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Thompson: Hedgehogs, Foxes, & Hope Against Hope

CarrSarah Carr's Hope Against Hope chronicles a year in three New Orleans charter schools, Sci Academy, KIPP, and P.O. Walker.

Carr's masterpiece is heavily influenced by Isaiah Berlin's metaphor, "the hedgehog and the fox." A fox needs to know a little about a wide variety of realities. A hedgehog only knows one thing, but he knows it very, very well.

Historically, educators aspired to be foxes. Traditional public schools serve everyone who walks through the door. Students come with all types of personalities. Their diverse families make every imaginable demand on schools. Politicians impose one contradictory mandate after another. And, since education tends to be underfunded, educators have to become jacks of all trade. Facing such a range of issues, the need to improvise is nonnegotiable for the foxes who are teachers and principals.

It was a point of pride for Sci Academy, Kipp, and Akili Academy (another charter whose leader was often cited by Carr), however, that they were hedgehogs.

Continue reading "Thompson: Hedgehogs, Foxes, & Hope Against Hope" »

Update: StudentsFirst Continues To Expand Despite Controversy

image from laschoolreport.comAs I noted yesterday on Twitter, reform critics, union leaders, and even some mainstream journalists like to suggest that StudentsFirst and other reform advocacy groups are dripping with money for electoral politics, neglecting to mention (perhaps they don't know?) how much teachers unions and other labor groups shovel into the process each year.

Last year, for example, StudentsFirst contributed less than $2 million to California races -- a pittance compared to union and other established stakeholder contributions.  If there's an 800 pound gorilla in the school reform debate, it's the veteran stakeholders not the newbies. 

On a related note, EdWeek's Andrew Ujifusa has a new post up suggesting that reform critics shouldn't be overly distracted by the possibility of the testing scandal bringing Rhee down because "the momentum behind the kind of policies Rhee's group supports may have too much power, time, and cash behind them" in DC as elsewhere. This seems like a good point to reiterate, considering that so many Rhee haters are thinking she's going down immediately.  

Ujifusa also notes that StudentsFirst is steadily expanding its state level operations nationally, which brings me to the news that StudentsFirst has hired a new political strategist, Fabian Nunez, to help move its agenda forward in Sacramento.  Nunez (pictured) is one of the town's most influential power brokers, according to the LA Times (as well as a longtime friend to the state teachers unions).  Hiring lobbyists and former elected officials to head state advocacy efforts is a tried and true approach, though it creates challenges for multi-state organizations trying to keep some sort of brand uniformity in place.  Rumor is that StudentsFirst is also hiring a state director (Nunez is an outside consultant.) Click the link for an interview I did with Nunez last week -- some of what he has to say about balancing the union voice in Sacramento seems interesting.

Quotes: "Big Data" Doesn't Necessarily Solve Real-World Problems

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comIt can tell you what sort of student is likely to fall behind. But then to actually intervene to help that student, you have to get back in the world of causality, back into the world of responsibility, back in the world of advising someone to do x because it will cause y. - David Brooks New York Times

Bruno: Low-Stakes Test Cheating

3352100979_e406d87eabThe cheating scandal in Atlanta has generated a lot of debate in education circles. Some of that debate has become unfortunately bogged down in the acrimonious and distracting topic of who is "to blame" for the cheating, but there has also been a lot of useful reflection on policy implications of the scandal.

It is probably safe to say that raising the stakes of standardized tests - by, for example, evaluating teachers or schools based on the results - increases the incentive to cheat and therefore makes cheating more likely.

This isn't an indictment of the collective integrity of teachers, it's an almost tautological description of the way incentives work.

Still, the relationship between cheating and the stakes of the test is probably not quite that simple.

Consider this list of dozens of ways that adults "cheat" before, during, and after the administration of standardized tests posted by Valerie Strauss's Washington Post blog. 

It's hard to say exactly how prevalent they are - how often do teachers "leave class unattended during testing"? - but my experience suggests that these test manipulations are much more commonly employed during the administration of lower-stakes assessments.

While the details vary from case to case, district- or school-level assessments often have extremely low security. Such tests are frequently distributed to teachers well before test administration, for example, and teachers may think nothing of giving students "similar" questions to practice before the test.

Of course, there are plenty of incentives to "cheat" (if you want to call it that) on, say, a district interim assessment; teachers and schools naturally want to "look good" when analyzing the results.

Still, these tests are clearly lower-stakes than the state tests that are the focus of the occasional scandal, so if I'm right about how often teachers manipulate the results that suggests that even the relatively cursory security measures in place during state testing successfully prevent a lot of "cheating".

Optimistically, that should encourage us to think that cheating on high stakes tests is a manageable problem.

On the other hand, it's not clear who has the right incentives to want to further tighten security. As the most recent development in the Michelle Rhee/DC cheating scandal illustrates, very few officials are eager to reveal test score gains in their jurisdictions as illusory. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Update: Unions Try To Organize Charters (Again)

image from si.wsj.netHere's a new WSJ piece on charter organizing in Chicago and nationally (Unions' Charter-School Push) suggesting that the effort continues or is even on the rise, which I hadn't known (and isn't really quantified in the piece).  

Previous pushes on this front have generally stumbled - though the organizers in Chicago have done better than in NYC.  

The focus in the WSJ story is on the agreement between AFT and UNO to share contact information with 400 teachers in Chicago.  (UNO is a controversial operator in Chicago with strong ties to Mayor Emanuel.)

