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YEAR IN REVIEW: Winners & Losers (According To Me)

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 28 20.24 WINNERS:  Obama campaign staff:  they threaded the needle for 22 months and then (some) got plum DPC jobs. Win! Arne Duncan: from nearly-complete obscurity to the top education job in the country. Randi Weingarten: wins top AFT job, successfully blackballs Klein without having to admit to it, and prevents DCTA from giving away the farm.  Jon Schnur: finally out ahead of folks like Kopp and Rotherham in the name recognition game. Broader Bolder: civil war a small price to pay for rebalancing the school reform world. Michelle Rhee:  took the DC schools by storm and -- so far -- remains on top. Paul Tough: incoming President endorses book topic. Eduwonkette:  a welcome ally against the think tank mafia.  Bob Compton: "2MM" documentary took the world by storm (almost as much as Roland Fryer's "Learn To Earn"). Margaret Spellings:  still a media darling until the end (somehow).  Steve Barr:  Union-charter model goes big in LA -- and in NYC.  Cigars for everyone.

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 28 20.24 LOSERS: Joel Klein: dumped overboard by his DFER allies and blocked from a triumphant return to DC by his "friend" Randi. NCLB:  from scapegoat to comic punch line. Linda Darling Hammond:  hazed mercilessly by the media (and the Brat Pack) despite all her work for the campaign. Bill Ayers:  "I wish I knew [Obama] better."  EDINO8: bland platform and bad timing undercut innovative philanthropic effort and admirable effort.  DFER transition memo: most embarrassing document of the year?  Andy (Eduwonk) Rotherham: not such a wunderkind anymoreTFA: the AOL of alt cert programs.  Education blogs (like this one):  too many, too predictable, too much opinion and advocacy (and too little news).    Education journalism:  still too credulous and superficial (see Margaret Spellings and Arne Duncan above).

Got any better ideas?  Feel free. 

THOMPSON: Research and Common Sense

JohnEaston It is naive to believe that education policy could be shaped by the excellent research of the Chicago Schools Consortium or Catalyst, or the practical wisdom that can be found on district299.com. To believe that, you would have to believe that the United States would elect as president a Black intellectual with a Muslim name who believes that schools alone can not close the achievement gap.

But still, it was great to read this memo to teachers attached to a study by the Consortium:

"You (teachers) don’t like disrupting your lessons for test preparation. And you find it as dull as your students do. But you face tremendous pressure to improve your school’s test scores. ...You may have put your lesson plans on hold, convinced that practicing test questions will boost scores. But guess what? It doesn’t work. In fact, sometimes it hurts. ACT scores are actually lower in schools where teachers spend large amounts of class time on test prep.  So what works? Good grades. Demanding instruction. An environment focus on preparing students for college."

Sounds obvious, right?"  - John Thompson

NEWS: Big Stories Of The Day

Obama-golf-20 Confirmation hearings set for nominees Politico.com
Sen. Kennedy has scheduled several confirmation hearings in early January. [Duncan is Jan 13.]

Needy schools turn to parents for funding Wall Street Journal
PTAs Are Helping to Cover Cost of Books, Other Supplies; Paying to Keep a Teacher Aide. Public schools across the country, hurt by state- and local-government cutbacks, are tapping an alternative source of cash: Mom and Dad.

Unprepared kindergartners cost schools AP Ed Week
The Wilder Research report, commissioned by the Bush Foundation, found that unprepared kindergartners cost schools because they lose per-student revenue when students drop out.

SAT Changes Policy, Opening Rift With Colleges NYT
Some highly selective schools have said they will not go along with Score Choice, a new policy allowing students to select which of their multiple scores colleges can see.

Charter schools help jail inmates graduate AP EdWeek
Now he's got a chance to get his high school diploma, thanks to a new Albuquerque charter school, one of a handful of charter schools nationwide serving current and former jail inmates the public school system failed to reach.

SENATE: Jan. 13 Hearing For Duncan

Arne Duncan will get his confirmation hearing January 13 in front of the Senate HELP Committee, according to the Boston Globe (Kennedy sets confirmation hearings).  Maybe they'll ask him some tough questions.  Probably not. 

MEDIA: Coverage Of Duncan Described As Sincere, Hard-Working, Collaborative

16Chicago-Hoops Charter-positive, a fan of closing schools and limiting curriculum options, and ambivalent about local school councils, I am far from Arne Duncan's harshest critic.  But the best thing I can find about this EdWeek story (Duncan Seen as Collaborator) is the picture of Duncan as a college basketball player.  There's also some healthy caution citing CPS test score increases that's much appreciated by me at least.  Otherwise, it's just a collection of quotes from allies and opportunists, nary a truly critical voice or independent insight to be found. He's sincere.  He's hard-working.  He's unassuming.  Why is this praiseworthy?  Crap journalism like this makes me long for the old he-said, she-said. 

MEDIA: Advancing Bogus Claims Of Agencies, Advocates, Etc.

Acai-in-basket_300x300shkl "The myth of the skeptical reporter dies every time a news organization advances the bogus claim of a government agency, a nonprofit, or a trade association," writes Slate's Jack Schafer (A plague of shoplifters!) "--which is to say, frequently."

