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AM News: Mandatory School Age Bill Seeks to "Modernize" Washington State Law

Mandatory School Age Bill In Washington State Contains Loopholes AP: Washington is one of only two states that don't require kids to start their formal educations before turning 8. A measure gaining traction in the state Legislature would push that age to 6, but a loophole would exempt kids whose parents say they are homeschooled. Rep. Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, House Bill 1283's sponsor, said her reason for introducing it is simple: Society has changed since the early 20th century, when the current rules were created, and our laws should reflect that.

AMNews

Will Obama’s early childhood plan actually work? How? HechingerReport: The speech produced joy – and skepticism. “President Obama is trying, against great odds, to do something for 4-year-olds,” noted New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who pointed out that other presidents have tried and failed, while “working parents of every economic level scramble madly to find quality programs for their preschoolers, while the waiting lines for poor families looking for subsidized programs stretch on into infinity.”

NYC Schools Ask: Gifted or Just Well-Prepared? NYT: When the New York City Education Department announced that it was changing part of its admissions exam for its gifted and talented programs last year, in part to combat the influence of test preparation companies, one of those companies posted the news with links to guides and practice tests for the new assessment.

R.I. Students Gaining 'Badges,' Credits Outside School EdWeek: Many schools encourage students to get real-world experience outside school walls. But very few offer course credit and digital "badges"—virtual records of skills and achievements—for those experiences. Now, the Providence, R.I., school district is in the middle of an initiative that appears to be breaking new ground in giving academic credit and recognizing skills and achievements out of school.

Armed Educators a Reality in Some Schools, Debated in Others EdWeek: While many national organizations have rejected the idea, it is now being seriously weighed by some school boards and state lawmakers across the nation. The actionwouldn’t be without precedent: In Utah, school employees have been able to carry concealed weapons onto campus for about a decade—without telling a soul—and at least four Texas school districts are known to have granted select employees permission to take concealed weapons to school.

Thompson: How Do We Engage Students in Learning for the 21st Century?

DigitalRather than fight among ourselves, charter and traditional public schools should be battling the real causes of educational failure.  We need to find a way to confront the distractions produced by our hyperactive culture.  I would draw upon the strengths of our technologies in order to help students learn how to control their impulsive digital world, and not be controlled by it.  Regardless of the strategies we choose, however, teachers can not continue to fight each other, as well as test-driven "reformers," and also discover ways of making instruction engaging enough for the 21st century.

So, charter school advocate Joe Nathan deserves a hat tip for "Student 'Engagement' Declining Dramatically - and What Schools Can Do."  which summarizes a 2012 Gallup poll of almost 500,000 American students on the single greatest threat to public schools.  "The School Cliff" finds that as students move through school their engagement with learning declines dramatically. Gallup concludes “There are several things that might help to explain why this is happening — ranging from our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students — not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college.”

Nathan describes schools where hands-on and project-based learning are flourishing. He also makes it clear that he is not blaming teachers who are being forced to focus on standardized tests for the decline in engagement. Nathan is issuing a reminder, however, that even in this age of "reform," teachers must not give up the search for opportunities to creatively teach the skills that kids will actually need in the real world.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.      



TV: What's New, What's Familiar In "Blackboard Wars"

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 15 10.37


So I had the chance to watch the first two episodes of "Blackboard Wars," the new Oprah Winfrey Network reality series that premiers tomorrow night (a month earlier than originally scheduled), and I have to say that I liked it.  Not because it's necessarily accurate, or even particularly new or original (Locke High School, anyone?) but because it's a good reminder of the day to day struggles, the retail work, of making a broken school better.  This is messy, one-kid-at-a-time work done by teachers, counselors, and administrators, and so many of the real setbacks and successes have nothing to do with learning geometry or American history. 

Continue reading "TV: What's New, What's Familiar In "Blackboard Wars"" »

AM News: Can Obama Sell Universal Preschool Plan to the GOP?

Can Obama Sell Universal Preschool to the GOP? Atlantic: The policy would guarantee preschool for 4-year-olds whose families earn 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less, and Obama framed it in a way to appeal to Republicans: It saves money. But as with all of Obama's proposals from the State of the Union that weren't executive orders, the question is not whether it's a good idea so much as whether it can pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

AMNewsConservatives Skeptical of Expanding Preschool and Federal Role NYT: Despite the outlines of a plan that White House officials said would use federal money in support of state-based preschool programs, conservatives said they were suspicious that it would be a foot in the door toward more big government. They also said there was little evidence that large-scale preschool programs do much good for children in the long run.

Obama's Preschool Program Would Target Low-Income 4-Year Olds AP: Obama also proposed letting communities and child care providers compete for grants to serve children 3 and younger, starting from birth. And once a state has established its program for 4-year-olds, it can use funds from the program to offer full-day kindergarten, the plan says.

'Big Three' Publishers Rethink K-12 Strategies EdWeek: The push continues for school districts to move away from paper textbooks and toward digital curricula and e-textbooks. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged educators last year to move quickly to adopt digital textbooks and materials. Also last year, the Federal Communications Commission and the Education Department released a report, the "Digital Textbook Playbook," which provided a blueprint for schools to make the shift.

Utah High School Reverses Policy, Allows Same-Sex Valentines HuffPost: A Utah high school has reversed course this week, after controversy arose over a potential ban on same-sex Valentine's Day messages. The issue at Copper Hills High arose earlier this month, when members of the school's choir handed out fliers announcing that there would be "No Same-sex Delivery" of their singing Valentines, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

Bruno: School-Inflicted Test Anxiety

5251438213_1908ae367dWith testing season coming up for many students, now is a good time to read Annie Murphy Paul's report on reducing test anxiety. She highlights three research-based methods of mitigating that anxiety: having students put their feelings on paper, affirm their values, or engage in relaxation exercises.

Those are all good suggestions both because anxiety is unpleasant for kids and because anxiety is known to reduce test performance.

Left unsaid, though, is something that strikes me every year at about this time: schools and teachers often seem to go out of their way to increase student test anxiety.

Schools routinely hang banners and hold rallies emphasizing the importance of state tests. They may send home flyers about how to prepare and elaborately modify the school schedule on testing days.

At the classroom level, teachers frequently give kids "pep talks" about upcoming standardized tests and dedicate instructional time to teaching "test-taking strategies". 