Other drives are happening in San Diego and Philly.  

Nationally about 12 percent of charters are unionized.  

Over all, both AFT and NEA are losing members.

Morning Video: New Orleans Education Town Hall

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Here's one of several Education Nation events from New Orleans from the last couple of days, which included also teachers and students talking about school reform.

AM News: Chicago Union Pushes for Organizing in Charter Schools

Chicago Unions' Charter-School Push WSJ: Charter schools have spread across the country while generally keeping organized labor out, with operators saying they can manage schools better when their staffs aren't unionized. But labor groups are now making a big push to get a stronger foothold in this educational realm. Here in Chicago, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers is looking to organize one of the nation's largest nonprofit charter-school groups.


Chicago School Closings: Gang Boundaries Consulted By District Amid Student Safety Concerns AP: As Chicago prepares to close 54 schools in an attempt to rescue an academically and financially failing educational system, one of its greatest challenges will be safely maneuvering thousands of students to and from class through the patchwork of rival gang territories that cover large parts of the nation's third-largest city. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, have acknowledged the danger of mixing young people from different neighborhoods. 

Feds Can Do More to Promote Funding Equity, Report Urges PoliticsK12:  Forty years after the Supreme Court ruled in San Antonio Independent School District v.Rodriguez that state funding formulas for public schools that are based on local property taxes are not unconstitutional, some civil rights leaders and education advocates say it's time to push for new efforts to address decades-long disparities in how resources are parceled out to public schools. 

Long Island Inquiry Includes Claim of Altered High School Exam Score NYT: An investigation into whether teachers in a Long Island school district improperly coached students on standardized tests has expanded to include an allegation that administrators changed a Regents exam grade for at least one high school student, the authorities said on Monday. Both the Nassau County district attorney and the Glen Cove school district are looking into the new accusation, which involves a Regents exam taken last year by a student atGlen Cove High School, spokesmen for the agencies said.

States Dropping GED As Test Price Spikes AP: Several dozen states are looking for an alternative to the GED high school equivalency test because of concerns that a new version coming out next year is more costly and will no longer be offered in a pencil and paper format. The responsibility for issuing high school equivalency certificates or diplomas rests with states, and they've relied on the General Education Development exam since soon after the test was created to help returning World War II veterans.

Afternoon Video: California Teachers Union Roars Back

There was some thought that the CTA (and CFT) would take a somewhat kinder, gentler approach in 2013, having taken a beating (on Anderson Cooper's CNN show, among other places) for blocking a 2012 bill that would have helped remove teachers like those at Miramonte Elementary in LA who were accused of sexual crimes against students.  

The most obvious example was the introduction of a compromise bill on teacher dismissals that was endorsed by the teachers unions and is already making its way through the statehouse despite some concerns that it is too weak. 

But then, over the weekend, the unions seemed back to their us-against-them rhetoric and the state Democratic party seemed just as beholden to the teachers as ever in the past:  the California Democratic Convention refused Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson exhibition space (citing space constraints), gave CTA president Dean Vogel time to deliver this fiery anti-reform speech, and passed this anti-reform resolution.

LA Times:  California Democrats Blast Efforts to Overhaul Schools

Reform: Rapid Response in Connecticut

Most education reformers and funders don't come from politics or organizing so they are loathe to set up or pay for the kinds of "rapid response" operations that professional political operatives use to help minimize the damage that constant attacks can create. 

But -- like the first-term Obama administration with death panels and birthers -- they're starting to learn that there's a price to pay for letting attacks stand, no matter how extreme or ridiculous they may seem.

One small example is CT Education 180, a relatively new spinoff of ConnCAN set up to respond to attacks on elected officials and others who are getting torn down online and in the mainstream media. 

Its stated mission is "setting the record straight on education reform, and exposing those who are more interested in self-preservation than doing what’s right for the more than 65,000 kids in Connecticut who are stuck in low-performing schools."

Eventually, reform advocates may have to not only create and fund rapid response operations like this, but also efforts to criticize their antagonists.  But I'll save that for another post.  

Right now, reformers are fighting with both hands tied behind their backs -- refusing to defend themselves vigorously or in any organized fashion, much less to attack those who are pretty much their sworn enemies at this point.  

It's noble, I suppose.  But even as someone with plenty of complaints about the reform agenda and implementation, it's hard to watch.  

Quotes: "False Debates" Distract From A "Failed Profession"

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comOn the whole, we still have the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support. - Jal Mehta in the NYT 

Bruno: What Cheating Scandals "Prove"

4121281930_a05b6226c3Reflecting on recent standardized test cheating scandals, Matt Yglesias wonders "what anti-reform people think these cheating scandals prove."

"Prove" is a strong word, but there are at least two legitimate reasons for reform critics to highlight the scandals:

First, education reformers often rest their argument on test score gains in places that implement their preferred policies. If it turns out that their celebrated test score gains were - or may have been - significantly inflated by cheating, that could very well undermine their case for implementing those policies more widely.

Second, as Yglesias seems briefly to acknowledge, if an accountability system is "vulnerable" to cheating, that might make it less "workable" in practice. Cheating scandals "prove" that an accountability system based on high-stakes standardized tests is, in fact, vulnerable to cheating.