TECH: Grown-Ups Like Mini-Laptops, Too

Asus_eee_pc_windows_xp Call it One Laptop Per Grown-Up.  Small and inexpensive mini-laptops are all the rage, according to this Slate article (The future of laptops).  These sub-$500 "netbooks" suit adults who want something smaller than a regular laptop that still has a regular keyboard.  Me, I'm still rolling with my little 12" Powerbook G4.  But I'll get one of these next time out -- assuming there's a wireless broadband card inside.  WiFi is so 2003, don't you think?

SEX: Return Of The Female Predator

Hope-jacoby_44225942 Shades of 2007! After a year that seemed blissfully free of attractive blond teachers getting freaky with pimply teenage boys and sending them text messages about it, a California woman who worked in the sports department of a local high school has apparently crossed the line:  Trainer Did More Than Tape Ankles, Apparently (Deadspin).

NCLB NEWS: Just Four Pct. Of Schools Face Restructuring

Thegrinch121808 Roughly 30K schools failed to make AYP last year -- an increase of 28 percent over the previous year, according to a recent EdWeek study and report (More Schools Facing Sanctions Under NCLB). But is that really such a big deal?  Not really.  Many of these schools were first-timers, only failing to make AYP because of their states' adjustable rate AYP criteria.  The increase in number of schools facing NCLB sanctions (ie, multiple years failing to meet AYP) is up 13 just percent. And the percentage of schools facing restructuring is just 4 percent -- not a particularly distressing figure given the state of American schools (and the fact that NCLB restructuring is something of a joke). 

VIDEO: Bert And Ernie Rap

Spin Magazine named this little bit of Bert and Ernie rapping as one of the 20 Best Music Videos of 2008:

Check it out -- amusing and only 90 seconds long or so. MOP's Ante Up is the song. Hilarious to watch them bounce.

THOMPSON: Amen to Russo's Post on Matt Miller

BernardshawAll three of Russo's posts on Matt Miller were right on target, especially about Matt Miller's ideas that are "fun," "impossible," and "ridiculous." As long as the pointy headed pundits are tilting at windmills, they are sacrificing their leverage for imposing their idiosyncratic technocratic ideas on the real world. You probably know both Miller and Matt Yglesias (I don't) but I don't see how Ygelsias, who you cite, is much more realistic. Yes, the issue for Miller seems to be less about the money than the messiness of school boards and local control. That disorderliness prevents the wonks from imposing their mandates that would transform America. They are like the old Fabian Socialists who wanted to fix up the working classes so they wouldn't be so dirty. Yes, the deeper problem is American culture that prizes localism. But that's reality.

Continue reading "THOMPSON: Amen to Russo's Post on Matt Miller" »

MEDIA: A Front-Page Fairy Tale About Chicago Schools

You'd think that, with a little extra time and a chance to visit the district, the Washington Post's Maria Glod would have a better chance than others for accuracy and insight in her front-page Duncan story today (Chicago School Reform Could Be a U.S. Model).  And indeed there are some improvements over past efforts (like not touting the suspect Chicago test score increases). 

But over all, the piece reads surprisingly like something the transition folks or Team Duncan would hand out as talking points.  Healthy skepticism?  Not apparent.  Verification of claims?  Who has time for that?

ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 30 09.26Three quick examples:  The Post says that the pay for performance program in Chicago is in "numerous" city schools when in reality the number of schools in this new and federally funded pilot program is less than 20. That's hardly numerous.  The Post touts the dubious claim that Duncan has worked collaboratively with the teachers union based -- it seems -- on little more than the word of the teachers union president.  Why pass that on to readers without checking it out?  And -- perhaps most problematically -- it suggests that Chicago schools are a model for the rest of the country when in most regards the schools there have followed other more successful districts like New York.   Two months ago, hardly anyone knew who Arne Arne Duncan was. There's a reason for that.

The Post (and other mainstream outlets) discredit themselves and do a disservice to their readers when they pass along unverified or exaggerated claims like those in this article, and fail to indicate controversy or questions.  Please make them stop. 

AYERS: Darling-Hammond "Would Not Have Been A Smart Pick"

090105_billayers_p323 "Darling-Hammond would not have been a smart pick for Obama," writes Bill Ayers in a blog post City Paper picked up (Vote “Me” for Secretary of Education). 

"She was steadily demonized in a concerted campaign to undermine her effectiveness, and she would surely have had great difficulty getting any traction whatsoever for progressive policy change in this environment."

NEWS: Big Stories Of The Day

Chicago School Reform Could Be a U.S. Model Washington Post
With a 408,000-student system, smaller than only New York's and Los Angeles's public schools, Chicago has become a laboratory for reform in Duncan's seven-year tenure.

It's the law: Schools gain a tool to halt online cruelty Sacto Bee
The cyberbullying legislation was backed by the California Teachers Association and California PTA, the Anti- Defamation League, the American Electronics ...

Maine Schools Move to Use Same Test as R.I. AP
The transition to the New England Common Assessment Program starts in the new year.

More Strapped Families Relying on School Cafeterias US News
The rise in students using free and reduced lunch programs puts pressure on district budgets.

Hands-On Kids' Museums Make Learning Fun NPR
Immersion and interaction are the name of the game at children's museums around the country. NPR's Neda Ulaby visited WaterWays in San Jose and the Dinosphere in Indianapolis to see the next generation of kids' museums firsthand.

