The Public School Insights Blog
Some radical reform zealots have used America's standing in international comparisons of student achievement to justify all manner of miracle-cure education reform propositions. (Abolish school boards! Abolish school districts! Abolish school buildings!)
Cooler heads have looked beyond mere rankings to examine practices common to the most successful countries. Most recently, Achieve, the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers released a report on such practices.
As I read it, Benchmarking for Success offers some important (if implicit) lessons for reformers:
- Beware miracle cures that have little to do with what gets taught and how it gets taught;
- Seek coherence rather than erratic, disjointed interventions;
- Build public schools' capacity for success.
The report offers more specific recommendations for creating a world-class public education system. Here are a few highlights: ...
Like everyone else, Rick O'Sullivan thinks we're all in for a rough ride--perhaps even through 2010. The noted economist recently spoke with me about the causes and consequences of our current economic unpleasantness.
According to O'Sullivan, the causes of the downturn lie deeper than corporate greed, individual excess and widespread financial ignorance. The decline in the numbers of young people--who buy houses and plump the workforce--has stalled two of the nation's major economic engines: the housing and financial markets. And this decline will have a profound impact on the work and finances of public schools.
So what are the major "growth markets" for American schools? Lifelong learning, world languages and education about other countries, O'Sullivan argues.
Listen to about five minutes of highlights from this interview:
In his recent U.S. News & World Report commentary on twenty-first century skills, Andy Rotherham creates a bit of a straw man. He writes:
Schools, the 21st-century skills argument goes, focus too much on teaching content at the expense of essential new skills such as communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, and concepts like media literacy and awareness.
Is that really how the argument goes? I'm not so sure. Most 21st-century skills advocates, including those in the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills (P21), see content knowledge and 21st-century skills as closely linked, even mutually dependent. ...
President-Elect Obama's choice of education secretary has drawn praise from both Democrats for Education Reform and the National Education Association, two organizations that don't often see eye to eye. His decision certainly muddies the storyline repeated ad nauseam by national commentators: namely, that Obama would have to choose sides in The Great War between the Reformers and the Establishment.
Of course, that story relied on reductive accounts of reform championed by comic-book protagonists who inhabit a world without tradeoffs.
If all goes well, we may be in for a more thoughtful, inclusive and constructive national discussion ...
About this time each year, public schools face a "December dilemma": What to do about the religious content of the holidays? In a new interview, First Amendment scholar Charles Haynes offers some guidance on how public schools and school districts can avoid common pitfalls.
Of course, public schools should not turn their holiday assemblies into the kinds of devotional events one would expect to find in a church. Such assemblies violate the First Amendment. Nor should public schools banish all mention of religion. Attempts to create anodyne, content-free holiday events often anger religious parents and create more problems than they solve.
Instead, Haynes argues, public schools should use their holiday assemblies as opportunities to teach students about a variety of religious holidays. Such assemblies can help schools fulfill their mission to educate students about the diverse religions and cultures represented in their communities and the nation as a whole. Haynes is careful to point out that school districts can avoid all manner of heartache if they fully engage their communities in finding solutions to the December dilemma. ...
Dr. Susan B. Neuman has received much media attention recently as the apostate former Bush administration official who publicly opposes No Child Left Behind in its current form. As the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education who presided over NCLB's early implementation, she certainly made waves by arguing that schools alone cannot close achievement gaps.
But Neuman has received less attention for her affirmative vision of what we can do to improve poor students' odds dramatically. Her new book, Changing the Odds for Children at Risk, lays out "seven essential principles of educational programs that break the cycle of poverty." On Wednesday, she talked to me about her book and her thoughts on current education policy.
The book uses extensive research on child development and effective programs to make the case for responsible, substantive investment in areas such as early care and education, comprehensive family supports, and after-school. (Not surprisingly, Neuman was an early signer of the "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education," a manifesto urging investment in more comprehensive supports for students' well-being.)
Neuman's thoughts on accountability deserve particular attention. She has famously criticized NCLB's accountability regime for emphasizing sanctions over support, but she is no critic of rigorous accountability. Rather, she argues that accountability structures should ensure sound program goals, adequate resources, timely course corrections, and strong outcomes.
You can download the entire interview here or listen to six minutes of interview highlights:
The Great Expectations School, Dan Brown's harrowing and touching memoir of his first year teaching at an elementary school in the Bronx, has won high praise from heavy hitters in education, including Susan Fuhrman, Randi Weingarten, Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch.
Dan recently took the time to speak with me about the lessons of his experience teaching low-income children who could be by turns loving, enraged, vulnerable, brazen, curious and deeply disaffected. He shared his thoughts on the support new teachers need to function in this environment, specific strategies for serving children in poverty, and policy implications of day-to-day challenges in urban schools.
Hear five minutes of highlights from Dan's account of his first year:
Or, listen to about four and a half minutes of highlights from his discussion of education policy:
The new results of the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) seem at first blush very encouraging. U.S. 4th and 8th graders improved in mathematics, though their science performance remained essentially flat. In fact, improvement in U.S. 8th-graders' mathematics scores outpaced that of students in most other participating countries.
In 8th-grade science, apparently only Singapore and Taiwan outperformed Massachusetts.
Cause for celebration? Not so fast, says Mark Schneider from the American Institutes for Research. He points to yawning achievement gaps laid bare by the TIMSS results. He also notes that some high-performing OECD countries that bested the U.S. in the 2007 Programme for International Assessment did not participate in TIMSS, possibly skewing the results. ...
As people ponder the scope and content of the proposed economic recovery package, teacher-blogger Ariel Sacks offers food for thought:
I may plan a lesson that involves students researching something on the Internet, only to find that a good number of the computers on the laptop cart I have signed out won’t connect or won’t even turn on. We have no technician on staff to maintain the computers, and we likely never will, because we spend our limited funds on more pressing things. I can either stop using computers completely, which seems like a disservice to my students, or I can take my chances every time.
Such facilities problems plague public schools--particularly poor schools--across the country, and they will likely grow worse as the economy continues to sour. They offer a good starting point for economic recovery and stimulus plans. ...
Like others in the media, David Brooks is composing an epic about a battle for Barack Obama's soul. It's the education "reformers" against the education "establishment." The good guys against the bad guys.
This may make for good copy, but it certainly doesn't help his readers come to grips with the complexity of challenges facing public education. (Indeed, Brooks himself doesn't always know what side he's on.)
Take, for example, the question of "merit pay for good teachers," which Brooks characterizes as a major weapon in the reformers' arsenal. The Quick and the Ed, a blog that has been nothing if not supportive of performance pay for teachers, just posted a long piece on the unreliability of the "value added" student performance measures central to most proposed performance pay systems. In other words, current measures of teacher quality offer an unstable foundation for teacher compensation decisions.
Should we therefore abandon the question? Of course not. But we should at least acknowledge that this reform, like most others, involves difficult tradeoffs and real risks. It is possible to have principled ...
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- Actress/Mathematician Danica McKellar on girls and math
- Best Selling Author Kenneth C. Davis on engaging with history
- Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Danielson on providing health care at school
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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At Pierce County High School in rural southeast Georgia, the graduation rate has gone up 31% in seven years. Teachers describe their collaboration as the unifying factor that drives the school’s improvement. Learn more...
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