportunity to produce next-generation leaders who strengthen labor’s long-term position through new rhetoric and priorities. But the unions’ recent bearing—elevating aggressive individuals wedded to longstanding ways—may be a path to their political marginalization or worse.

Most observers interpreted the Vergara-Harris tandem as an anti-union one-two combination. The Vergara decision was the uppercut, a jarring repudiation of California’s policies on tenure and seniority. Harris was the enervating body blow setting up the denouement. It chipped away at unions’ ability to extract dues from nonmembers in the name of preventing “freeriders” ; the Court emphasized the right of individuals to refuse to financially support organizations with which they disagree, which could have major implications for mandatory-dues policies.

Said simply, Vergara struck down union-supported policies, and Harris may eventually serve to turn off a stream of income upon which unions depend for their negotiating and advocacy activities.

A doughty response from labor was to be expected. This is no glass-jaw gang.

But their reaction has been positively martial. The first paragraph alone in the NEA’s statement included “privatizing public education and attacking educators,” “ultra-rich cronies,” and “deep-pocketed corporate special interests.” The California Federation of Teachers declared, “The judge fell...

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TEACHER TENURE
On Thursday, an advocacy group filed a lawsuit challenging New York City’s teacher-tenure laws. (New York Times)
 
TEACHER EQUITY
Today, Arne Duncan outlined his fifty-state strategy for enforcing NCLB’s teacher-equity requirement. (Politics K–12)
 
EDUCATION RESEARCH
The Education Department announced a burst of new research partnerships on topics such as D.C.’s IMPACT teacher-evaluation system and support for English-language learners. (Inside School Research)
 
BALANCED LITERACY
A New York Daily News editorial argues that Chancellor Fariña should not revive the Balanced Literacy curriculum. (New York Daily News)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Daily Caller: “Common Core Backers Regret Obama’s Involvement
TES Connect: “Want the best? Then pay top dollar

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders; the Lewis and Clark expeditionmovie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesouter spaceand the systems of the human body

Today is the 151st anniversary of Pickett’s Charge, the last Confederate offensive of the Civil War—one that ended in a massive, bloody defeat, now seen as the turning point in that epic conflagration. So it’s as good a time as any to feature educational videos on the Civil War. As has been the case with other historical topics, it’s not easy to find excellent, age-appropriate materials, but we’ve located a few. Of course, because of the nature of the topic, these are surely ones you should watch with your kids. And as always, let us know if we missed some good ones.

 

Special thanks to research interns Ashley Council and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on the Civil War

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Bad ideas in education are like horror movie monsters. You think you’ve killed them, but they refuse to stay dead.

A generation ago, the infamous “reading wars” pitted phonics-based instruction in the early grades against “whole language,” which emphasized reading for meaning instead of spelling, grammar, and sounding words out.

In 1997, the National Reading Panel was tasked to settle the fight once and for all. Phonics won. That should have been the end of it, but whole language never really died. It morphed, grew a new head called “balanced literacy,” and lived on. In New York City, it grew even stronger.

Finally, last year, there was hope: Balanced literacy was left for dead yet when the city Education Department recommended two reading programs for elementary schools as they prepare to meet the rigorous new Common Core State Standards in English: New York State’s Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum and Pearson’s ReadyGen.

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project—the balanced-literacy program developed by Prof. Lucy Calkins, which had dominated city classrooms for more than a decade—notably failed to make the cut.

Why? Under the shift to Common Core standards, reading programs are explicitly expected to teach strong foundational skills, including phonics in the early grades, while building background knowledge and vocabulary, which are especially important for low-income children most at risk of reading failure.

To match the Common Core, reading programs must also encourage students to grapple with challenging texts that are worth reading.

None of these is emphasized in...

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SPECIAL-EDUCATION FUNDING
The New America Foundation finds that formulas divvying special-education money have not been adjusted in over a decade, which is resulting in smaller districts getting more federal dollars per student and shrinking districts getting more funding than growing districts. (On Special Education)
 
ED TECH
A MOOC designed to instruct teachers on how to use technology in the classroom is popular with a test group of rural teachers, who often must travel long distances for similar training. (Hechinger Report)
 
FUTURE CHARTER LEADERS
The University of Pennsylvania is launching a four-semester executive program for future charter school founders. (Charters & Choice)
 
CHARTER DIVERSITY
Fourteen diverse charter schools, including NYC’s Success Academy Charter Schools and San Diego’s High Tech High, have together founded the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools, which—among other things—will support research on the best policies an dprograms of diverse schools. (Charters & Choice)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Daily News: “Why Johnny won’t learn to read
New Yorker: “The Limits of Reading Rainbow”...

The early-childhood folks didn’t much like it when I faulted NCES for relying on the Rutgers-based National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) as the source for federal data on “the state of preschool”—and for subsidizing the advocacy work of that organization, which just so happens to be aligned with President Obama’s preschool initiative.

NIEER’s Steve Barnett insisted that the sole-source federal contract pays only for data gathering, not advocacy. And the Department of Education noted that when it had announced its intention of awarding such a contract to NIEER, nobody objected at the time. So why, it implied, was I grumping after the fact?

Talk about splitting hairs. At the receiving end—I speak as the long-time head of a fundraising-dependent nonprofit organization not so very different from NIEER—all money is green, even federal contract dollars that must be accounted for. At minimum, they offset costs that would otherwise be borne elsewhere in one’s budget, thereby freeing up funds for other activities, in this case including advocacy, which is what NIEER is best known for. (OK, data-based advocacy, but limited to the data they want you to see because those are the data that buttress their views and advance their goals.) I don’t know what NIEER’s total budget is—we couldn’t find it in any public source—but the $1.5 million it will receive via this contract (over five years) isn’t chickenfeed. And they can charge to this contract the costs of gathering data they would otherwise have had...

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