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The Public School Insights Blog

Newsweek has apparently scrubbed its lead story on education of some offensive content. The original headline read "The Problem with Education Is Teachers." Well, that's gone. So is the following subhead: "Getting rid of bad teachers is the solution to turning around failing urban schools." (Earlier this week, I got pretty worked up over their hatchet job on teachers.)

Did they succumb to mass outrage? Did they succumb to pangs of conscience?

Can anyone find the original version of those articles in the Google cache?

[Hat tip to an anonymous commenter for discovering the change.] ...

A draft of the the Common Core State Standards in K12 appeared yesterday, and the media have taken notice. As far as I can tell so far, response to the draft has been pretty positive. (The public comment period is now open.) I just hope the public and policymakers don't lose interest before we do the hard work of giving people in schools the time and support they need to use the standards well in the classroom.

The English Language Arts standards in particular have gone over very well with some groups that were skeptical at the outset. Core Knowledge, Common Core, and Fordham all like what they see. I've had some time to page through the ELA standards myself and am impressed. The suggested reading list is especially substantive and diverse: Homer, Euclid, Donne, de Tocqueville, MLK, Lahiri, Morrison, and even Enzensberger!

Of course, not everyone is on board. Officials from the only two states that declined to take part in the Common Core standards initiative--Texas and Alaska--were quick to declare their own standards equal or superior to the Common Core. (Groups that review state standards, like Fordham and the AFT, might well disagree.)

Then there's of course the Cato Institute's Neal McClusky, who sees the whole effort as a dangerous diversion from the boundless promise of the free ...

People in our business commonly talk about the challenges of teaching students who are still learning English. Not so Ted Appel of Luther Burbank High School in California. He sees these students as an asset.

More than half of his school's students are English language learners. About nine in ten come from low-income families. Though some schools might see such students as a drag on their test scores, Luther Burbank High welcomes them from neighborhoods far from its own. For Appel, such students enrich the school in ways standard school rating systems cannot begin to capture.

Appel recently told us about his school--and about the state and federal  policies that can at times impede its vital work.

Public School Insights: Tell me a little bit about Luther Burbank High School.

Appel: It is a comprehensive high school with about 2100 students. About 90% are on free or reduced lunch. About 35% are Southeast Asian, mostly Hmong. We are about 25% Latino, about 20% African-American, and whatever percentage is left is from everywhere else in the world.

Public School Insights: So you must have a lot of different languages spoken in the school.

Appel: Yes. The predominant languages are Hmong and Spanish. For about 55% of our student population, English is not the primary language spoken at home. They are English learners.

Public School Insights: I would assume this population has a pretty big impact on your school and the teaching strategies you to use. Is that true?

Appel: Absolutely. One of the advantages of having such a large number of English learners is that we in a way do not have an English learner program. We try to foster a sense that all teachers are likely to be teaching English learners, so there is not a sense that English learners are the kids that somebody else ...

I usually delete comment spam as soon as it appears, but once in a while I come across an example that's just too good to erase. Here's this month's candidate:

Sometimes, people make the thesis mba by their own efforts. But some students like to order the professional idea related to this topic from the thesis service, because that seems to be more comfortable.

You heard it here first. ...

Newsweek excels at self-parody. It has long produced lop-sided and simplistic reporting on school reform. But this week's lead story takes the cake: "The Problem with Education is Teachers."

I had a hissy fit when I first read that inflammatory and irresponsible headline. And the lede pushed me over the edge: "Getting rid of bad teachers is the solution to turning around failing urban schools." Any journalist who writes about "the solution" to anything should get a pay cut. Another subtitle for the article just added insult to injury: "In no other profession are workers so insulated from accountability." Well, what about journalism?

It's too bad Newsweek ran such a poor piece. They could have learned a thing or two about schools and journalism if they had read Elizabeth Green's wonderful piece in last weeks' New York Times Magazine. Newsweek's authors interviewed only the usual reform suspects, ignored viewpoints that clashed with their angle, ignored the role of factors like staff development and curriculum, and went for the sensational headline. Green's story is a world apart from all that.

For one, Green asks logical questions about what has become received wisdom in some school reform circles. Can TFA really supply the needs of all our troubled urban and rural schools? If we fired "bad teachers" at the bottom and hired "great" ones at the top, would we really solve our education problems? What about the ...

