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The Public School Insights Blog

Ask South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Bauer about free lunches for poor children, and here's what you'll get:

My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that.

He later implied that free lunch lowers test scores. (Hat tip to Alexander Russo.) ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Casting a Wider Net

State test scores just don't tell us all we need to know about how our students are doing. Students' Success in college has to be a part of the picture.

Two new reports support this claim. A few weeks ago, a report by Education Sector found that states could improve their systems for grading high schools by taking college data into account. The success of a high school's graduates in college, it turns out, is more reliable than that same school's "Adequate Yearly Progress" in test scores is.

Less than two weeks ago, a report from the Center for Public Education (CPE) found a "silent achievement gap" in college preparation. Students from families with low incomes are much less likely than wealthy students to have the credentials they need--courses, grades and scores on entrance exams--to get into a good college. This gap isn't "silent" because it is in any way surprising. It is silent because ...

According to a new report (PDF), early childhood investments in Michigan have saved the state money over the long run. If that's true, the state's cutbacks to early childhood programs may be penny wise and pound foolish.

Here's how the blog Early Stories sums up the findings:

The report...found that investments the state has made in fully preparing young children for school has saved an estimated $1.15 billion over 25 years because the boost children got in pre-school programs decreased their need to repeat grades. The solid foundation also saved the state money by identifying disabilities in children early and cutting down on juvenile delinquency.

I'd hate to be in the shoes of Michigan lawmakers. They're facing huge shortfalls and have to make very painful decisions. But I hope more research into the return on every early childhood dollar can stave off further cuts in other states. James Heckman's work is a good place to start.

But there's a message here for education advocates as well. Budgets will stay lean for a good long while, so we'll have to make a very strong case for cost effectiveness. These days, pre-school is popular, but government spending isn't.

Photo: Simonxag, Wikimedia Commons. ...

These days, you either love Teach for America and its teachers, or you hate them. The love, it seems to me, stems from an obvious source. Young, often privileged, kids are choosing the hard, hard work of teaching in some of our most struggling schools. (There are easier resume stuffers out there.)

The hatred is more complex, but I think it's instructive, even if it is unfair. The very existence of TFA shines a spotlight on some of our biggest national shortcomings, but policymakers who support TFA seem oddly oblivious to that fact. Here are a few of those shortcomings as I see them:

We Still See Teaching as Missionary Work, Not as a Profession. We cheer TFA teachers for their missionary zeal. We admire them for working 80 hours a week but understand why they often leave after a couple of years. Regular teachers who work fewer hours, we say, are just "putting in their time." Without that Ivy League degree, we assume, teaching was likely one of their only options anyway. This mindset does little to elevate teaching as a profession. (Nancy Flanagan shares similar thoughts here.)

Teachers Don't Get the Support They Need. When They Do, It Makes Headlines
. TFA has learned from the struggles of its new teachers over the years. It gives its teachers intense, individual support, and it strives to strengthen its support systems all the time. You'd think all teachers could expect that kind of ...

A new Kaiser Family Foundation study (PDF) suggests that young people are developing an unhealthy obsession with their TVs, laptops, mp3 players and cell phones. Some might see these findings as a blow to the claims of ed tech boosters. I'm not so sure.

The study found that children ages 8-18 spend every waking moment outside of school in the thrall of media. They're watching TV, playing video games, hooked to ipods, trolling Facebook, gazing at smart phones, or doing any number of other things that are a complete mystery to people over 40. And they're doing these things a staggering 7 1/2 hours every day, on average. That's up from just 6 1/2 hours five short years ago.

Even tech zealots should find cause for concern here. The more time kids spent on media, the more likely they were to get bad grades, feel bored, get into trouble, or feel unhappy. The KFF study didn't ponder the impact of all these media trends on public health. Just last week, an Australian study found that people who watch at least four hours of television a day were much more likely than moderate tv watchers to die of heart disease. (Shocking.) American students watch an average of four and a half hours a day. Not much time left over to go outside and ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Measure What Matters

Don't judge schools solely by their students' test scores in math and reading. Also judge them by those students' later success in college and work. That's the thrust of a new report by Education Sector's Chad Aldeman (PDF). It's a compelling piece of work.