Now, such scandals definitely don't prove that cheating can't be adequately mitigated. They should, however, give us reason for concern.

In fairness, the waters around these issues are muddied somewhat by the fact that some "anti-reform people" overstate the significance of the problem or seem to be as interested in sullying the reputations of their least favorite "reform people" as they are in the policy implications of cheating.

The actual policy relevance isn't actually all that mysterious or complicated, though. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Weekend Reading: Will Teachers Kill Blended Learning?

Tweets from over the weekend you might have missed:

What's new/old in Merrow's "missing memo" story - by @Joy_Resmovits ow.ly/k23Oi

Anti-Cheating Efforts Lag, but Simple Fixes Exist -WSJ.com ow.ly/k23oL

Will Teachers Unions Kill Virtual Learning? Slate Magazine ow.ly/k2kLb

Pay no attention to Stockton's bankruptcy and the teacher pension issues looming nationwide @Eia ow.ly/k1hPV

Audio: Governor Markell, Mayor Taveras on Learning Initiatives @BloombergEDU ow.ly/k2kgm

If Robots Will Run the World, What Should Students Learn? | @MindShift ow.ly/k2jEt

Audio: A new report recommends changing the way Pell Grants work @AmRadioWorks ow.ly/k2jBc

Smarick wishes he'd spent more time on teacher prep reform ow.ly/k2vpz But what about the daunting politics? @EducationNext

From Jay Mathews: Nation’s best high school may be closed: I have been ranking the most challenging schools in... bit.ly/17cPIgG

High-school rape culture in an age of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook - Atlantic ow.ly/k2360

High school apologizes over “think like a Nazi” essay assignment - Salon.com ow.ly/k2lxG

Morning Video: MSNBC's Michelle Rhee Memo Segment

Here's the eight-minute Friday night segment with John Merrow as guest where they dissect the new memo and its implications locally and nationally:

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AM News: Dept. of Ed. Issues a Report Calling for School Systems to Develop Uniform Policies Against Cheating

Anti-Cheating Efforts Lag, But Simple Fixes Exist WSJ: The Department of Education issued a report this year calling for school systems to develop uniform policies for administering tests and for districts and states to regularly review tests for irregularities. Moves to address allegations of cheating on standardized tests in places like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta show that some effective measures can be simple and need not break already strained education budgets.

AMNewsSchool Security, Mental Health Measures Advance EdWeek: The national discussion about improving school safety evolving from the shootings in Newtown, Conn., reached a pivotal moment last week, as the U.S. Senate began consideration of a measure to strengthenRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader school building security, and a Senate committee passed a measure that would bolster school-based mental-health services.

Missouri School Trains Teachers to Carry Guns, and Most Parents Approve NYT: At 8:30 on a cloudy, frigid morning late last month in this folksy Ozark town, the superintendent of an area school strolled through the glass doors of the local newspaper office to deliver a news release. Hours later, the content of that release produced a front-page headline in The West Plains Daily Quill that caught residents off guard: “At Fairview School Some Employees Now Carry Concealed Weapons.”

N.Y. Teacher Who Assigned Nazi Letter Put on Leave AP: New York school district officials have placed a high school English teacher on leave for having students pretend to be Jew-hating Nazis in a writing assignment.The teacher at Albany High School caused a storm of criticism after having students practice the art of persuasive argument by writing a letter to a fictitious Nazi government official arguing that "Jews are evil."

Jazz In The Cafeteria: Kids Learn To Listen While They Chomp NPR:When the music teacher told students here they'd occasionally have a "silent" lunch break, this was kindergartner Alyssa Norquette's reaction: "Why do we need a silent lunch? Is it because we're too loud or something?" That is the reason there's a growing movement nationally to have silent lunches. But that's not music teacher Ami Hall's reason. She knew students here didn't have a lot of exposure to live instruments, so she started asking musicians to come in at lunch.

Afternoon Video: Collective Responsibility for Kids

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MSNBC Promo About Raising Children ‘Collectively’ Becomes News (TV Newser); Do We Underinvest in Public Schools? (Bloomberg)


Thompson: "Big (Dumb) Data"

Those of us who oppose the misuse of data to punish educators and students must always remember that computers are not going away, and that "Big Data" has great potential for improving schools and our lives in unanticipated ways. 

Big Data, A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, gives a perceptive appraisal of the benefits and dangers of data-driven decision-making. 

While not specifically mentioning value-added teacher evaluations, Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier seem to agree that punishing an individual based on an algorithm would be misguided.  On CSPAN, Mayer-Schonberger asserts, "government must never hold an individual responsible for what they are predicted to do."  

Continue reading "Thompson: "Big (Dumb) Data" " »

Scholastic: Best High School Writing 2013

image from www.slate.com
"The sunflower on my desk finally died. Each tiny stoma flared and inhaled one last time—inhaled the whole apartment: the heady scent of tired books, the spicy lunch meat Mom was unwrapping for dinner, and Dad’s hair a-burning as he worked at his computer. Then the flower shuddered, exhaled a puff of golden pollen all over my keyboard and phone, and was dead. Brrring. Brrring. My gold-smeared paper towel stops midswipe. Hello? I’ve never heard your voice over the phone before. I’m almost afraid to switch ears, afraid that in that tiny fraction of a second you’ll say, Oops, wrong number, and I’ll be left alone with the dial tone. The phone is slippery with pollen and I almost drop it. My hands are streaked with gold where your voice has touched them. Now even the tips of my fingers look happy." 
Read the full entry and others: Scholastic Writing Award winner Isabella Giovannini via Slate 

Morning Videos: Can Higher Graduation Rates Be Trusted?