Matamoros: High school principal suspends fifteen students who had plucked eyebrowsThe students, who were suspended during finals week and three days before the holiday vacations, ranged from thirteen to fifteen years of age.

TRANSITION: Who Will Duncan Bring With Him?

0604Class_Main Curious about who Team Duncan might bring along from the Windy City?  I know at least a handful of folks are wondering who's coming -- and what that does to the chances of DC folks to land juicy jobs. 

Truth is, Duncan won't get to pick his own team.  Check out some educated guesses here (Team Duncan Shaping Up). 

THOMPSON: Common Sense and research

Discipline%20Dilemma What will it mean if Arne Duncan brings John Easton, the former director of the Chicago Schools Consortium with him to Washington? In order to address that question, I reviewed the Consortium’s excellent research and found this nugget

Among Chicago high schools scoring in the bottom quartile, only 17% of students reported that they have been suspended more than one or two times. Among high schools in the top quartile, 26% of students report they have been in trouble three or four times and suspended once or twice. Another 13% report that they have been suspended more than three times.

Its always great to find academic research that confirms the practical wisdom of teachers. To raise academic standards, we must raise behavioral standards. To overly depend suspensions would be as foolhardy as overemphasizing test prep. But suspensions are an invaluable tool. - John Thompson

Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge Blog adds a response to the post and the comment. I fail to see why those two things are mutually exclusive.  We should create rich, rewarding student experiences and warm, nurturing school environments.  And protect those environments zealously with no-nonsense discipline procedures.  Isn't this one of the lessons of KIPP and other successful "no excuses" schools?

Continue reading "THOMPSON: Common Sense and research" »

TRANSITION: Duncan's Number-One School Reform Wish

ED-AI761_Levy_E_20081224113106 Chicago's Arne Duncan submitted to an interview with Scholastic Administrator just before getting picked for the EdSec spot (It's A Slam Dunk). 

In the interview, Duncan generally comes across as hyper-earnest, describes Obama's mad basketball skills, and -- tidbit! - lists his top school reform wish.  

Left out of the final version was Duncan's description of how playing basketball on Chicago's South Side toughened him up even more than his strangely-spelled name.

THINK TANKS: $100 Billion (A Year) To Get Rid Of School Boards

MOpGPxVqkhl75cm9wVqer0OAo1_400 Each time out, Matt Miller gets slightly more savvy about his idea to get rid of local school boards, focusing not just on the benefits of getting rid of these relics but the practicalities of getting such a major change implemented.

This time out (Nixon’s the One — to Imitate on Education) Miller debunks the notion that most urban districts are dens of corruption that spend more than their suburban counterparts, points out that we've already nationalized much of our financial system (health care is next), and goes back to a 1972 Nixon-era study calling for the feds to cover 25-30 percent of education costs.  Miller even acknowledges that "A little more federal money might be needed to sweeten the pot, round up the votes and give a boost to the poorest schools." 

Getting closer, Matt.  But you still don't have much of a plan for how to persuade Congress, that bastion of local control, to vote for the change, or much for how to pay for the $100B or so per year that it would take to boost federal education spending to those levels.

Previous Posts:

Pointy Headed Pundits Can't Make Local Control Go Away
"First, Kill All The School Boards"

POWER COUPLES: Fast Break From Sacto. to DC?

9089262 The Washington Post's Reliable Source wants to know if Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and DC superintendent Michelle Rhee are a school reform power couple, and go so far as to call DC and get her response:  Rhee & Kevin Johnson: Extracurricular Activities?.

No word on what Johnson has to say. For other power couples in education check out previous posts: 

Power Couple Pics
Hot Education Power Couples
Power Couples In Education, The Update
NYT Adopts "Power Couples In Education" Idea

If there are more couples, or if they've changed, let us know.

WEEKEND READING: Catching Up On The Past Few Days

Year Up Program Prepares At-Risk Youth to Thrive in Corporate Culture PBS
The Year Up program aims to alleviate the 30 percent unemployment rate among urban youth by giving at-risk young adults lessons in job skills and corporate culture.

Blue Man Group Creates High-Tech NYC Preschool NPR
The Blue School — at up to $27,000 a year — is an experiment to help kids explore "divergent thinking."

ScreenHunter_04 Dec. 28 21.56Wanted: More science and math teachers in the US Christian Science Monitor
School officials hope financial and training incentives will help fill the need for 200,000 new teachers.

Teachers use blogs to forge new links with students, parents Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Some North Texas teachers’ blog posts are direct and to the point. Others are feel-good updates on personal lives.

The Parent-Teacher Talk Gains a New Participant NYT
Student-led conferences are gaining ground at elementary and middle schools nationwide, in part because of the rapidly shifting demographics at public schools.

Workers' Paradise The New Republic
Even in a city known for its strivers, his appointees seem to be a disproportionately intense bunch.

Scientific illiteracy all the rage among the glitterati The Independent
When it comes to science, Barack Obama is no better than many of us. Today he joins the list of shame of those in public life who made scientifically unsupportable statements in 2008.

Why Are Spanish Schools So Behind? National Public Radio
Spanish schoolchildren have consistently ranked near the bottom in comparisons of reading, math and science skills with those of other industrialized countries. Lately that's proving extremely problematic.