Individually and taken together these practices send a signal to students - sometimes explicitly - that the tests are "a big deal" even when they are low- or no-stakes for the students themselves. It would be surprising if this didn't increase student anxiety on average.

Needless to say, that's unfortunate for the students. Ironically, it's also probably bad for school test scores since most content-free "test preparation" probably does little to actually increase test scores anyway.

It is probably true to some extent that any sort of testing is going to generate anxiety among students. At the same time, a significant amount of test anxiety is probably caused completely unnecessarily by counterproductive practices implemented by well-meaning teachers and administrators. Reducing test anxiety is good, but avoiding it in the first place would be even better. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Stone: Mistake To Try & Dismiss New Teacher Leader Groups

This is a guest commentary from Evan Stone, co-founder of Educators for Excellence (E4E), in response to a recent post from John Thompson about an Education Next article, Taking Back Teaching:

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 2.12.28 PMWhat Richard Colvin’s piece. “Taking Back Teaching” made clear is that all across the country teachers want to be more involved in the policy decisions that affect their classrooms and career.  That was the impetus for us starting Educators 4 Excellence nearly three years ago—a group of like minded teachers got together to advocate for the changes we believe will help elevate our profession and improve outcomes for our students. Since then, more than 8,000 teachers across the country have signed on to our Declaration of Principles and Beliefs. At the same time, we recognize that we don’t represent the viewpoints of all teachers – that was never our intention— but rather we are a movement of teachers who have agreed on a common stating point, a direction and a set of norms for debate.   

Our declaration is a broad set of ideas that ground our work in three key areas: elevating the profession, focusing on student achievement, and recruiting, retaining, and supporting effective teachers.  These are not radical ideas and they should not be controversial.   

E4E's membership is diverse. Over a quarter of our members have more than ten years of experience. We are pushing for a system that empowers teachers and schools to have the flexibility and the resources necessary to give their students what they need.  We have fought for teacher-led schools in Los Angeles, leadership pathways in New York City and more revenue in both California and New York.  We believe in local collective bargaining and see the union as critical to improving education.    

E4E is not alone in this work.  There are a number of organizations working to give teachers a more prominent voice - some that agree with our declaration and others that do not. This is a good thing. We need more of these conversations, more teacher leaders, and, above all, a more thoughtful debate about how we can give teachers the respect they deserve and help them do a better job serving their students. 

UPK: Wonkbook Rounds Up Obama's "Holy Smokes!" Preschool Proposal

Want to know everything about the preschool proposal -- including whether any of it stands a chance of being implemented and doing any good?  Today's Wonkbook has a great roundup of stories about the numbers, the reactions ("Holy smokes!" from James Heckman), the evolution of views over time.  My favorite writeup so far, however, is this Forbes article (via Jezebel) about the non-altruistic arguments for universal preschool:  the needs of single mothers and working couples, as well as the economic benefits.

LAUSD Update: Outside Money, Side-Switching Candidates, & More

The LAUSD school board race hasn't gotten really nasty (yet) and it may not be the most expensive local school board race in the nation (yet), but things are getting really interesting with less than three weeks until the school board election date:

image from farm7.staticflickr.com

New Yorkers like Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein have contributed to an independent expenditure committee organized by LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  (So has Jamie Lynton, the publisher of LA School Report, the education site I edit).  

Just like the Presidential campaign, the outside groups have more funding and flexibility than the campaigns. UTLA has asked for help from its state and national chapters, though so far no funding has been announced.  

DFER California head Gloria Romero is urging support for the reform-minded school board president.  StudentsFirst and DFER national haven't responded yet about whether they're going to endorse or fund candidates, as they did a bit of in 2012.

Meantime, Diane Ravitch has endorsed one of the candidates -- an incumbent named Steve Zimmer who ran last time as a reform candidate but went over to the other side (or realized that being in the middle isn't fun) and is now being endorsed and funded by UTLA, the local teachers union.  AFT head Randi Weingarten flew out to LA to do an appearance with him last Friday.   

Oh, and the parent trigger.  The mayor, superintendent, and even the fractious school board all support it -- voting unanimously in favor of the revamp of 24th Street Elementary School on Tuesday.

Read all about it here. Follow @laschoolreport.  Add it to your RSS feed here. Image via CCFlckr.

Morning Video: Throw Like A Girl

 

Colorado high school basketball player pulls off amazing pass.  Via Jezebel, via Buzzfeed

AM News: White House Releases Details About Preschool Expansion Funding Mechanism

Plans to Expand Preschool Unveiled WSJ: The Obama administration's plan to expand preschool would send federal dollars to states that agree to certain conditions, such as adopting small class sizes, rigorous curricula and assessments for youngsters, according to details released Thursday. The plan, to be formally unveiled by the president at a Georgia preschool center, would also include additional money to expand high-quality programs that prepare infants and toddlers for pre-kindergarten.

AMNewsWhite House Gives Outline of Early-Childhood Ed. Expansion Plan PoliticsK12: While the financing mechanism still remains somewhat cloudy, the White House put forward additional details this morning about just how the effort would work. Much of the funding would appear to come from states, through a partnership arrangement with the federal government. But the administration also wants to beef up other services for very young children and babies, including home visits from social workers and nurses, although it doesn't say just how much that expansion would cost.

Few States Look to Extend Preschool to All 4-Year-Olds NYT: While supporters herald the plan as a way to help level the playing field for children who do not have the advantages of daily bedtime stories, music lessons and counting games at home, critics argue that providing universal preschool could result in federal money being squandered on ineffective programs.

Feds Want Answers From Florida After Tutoring Dollars Go To Crooks, Cheaters TampaBay: Lax oversight of Florida's mandated tutoring program has allowed federal tax dollars to flow into the hands of cheaters and criminals, a Times investigation found. Now federal education officials are asking for an explanation from the state Department of Education. As first reported today by Education Week's Michele McNeil, the feds called the newspaper's findings "serious and troubling."

For first time, a ‘parent trigger’ without a hitch Hechinger: On a 7- 0 vote, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday afternoon quickly approved a petition to overhaul 24th Street Elementary through a “restart model” under California’s Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. The so-called parent trigger law enables parents to organize and force major reforms on underperforming schools, from firing the principal and half the staff to ceding control to a charter operator.

Quotes: No Parent (Or Board) Opposition To Trigger In LA

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comI had no knowledge of ‘opposition’ in the world of parents. None.

