Liam Julian

The newest Gadfly is out. In it, Checker and I write about how states, loath to see their dropout rates rise, are backtracking on high school exit exams. It's easy to understand why: At a superficial level, reducing the number of dropouts and ensuring that all students leave high school with advanced skills are contradictory goals. Gadfly also contains this week reviews of reports about career and technical education, how Islam is portrayed in textbooks, and state standards.

At a news conference yesterday, New York City teachers union boss Randi Weingarten called Joel Klein's protestations over Albany's inflexibility on school funding the "height of chutzpah."

Beautiful. It's alliterative (more or less, depending on how you pronounce the Yiddish/Hebrew "ch"), elegantly cadenced, and well-suited to its demographic context. That's how you do a sound bite.

I'm encouraged this morning reading this article about Idaho's work in crafting standardized performance evaluations for teachers. Apparently, some are hoping it paves the way for pay-for-performance plans for teachers (another good thing).

To be sure, recent reports indicate that teacher evaluations are pretty poor on the whole. I've had the opportunity over the years to take a look at some of these evaluations, particularly those in urban school districts, and concur that they can be pretty embarrassing, often treating "personal hygiene" on the same plane as "teacher knowledge of subject"--that is, if the latter is even included.

To be fair, there are some fantastic evaluation instruments out there for assessing teachers' skills and knowledge. The Teacher Advancement Program, for instance, has one they use as part of their professional development and performance-based pay program. It's a research-based rubric that includes nearly 20 indicators (such as teacher content knowledge, teacher knowledge of students, academic feedback, and use of problem solving skills)--each one with corresponding benchmarks that operationalize what it means to be exemplary, proficient, or needing improvement. Let's hope the potato state can be a model for other states/districts interested in overhauling...

I've been a patient at the Massachusetts General Hospital and my-son-the-doctor did his residency there. They do a mighty good job of diagnosis, patient care, and treatment. If Senator Ted Kennedy's brain tumor is treatable, he's in good hands. Whether it is or not, our thoughts are with him, his family, and his amazing far-flung cast of loyal staffers and staff alumni/ae. One reason he's been so productive a lawmaker and crusader in so many spheres over so many years has been his adroit use of lots of able aides and advisors. And one result of that is a vast band of current and former staff who view him with respect, affection, and gratitude. As his Senate colleagues (and President Bush) have already made clear, Kennedy also commands the friendship of many, many people on both sides of the aisle. The thoughts and prayers of that throng cannot but help the MGH docs to do all they can--and the Senator himself to maintain his fighting spirit during the rough days ahead.

Photo by Flickr user imijfoto....

So reports Charles Barone, a former (Democratic) hill staffer:

Memo to Democrats:

  • Bush used a message similar to McCain's to good effect in 2000.
  • We suggest you claim the high ground again rather than cede it to the leader of the Republican party.
  • Let's hear more about what you are for and a little less about what you are against.

First it was Randi Weingarten, who yesterday embraced Core Knowledge as the sort of program New York City's schools need. Then today Education Week published a very friendly article about the approach. But every piece of journalism needs its "alternative" perspective; enter Alfie Kohn:

The curriculum "steal[s] time from more meaningful objectives, such as learning how to think critically," Alfie Kohn, an education writer and opponent of test-based accountability, wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today last December. "The best classrooms aren't organized around a ???bunch o' facts' but around problems, projects, and questions."

Yup, gotta hate those facts. As they say, "history: it's just one bloody thing after another." But come on, Alfie, does anyone but you accept the characterization of Core Knowledge as just a "bunch of facts"? At a time when teachers are deeply depressed about everything but dumbed-down reading and math skills getting narrowed out of the curriculum (depressed in part because of Alfie's exhortations), isn't a curriculum with lots of deep, rich, engaging, exciting content across history, literature, science, geography, and more worth praising and embracing? There, Alfie: now you have your "questions."...

That's one finding from this new Public Agenda survey. This request brings to mind the famous Rolling Stones song, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. Over the past fifty years, the number of students in the American public school system went up about 50 percent while the number of teachers tripled. How low can we go? Will teachers ever think their classes are small enough? Doubtful.

Liam Julian

Speaking of Eduwonk.... You may think you know Andy Rotherham. You've sat with him on panels, chit-chatted??with him??over cocktails, rubbed elbows with him in the corridors of power, enjoyed a??cigar with him while lounging in leather chairs in??the smoky wicket-doored rooms where American ed policy is crafted. Now, forget what you think you know; the real Rotherham is revealed.

Liam Julian

Eduwonk Andy Rotherham is a business-minded fellow, and yesterday he made the point that as districts downsize, schools close, and some teachers (maybe) lose their jobs, public education will bear the same trials that globalization has brought to many businesses. He writes, "like trade it's impossible to roll back these forces over time, and even if we could, the benefits of a more customized and performance oriented school system outweigh the costs."

The benefits of a customized and performance oriented school system definitely outweigh the costs. But it is most certainly not impossible in k-12 education "to roll back these forces over time." K-12 education is still largely a government-run and government-provided enterprise. Unlike most private companies, which either compete effectively against their competitors or shutter their stores, America's schools can continue indefinitely and blissfully their assembly line production of poorly educated pupils. Also, think about the farm bill, which has lately been in the news. If bureaucrats will go to such lengths to protect from competition certain inefficient private industries, imagine the lengths they could conceivably go to protect a government industry--k-12 ed--that doesn't feel nearly...

The Washington Post has been running a series all week on the childhood obesity crisis and our society's inadequate response to it. Today's article is about the schools' role:

When Americans look for a scapegoat to blame for the growing childhood obesity epidemic, they often point to the schoolhouse. School officials said, however, that their efforts to promote good nutrition are thwarted by parents, who send children to school with oversized bags of chips and fight officials when they try to ban cupcakes.

That's a pretty interesting inversion of in loco parentis. But what's more troubling to me is the assumption that this problem--like so many others--is our education system's responsibility to solve. Worried about global warming? Ask the schools to teach something about it. Concerned about teen driving accidents? Ask the schools to beef up driver's ed. And now, concerned about child obesity? Expect schools to take on the job of slimming kids down.

To be sure, schools shouldn't be doing harm by serving unhealthy food for lunch and allowing all manner of junk to spew from vending machines. But neither should the anti-obesity mission replace their anti-ignorance mission. Schools have limited time and resources,...