"All Things Considered" thank you earns teacher some publicity Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The discussion was on giving charitable donations online and Gallaga was asked if that was a more impersonal way of giving.

Two districts left behind by error, state says Wahoo Newspaper
The information the department released Monday represents an important determination about how schools rate according to No Child Left Behind.

More schools left behind Omaha World-Herald, NE
Across Nebraska, 41 public schools — up from 24 last year — have been designated as needing academic improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Cuts Imperil a Real High School Musical NYT
Amid state and city budget cuts, the bright lights have dimmed at Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts — the school of “Fame” fame.

NEWS: Big Stories Of The Day

As a Candidate, Kennedy Is Forceful but Remains Elusive NYT
... if appointed, she hoped to be particularly involved in the debate over the reauthorization of the federal legislation known as No Child Left Behind.

School Groups Hope K-12 Gets Share of Stimulus EdWeek
Education groups are hoping for a major infusion of cash from any economic stimulus package, to help put financially struggling school districts on firmer fiscal footing.

Researchers Hope Obama Team Will Reinvigorate Role of Science Adviser PBS
Scientists and scientific organizations hailed President-elect Barack Obama's choice of top science advisers as a "dream team" this week.

Ohio schools keep cafeterias open for holidays AP
A school district in Ohio says the economy is so tight it has kept its cafeterias open during Christmas break to provide hot lunches for needy students....

HAPPY HOLIDAYS: Stay Warm, Be Safe, Have Fun!

The blog will be back soon.

THOMPSON: Getting to the Core

 I had forgotten the ending of Katherine Boo’s wonderful story of Denver  superintendent Michael Bennet and his efforDenialt to "save" 558 students at Manual High, a school he was shutting down. The story closes with the words of Noberto, one of the featured students, "‘The eleven-year old with the Uzi, no one wants to get to the core of it."

But what if we all tried to get to the core of "it," the challenge of turning around our toughest schools? Honestly, what would it really take to transform "teenagers who hadn’t had a decent year of schooling in their lives?"

Boo wrote, "Other ambitious superintendents admit privately that radical reform has its collateral costs, and that students like Noberto bear them. Compared to pliable second graders, teen-agers are a poor investment." But Bennet devised a plan for at-risk high school students where "computer programs would track their performance - a failed test here, a week of unexplained absence there - and identify those who might need extra help." Is there any reason (other than denial)  why society did not start those efforts with elementary students when they were still pliable?

Continue reading "THOMPSON: Getting to the Core" »

VIDEO: "What You Gonna Get For, For Christmas?"

The best part of this silly video shot at a school is the couple of teachers that the kids got to participate, rapping and dancing a little. Anyone know who they are and how they feel about being all over the Internets?:

Via videogum -- may not be entirely suitable for work.

FOUND: "Don't Read Russo's Blog!"



INTERNET: Do Online Search Tools Improve Research Or Just Narrow It?


Online research over-emphasizes a small set of recent popular research at the expense of older, more diverse studies, according to this Boston Globe article (Group think):  "Leafing through print journals or browsing the stacks can expose researchers to a context that is missing in the highly targeted searches of PubMed or PsychInfo...Social Science Research Network (SSRN), the widely used Internet resource, offers lists of "top papers," "top authors," and "top institutions."

THOMPSON: "The New Stupid"

6a00e54f8c25c988340105369134f7970c-800wi A decade ago, Frederick Hess foresaw "the New Stupid" where data "stand in for careful thought, serve as dressed-up rationales for the same old fads ... to justify incoherent proposals" when he witnessed aspiring superintendents "energetically misuse data." After a presentation on teacher-added effects and inequitable distributions of teachers, it was agreed, "Day one we’re going to start identifying those high value-added teachers and moving them to schools that aren’t making AYP."

A generation ago, such a room would have been full of people who understood why it would be foolhardy to try to move teachers around like chess pieces. Last week, Malcolm Gladwell correctly celebrated the unquantifiable "withitness" required to teach reading to seven pre-school children or trigonometry. It is very unlikely, however, that those wonderful teachers would also have the withitness to teach in a hardcore neighborhood secondary school. Even if they had the personality to make the transfer, most great teachers in low-poverty schools would move to the suburbs before enduring the undignified treatment envisioned by superintendents with a "Masters of the Universe" mentality.

Continue reading "THOMPSON: "The New Stupid"" »

MEDIA: Reporters & Researcher Reflect On Duncan Era

Some notable things came out of a Friday Education Writers Association conference call about Arne Duncan -- not all of them negative. 

ReproductionFirst off, the panelists talking about Duncan (researcher John Easton, Catalyst writer Sarah Karp, and I) all agreed that the stability and continuity he provided to Chicago was useful and positive, as was his general practice of rolling out pilot efforts before going city-wide, and "tweaking" (to use John Easton's word) initiatives every year to make them work better.  "They just keep fiddling until they get it right," said Easton.  "Arne's for a lot of simultaneous experiments."

Easton (whom some have said will go to DC with Duncan) pointed out CPS's "aggressive" postsecondary efforts.  Karp raised questions about Renaissance 2010 and gentrification.

It was also good to be reminded of how different Chicago schools are:  Howe decentralized -- parent councils pick their own principals and control discretionary funds.  How constrained the charter school system is there -- 30 charters, all authorized by the district, most of them homegrown networks rather than national chains. How small, relatively, Renaissance 2010 is -- 100 small new schools in a system of about 400K kids.  And that the Vallas-era social promotion ban is still in effect, though much watered down.