From last night's PBS NewsHour.

AM News: Across the Country, More Police in Schools Lead to More Children in Court

With Police in Schools, More Children in Court NYT: As school districts across the country consider placing more police officers in schools, youth advocates and judges are raising alarm about what they have seen in the schools where officers are already stationed: a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehavior that many believe is better handled in the principal’s office.

AMNewsK-12 Issues in Mix as State Legislatures Wrap Up EdWeek: State lawmakers continue to grapple with high-profile K-12 issues as legislative sessions approach or cross the finish line nationwide. School choice, school safety, and education funding are prominent among them. No single issue dominated legislatures this year, although some policy patterns have emerged. Proponents of vouchers and tax credits for private school tuition, for example, have experienced a largely uphill battle in statehouses.

Believing self-control predicts success, schools teach coping WashingtonPost: The boot-camp expectations, the behavioral charts, the pinnies, all point to a calculated attempt to teach students self-discipline, focus, accountability — ultimately, self-control. Schools across the country are responding to a growing body of research that suggests a definitive and disturbing link between low levels of self-control in childhood and serious problems later in life.

Ed. Dept.'s i3 Wizard Jim Shelton To Be Acting Deputy Secretary PoliticsK12: Jim Shelton, the U.S. Department of Education's assistant secretary for innovation and improvement, is to take on an even bigger role at the department early next month. Department sources confirm that Shelton, who helped craft and implement the Investing in Innovation grant competition, is in line to become the deputy secretary (and would be the "acting" deputy secretary until his appointment becomes official). He would replace Tony Miller.

Texas Considers Backtracking on Testing NYT: In this state that spawned test-based accountability in public schools and spearheaded one of the nation’s toughest high school curriculums, lawmakers are now considering a reversal that would cut back both graduation requirements and standardized testing.

Thompson: Sarah Garland's History Lessons

GarlandSarah Garland's Divided We Fail is a carefully crafted history of desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky. It is also is a warning to reformers in education (or any other social sector?) seeking to remedy the great and complicated evils of history.

Garland mourns the final defeat of desegregation, as she notes that it was toppled by dissatisfaction by both whites and blacks over the way it was implemented. She also reminds us of integration's successes, and how black student achievement increased more in the 1970s when bussing to achieve racial balance was at its peak.

Reading the twists in desegregation cases, I invariably had two responses - "Wow! I didn't know that!," and "Wow? What would I have done?"

Continue reading "Thompson: Sarah Garland's History Lessons" »

Charts: State Chiefs Don't Last Long As They Used To

ScreenHunter_07 Apr. 10 18.42
Used to be, state superintendents lasted a long time, but all that's changed over the last dozen years or so.  According to the CCSSO, chiefs now last less than 3 years -- even though most of them are appointees.  Chief Selection

Cartoon: Rotten To The Core

ScreenHunter_01 Apr. 11 09.12
Yesterday's visit from the First Lady provided only a temporary distraction from the mess that's going on in Chicago. Via Crain's Chicago.  

Quotes: "Bill Gates' Warning On Test Scores"

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comWhen philanthropists have potentially useful ideas about education, they should by all means try them out, establish pilot programs, put their money where their mouths are. But before government officials incorporate those ideas into policy, they must study them carefully and make sure that what sounds reasonable in theory works in practice. - LA Times editorial page (Bill Gates' Warning on Test Scores)

Campaign 2013: Unions Still Loom Large

1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_1Read about New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago, and you might get the sense that political candidates and elected officials don't have to worry much about organized labor any more.  

But those three high-profile situations might well be the exceptions rather than the rule -- and in the cases of LA and NYC are about to change, anyway.  

Last weekend, the NYT's Jennifer Medina penned a fascinating piece about the challenges of running for office in a highly unionized environment (Unions Loom Large).  

Read it and you'll see what a challenge it is for the two main candidates to court -- but not become overly tied to -- public and private unions, both of whom remain powerful (and in some ways increasingly so).  

"The two candidates for mayor face the challenge of simultaneously fighting over this powerful force in Los Angeles politics while trying to convince weary voters that they will be independent enough to force unions to accept cutbacks needed to solve the city’s looming budget problems." 

The situation Medina is writing about is the Los Angeles mayoral contest, in which one candidate (Wendy Gruel) has won much of the support of the public unions, and another (Eric Garcetti) has won the support of private unions (and UTLA, the teachers union). 

But much of would seem to apply to many other situations such as Democratic primaries and big-city school board races where organized labor remains powerful.  Perhaps the most obvious example is the upcoming race for mayor in New York City.

The big issues in Los Angeles right now are the parent trigger, the use of student achievement data in teacher evaluations, speedy dismissal of teachers accused of misdeeds, and support for the current head of the district, John Deasy.

The focus on education has been intermittent and weak, according to outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who made the issue a top priority despite having no direct control over the district.

“Education reform can’t be a footnote on a campaign mailer or fodder for an attack ad,” said Villaraigosa in a recent speech.  