First, Aldeman does a better job than most of exposing flaws in current state accountability systems. He finds little correlation between a school's success in making "Adequate Yearly Progress" on state test scores and its students' later success in college.

Two Florida schools help him tell his story. The state gave the first an "A" for two years running, and Newsweek anointed it as one of the best high schools in the country. But students from the second, a D-rated school across the state, did better in college:

D-rated Manatee was arguably doing a better job at achieving the ultimate goal of high school: preparing students to succeed in college and careers. But because Florida's accountability system didn't ...

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Reauthorize ESEA!

The Learning First Alliance, which runs this website, is calling for swift reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Alliance is a permanent partnership of 17 major national education associations that represent some ten million parents, educators and policymakers.

Alliance Board Chair William Bushaw sent the following letter to President ...

David Kelley is a legend in technology and design circles. Decades ago, he founded a design firm that dreamed up the  computer mouse as we know it today. That firm has since evolved into IDEO, a global design company that has left its unique stamp on everything from consumer goods to social innovation. IDEO's work has probably touched your life in ways you don't even know.

For years, Kelley has brought his passion for design into the classroom as a professor at Stanford's famed Institute of Design (or D.School, for those in the know). More recently, Kelley has set his sights on the K-12 classroom. He and his Stanford graduate students are working with schools to help teachers and students master "design thinking." He recently told us what that means.

Public School Insights: Let's start with a big question. What is "design thinking?"

Kelley: To me, design thinking is basically a methodology that allows people to have confidence in their creative ability. Normally many people don't think of themselves as creative, or they think that creativity comes from somewhere that they don't know—like an angel appears and tells them the answer or gives them a new idea.

So design thinking is hopefully a framework that people can hang their creative confidence on. We give people a step-by-step method on how to more routinely be creative or more routinely innovate.

Public School Insights: So you are not talking about something that only artists or engineers would use.

Kelley: No. I struggled with what to call it when we first started out. The reason that we put the word design in it is that this really is the way that designers naturally think. It's not necessarily the way that doctors, lawyers or teachers think, ...

If you want to insult people, really cut them down, call them "incrementalists." For those of you who aren't education wonks, an "incrementalist" is someone who is happy to take baby steps towards school reform. It's someone who doesn't lose much sleep over the thousands upon thousands of kids who, in the meantime, are dropping out of school or graduating without the skills they need. Often, the label gets applied to people who are skeptical about charter schools or merit pay.

But even the boldest reformers can sound like "incrementalists" when they see the early results of their reforms. They often find themselves pleading for more time and understanding. That's not an entirely bad thing--as long as we never lose the urgency of our mission to improve schools.

Take, for example, the case of Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Tribune just ran a piece laying out the tepid results of CPS's "Renaissance 2010" reform plan. The Trib article is important, because Ren2010 has been touted as a model for bold national reforms: Open to doors to more charter schools, rebuild struggling schools from scratch, and close failing schools altogether. Defending reforms ...

Long Beach Unified School District in California has long been recognized as a model urban school system. Winner of the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2003, it has been a finalist for that award five times.

The district hasn’t achieved this success by flitting from reform to reform or looking for silver bullets. Rather, it has spent most of the past two decades building on the same educational strategies, focusing on data, community buy-in and staff development. We recently spoke to Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser (who has spent the past 28 years in the district as a teacher, principal, deputy superintendent and, since 2002, superintendent) about the “Long Beach way.”

Public School Insights: What prompted Long Beach to undertake big reforms for its kids in the first place?

Steinhauser: We've been on this long journey since about 1992. What really prompted it at that time was a massive economic meltdown. Our city was closing its naval base. And McDonnell Douglas [a major area employer] was going through a massive shutdown. They laid off 35,000 employees over a two year period. Also, if you remember, those were the days of major civil unrest in the LA area. We were having massive flight from our system, mainly of Caucasian students.

Basically what we did was say, “Okay. We have got to stop this.” So our board adopted several major initiatives. We implemented K-8 uniforms. We were the first district in California to end social promotion. We introduced a program called the 3rd Grade Reading Initiative to help with that goal, and we also developed a policy that eighth-graders who had two or more Fs could not go on to high school. And we launched a major partnership called Seamless Education with our local junior college and ...

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