Of course, the flip side of Duncan's data-driven behavior is that neither Easton nor anyone else could recall examples where Duncan had gone past the trial stage and gone big with a proposal.  Some examples where Duncan could have gone big but didn't include WSF, autonomy, districtwide standards or curriculum, and a longer school day and year.  There's not a lot that's been successfully taken to scale.  Some of the few efforts that have -- the reading initiative, for example -- have not seemed super-effective given Chicago's scores.

Speaking of scores, I think it's worth adding to the mix that, while Chicago officials generally ignore NCLB designations in favor of their own "probation" designations, Arne Duncan's Chicago school system has over 200 schools in restructuring (not just the planning stage) -- even with the inflated test scores that come from changes in the ISAT and PSAE (state tests).

MEDIA: Weekend Reading

Phone1A Payoff Out of Poverty? NY Times 
For a decade, Mexico has offered assistance to the poor on the condition that they visit clinics, attend workshops and keep their kids in school. Can that system work here?

Rescue schools and hospitals first, then build light rail.  Salon
$50 million in federal aid during the Clinton administration allowed Michigan schools to hire nearly 1,300 new teachers. It is also the current operating budget of a Tennessee school district made up of eight elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools.

Teachers and Quarterbacks Gladwell.com
The psychological situation facing the gatekeeper in both cases is identical: that confronted with a prediction deficit, the human impulse is to tighten standards, when it fact it should be to loosen standards.

Stop picking on the Newbery Medal Slate
Is the highest honor in children's literature, the Newbery medal, woefully out of touch? Yes, according to children's book expert Anita Silvey, who made her case in a recent issue of the School Library Journal.

Finland No Education Silver Bullet Dana Goldstein
Only 10 percent to 12 percent of college students who apply to Finnish teacher-education programs are accepted, and unlike in the United States, they tend to come from the top of their class.

Parochial-School Lessons WSJ
A former Black Panther, Mr. Gober defines himself and his mission in part through occasional conflicts with authority...When Mr. Gober's demons, and diabetes, finally separate him from Rice, he has left behind a thriving culture of learning and authentic pride.

I blog because I teach teacherken
I was sitting in a Starbucks in Arlington, Virginia.  Across the table from me was Tom Vilsack, the Governor of Iowa and a man who was considering running for President of the United States.  What was he doing taking time out of his schedule to talk to me, a guy who taught high school in Maryland?  Why was he listening to what I had to say, and asking followup questions? It was because I blog.

Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise Scientific American
We are the ancestors of those most successful at finding patterns.Unfortunately, we did not evolve a Baloney Detection Network in the brain to distinguish between true and false patterns.

Rod Blagojevich And The Poetry Slam NYT
Turns out the English poet is a favorite of high-profile people in times of crisis.

NEWS: Big Stories Of The Day

DC_WPDespite Agreement, Hawaii Teachers Resist Drug Testing Washington Post
Hawaii public school teachers signed off on first-in-the-nation statewide random drug testing in exchange for pay raises, but now the state claims the educators are trying to take the money and run.

Judge Halts Mandatory Algebra Testing for California 8th Graders AP
A judge has blocked a plan to make California the first state in the nation to require algebra testing for all eighth graders.

Foundation to shut down, blames Madoff MSNBC
One of the nation's leading educational philanthropies announced that it would close in the coming months, brought down by the alleged financial fraud orchestrated by Bernard Madoff.

Drug Sweep of Schools Leads to Issue of Rights NYT
Some parents and the American Civil Liberties Union have complained that police searches at schools were heavy-handed and disruptive.


Illinois ripples reach Vallas Times Picayune
The sudden rise of one Chicagoan and fall of another in recent days holds a unique significance for New Orleans' Recovery School District superintendent, Paul Vallas.PLUS: More New Orleans schools to convert to charter status.

Cortines at the helm Los Angeles Times
L.A. Unified's new superintendent, a longtime educator, discusses the challenges the huge school district faces and his goals for its future.

THOMPSON: Counting What Really Counts

Dropouts Two cheers for Schoolboy's reminder that we need early warning systems for potential dropouts. As early as 6th grade, we may be able to identify with 75% accuracy the individuals who are at most risk. We still need to consider whether a student with low attendance needs different interventions than a student with behavior problems or low grades, and we can not forget that dropout prevention has not had a long record of success.

Schoolboy, however, used a poor metaphor when he asked whether indicators were like cholesterol tests which can clearly improve outcomes or prostate cancer tests. If we have no treatments and early diagnosis can do little more than upset patients, then early warning is of minimal value. But prostrate cancer is not contagious. Classroom disruptions by failing students are.

Continue reading "THOMPSON: Counting What Really Counts" »

MEDIA: EdWeek's NCLB Reporting Woes Continue

EdWeek's star NCLB reporter David Hoff keeps saying that Arne Duncan is an NCLB supporter (Russo Picks Wrong 'Poster Child').  But repeating the claim doesn't change the facts, and Hoff can't distract our attention claiming that the NEA disliked the law more than Duncan. That's not the point.

