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The Public School Insights Blog

The debate over school vouchers is heating up once again, as are the accompanying arguments about the role of choice in our education system, and the academic, social and emotional impact of vouchers on the students they serve and the public schools they leave.

But something that I am not hearing a lot about is the cost of voucher programs. I find this surprising given the budget situation in many of the places exploring them.

Consider what is happening at the federal level. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to reinstate the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only program in the nation to use federal tax dollars to subsidize private school tuition. They also voted to increase the amount of federal dollars going to each student: In the past, the program offered vouchers of $7,500 per student per year, but this proposal ups that to $8,000 for elementary and middle school students and $12,000 for high school students. The anticipated cost to taxpayers: $300 million over five years, with $100 million going to the voucher program and the rest going to DC public and charter schools. The bill is now headed to ...

Note: In honor of April Fool’s Day, today’s post satirizes some ideas from prominent critics of public schools.

I would like to highlight some education visionaries whose ideas about public education are largely underappreciated. These three innovators aren’t afraid to tell it like it is, and to prescribe bold solutions to current problems in public schools.

Visionary 1: Rush Limbaugh

A comment Rush made when talking with an anti-public school caller is typical of his no nonsense position on public education: “There's no question our society is in the process of being dumbed down and has for many generations.  The hideous thing is that it's done purposely.” The caller responded, “Of course it is.  We know that.  It started way back in the early last century, and we know who did it. . . I was even part of the conspiracy myself as an educator and as a former staunch atheist, humanist and evolutionary biologist.  . . I know what's going on behind the scenes.”

Against this backdrop, let’s examine a second discussion that took place in the midst of the union wars in Wisconsin: “So we're asking ourselves, ‘Will the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt?’ and in America we're asking, ‘Will the Education Brotherhood take over Wisconsin?’  Check the news, folks, because they're sure trying. The Education Brotherhood, which ...

“Which language should I take – French or Spanish?” 

That simple question from a curious student inspired David J. Smith to write If the World Were a Village. Honored by organizations ranging from the International Reading Association to the Children’s Book Council and Smithsonian Magazine, the book aims to help children become better global citizens. By statistically shrinking the world’s 6.2 billion people into a village with a population of just 100, children are better able to grasp just how different life can be for those in other nations. In this global village, for example, 21 citizens would speak a Chinese dialect, while just nine would speak English.

If the World Were a Village is just one of Smith’s many efforts to teach geography and global awareness to the world’s children. For example, this former classroom teacher with over 25 years’ experience was honored by the U.S. Department of Education with an “A+ For Breaking The Mold” award back in the early 1990s for his highly successful curriculum Mapping The World By Heart.

In this interview, Smith talks about his newest book, This Child, Every Child, and the importance of geographic literacy in our rapidly flattening world.

Public School Insights: You recently released a new book, This Child, Every Child. Tell me about it.

Smith: This Child, Every Child grew out of hundreds of school visits I made after the publication of If The World Were A Village and If America Were A Village. Students frequently asked me about the other children in the world -- what did they have for breakfast, what were their schools and lives like, and I began ruminating this idea.  Then I read the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and it was so beautiful, and so right, and so clear, that I asked the director of Child Protection at the U.N. if I could use it as the backbone for a children's picture book, and she said "oh yes, we'd be delighted to have somebody do that.”  Before I submitted the manuscript to the publisher, I sent it to the U.N., and they were very happy with it, felt I was telling the story correctly and effectively, and they've written an endorsement for the cover.

The book uses a number of the articles from the convention as a structure for looking at -- and comparing -- the lives of children around the world, everything from games and ...

It’s been more than a week since the U.S. Department of Education sponsored International Summit on the Teaching Profession took place in New York City.  For those of us who were observers, the conversation was valuable but the extended time spent sitting and listening challenged our ability to absorb all that was being exchanged.  However, a few themes kept resurfacing:

  • In countries with high performing students as measured by the PISA tests, the teaching profession is held in high esteem and attracts the strongest students to its preparation programs.
  • Conversely, those same countries support a highly selective process for identifying potential teachers and
    ...

Clearly both teachers and public education get a bad rap among many in America. And while defenders often point to unfavorable media coverage and blame by politicians, movie and TV show depictions of education are less frequently cited even though these domains can be hugely influential in forming public opinion. (Documentary films about education are especially trendy right now.)