-- Superintendent John Deasy on LAUSD's unanimous approval of a trigger petition. via @hechingerreport

Charts: The Tragedy Of "Big Data"? Spurious Correlations.

image from www.wired.com
"The more variables, the more correlations that can show significance. Falsity also grows faster than information; it is nonlinear (convex) with respect to data." Source: N.N. Taleb

Bruno: Good Formative Assessment Is Hard

2230010178_40c2741290The most informative piece I've seen on the Seattle teacher boycott of locally-imposed mid-year testing was written by Sherman Dorn over the weekend, and it's as much about problems with assessment generally as it is about Seattle's MAP exams.

As Dorn points out, while the MAP isn't ideally designed to offer useful formative assessment data for teachers, the fact is that there doesn't appear to be much demand for that sort data to begin with.

Ideally, teachers would be giving quick, frequent assessments to students and then using the results to modify their instructional plans almost immediately. In practice, this doesn't happen with or without the MAP. He attributes this lack of demand for meaningful formative assessments to administrator demand.

There's something to that, but I think it's helpful to recognize a real lack of demand at the teacher level as well. Teacher attitudes toward formative assessments are important both in their own right and for understanding why administrators want these tests to begin with.

I'll elaborate on my thinking below the fold.

Continue reading "Bruno: Good Formative Assessment Is Hard" »

Morning Video: Reforming Education Reform

 

Speaker Deborah Kenny (from Harlem Village Academy ) gets off to a slow start, and some of her educator/parent concerns seem focused on middle- class communities rather than the more nuts-and-bolts issues low-income communities and schools are dealing with, but bear with her. You might get something out of it. I did. 

Thompson: Two Charter School Soundbites That Should Be Retired

ChartersIf we are serious about deescalating this destructive conflict over school “reform,” we must stop hurling two unsubstantiated charges:

The soundbite that high-performing charter schools are serving “the same students” as high-poverty neighborhood schools should be retired. We who teach in the toughest schools that serve all students who walk into the door also deserve an apology for that slander, but I’m ready to move on without it. 

Similarly, the equally serious charge against charter schools – that they intentionally “push out” difficult students in order to raise test scores - is wrong.  Such an attack on the integrity of charter school educators is just as serious as the idea that we in neighborhood schools could have the same success as the top charters if we had their “high expectations.”

Continue reading "Thompson: Two Charter School Soundbites That Should Be Retired" »

Media: "This American Life" At Chicago's Harper High School

What does it mean -- what does it feel like -- to go to school every day not knowing if you or friends will make it through the day? Since the end of the summer, WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton, author Alex Kotlowitz, and Ben Calhoun have been embedded at Harper High School, whose students and recent alumni included 29 shot or killed last year. Starting this Friday, This American Life is running a two-part show about the school and the surrounding community, and from what I've heard already it's pretty amazing.

ScreenHunter_06 Feb. 13 10.29

So far as I've listened to the press preview, the story's not much about the classroom but rather about what goes on in the halls, in the counselors' offices, and on the way to and from school.  The administrators try and keep tabs on what's going on among students, in order to prevent or limit confrontations.  The students describe a bewildering mix of ever-shifting min-gangs that little resemble the old days of Bloods and Crips with top-down control and formal initiation rituals (if those days were ever portrayed accurately).

Harper High School, Part One airs this Friday and covers the start of school and the tumultuous events of the fall.  The following week, Harper High School, Part Two describes the easy access to handguns and the students' ideas of what can be done to make things better. Press release is here.  Summer 2012 WBEZ story by Lutton is here. Image via TAL.

AM News: Obama Proposes Major Preschool Expansion and RTT Spin-Off in State of the Union Address

Obama Urges Preschool Expansion and RTT Spin-Off in State of the Union Speech PoliticsK12: President Barack Obama called on Congress in his State of the Union address to significantly expand access to preschool to all 4-year-olds from moderate- and low-income families, and to create a new spin-off of his Race to the Top program aimed at pushing high schools to adopt curricula that better prepare students for the jobs of the future.

State Of The Union Proposes Major Preschool Expansion HuffPostEdu: The initiative comes after states have cut preschool budgets by an average of $700 per child over the last decade and as mounting evidence shows the importance of quality preschool in closing the achievement gap for low-income students. Though the president's proposal is short on details, several education advocates expect it will ultimately look something like a suggestion floated in the Center for American Progress' recent report that the federal government create a new pre-kindergarten program partly paid for with state matching funds of $10,000 per student.

AMNewsStudents Must Learn More Words, Say Studies EdWeek: Children who enter kindergarten with a small vocabulary don't get taught enough words—particularly, sophisticated academic words—to close the gap, according to the latest in a series of studies by Michigan early-learning experts. The findings suggest many districts could be at a disadvantage in meeting the increased requirements for vocabulary learning from the Common Core State Standards.

Michigan Wants Wider Control of Its Schools WSJ: State leaders in Michigan are again looking to expand an education initiative that takes poor-performing schools out of local hands and bands them together in a single statewide district with a less-structured curriculum and a nonunion workforce. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder launched the Education Achievement Authority last September, empowering it to take over 15 schools in Detroit, where the state runs the district through an emergency manager.

Online Dating for Teachers: Finding the Right Classroom Dowser: If online dating works so well for people looking for love and happiness, maybe the same concept can apply to people looking for other types of fulfillment, say maybe even teachers looking for the right school to work at, and educators looking to hire the right teacher for their school. myEDmatch, an education technology start-up based in Kansas City, is using the same principle behind online dating to create a matching service for teachers and schools.

Charts: Wall Street Journal's Education Index

The WSJ has a new (to me) Education Index that is, unfortunately, only about NYC really, and whose metrics I have not examined one bit: 

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Wouldn't it be fun (amusing) if there were some sort of thing like this for the rest of the country? I mean, until someone events a Trending / education list.  I bet Education Sector, Fordham, or one of the other organizations we used to call think tanks are already on it. Image via WSJ.

Quotes: "The Most Important Voice In Education Reform Today"

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comMayor Bloomberg is the most important voice in education reform today... [His $1 million] gift will help us support candidates who stand for greater accountability and more choices for parents and students.  -- LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Numbers: Let's Make 16 States Lower School Starting Age

image from farm5.staticflickr.comMaybe the President should propose a dramatic change in when kids are required to start school, setting a mandatory age of, I don't know, six.  That'd be exciting, wouldn't it? And perhaps even sensible, policy-wise, if not politically viable.