Even now, Chicago generally ignores the federal/state AYP rating system, choosing to use its own mom-and-pop "probation" system to determine which schools will be restructured, and decries the law's ELL testing requirements. Funny thing for an NCLB supporter to do, eh?  (There's the story, David.)


This isn't the first time that Hoff has confused what people say with what really happened (and refused to correct himself).  In March 2007, Hoff memorably passed along the Obama campaign's claim that their candidate "led" the 1995-2001 Chicago Annenberg Challenge (Is EdWeek Reaching?). But Obama's involvement in the Challenge was much less substantial than that. Just ask Bill Ayers. 

Me, I'm wrong all the time -- especially when it comes to predictions.  But always happy to admit them.  From beginning to nearly the end, for example, I derided the notion that Arne Duncan could ever be a serious contender for Education Secretary.  Shows what I know. 

FACEBOOK: Suspended Student Sues School

568facebookembeddedprod_affiliate56 It was a Friday night, and Katherine Evans, a senior at Pembroke Pines Charter High, was fed up with her English teacher.

To vent her frustrations, she logged onto Facebook and started typing.

''Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I've ever met!'' she wrote. ``To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred.''

Two months later, Evans -- an honors student with no disciplinary problems -- was suspended for three days for cyberbullying and disruptive behavior, pulled out of her Advanced Placement classes and ''forced into lesser-weighted honors classes,'' according to a federal lawsuit filed on her behalf this week by the American Civil Liberties

Facebook face-off: Student, suspended for blog rant, sues

TRANSITION: Bushies Derail Obama Girls' Chances For A Good Education

Aiga_shaw_helvetica_1_6 Still catching up from last week:

If the Obama girls can't move into the Blair Residence January 5, how are they supposed to start school on time? 

And if they can't start school on time, how are they supposed to fit in and get a good education? 

NYT: Sorry, We’re Booked, White House Tells Obamas (via Wonkette).

EDSEC: Rhee Vs. Duncan Vs. TFA

Outoing USA Today editorial page writer Richard Whitmire has an interesting take on the Duncan choice (Duncan Must Deal With Rhee, Union) in US News today, describing Duncan as an adroit "straddler" and making the argument that, as Secretary, Duncan will have to deal with where DC's Michelle Rhee and other TFA types are trying to take school reform in her district and nationally. 

Lucy121508First off, I don't buy that Duncan will have to weigh in decisively on the debate in DC, though he will certainly be asked about it innumerable times by the press and by Congress. He and his boss are just too good at...straddling. 

But my biggest argument with Whitmire's analysis is that he confuses Rhee's hard-charging approach with the rest of TFA and its various spinoffs. 

Sure, Rhee comes from TFA, and yes TFA types did indeed haze Lind Darling Hammond during the EdSec selection process.  Whitmire is good to note this issue, which I have addressed in several recent Huffington Posts. But TFA has clearly not transformed public education during over 15 years at work, and it, its grads and various spinoff organizations are generally quite timid about taking on districts or public officials (like teachers union presidents) directly.

In my mind, the best of both worlds would be reformers who support and confront the school system as needed, neither relentlessly confrontational like Rhee nor consistently indirect, and accommodating like TFA and its brethren. But let's not confuse two very different approaches.

UPDATE:  It was journalists and writers who were really responsible for the hazing of LDH, says the Tuttle SVC blog (Don't Blame Us, It Was TFA!):  "If the 14,400 TFA alums have an outsized influence over national education policy...Mr. Whitmire and his colleagues in the media have played a major role in giving them that influence."

TRANSITION: What Happens Next

43898966 Those of us trying to get an interview with Obama education pick Arne Duncan are being told we're not going to get a chance to have him answer our questions for a while now (ie, until Congress approves him).  So unless someone changes their minds we can look forward to another long period of silence just like there was after the election.  Meantime, the policy, review, and personnell teams are continuing to chug along, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is telling folks that Duncan's not leaving town until the Inauguration.

MEDIA: Hechinger Institute Staff Editor Job

Headerhechinger There are lots of folks moving around jobs right now and I wanted to make sure that everyone had seen this job posting for staff editor at the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media that's been out for a little while now but hasn't yet been filled to my knowledge.  Check it out. 

Continue reading "MEDIA: Hechinger Institute Staff Editor Job" »

YEAR IN REVIEW: Big Education Ideas Of 2008

E_largeThe NY Times Magazine listed a few education-related ideas in its annual Year In Ideas issue last week, but none of them (Kindergarten Redshirting Is Bad, Two-tier Teacher Contract, The One-room School Bus) seems particularly transformative to me with the possible exception of the one that doesn't really exist (the two-tiered contract). 

So what are the really big ideas of 2008? A couple that come to mind include unionized charters (like Green Dot) that could finally unlock the innovation-security puzzle, open-source software and textbooks that could free districts from costly budget items, "artsy" charter schools that emphasize enrichment as well as remediation, turnaround efforts (they're back!), and -- perhaps the biggest idea of all -- the idea that real-world experience still counts. 

I'm no big cheerleader for Arne Duncan (and I know he lacks classroom or building-level experience that some insist is necessary), but I still think that the education idea of the year may be that president-elect Barack Obama ultimately chose someone who worked inside the public system rather than many others who study or support or chatter about schools from the outside.   The big real takeway for 2008 may be the enduring value of real-world experience at the district, state, or federal levels.  Whether or not the experience is particularly successful or not is, alas, less important than that you've had it.  But at least you'll know how these worlds really work.