I've been out of commission for a couple days with a nasty bug I picked up from my infant daughter (who's now better.) So imagine my surprise when I finally open my computer and find a Newsweek cover article titled "The Problem With Education is Teachers."*

Haven't read the article itself yet, but I just have to say--WOW. What an inflammatory, unfair and thoroughly irresponsible title to add to any article. More later....

The problem with journalism is lousy journalists and editors. Unbelievable.

* Text corrected 3/8/2010 ...

Principal Stephanie Smith of Seaford Middle School has seen the highs and lows of school reform. She has seen her school shake off the stigma it bore as a school "in need of improvement." (Delaware named her its 2008 Principal of the Year for her role in that school's remarkable transformation.) She has seen the school sustain its students' performance despite the fact that many more now live in poverty than did just a few years ago. She has even seen the school begin to stem the tide of its highest-performing students into a neighboring charter school.

But now she worries that the school might not be able to keep clearing the bar that No Child Left Behind sets higher every year. And she faces the prospect of slipping back into "needs improvement" status less than a decade after her school emerged from it.

We recently spoke with Smith, who told us the remarkable story of her school's triumphs and struggles in the era of No Child Left Behind.

Public School Insights: What kind of a school is Seaford Middle School?

Smith: It is a grade six through eight middle school. We are the only middle school in our school system. We have four feeder elementary schools and we feed into one high school. We have about 750 students.

Seaford is a demographically diverse school. We really don’t have a majority population anymore—we run about 40% African-American and Caucasian populations, with a Hispanic population as well. We are 71% free and reduced price lunch. That number has gone up drastically, probably since you last got information on our school. We are about 21% special ed.

Public School Insights: What do you think prompted the rise in free and reduced price lunch numbers?

Smith: I think just the status of the economy. Our community—the city of Seaford and its outlying areas—has been given the title of the poorest community in ...

We now know which sixteen states made the cut in the first round of Race to the Top applications. It seems many should be grateful that the Gates Foundation lent a hand.

I made some hasty calculations: If a state received help from Gates in putting together an application, it had a 56% chance of making the cut. If a state received no help from Gates, it had an 8% chance of making the cut.

So here are some questions to think about as we consider a future in which the feds shift much more money into competitive grants. Will wealthy foundations become the arbiters of who gets that money? Will they help preordain the winners and the losers? And is that necessarily a bad thing?

Remember that many poor and small districts can't easily pay for grant writers. They'll have to wait for the deus ex machina.

[Hat tip to @politicsk12 on Twitter. Any mistakes in my hasty calculations are all my own.] ...

We hear a lot about the need to ensure that all children succeed. But I'm beginning to think that the rhetoric of "all" has got too many reformers promising things they cannot possibly deliver. It's time to be more honest about the limitations of any single reform strategy.

In fact, many reforms getting the lion's share of attention these days might actually undermine the goal to serve all children. For example:

Competition for Federal Dollars. At first blush, this idea seems hard to reconcile with the aim to help "all kids." The feds want the states and districts to compete for federal money--and may the best, most innovative ones win. Doling the dollars out by formula, some claim, merely props up the status quo.

But shouldn't we be at least a tad concerned that the rich will get richer and the poor, poorer? Districts that can afford grant writers will have an edge. Those that cannot? It's too bad for them. "Unto him that hath, much shall be given, and from him that hath not...." (You know the rest.)

And if the feds aren't careful, they'll look like vengeful gods who visit the sins of the fathers upon the children. After all, it's children who stand to lose the most ...

We sorely need to define what we mean when we say "turnaround." That's becoming more and more apparent as the media start finding romance and drama in turnaround stories. Here's the problem: One person can see a budding turnaround story where another sees a school mired in failure. In this climate, ideology can trump evidence.

We also need to decide what the milestones on the road to excellence look like. That's not at all easy. Take, for example, the case of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. President Obama points to its rock-bottom math scores as a reason for starting over. Teachers point to rising reading and writing scores as a reason for staying the course. Similar debates are swirling around other troubled schools in the state.

As the press hungers for stories about triumph and failure, the tendency to find conflicting meanings in the same numbers will only grow. And that will create the perfect climate for spin doctors. (Just look at Chicago. The "results" of the city's school reforms have been spun in so many ways by boosters and critics alike that I'm getting dizzy.) You would think you'd just know a turnaround story when you ...

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