Currently, there are 16 states that don't require kids to go to school until 7 or even 8 years of age.  Fourteen states require school at age 7; 26 states already require it at age 6; 6 set it at 5; and 2 set it at 8, according to this Chicago Tribune story on the proposal to lower the age from 7 to 5 in Illinois.  

There are obviously some costs as well as benefits to having kids start earlier, though not as much additional cost as I would have thought.  Have states been raising the age to save money, I wonder?  That would be just about what states do when times are tight.   Then there are quality issues regarding the instruction and curriculum, space issues in some districts, and a major distinction between half-day and full-day kindergarten (which is still somewhat unusual). Image via CCFlickr

Afternoon Video: Rhee, Henderson, & Others Pass Time Until SOTU

Starting today at 1:00, current and former heads of DC public schools, as well as RI chief Deborah Gist and others are scheduled to be at the AEI #cagebusting event, which will "look at the rules, regulations, statutes, and contracts that inhibit their ability to improve schools and systems."  The livestream link is here in case the embed isn't working.

 

TV: EdWeek's Take On "House Of Cards"

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comLast week I told you about my failed attempt to slog through "House of Cards" and how much the show reminded me of a clunky retelling of the 2000 authorization of NCLB.  

This week, Politics K-12 has a review / recap of the series (Congress Won't Reauthorize ESEA, So Netflix Will Do It For Them) penned by someone named Ross Brenneman.  

While disappointingly unaware of my take on the show ( Netflix Show Revisits 2000's ESEA Authorization), Brenneman provides a couple of helpful tidbits, including a reminder that The West Wing also focused heavily on education and some reassurance that teachers aren't portrayed negatively (at least not in comparison with the anti-hero Democratic Congressman played by Kevin Spacey). This is no "Won't Back Down" in regards to its portrayal of union leaders, though I understand that there's a bigger role for them in the second half of the show which I didn't see.

 

AM News: Obama's Big Speech Might Say Little About K-12

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com

Watching for Education Themes in the State of the Union Speech PoliticsK12: It remains to be seen how often—and how specifically—education will come up in President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address tonight, which many advocates and observers speculate will touch on early-childhood education and college access, among other issues.

Obama Speech Lays Out Next Goals WSJ: Obama administration officials also have signaled plans to focus on the "bookends" of education—early childhood and college—during the second term. Education leaders say they expect Tuesday's address to underscore those priorities.

Education Content In State Of The Union Likely To Focus On Littlest Learners HuffPost: In January, The Huffington Post first reported that the White House was weighing a major, long-term plan to boost early education slots for low and middle-income families. At the time, a senior official told HuffPost that she didn't want to get out in front of Obama on the issue. But since then, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said new investments in early education will be a second-term priority -- and many expect this new emphasis to feature in the State of the Union address.

Will White House finally push funding for early childhood education? Hechinger Report: A desire for more federal investment in early childhood education is one reason why experts are anxiously awaiting President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday. So far, the Obama administration has yet to officially release any statement on the president’s early childhood plans or agenda. Stay tuned.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan cancels Monday night fourm in Providence The Providence Journal: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has cancelled his appearance Monday night at Classical High School due to inclement weather. Duncan was supposed to lead a discussion about school and gun violence, beginning at 6 p.m.

Teachers And Students Try Out Longer School Days NPR: Kids may not like the idea of extending the average six-hour school day, but some educators and politicians do. They are experimenting with ways to increase enrichment classes and make it affordable for school districts.

As CPS mulls school closings, study finds city already has plenty of vacant school buildings Sun Times: Chicago has moved from leasing its empty buildings to aggressively marketing them for sale, but unlike many of the other 11 districts Pew studied, Chicago isn’t selling to charters any longer, Pew researcher Emily Dowdall said, adding “They’re concerned that the growth of charters could lead to empty seats down the road.”

Hawaii Gets Partway Out of Race to Top Doghouse Politics K12: The U.S. Department of Education has removed part of Hawaii's $75 million Race to the Top grant from "high-risk status" after the state showed progress hitting milestones in two areas: standards and assessments, and data systems.

Bruno: Underhwelmed By Union City Turnaround Story

430890004_98639b3bb7_nMaybe I'm too jaded, but David Kirp's weekend column about the successful turnaround of Union City schools that everyone else found so inspiring left me underwhelmed. necdotes like Kirp's are plentiful in education, but it's usually unclear what lessons we should take from them and this story is no exception.

For one thing, many of the descriptions of Union City's secrets are so unclear as to be meaningless. Kirp's recommendation that the "line vanishes" between "cognitive and noncognitive, thinking and feeling" in schools sounds vaguely pleasant, for example, but doesn't amount to much as education reform policy.

Nor is it clear how "strong leadership" helps to bring about what sound like genuinely impressive school improvements.

Even the more concrete examples of reform fail to illuminate the secrets to Union City's success. Lots of schools and administrators attempt to set clear expectations at the start of the school year and develop cultures of respect and interdependence and many teachers look for "teachable moments" during the day. These practices are mostly unremarkable, and yet they are also the practices to which Kirp attributes many of the schools' remarkable results.

Maybe I'm just too much of a cynic, but stories like this one make me suspect that there's more (or possibly less) to the story than we're supposed to believe. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

NCLB: 34 State Waivers -- Plus District Consortia, Too?

image from www.edsource.org
EdSource is reporting that a ten-district consortia of California school districts that educate more than 20 percent of the state's students is pressing ahead with its NCLB waiver application, despite concerns from the state and Secretary Duncan about creating different rules for different districts.  Hey, there was a district version of Race to the Top, so why not a district version of NCLB waivers? 

Campaign 2013: All Eyes On LAUSD

ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 11 12.00Reform advocates in LA and from around the country have already contributed $1.5M to an independent expenditure committee in support of three LAUSD School Board candidates (two challengers, one incumbent).  

The so-called Coalition for School Reform has also launched the first TV ad campaign that's been aired for school board candidates in LA since 2007.  

But UTLA, the teachers union, is far from giving up.  UTLA-PACE has already raised roughly $667,000, and begun sending out flyers and communicating with members about the imporatance of the election.  The union has also put out requests for additional resources from state and national teachers unions, which are forthcoming (amounts TBD).  