Apparently Hollywood is irresistibly attracted to the same ideas as Michelle Rhee and many conservative pundits: that education in America can be saved by superhero teachers. In researching movie and TV depictions for this post, I came across many that focus on the messianic teacher who allows his or her students to overcome poverty, lack of parental involvement, disenfranchisement, peer pressure, lack of attention or recognition from other adults, cultural myopia, and a host of other deeply systemic issues. A partial list includes:

  • To Sir with Love,
  • Dangerous Minds
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus
  • The Corn is Green
  • The Miracle Worker
  • A Child is Waiting
  • Fame
  • Dead Poet’s Society
  • Music of the Heart ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Charles J. "Chuck" Saylors. He is president of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), an LFA member.

As the parent of four, with two sons still in middle school, I have seen firsthand how bullying can hurt our students. For my wife, Teresa, and I this issue started with our youngest experiencing illness at home and school every day. He would wake up each day physically ill, not wanting to go to school, this coming from a child who was rarely ill and loved school. We started digging down and discovered that both of our sons had experienced being bullied.

Bullying has led to so many tragedies. We have seen news accounts where students have taken their own lives because they were bullied by others. Bullying causes so many issues; bad grades, health issues, self esteem issues; all harmful and negative for our children.

PTA members, parents and caregivers must get engaged in this conversation. We must help our children understand why these actions are wrong. We must help teachers and school administrators know that ...

Diane Ravitch has been quite busy of late. Among her recent activities: She has a piece appearing in Newsweek this month, and she herself appeared on The Daily Show. In February she gave a keynote at the American Association of School Administrators' annual convention and attended a meeting of Parents Across America. Last Friday, I had the good fortune of hearing her speak at the 2011 Celebration of Teaching and Learning (and the great fortune of getting a seat – it was standing room only). Over the past year, she estimates that she has talked to nearly 100,000 educators, parents and others across the nation.

Much of her message is the same regardless of her audience. She has a good grasp on the research, of course – and she often makes the point that ideology is trumping evidence in the policies du jour. Little to no evidence supports the merit pay, standardized testing, charter schooling, voucher and changes (as typically proposed) to teacher evaluation policies currently pushed by many politicians.

In addition to her knowledge of education research, what I appreciate about Ravitch is that she always hits on a point that should be (but isn't) at the heart of high-level discussions of education policy: The root cause of poor academic performance is poverty.

But instead of conversations about how we as a nation can best address the poverty within our borders, we just put the burden for eradicating the impact of poverty on our schools. And then we act surprised when ...

Clearly there are many worthwhile focuses competing for time, funds, and energy within public schools, especially in our current fiscal context. And while it’s often difficult to prioritize these issues, it is increasingly clear that technology is of critical importance in modern society—and thus for schools—and it will only become more important in the future.

To this end, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) focuses on promoting technology-friendly policies and instructional information for schools. Their advocacy efforts make clear that technology proficiency is critical for students of all demographics and income levels. I want to focus on a few points ISTE makes on its website.

One, we should emphasize technology mastery in teacher preparation. Among crucial players to effect this is the federal government—which should provide funding to ensure that teachers understand current technology and can integrate it into curricula. While there are some great federally-funded programs like Preparing Teachers for Digital Age Learners (PTDAL), there is a shortfall in this emphasis, and we should come up with a ...

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Winning the Future

Yesterday I had the extremely good fortune to be in the audience for President Obama’s remarks on education. It was my first time being so close to a President, an experience that was much more exciting than I expected it to be. Of course, it helped that this President is extremely charismatic. And when he bounded off stage to start shaking hands with the students and others in the audience, his enthusiasm was catching, regardless of whether you agreed with his policy positions or not. Though to be honest, I did agree with many of the points he made in this speech.

For example, the President pointed out (as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did last week) that more than 80% of public schools could be labeled as failing for not meeting their goals under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) this year. But we (the broad we – the public, politicians and education community alike) know that 80% of schools aren’t failing. And when you look at which schools would be labeled as ...

The theme of the March issue of Principal Leadership, the publication from NASSP, is “Seeing the Future…” and features thoughtful articles by Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, Richard Rothstein, Diane Ravitch, and George H. Wood.  Each article explores the complexity of the issues facing public education today and going forward and explicates the simplistic approaches currently in vogue to “fix” schools.  In his look at “The Future of Public Education” George H. Wood captures both hope and despair for the institution of public schooling.  The despair is the short term view with subsequent hope for long term change.

Wood’s despair, shared by many of us who have spent our careers working in public education, is around the current rhetoric and policy initiatives labeled as “reform” that redirect funds toward programs that fail to address the core problem and result in the scapegoating of professionals in the field.  While acknowledging that many institutions of teacher preparation are dropping the ball when it comes to turning out the teachers that schools need, what is now being touted as an innovative approach is teachers who come through “quickie” certification programs and who focus on drilling kids to succeed on tests.  Also, the notion that new teachers who come through alternate certification programs are somehow more capable of working with students in ...

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