What are your nominations for big education ideas of 2008?

TRANSITION: The President's Man...And The Brains Behind The Policy


ThePresident's Man TNR (EJ Dionne)
Of all of Obama's Cabinet choices, none was quite so characteristic of the incoming president's..

Reform School Newsweek
An Obama education advisor thinks U.S. schools could take a lesson from Finland and Singapore.

PLUS:  FAIR argues that the debate over Duncan and LDH was "one-sided" (Media's Failing Grade on Education 'Debate').

NEWS: Big Stories Of The Day

Bush says he shares blame for negative tone The Associated Press
contributed to a more positive tone early in his presidency, such as the bipartisan passage of the sweeping No Child Left Behind education law.

Geoffrey Canada and Education's Future Jay Mathews
Canada does not defeat poverty in Harlem. But the preschool and elementary school show promise.

A teen shooting expands a school community's borders
When a fourth-grader's older brother is arrested for murder, the International Community School's sense of a ‘beloved community' means supporting the struggling families of both victim and shooter.

Crackdown on binge-drinking teachers Daily Mail (UK)
Teachers who become drunk and rowdy on nights out face being disciplined for bringing the profession into disrepute.

MEDIA: The Myth Of Union Innovation & Collaboration In Chicago

I should be shopping for holiday gifts (or at least listening to the listless end-of-term class discussion that's going on around me) but I keep coming across amazingly decontextualized and misleading news stories about the Duncan era in Chicago...and I keep failing at just letting them go by and letting everyone go home.

The latest example is today's WSJ story about the Duncan announcement, which fails to note the changes to the Illinois state tests that generated all or much of Chicago's improvements under Duncan and also  mischaracterizes the relationship between Duncan and the Chicago Teachers Union as a collaborative and progressive one. 

In reality, Duncan has tried for and gotten very little cooperation from the teachers in Chicago when it comes to school improvement or teacher quality.  He gave the teachers a very retro contract with a short day and year and few notable innovations.  (Between Fresh Start and the TAP program, there are 28 schools out of 400  where something that could be called innovative or collaborative.)  The local teachers union president and AFT prez Weingarten may be saying nice things now, but there's not much to that besides positioning.

The following day, the teachers union leader was speaking against Duncan at the monthly board meeting, as usual. 

Continue reading "MEDIA: The Myth Of Union Innovation & Collaboration In Chicago" »

BLOGS: Around The Blogs

Edubroderism Kevin Carey
Maybe there are education issues where the middle way is best. But maybe there aren't.

Good NGA, Bad NGA Charlier Barone
A reliable source tells us that the NGA is lobbying the Obama transition team to roll back the regulation issued by Secretary Spellings in October that requires states to set a uniform and accurate method for measuring high school graduation rates. Spellings simply put in regs what the Governors themselves pledged to do more than three years ago. However, only 16 states so far have done so.

AUSL leader shows comtempt for teachers PURE
The teachers who spoke at the Board meeting yesterday [in Chicago] are some of the best in the system. Feinstein's casual dismissal of their concerns as self-interest exposes the level of contempt these privatizers hold for experienced, dedicated, under-resourced, under-supported classroom teachers in Chicago's neighborhood schools.

I wish Duncan good luck Mike Klonsky
Despite Chicago’s 52% graduation rate...and despite the data showing that only 6.5% of CPS freshman go on to earn a college degree by the time they are in their mid-20s, and despite four straight years of declining high school test scores, and despite the administration's buy-in to NCLB’s testing madness, and ...despite the nearly 10,000 kids arrested each year out of their CPS classrooms, and despite CPS’ ongoing efforts to kill the deseg consent degree; despite efforts to weaken or abolish the Local School Councils, despite all this and much, much more, I still wish Arne Duncan all the success in the world in his new job

CARTOONS: There's A Graduation For Everything These Days

Screenhunter_07_dec_15_0148From a recent New Yorker:

"But you can't miss her second-grade first- semester graduation!"

I'm loving the New Yorker Digital Reader (and the free ScreenHunter 5.0)

CLOSINGS: Living Rooms & Church Appearances

Schoolclosed2 How to close failing schools and turn them around is back in the news again with the Obama selection of Arne Duncan, who has closed schools nearly every year in Chicago. 

But not everyone agrees about how best to do it -- even among those who agree it's necessary. Do you close schools quickly based on evidence of persistent failure, or do you work with local leaders and have a slower, more fluid process, risking disagreement and delay? 

This debate was highlighted earlier this fall in Seattle, where DC's Michelle Rhee, Atlanta's Beverly Hall, and Green Dot's Steve Barr debated the issue during the Gatesfest, with a word or two from Carnegie's Michele Cahill as well.

Claudia Wallis, a longtime TIME magazine writer/editor, was at the event and provided the nugget below.