On Friday, AFT President Randi Weingarten appeared at a school in LA with one of the union-backed canddiates, Steve Zimmer.  Weingarten announced a $150,000 grant to UTLA to help teachers develop better school improvement plans -- an alternative to radical means like the "parent trigger." The grant comes from AFT's Innovation Fund, which is -- yes! -- backed by the Gates Foundation.

Quotes: White House Keeping Duncan On Short Leash

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comAssociates say that [Duncan] sometimes gets frustrated at the lack of access and a sense of being kept on a fairly short leash by the White House. -- Al Hunt in Bloomberg (Why Does Obama Keep His Cabinet All-Stars on the Bench?)

Weekend Reading: Waiting For The (Meaningless) State Of The Union

Recent links to magazines, long-form sites, and other corners of the Internet I don't check every day:

image from farm4.staticflickr.comPictures: Michelle Obama [and Arne Duncan] Mourn Shot Chicago Teenager Hadiya Pendleton ow.ly/hzRh9

Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart? - NYTimes ow.ly/hzyjQ  

Two DCPS teachers standing in protest outside Michelle Rhee's book talkyfrog.com/odvszcvnj  @emmersbrown 

Democratic Think Tank Showdown: CAP's UPK proposal vs. NAF's universal Kindergartenow.ly/hAWpE

Dana Goldstein, Anya Kamenetz, Alyson Klein, and Andrew Rotherham, discuss Issues to Watch in 2013 @bloomburgEDU ow.ly/hzy6a

"This is the tragedy of big data: The more variables, the more correlations that can show significance." from Wired ow.ly/hzxt5

Tucson School District Struggles for Equality NYT ow.ly/hAWiN

From Jay Mathews: Sad failure of two inspectors general in D.C. schools: In the 42 years I have worked for this ... bit.ly/12hVQC0

Image via CCFlickr

Morning Video: Action Star Trains Against School Shooting

 

Steven Seagal leads arms training event in which a school shooting is simulated, in Arizona. Deborah Lutterbeck reports. (Reuters) [Seems like a joke, I know]

AM News: Senator Urges Feds to "Get out of the Way" As NCLB Hearings Drag On

Holding States and Schools Accountable NYT: At a Senate education committee hearing on Thursday to discuss waivers to states on some provisions of the law, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, forcefully urged the federal government to get out of the way. “We only give you 10 percent of your money,” said Mr. Alexander, pressing John B. King Jr., the education commissioner for New York State. 

AMNews

Five Important Questions About NCLB Waiver Implementation PoliticsK12: After yesterday's Senate hearing on the Obama administration's No Child Left Behind waivers, three state chiefs gathered to talk about the nitty-gritty: How these waivers are playing out in their states. New Jersey's Chris Cerf, New York's John King, and Kentucky's Terry Holliday headlined this one-hour fireside chat hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Pupil Assignments Get Another Look in Boston EdWeek: In Boston, a city where the struggle to desegregate public education through large-scale busing has left deep scars, school leaders are, once again, grappling with new ways of assigning students to schools that are closer to home. At the same time, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who controls Boston's 57,000-student school system, is pushing a slate of state legislative changesRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader he says are necessary to ensure that every neighborhood in the city can offer enough viable schooling options. 

Teachers' Ratings Still High Despite New Measures EdWeek: Results in Tennessee and Georgia, among the first trickling out from states' newly revamped yardsticks, paint a picture of a K-12 system that remains hesitant to differentiate between the best and the weakest performers—as well as among all those in the middle doing a solid job who still have room to improve.

Rise Early And Shine: Teachers And Students Try Out Longer School Days NPR: That "plain old reading and writing" is what educators call academic time. Advocates for longer school days say kids do best when you increase a blend of enrichment classes with straight academic time, and also extra collaboration time for teachers.

Thompson: Why Some Teachers Embrace "Astroturf" Organizations

ModeltRichard Colvin's "Taking Back Teaching" in Education Next quotes policy analyst Julia Koppich, who says, “the new generation of teachers aren’t collectivists, they’re pretty much individualists. They don’t understand unions. And the unions don’t understand them.” I am not sure that the misunderstanding between unions and teachers who have been on the job long enough to find the restrooms is that deep.  But, Koppich's point is well-taken.

Colvin also cites Brad Jupp, a former union leader and an adviser to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who says that teachers who join groups like E4E  want "personal efficacy."  Similarly Evan Stone, the E4E co-founder explains of his own experience, “Inside our classrooms we had so much autonomy and control, and outside we had no control or influence in the school, the district, or beyond.”

The solution, of course, would be for young teachers to work with veterans to restore the professional autonomy of all teachers, so that we can better influence schools and districts. All educators who value their own individuality should help other teachers who have been turned into "widgets" by high-stakes testing. But, E4E demands the opposite.  Instead, that "astroturf" organization drew "a line in the sand" requiring their members to support its positions on issues ranging from value-added evaluations to school choice and merit pay. 

So, which is it? Are its co-founders, Stone and Syndey Morris "tired of being treated as subjects of change, instead of as partners in transforming the education system.” Or, do they want to exercise their own personal efficacy by helping the billionaires seeking to micromanage teachers? Do Stone and Morris have a problem with turning teachers into cogs in a Model T assembly line or do they just want to be inside the Henry Ford-style cadre who run the operation?-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via

Update: Unified Applications & Matched Assignment For Everyone!

Echoing Al Baker's much-discussed January NYT piece about the many factors that shape how richer, whiter students get into NYC's selective schools at disproportionately high rates compared to poorer, nonwhite students (Gifted, Talented and Separated), Chicago's Catalyst Magazine has a big story about similar dynamics going on there.

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 10.32.45 AMCalled Getting a chance, the new Catalyst story summary is simple -- and is applicable to many other places besides Chicago:

"Smart students from poor neighborhoods are less likely to test into gifted and classical elementary schools. Later, they are more likely to become disengaged and eventually drop out. A special initiative is giving some students a last-minute shot at elite programs."

Read it. Save it for the weekend.  Come back to it.  Ask your education friends what they're doing to fix the problem. Berate them if they don'thave an answer.

Think about what it would take to reduce these inequities:  Better outreach, ending or limiting sibling preferences, better options to choose among, and -- first on my list -- universal choice (one application for all charter, magnet, and selective schools) and assigned matching systems to make sure every parent knows all the options and bring order to the chaotic and often unfair acceptance-hoarding that goes on when some parents apply everywhere and only release their spots at the last minute.  

