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The Public School Insights Blog

OECD reports always leave me wanting more. The most recent report on child well being in industrialized countries is no exception. I want more information, better context, greater clarity. The report just seems to gloss over too many factors that affect children’s welfare.

One finding does seem abundantly clear: The United States fares poorly on many measures of child well-being. Our child poverty rate is over 20 percent, almost double the OECD average. We’re in the basement on children’s health and safety: twenty-fourth out of 30 OECD countries. And we do just as poorly in educational well-being. Our achievement gaps are much larger than in most other OECD countries. American students are also more likely than their OECD peers to lack important resources like textbooks, computers, or even a quiet place to study.

The report also finds that U.S. spending on children is higher than the OECD average. (Cue outrage over big spending on social programs....) But the OECD analysis leaves so much out of account that this conclusion is hard to support.

Take, for example, health care spending. The OECD admits leaving it out of the analysis: “Although the analysis does not include public spending on health, many of the indicators of child well-being are related to health.” Oh.... That's kind of a big deal.

In the U.S., poor children receive much worse health care than other ...

"Say Yes to Education" may finally get its due. Joe Biden, Arne Duncan and Tim Geithner converged on Syracuse yesterday to learn about the innovative program.

We've honored Say Yes time and again on this website. The initiative has nearly closed high school and college graduation gaps separating urban youth from their suburban peers. How? By providing low-income youth comprehensive supports ranging from health care to academic help and college scholarships.

So will this event catapult Say Yes into the national consciousness? Early signs aren't good. The event has been covered, well, almost nowhere. Not in the education press. Not in the blogosphere.

It did get a few hits in the local Syracuse papers, but those focused mostly on college affordability: an important, but small, facet of the Say Yes program. I suppose I can understand why. The White House Task Force on Middle ...

Charles Haynes has called public schools “a microcosm of our public square, an arena where we debate and define who we are as a people." The recent kerfuffle over President Obama’s speech to school children is just the latest sign that the public square is shrinking fast.

Perceptive bloggers saw the speech as a chance to get students talking about their personal and civic responsibilities. In other quarters, irrational fears trumped common sense. Don’t like the president? Shield your children from his every word. Pull them back into the bunker.

Haynes sees public schools as places where we “engage one another across our differences--and, where possible, find a common vision of the common good." This vision of public school as public square seems all but absent from current debates about the future of schools.

Is public education a “marketplace of ideas” or just a marketplace? It’s hard to ...

The word “innovation” is getting stretched awfully thin these days. But I have a hard time coming up with a better word to describe what's happening at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

One of the nation’s largest producers of teachers, St. Cloud State is reinventing teacher education. The University’s “co-teaching” model of student teaching prepares new teachers for the challenges of the job while keeping master teachers in the classroom. The best part? The model also benefits children right away. Four years of research show that students in co-taught classrooms outperform students in classrooms using other models of student teaching. They even outperform students taught by a single experienced teacher.

St. Cloud State University Professor Nancy Bacharach recently told us more.

A New Direction in Student Teaching

Public School Insights: We’ve all heard about student teaching. I gather that the work that you are doing right now at St. Cloud State University in co-teaching is not your grandfather’s student teaching.

Bacharach: Exactly. As we were looking at the student teaching experience here at St. Cloud State and reading the literature that was out there, we found that very little has changed in the last 75, 80 years of student teaching. We were looking at our own experiences from a number of years ago, and ...

Long before "responsibility" and "hard work" became dreaded codewords for "socialism," they were values Americans wanted to see in their schools. Let me give you a glimpse of the good old days before the dust-up over the president's speech to school children.

In 2005, 93 percent of Americans said "teaching hard work and responsibility" was a very important goal for public schools. Forty-four percent said it was the most important goal. No other goal achieved a higher rating. These numbers come from a Learning First Alliance poll of likely voters. (The Alliance sponsors this website.)

These poll results should come as no surprise. Support for (and criticism of) public education reflect ingrained American values. We ignore that fact at our own risk.

The most enduring reforms rest on shared values. These days, we should cherish common ground when we find it. The recent tempest in a teacup does us no favors.

Update (7:23 pm): Teacher Larry Ferlazzo has his hands on the president's speech, and he has very specific ideas for using it in his own classes. ...