Continue reading "CLOSINGS: Living Rooms & Church Appearances" »

TRANSITION: Duncan's Chicago Was Poster Child For NCLB Resistance

Many educators will be happy to know that, under Arne Duncan Chicago was the poster child for districts resisting and criticizing the law.  Others may find themselves worrying that as EdSec Duncan will be a little too loose with district "flexibility."  But there's little doubt that Duncan (and Daley) fought tooth and nail against many of the law's key provisions like tutoring, transfers, and AYP ratings. Some clips:

To Duncan, NLCB law is 'burdensome'...  Chicago Sun Times 2003
Tutoring firm expelled from 7 of city's schools. Tribune 2005
Chicago public schools chief may sue US agency over tutoring Tribune 2004
Failing Schools across Illinois Scramble to Obey Federal Law. Sun Times 2003
New rules help raise Illinois students' test scores. Tribune 2004
Daley protests student transfers Sun Times 2002
Fewer join in school transfer program - Duncan criticizes... Sun Times 2003
Schools blast state test data that could lead to sanctions Sun Times 2003
A Failing Grade Mother Jones 2003
50 schools can send students to better ones - The catch is... Sun Times 2003
No Child Left Behind Act causing hardships for many public... NPR 2003

TRANSITION: Interpreting Obama's Education Aims

"For years, we have talked our education problems to death in Washington, but failed to act, stuck in the same tired debates...Democrat versus Republican; vouchers versus the status quo; more money versus more reform – all along failing to acknowledge that both sides have good ideas and good intentions."

My interpretation:


CHICAGO: Looking At The [Ugly] Numbers

Screenhunter_15_dec_17_235 I'm almost -- but not quite -- done trying to make sure everyone knows what has and hasn't happened in Chicago under Arne Duncan.

At left, you can see that Catalyst Chicago has gathered some numbers for the Duncan era in Chicago (2001-2007), including lots of low and/or flat data (Achievement ups and downs). It's not very pretty. 

The main increase, a rise in state elementary test scores, is largely attributed to changes in test rigor, format, and cut scores during this period -- not improved achievement.

Fourth grade NAEP scores put Chicago near the bottom of big city school districts -- just like it was seven years ago. Eighth grade scores are also unchanged, though relatively higher.

The other increase that Catalyst cites -- graduation rates -- I would question given recent studies showing how few CPS high school graduates enter (much less complete) college.

A 2006 study showed that just eight of 100 CPS freshmen earned a college degree by their mid-20s (PDF).   

MEDIA: More Wacky Duncan Coverage [updated]

Dhoff Chicago might as well be on Mars, so little do education observers and journalists seem to know about its actual workings.  Over at EdWeek, The Hoff is calling Obama pick Arne Duncan a "supporter" of NCLB when in reality Duncan has been one of the most vocal critics of the legislation and Chicago has been one of the slowest and most reluctant implementers of the law.

Want examples?  Duncan opposed the NCLB school transfer requirement, claiming that Chicago already had enough choice through its magnet and selective enrollment programs on its own.  He tried unsuccessfully to keep the vast majority of SES tutoring in-house, even after Chicago was ruled ineligible due to its probationary status. He has largely ignored AYP ratings and come up with his own school rating system and minimum standards to to determine which schools were on probation and which would be closed. CPS is still fighting the ELL testing requirement, among other things.

UPDATE:  In a new Huffington Post column, former USDE official Susan Neuman describes Duncan as having "pushed every button he could" to try and push back against the law.  Back then she was ostensibly for the law and he was against it.  Now, apparently, their positions have reversed.  Yay. 

DUNCAN: More Reactions, Not Much More Reporting

43907401_2Charter schools Obama praised ripped at board meeting Chicago Sun Times
A parade of teachers, parents and students complained Wednesday about the new breed of Chicago schools President-elect Barack Obama touted the day before.

Education secretary faces system in crisis San Diego Union-Tribune
Hundreds of thousands of children in this country do not learn and eventually drop out of school. That is Arne Duncan's problem now.

Obama's Pick for Education Chief Brings Reputation for Reform PBS
Analysts examine the challenges facing U.S. schools and how Duncan's efforts to turn around troubled Chicago schools will translate to the Cabinet post.

Seems like everyone's just repeating themselves now, or using the moment to talk about pet issues and concerns.  For mainstream Chicago media reactions that are a little more critical minded, go here.

NEWS: Big Stories Of The Day

Seattle paralyzed by chance of snow AP
Wa_srSchools throughout greater Seattle were closed Wednesday at the mere threat of snow late in the day, a symptom of the city's deep phobia of the white stuff and near-complete inability to deal with any significant snowstorm.

States Eye Solutions as Budget Ax Hits Schools EdWeek
Idaho is bracing for deep education cuts, Kansas is working to prevent any, and Alabama is weighing a gambling tax to fund education.

Misconduct reports on the rise in Phila. public schools Philadelphia Inquirer
In the first two months of this school year, 1,048 serious incidents of student misconduct - from from bringing a gun to school to assaulting a teacher - were recorded inside city public schools, officials said yesterday.

L.A. School Helps Kids By Forcing Them To Work NPR
South Central Los Angeles has a nearly 50 percent dropout rate. The LAUSD is struggling to educate students while contending with gang activity, drug dealing, and poverty. At Verbum Dei High School, they're trying a new approach: requiring students to work part-time.

Milwaukee to Form Gay-Friendly Middle School US News
The Milwaukee Public School System will expand services provided by its gay-friendly high school.  

Missouri: Schools Takeover Upheld AP
The Missouri Supreme Court has affirmed the state takeover of the St. Louis school system, which has struggled for years with poor finances and student test scores.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.