Previous posts on universal application and assignment matching here, here, here.

Morning Video: Violence / Prevention In Chicago

Just in time for the Duncan/First Lady trip to Chicago for Hidaya Pendleton's funeral today, PBS has this profile of a Chicago program attempting to head violence (and other things) off before they take root in kids' lives:

 

Mayor Emanuel announced the tripling of support for a somewhat different program focused on mentoring at a Thursday press conference (via WBEZ) 

AM News: Senators Scrutinize Waivers and ESEA Renewal

Waivers and ESEA Renewal Get Hard Look From Senators PoliticsK12: Now that the Obama administration has issued more than 30 waivers to help states get relief from parts of the No Child Left Behind Act, should Congress decide to get moving on the long-overdue reauthorization of the law, or step back for a while and allow waivers to take hold in states, and then learn from them? And which policies put in place by the waivers should lawmakers incorporate into a new version of the law?

AMNews

Arne Duncan Defends No Child Left Behind Waivers In Senate Committee Hearing HuffPostEdu: Duncan said the federal government is committed to staying out of educational issues best negotiated by states. "We don't specify the content of academic standards or negotiate teacher contracts," Duncan said in his testimony. "We do have a responsibility to set a high bar to protect the interests of students … but how to reach that bar, I believe, should be left to states."

Center For American Progress Proposes Preschool-For-All Plan AP: The Center for American Progress proposal, released Thursday, provides a road map for how the Obama administration could move forward with pre-kindergarten programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds. For families with younger children, federal subsidies for child care would increase to an average $7,200 per child and the number of students in Early Head Start programs would double.

A Long Struggle for Equality in Tuscon Schools NYT: A federal judge approved a plan on Wednesday intended to lift a longstanding desegregation order that has served as a reason and an excuse for a lot that has gone wrong in the district over the past decades: shrinking enrollment, sliding graduation rates and insistent dropout rates.

Construction Starts School Inside NYC Housing Development WSJ: Developers plan to break ground Thursday on a new school and affordable housing development tucked in East Harlem’s Washington Houses, part of a larger effort by the city to sell underdeveloped pockets of land in public housing complexes to private builders. That represented a perfect opportunity for Harlem RBI, which had been looking hard for a permanent home for its school. 

Thompson: Jeff Henig & "The New Coaching Project"

FootballJeffrey Henig’s Education Week Commentary, Reading the Future of Education Policy, explains the centralizing shifts in schooling from local control to federal and state government and towards for-profit and nonprofit organizations. He astutely describes "the end of exceptionalism," where American education, for better or for worse, is handled like other major domestic policies.

Unfortunately, Henig neglects the two most important factors that have shaped educational exceptionalism and he thus ignores the lost opportunity which could have tempered the top down micromanaging of recent years.

Continue reading "Thompson: Jeff Henig & "The New Coaching Project"" »

Reformers: Make Bold Mistakes, Admit Them, Move On

The best thing I read about the Netflix series House of Cards over the past few days was actually a long feature in GQ about Netflix founder Reed Hastings, who is not only deeply interested in education reform (as well as quite critical of its accomplishments so far) but also a great model of someone who's not afraid to make mistakes, admit them, and move on.  
image from farm1.staticflickr.com
For Netflix, the most recent (and public) example of this kind of process was Hasting's incredibly unwise decision to divide the DVD and streaming video parts of the Netflix operation, which everyone hated and was quickly undone. Sure, the fiasco took some of the gild off the Netflix lily, but the public approach to its mistake allowed Netflix to recover before too much damage was done and -- this is key -- retain the majority of its credibility.
This kind of speedy response to mistakes  is something that we see all too rarely in education reform these days, with the possible exceptions of KIPP (on college graduation rates) and the Gates Foundation (on small schools and EDIN08, for example).  Most of the time we have the Harlem Children's Zones and TFAs and and Rocketships, which are all presented as having been near perfect from the start, needing only a few small adjustments or re-launches.  
Then -- only after months of questions and defensiveness -- when it comes out that the model has been changed quite substantially, or that some of the initial claims were overblown, skepticism and suspicion sets in even among those inclined to believe.  Claims of success and linear progress may work for funders don't work as well for everyone else, and increasingly reform programs are operating in a world in which the public is watching closely.   Denying mistakes, and spending months hiding or defending them, doesn't seem like a winning strategy in the long run. 

People: When (Former) Reformers Get Reformed*

Chicago's Seth Lavin taught for a few  years, worked a non-education job for a little while, and built a fun weekly education blog called Chicago School Wonks before he returned to the classroom at the start of the 2012-2013 school year.  

image from farm4.staticflickr.com

Along the way Lavin learned a lot about school reform, including its weaknesses and disappointments, and it was fascinating if disheartening to witness his evolution. (See previous posts: Citizen Journalist Extraordinaire Seth LavinLost In Chicago)

The latest news is that Lavin has been pulled back into the school reform process -- this time on the receiving end -- through his wife, Kate, also a teacher, and the potential closing of their neighborhood school in fast-gentrifying Logan Square.  Called Brentano, it's a place Kate and Seth plan on sending their child. She's already on the local school council, as a community representative.  But Brentano curently on a list of roughly 100 possible schools to be closed for low performance and/or under-utlization.  The school is better than it looks, and less empty than it might have seemed in the 2010 Census which is being used.  Etc.

This is just one incident, and my purpose is not to lambaste Lavin or anyone else but rather to highlight the reality that it feels different when you're on the "being reformed" side (to the extent that school consolidation can be considered reform) than it does when you're the one doing the reforming to others, and that as the current reform movement has grown and evolved it seems like there are more folks like Seth and Kate who've been through a cycle and ended up in a somewhat different place than where they started.

Click below for news coverage of the Brentano pushback against the possible closing. You can find Lavin on Twitter @sethlavin. Image via CCFlickr

*Correction:  The original version of this post had Lavin's wife Kate teaching at the school, and omitted that she is on the LSC.

Continue reading "People: When (Former) Reformers Get Reformed*" »

Morning Video: Senate NCLB Waiver Hearing ... & Then Reauthorization?

The hearing starts at 10. The above is just a screenshot.  Here's a link to the committee site -- the video is not embeddable, far as I can tell (and according to the staff I talked to).  One of the highlights may be EdTrust president Kati Haycock's critique of the waiver approval and implementation process, notes HuffPosts's Joy Resmovits, though I don't think it's anything particularly new she's saying. 