Greuel has recently been talking about her school reform ideas, in an effort to ensure that she's not seen as overly tied to the unions that support her.  Garcetti has had a difficult time demonstrating his school reform bona fides without alienating UTLA -- especially on the difficult issue of the parent trigger.  They're currently bickering over when to hold an education debate.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Morning Video: First Lady "Hadiya Was Me" Speech

Michelle Obama Addresses Violence In Chicago: 'For Me, This Is Personal' Chicagoist

AM News: Obama's Budget Targets Early Education, College Costs, & High School Overhaul

Budget Targets Early Education, Costs for College WSJ: President Barack Obama’s spending blueprint pairs a new, landmark investment in early childhood education with efforts to contain skyrocketing college costs, building on his efforts to ensure every child is prepared for college and a career. The budget, released Wednesday, provides the first details on how the president aims to fund his plan for the biggest expansion of early-childhood education since Head Start was launched nearly 50 years ago.

AMNewsObama Budget Would Invest in Pre-K, High School Overhaul EdWeek: President Barack Obama's budget unveiled today proposes new money for a big expansion of prekindergarten programs, a new competitive-grant program for high school improvement, a new Race to the Top competition focused on higher education—and level funding for the two formula grants school districts depend on most: Title I grants for disadvantaged students and special education.

El Paso Schools Cheating Scandal: Who's Accountable? NPR: No one knows if Atlanta's school superintendent or any of the will go to jail, but they wouldn't be the first if they do. Lorenzo Garcia, the former superintendent of schools in El Paso, Texas, has been sitting in a federal prison since last year. He's the nation's first superintendent convicted of fraud and reporting bogus test scores for financial gain. Now, the school district is in turmoil and everybody is blaming everybody else for the scandal.

Preschool Network Puts 'Innovation' Grant to Test EdWeek: The $650 million “i3” competitive-grant program awarded up to $50 million to 49 recipients in 2010. AppleTree’s program, the top-ranked proposal with an exclusive focus on early-childhood education, received one of the smaller “development” grants, for promising but relatively untested ideas, and is putting its money toward meeting the needs of its students, primarily minority and from low-income homes.

Research shows that online education works—for sex, alcohol, and health HechingerReport: But new research shows that, in certain topics—as for these students in Newark—computer-based instruction is not only just as effective as the old-fashioned, in-person kind. It’s more effective. These topics include sex, drugs, and health—subjects in which privacy, personal comfort and customized information are especially important, and embarrassment or cultural taboos can get in the way of classroom teaching.

Michelle Obama Harper High School: First Lady To Visit Chicago School Impacted By Violence AP: As part of a rare foray into a policy debate, Mrs. Obama highlighted the case of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, shot in the back Jan. 29 while hanging out with friends at a park, about a mile from the Obamas' South Side home. Mrs. Obama attended Pendleton's funeral and said she was struck by how familiar the Pendleton family seemed to her own.

Quotes: The "Disqualification Morass"

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comYou don't have to have a kid in private school to support more choices for families, and you don't need to be a public school parent to know that kids getting the shaft in a terrible district school should matter to you. - Derrell Bradford


Thompson: Fordham's Petrilli Goes Awry On Atlanta

PetrilliI have long believed that Fordham's Mike Petrilli has a balanced view of school reform. 

Petrilli, like Diane Ravitch, argued that NCLB-type testing should be used for Consumers Report-style transparency, not for high-stakes accountability. In The Diverse Schools Dilemma, he recognized that affluent parents oppose the way that testing drives the joy of teaching and learning from the classroom.  And, he criticized Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his imposition of "formula-driven" teacher evaluation using test scores.

After Joel Klein did in New York City what Petrilli now proposes, Petrilli said, "fantastic veteran teachers — the very people that Klein wanted the rest of the system to emulate — were just as frustrated and beaten down by the changes as everyone else.” In "Alfie Kohn's Message: Half-Crazy, Half-True," he wrote, "even the most hawkish reformer must blush at depictions of the endless test prep and shamefully narrowed curriculum that is present at too many inner city schools."  I had once hoped that Petrilli opposed Kohn's idealism but that, being a realist, he would distance himself from the "reform" movement's teacher-bashing ideologues.  

But Petrilli's "The Right Response to the Atlanta Cheating Scandal," in the New York Daily News, now embraces the worst possible use of testing. He wants to allow principals to consider test score results when evaluating teachers, but without even the central office providing checks or balances.

I had hoped he would be concerned about abusive testing regimes that have failed to improve schools for poor children of color. In the past, half of Petrilli's positions  seemed to realistic, while the other half seemed to be going through the motions of supporting the crazy wing of the "reform" movement. I am disappointed that he seems to still reject most of the worst aspects of standardized testing except when it is used against teachers.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Media: Pretty New Education Site

There's a newish education site out there called Education Dive, which purports to give readers "The Education Industry in 60 Seconds."  

ScreenHunter_04 Apr. 10 15.00

I'm not sure what need or niche it fills, or how good a job it does -- seems sort of like a pretty version of EdSurge.  Here are some recent posts:

Do yourself a favor and check out the site. Nice layout, pretty pictures, and yes of course there's an app.

Journalism: New Spencer Fellows, New Research Topics

Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 10.57.31 AMColumbia's J-School announced three new Spencer Journalism Fellow for next year, and they include some new names (and interesting reporting topics):

*Jamaal Abdul-Alim, a correspondent for Diverse Issues in Higher Education (the national push to hold teacher preparation programs more accountable for student achievement);

*Lauren Smith Camera, a staff writer for CQ Roll Call (whether federal funding in the form of a competitive grant is a good investment); and, 

*Annie Murphy Paul, a magazine writer and book author (why American undergraduates are not learning critical thinking skills in their college years.).