"School reformers [should] begin working with teachers--rather than around them." This is the overarching theme of a new report by Barnett Berry. The product of collaboration between NEA and Berry's Center for Teaching Quality, the report examines how to get top teachers into the classrooms that need them most. Its title says it all: Children of Poverty Deserve Great Teachers.

The report offers welcome relief from the either/or thinking that mars so many education policy discussions. We spend so much time following the horse race between traditional and alternative routes into teaching, for example, that we miss the bigger question: How do we better prepare teachers to succeed in struggling schools, regardless of where they come from?

I can't possibly summarize the whole report here, but I can offer a few glimpses of what it has to offer.

The report "begins by rejecting several myths with compelling evidence." Myth number one: If you topple the "barriers" posed by traditional certification, effective teachers will simply flood into struggling schools. Myth number two: If you ...

If we're not careful, "engagement" will become just another cure-all, like charters or vouchers. The idea is far too important to leave to this fate.

Engagement can seem like the holy grail, and I understand why. Teachers in struggling schools are looking for ways to reach disaffected students before they drop out. Many see engagement as an answer to mindless test prep or uninspired teaching. New technologies are sparking students' interest in challenging academic work.

But there's a dark side to much current talk about engagement. For one, it can become yet another stick to beat teachers with. When students violate all standards of behavior, their teachers often catch flak for not engaging them. (Maybe that kid wouldn't have pulled that knife on you if you hadn't been so boring.) Yes, students are much less likely to act out if they are interested in their studies. But calls for more engagement should never drown out serious ...

There is a school turnaround strategy for every taste. At least, that's the impression I get from the National Journal's most recent panel of experts. Asked to name the best strategies for turning around schools, different experts list different ideas. Pair struggling schools with the best teacher training institutions, writes Steve Peha. Create a year-round calendar, writes Phil Quon. Shutter struggling schools and start from scratch, writes Tom Vander Ark.

Each of these ideas has merit in some cases--I myself love the first idea, like the second, and am not fully sold on the third. But none is a necessary ingredient for all or even most schools.

So what do we know about turnarounds? Two big themes stand out in much of the school turnaround literature:

  1. There is no detailed prescription for what works in all cases.
  2. There is, however, abundant evidence that a school will not turn itself around unless it gives teachers the support they need to succeed.

These themes are also clear in the many turnaround stories we profile on this website. Policy makers should take note.

The Reconstitution Myth
It's high time to slay the reconstitution dragon. Despite what you may hear these days, you do not have to kill a school to save it.

Here's what Emily and Bryan Hassel write in Education Next, which is hardly a pro-union rag: “Successful turnaround leaders typically do not replace all or most of the staff at the start, but they often replace some key leaders who help ...

A New York Times puff piece on reading workshops has ignited a firestorm in the blogosphere. Stop force-feeding kids the great books, the article implies. Let them read what they want to. Bloggers' reactions range from horror to approval.

I can understand the horror. When will children make the transition from Captain Underpants to Shakespeare, Twain or Hurston? What happens if we raise them to believe that reading should always be easy or fun? The most challenging books often offer the biggest rewards.

Perhaps there is a middle course. If children become enthusiastic about books they choose themselves, can teachers direct this enthusiasm toward more challenging books? Children's Literature Laureate John Scieszka seems to think so. (Or at least that's what he told me in an interview last ...

Granger High School in Washington State has garnered national attention for its remarkable journey from bad to great. Most Granger students come from low-income families working on farms in the surrounding Yakima Valley. Many are children of migrant workers. In 2001, Granger was plagued by gang violence, low morale and an astronomical dropout rate. Now more than 95% of Granger students graduate, and almost 90% go on to college or technical school. (See our story about Granger here.)

Granger principal Paul Chartrand recently spoke with me about the critical work of sustaining the trend. The overriding message I took away from our conversation: Forge strong personal connections with students and their families.

Sustaining the Turnaround Trend

Public School Insights: Granger High School has been described by quite a few people as a real turnaround story. Do you think that is a fair description?

Chartrand: I do think it’s a fair description. My predecessor, Richard Esparza, really started the turnaround. I took over last year, and we are trying to continue the trend. We have been successful in a couple of areas, and we are still working on it in ...

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