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 9.45.49 AM
Behind the scenes, some civil rights and accountability types admit that the waivers might end up being preferable to what Congress would have done in a reauthorization.  Speaking of reauthorizations, DFER's Charlie Barone thinks that one might still happen (for better or worse).  

 

AM News: Obama's Ally Attacks Him on Waivers During NCLB Hearing

No Child Left Behind Hearing Features Waiver Attack By Obama Ally HuffPostEdu: Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust -- an influential lobbying and advocacy group that has long backed President Barack Obama -- is coming out against the direction of the waivers, saying some allow states to shortchange underprivileged students, according to the text of remarks she was to make at a congressional hearing on Thursday.

AMNews

Boston Leader Connects Parents to Learning EdWeek: Brooks is credited with strategically aligning Boston's parent-engagement efforts with the district's academic goals, which moved the work of her office from a peripheral activity to one that is central to the needs of the district's 57,000 students and their families.

NYC Schools beef up security after Sandy Hook Riverdale: The Department of Education already required public schools under its purview to practice “soft” lockdowns, in which security personnel and administrators man a command post because no imminent danger has been detected; “hard” lockdowns, in which every member of the school community avoids an intruder; “shelter-ins,” in which staff lock entrances and exits to keep students from imaginary dangers, and evacuations.

A Hospital Offers a Grisly Lesson on Gun Violence NYT: In a darkened Phildelphia classroom, 15 eighth graders gasped as a photograph appeared on the screen in front of them. It showed a dead man whose jaw had been destroyed by a shotgun blast, leaving the lower half of his face a shapeless, bloody mess.

African Americans Fly High With Math And Science NPR: This Black History Month, Tell Me More is taking a look at African Americans in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) who are inspiring future generations. Today, Barrington Irving shares how his sky high dreams became a reality. A chance encounter in his parents' bookstore put him on a path that would make him the youngest person and first African American to fly solo around the world.

Quotes: Jobs, Money, Power, Prestige Prevent Civil Discussion

Quotes2There is a lot at stake [in the education reform debate]: jobs, money, prestige, the future of our country, and power... As long as we are talking about education, we are talking about the things that really matter. And that will never be a very civil discussion. -- Illinois Citizens for Better Schools

House Of Cards: Netflix Show Revisits 2000's ESEA Authorization

If, like me and a few others, you spent all or part of the weekend watching episodes of Netflix's new dramatic series, House of Cards, you emergef from your cave this chilly Monday morning tired and edgy.  Perhaps you went back and tried again once the week started. According to Atlantic.com, a Netflix marathon often leads to a Netflix hangover.

image from prospect.org

Why a hangover?  Well, like many shows these days -- Dexter, House, Breaking Bad, etc. -- the central characters here (Kevin Spacey as a Southern Congressman, Kate Mara as an ambitious journalist) aren't particularly admirable or moral human beings.   

What makes the show watchable -- in addition to the never-ending concerns about whether the characters will do more awful things (they will!) or get caught (mostly not!) -- is that it's got negotiations over an education bill as a backdrop.

Yes, like Season 4 of The Wire and Won't Back Down and a raft of recent shows, education reform is the high-stakes backdrop for this Washington DC thriller.

But is it realistic, or any good?  To tell you a little more about this -- which I must (otherwise I watched four and a half episodes in vain) -- involves revealing a fair number of plot points (ie, spoilers).  So read below without any expectation of my keeping secrets.  

Continue reading "House Of Cards: Netflix Show Revisits 2000's ESEA Authorization" »

AM News: Obama Calls For Congress to Halt Automatic Cuts to Education Spending

Obama to Congress: Halt Automatic Cuts to Federal Education Spending PoliticsK12: President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to temporarily delay a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts set to hit federal K-12 education spending—as well as defense, criminal justice, and a whole host of other programs—on March 1. Obama is putting forward a package of tax changes and spending cuts intended to buy some time so that lawmakers can come up with a broader agreement on spending.

AMNews

With Texas School Finance System Unconstitutional, A Fix May Bring Big Price Tag AP: "We would have to modernize our tax system," said Scott McCown, executive director of the progressive think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities. He said finding even the additional revenue Dietz suggested would mean applying the state sales tax to services and collecting more business taxes. Indeed, $10 billion is more than the state has recently collected annually from its entire business tax.

D.C. Council bill would make cheating on standardized tests illegal WashingtonPost: Cheating on standardized tests in the District would be illegal under a bill introduced in the D.C. Council, and a teacher or principal found guilty of violating the law would lose his professional license and face a fine of thousands of dollars.

Cincinnati school model catches on in New York Enquirer: Community Learning Centers aren’t unique to Cincinnati. More than 5,000 exist nationwide. But Cincinnati’s model, devised in 2001 and improved in the years since, has garnered the attention of visitors as far away as Hawaii and Australia. Its most recent claim to fame came in September when the nearly 1 million-student New York City school district announced it would pilot its own Community Learning Centers based primarily on what it saw in Cincinnati.

Competitions Connect Tech. Startups With K-12 Educators EdWeek: Now, some state and local education agencies are bringing an age-old concept—competitions—to unfamiliar environments and audiences in an effort to close what they see as a disconnect between ed-tech developers and schools. The goal is to encourage technology entrepreneurs and companies to think more closely about how they can craft products to meet the specific demands of schools.

Connecticut State Board Of Education May Slow Roll-Out Of New Evaluation System Courant: The state Board of Education is expected to consider a recommendation Wednesday to allow school districts to more slowly phase in a new teacher evaluation system for staff this coming fall. "This approach enables districts to implement the evaluation system in a flexible way, one that will increase confidence at the local level and decrease anxiety," about the new system, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said. "The idea will be to ramp up implementation for all certified staff in every school the following year.

Bruno: Hirsch's Insights Both Obvious & Underappreciated

4042279241_10ab4f316e_nE.D. Hirsch had a big, well-read piece on the importance of vocabulary building recently, but Bob Somerby read it and complains that he's "fuzzy" on what Hirsch's point is supposed to be even after reading Hirsch's Wikipedia entry.

Somerby's objection is that the importance of background knowledge for reading comprehension is so obvious that Hirsch couldn't be famous if that's really his "key discovery".