Congrats to all of them. Read more here:  Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism J-School announces 2013-14 Spencer Fellows

Thus far four books (plus two more under contract and a few others in the process) have already come out from Spencer Fellows, along with a number of notable feature magazine articles, award-winning radio shows, etc.  

With some notable exceptions, the Spencer Fellowship program seems to have identified important education topics for books and other long-form projects that would not otherwise have been produced (including my book about Locke High School).  Check out the list here.

The results have generally been successful, by and large, in terms of producing quality journalism, though the program's only real breakout success so far is Elizabeth Green's NYT Sunday Magazine story about Doug Lemov from February 2010.  Perhaps the books that she and other Spencer alumni are working on will engage the wider public and -- this is what every Spencer Fellow wants to do -- change the conversation around education.  

Morning Video: Spelling Bee Adds Definitions

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This might be the biggest change in education policy for all of 2013.

AM News: Senate Announces Bipartisan Effort to Boost Mental Health in Schools

Senators Harkin, Alexander Introduce Measure to Boost Mental Health in Schools PoliticsK12: Schools would be encouraged to expand the use of positive behavior support services, boost early-intervention services, and take other steps to help address students' mental health, under a bill that's set for committee consideration by the Senate education panel tomorrow. And the bill is..drumroll...bipartisan. 


Common Science Standards Make Formal Debut EdWeek: The final set of standards aimed at reshaping the focus and delivery of science instruction in U.S. schools was publicly unveiled Tuesday, setting the stage for states—many of which helped craft the standards—to take the next step and consider adopting them as their own.

Obama Pre-K Expansion Battle Pits Kids Against Cigarettes HuffPostEdu: "This investment could help jumpstart preschool programs in states without adequate preschools and could also help states with programs reach the lowest-income children," the authors wrote. "This would free up state dollars to expand access for higher-income children and improve program quality."

Newark students protest budget cuts with walkout, rally Star-Ledger: About 1,000 students from a half-dozen Newark high schools walked out of class today and gathered on Rutgers-Newark campus to protest deep cuts to the district’s budget. Though students at Science Park are thriving, their counterparts at some of the district’s comprehensive high schools, including Barringer and West Side, take classes in dilapidated buildings with outdated text books and too few quality teachers, Bazioe said.

L.A. Schools Hire Security Aides To Watch For Threats NPR: The aides are part-time employees, earning between $12 and $15 an hour. Superintendent John Deasy says he'd rather use the money to hire back teachers, but the shootings last December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., led to a change in priorities.

Update: Two More "Parent Triggers" In Los Angeles

image from laschoolreport.comTomorrow morning at 9 am Pacific time, the decision of the parents over the fate of 24th Street Elementary School is scheduled to be announced at a park near the school.

The decision will be based on a vote of the 369 parents who signed the original parent trigger petition, according to the LA Weekly.  

Whichever of the four possible school governance models the parents choose, it will be a historic moment because of the lack of a court fight, notes the Hechinger Report.

But the parent trigger -- a controversial state law that gives parents the right to initiate dramatic changes at a low-performing school -- is already being used or considered by parents at at least two other LAUSD schools.

Read all about it at LA School Report here.

Quotes: Talk About "Love" (Not "Rights")

Quotes2They ran campaigns about “love” (a deeply shared emotional value that connects people), not about “rights” (a policy objective that reinforced disconnection between haves and have-nots.) The policy objective of the campaign didn’t change; how they talked about it did.

-- PIE's Suzanne Tacheny Kubach on lessons from the same-sex marriage campaign.

Superintendents: States Switch Between Elected & Appointed

It wasn't much of a surprise to find out from the Council of Chief State School Officers that most state superintendents are still appointed -- by a state board or a governor, usually.  You can see the full list they sent me below.  Only 14 are elected.

What was a bit surprising was that the average tenure is so brief -- 2 years 7 months -- which is more along the lines of what you'd expect from a big-city district superitendent -- and that several states have gone back and for the between elected and appointed (or are considering it now).

For example, I'm told that Louisiana has a proposal to make the state superintendent elected, and that Wyoming has a state director of education along with an elected superintendent. (California has had a version of this at times over the years -- one elected official and a second appointed official working under the governor.) Tennessee switched 20 years ago, and Oregon switched more recently.  

Chiefs list below.  There's also a NASBE document from last spring that includes governance information about state boards and other key features.

Continue reading "Superintendents: States Switch Between Elected & Appointed" »

Events: Funders Meeting In Chicago

Over 1,000 philanthropy types have been meeting in Chicago the past couple of days as part of the Council on Foundations Annual Conference (#COF13). Scheduled speakers included Mayors Emanuel, Landrieu, and Nutter. It's not an education-specific event, as you'll see from the list of events, but scheduled site visits included North Lawndale College Prep.  The obligatory screening of Brooklyn Castle is also on the schedule.  Maybe some education types are there and have been tweeting out interesting happenings.

Thompson: Why 'Reformers' Are Allergic to Activism

BigbossLuis Gabriel Aguilera, the author of Gabriel’s Fire: A Memoir, reminds us that the Chicago teachers strike of 2012 was not about salaries or benefits. It was a counter-attack against the brutality of corporate school reforms.

In his recent post, The Chicago Public Schools: Allergic to Parent, Student, Teacher, Union and Citizen Activism (Part II), Aguilera first nails the fundamental flaw of market-driven “reforms” designed to turn up the heat on teachers. Then, Aguilera explains that accountability-driven reform is part of a larger global conversation, that reflects on the future of education in general and the quality of all of our lives.  School closures come from an “ever-streamlining corporate culture.” Corporate “reformers” are not content with attacking public schools. They now hope to transform higher education.

Their public relations flacks argue with a straight face that poverty persists, not because of global economic changes (and exploitation), but because of teachers’ low expectations.  Not even the best PR that big money can buy could sell the claim that buildings wouldn’t burn if firefighters adopted a “No Excuses!” mentality.  Neither, I would add, will they be able to sell the idea that all of society should welcome the additional stress of the leaner, meaner world that corporations are imposing on all of us.   -JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via


AM News: Rigorous "Early College High School Model" Spreads to Disadvantaged Communities

Early College High School Model Spreads to Newark NYT: Across the country in communities like Newark, the early college high school model is being lauded as a way to provide low-income students with a road map to and through college. According to the most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, 68 percent of all high school graduates make it to a two- or four-year institution, but only 52 percent of low-income students do the same.

AMNewsLeadership Shifts at Top of Education Associations EdWeek: As groups representing local and state education players struggle to remain relevant in a policy conversation often dominated by foundations, think tanks, new advocacy groups, and political and business figures, a shift in leadership has been under way at major associations.

Mike Reynolds, Oklahoma Rep: 'It's Not Our Job To See That Anyone Gets An Education' HuffPostEdu: Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) told fellow lawmakers last week that they have no responsibility to ensure students have access to a college education. The state's legislature has been debating a bill that would expand Oklahoma's Promise, a program that provides post-secondary education scholarships to qualified low-income students.

State Lawmakers Consider Dropping Common Core EdWeek: Track the development of in various states of legislation seeking withdrawal from the Common Core State Standards. You can also find a short synopsis and a timeline of recent actions for each bill below. Follow more state legislative news.

Cursive Club Tries To Keep Handwriting Alive NPR: At first, 45 students signed up for the cursive club that Sylvia Hughes founded last fall at Nellie K. Parker Elementary School. But then the club grew to 60 8- and 9-year olds. Some states require cursive handwriting instruction, but in New Jersey, it's optional.

Afternoon Video: Deasy Lays Out Accomplishments & Challenges


Over the weekend, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy spoke at a TEDx school reform event, outlining the highs and lows of his nearly three-year stint as head of the nation's second-largest school system. Cross-posted from LA School Report. Remarks begin at 54:00. 

People: Meet New Haven's "Phosphorescent" Dave Low

One of the stars of last week's Yale School of Management education summit was New Haven teacher and union VP Dave Low.  And I'm not just talking about the shirt.  

image from www.newhavenindependent.org
Read all about what Low had to say here: Union VP: Let Teachers Lead. Image courtesy Melissa Bailey/New Haven Independent.

Weekend Reading: Stuff You Missed (Or Wish You Had)


 Lots of magazine, website, and twitter action from over the weekend, including topics such as cheating, hypocrisy, technology, bullying, angry progressives, and miscellaneous. Some favorites:

 The Atlanta Teacher Aptitude Test (ATAT) - NYTimes.comow.ly/jPZnv

"It would be hypocritical rail against private schools and then choose private schools." @AcmpCA_Teachers Agreed.

The hybrid educational model works via Tyler Cowenow.ly/jOkLv Even across subgroups (first gen, low-income, etc.)

With new report, America Achieves tries to refocus attention on middle-class students and schoolsow.ly/jOlCA

Check them all out below.

Continue reading "Weekend Reading: Stuff You Missed (Or Wish You Had)" »

Morning Video: Treacly DonorsChoose Promo Goes Viral


Remember DonorsChoose?  Still around.  And this promo video featuring Harlem teacher named James Walter Doyle (!) is super sweet but that hasn't stopped 130,000 folks from watching it. (That's viral, right?) Or maybe it's the lilac button-down he's sporting.  Via ViralVideos.  He's also been featured in GQ.

AM News: Obama Would Pay for Pre-K By Increasing Tobacco Taxes

Obama Would Pay for Pre-K Program by Raising Tobacco Taxes PoliticsK12: The administration would cover the cost for at least part of the prekindergarten expansion by raising federal taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, according to this New York Times story. The story doesn't say by just how much the tax would go up. But, according to this report, released by the Congressional Budget Office last year, hiking the tax from the current level of $1.01 to $1.51 could trim the deficit by $42 billion over 10 years.

AMNewsCPS School Closings: King Elementary Parents Frustrated At Lack Of Response DNAinfoChicago: Many concerns and questions, but no answers. That’s how it went for parents and teachers from William H. King Elementary as they gathered for a meeting with Chicago Public Schools officials Saturday. About 350 people attended 10 meetings across the city Saturday morning and afternoon, CPS said in a statement. Three additional meetings were scheduled for Saturday evening.

Charter school demand in Mass. disputed BostonGlobe: A state tally showing more than 53,000 students on charter school waiting lists is overstating demand, according to a Globe review of state data. That’s because the state simply adds up the waiting lists from each charter school without collecting individual names to learn whether a student appears on more than one list or, in fact, may be enrolled at another charter school.