Somerby's confusion is understandable in part because Wikipedia isn't as clear on Hirsch's thinking as it could be and in part because Somerby is right: what Hirsch is saying should be extremely obvious.

Yet what is striking about American reading education is that we often do not talk as if we believe Hirsch. Instead, we talk at great length about - and devote large quantities of instructional time to -  alternative conceptions of reading ability that emphasize context-dependent skills (like "making connections") rather than background knowledge.

To see how poorly the education world has processed the "obvious" importance of broad background knowledge, consider the subtle ways our language denies its relevance. For example, we routinely administer "reading assessments" to students to identify them as "good readers" or "poor readers".

Attempting to assess "reading skills" per se makes little sense on Hirsch's account because one's reading ability will vary greatly depending one's knowledge of the text's subject matter. This may seem obvious upon reflection, but it is in fact a subtle point easily forgotten by relatively knowledgeable educators who find themselves able to move from text to text with little variation in difficulty.

In truth, Hirsch probably shouldn't get credit for "discovering" these ideas so much as working hard to popularize them. That in itself is a major contribution, however, when you realize how much resistance these ideas face from educators. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Quotes: The Online Learning Bubble

Quotes2Is it a bubble? No, but there are signs it’s getting to be a bubble.

- Edtech industry analyst Frank Catalano, in Peg Tyre's latest Take Part column

Reckhow: Gates Shifts Strategy & Schools Get Smaller Share

This is a guest post from Michigan State University political scientist Sarah Reckhow, whose new book Follow the Money came out in December:

From a bird’s eye view, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a behemoth in education philanthropy, with considerably more resources than its peers and a highly targeted agenda that magnetically attracts attention from media and politicians.  

Gates_funding
But the decade from 2000 to 2010 was a time of enormous growth and evolution for the Gates Foundation. Warren Buffett’s pledge of more than $30 billion substantially increased the Gates Foundation’s resources, and grant-making more than doubled from 2005 to 2009. Even more marked are the Foundation's dramatically shifted priorities, as illustrated by this chart. 

Read on for some preliminary figures and observations about the Gates Foundation's evolution, as well as some challenges and questions about the strategies the foundation is embracing.

Continue reading "Reckhow: Gates Shifts Strategy & Schools Get Smaller Share" »

Morning Video: Jon Stewart Interviews Michelle Rhee

AM News: Judge Rules Texas School-Funding Method Unconstitutional

Texas: School Financing System Is Ruled Unconstitutional AP: The system Texas uses to finance public schools violates the state’s Constitution by not providing enough money to districts and failing to distribute the money fairly, a judge ruled Monday in a decision that could force the Legislature to overhaul school financing.

AMNews

Test Boycott Puts Seattle Teachers in National Spotlight EdWeek: Since a group of Seattle high school teachers decided to boycott administration of a computerized exam in December, their protest has been embraced by opponents of high-stakes testing as a call to nationwide action. Teachers at Garfield High School, however, portray their protest as narrowly focused against one particular test used by their district—the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP—not against assessments in general, high-stakes or otherwise.

Arne Duncan, Mayors, College Groups Push Gun Control PoliticsK12: For the second time in recent weeks, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today attended an event aimed at promoting gun control measures in the wake of the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December.

L.A.'s first Hebrew-language charter school raises questions LATimes: Lashon Academy is to teach modern Hebrew, have no religious component and aim for a diverse student body. But some worry that dual-language charters blur the line between public and private schools.

States Lack Data on Principals, Study Says EdWeek: The Dallas-based George W. Bush Institute was expected to release an analysis of all 50 states' principal policies and related data collectionsRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader in Washington this week. It finds that even states with otherwise comprehensive longitudinal-data systems collect limited information about principals, particularly on their preparation.

Afternoon Video: Bill Gates Does The "Colbert Report"

In case you missed it (like I did) last week, here's Bill Gates talking with Stephen Colbert about philanthropy and Steve Jobs.  PS:  Rhee is on Colbert (or is it Jon Stewart?) tonight, according to JFR.

Thompson: Russo's Wrong On "Reform Critics"

image from farm5.staticflickr.comAlexander Russo acknowledges that contemporary school “reformers’” hubris, their misuse of data, and their distance from the classroom are “pretty familiar now.”   

But his Friday blog post (Sure, The Reform Brand Is Tarnished. But So Is The Other Side's) concludes that “The reform ‘brand’ has become tarnished, sure, but so has the reputation and credibility of all too many reform opponents.  And right now, those of us in the vast middle sort of hate you all -- both sides --  in roughly equal measure.”  

Russo's entitled to his opinion, but he's not being entirely fair or accurate.

Continue reading "Thompson: Russo's Wrong On "Reform Critics"" »

Bruno: What's The Problem With Tenure, Again?

This week's teacher tenure mini-scandal centers aroundAryeh Eller, a New York City music teacher who's collected about $1 million in pay since 1999 despite being removed from his teaching placement - but not fired - after confessing to sexual harassment charges.

This is clearly a problem, but what, if anything, should we do to fix it?

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For skeptics of teacher tenure the response is - predictably enough - to scale back tenure and due process rights so those clearly unfit for the job can be more easily removed.

I'm not opposed to tenure reform in principle, but I have my doubts that cases like Eller's are reason enough.

The fact is that the due process rights associated with tenure almost certainly have some value both as checks on arbitrary firing decisions and as complementary compensation for lower-than-ideal teacher salaries. This means that to justify scaling back tenure it would need to be demonstrated that these due process rights are onerous to a degree that offsets their benefits.

In cases like Eller's, though, I'm often left genuinely puzzled about what, exactly, is so unreasonably onerous about the tenure protections that benefit these teachers. The articles themselves are rarely specific on this point, and the HuffPo story says only that "an independent arbitrator determined that Eller couldn't be fired because the city failed to inform the teacher of his rights".

Is that it? Is informing teachers of their due process rights really that onerous for school districts, or that unreasonable to expect from them? Why would we describe that as a problem with tenure rather than a problem with how the district handles human resources?

And remember: while we may not like that some particular teacher is benefiting from this or that tenure protection, that isn't really a reason to scale back such protections generally. Tenure rights affect lots of teachers and shouldn't be designed around marginal cases like Eller's.

So what am I missing? Which tenure protections are the most difficult for districts to deal with and how often do they really struggle with them? - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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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.