Many States Fight Immigration Overhaul for Youths AP: President Barack Obama's decision last year to allow young people living in the U.S. illegally to stay and work marked the biggest shift in immigration policy in decades, hailed as a landmark step toward the American dream for a generation of immigrants. But months later, many immigrants are having vastly different reactions to the change depending on where they live, and they aren't flocking to the program at the levels the government originally expected.

Data Shows Teachers Stay in Job Longer WSJ: A host of internal efforts and a tough economy have pushed New York City schools considerably closer to a long-sought goal: Teachers are staying in the job longer. More than 80% of public schoolteachers now have at least five years experience, up from less than two-thirds when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of city data. But the push was also helped along by a deep recession that sapped other employment alternatives for teachers and forced the Department of Education to drastically reduce hiring people who are new to the profession.

Afternoon Video: Kid President Meets Real President


Third grader known as #KidPresident visits the White House - for real. Warning: there's a hug at the end.  

Quotes: Weingarten Denounces Racist/Sexist Attack On Rhee

Events: Tweets From Yale 2013

Audio: Parent Trigger Ups & Downs

Curious about how the parent trigger is evolving in Los Angeles and nationwide?  Here's the audio from a Friday morning panel at Yale University on the parent trigger featuring Parent Trigger's Ben Austin and former state Senator Gloria Romero, who authored the controversial law, along with the Fordham Foundation's Adam Emerson and moderator Andy Rotherham.

The most interesting tidbits include Austin's description of how the 24th Street parents came up with the idea of having LAUSD and a charter school operator share control of the school -- and how the mere threat of a trigger has persuaded teachers at some schools to approach parents about making changes -- and Emerson's description of how civil rights groups in Florida have come out strongly against the trigger idea there -- a sharp contrast to their role in favor of the trigger legislation in California. [Cross-posted from LA School Report]

AM News: U.S. Dept. of Ed. Protesters Use Ugly Rhetoric against "Corporate" Reformer, Michelle Rhee

U.S. Dept. of Ed. Protesters Turn Fierce Rhetoric on 'Corporate' Reform PoliticsK12: As they kicked off four days of protests at the U.S. Department of Education, organizers of Occupy DOE 2.0 today used inflammatory—and, in one case, racially insulting—rhetoric to rally opposition against high-stakes testing, "corporate" education reform, and the "dismantling of public education." Standing in front of the Education Department's headquarters in downtown Washington, Miami-Dade County teacher Ceresta Smith referred to former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee—founder and CEO of the advocacy group StudentsFirst—as an "Asian bitch."

AMNewsCPS Walk The Walk: District Parents Say Mayor Should See First-Hand School Routes Their Kids Will Tread HuffPostEdu: Fearing the dangers posed by the new routes their kids will be forced to take after the district shutters 54 neighborhood elementary schools, Chicago Public School parents are calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to come to their communities and "walk the walk." A Tuesday morning protest outside Emanuel's office in City Hall is just one of the several demonstrations against the planned school closings since the district revealed its closure list.

Lessons From A School Cheating Scandal, Two Decades Later NPR: A local newspaper investigation in Atlanta uncovered widespread cheating in standardized testing, which school officials were indicted for last week. But almost 25 years ago, a doctor in West Virginia coal country uncovered a similar scandal after noticing that standardized test scores in his community were suspiciously high. Host Michel Martin speaks to Dr. John Cannell about his report back then, and other incidents he has been following since.

Missouri Lawmaker Wants To Tie Welfare Benefits To Public School Attendance HuffPostEdu: Steve Cookson (R-Poplar Bluff) , the state House elementary and secondary education committee chairman, filed legislation Wednesday that would mandate school-age children of welfare recipients attend public school 90 percent of the time, unless the children are physically disabled, "in order to receive benefits."

U.S. Middle-Class Students Fall Short in Global Study EdWeek: Discussions of how to close the achievement gaps for low-income and minority students often take center stage in education policy discussions. Yet students from middle-class families, regardless of race and ethnicity, also have some catching up to do to be competitive on the global stage, a new report suggests.

Afternoon Movie Trailer: Leonardo DiCaprio Is Jay Gatsby


Atlantic Wire:  The New 'Great Gatsby' Trailer Is Your 9th-Grade English Class with Pop Music. There's also a good Studio 360 segment on the novel's longevity you can listen to here.


Update: Hybrid Trigger Options In Los Angeles

LasrlogoFolks in Los Angeles are trying to develop some more nuanced, interesting parent trigger options for low-performing schools, LA School Report and others are reporting this week: 

At 24th Street Elementary, a parent group has recommended a hybrid program for next year, including district control of the early grades and a locally-known charter for the upper grades.  

A second trigger petition being filed this week at Weigand Elementary calls for changes to the structure and operation of the school but does not call for the removal of teachers, staff, or leadership, or for a charter conversion.

One of several things that remain unknown about these softer, more nuanced trigger variations is whether they'll result in substantial academic improvements at the schools.  It's also unclear whether they will be blocked or opposed by UTLA, the local teachers union. 

LA School Report:  LA Parents Opting for Varied “Trigger” Options; LA Times:  Proposal for Parent-Trigger Overhaul at L.A. School Well-Received. Image via LASR. 



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.