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Engaging ideas

A fascinating piece in Sunday’s Washington Post touches on a formidable, often neglected, barrier to promising education reforms: Community opposition. Especially as we try to fast-track reforms fed by stimulus dollars, we should not forget that community engagement is an essential (though frequently missing) ingredient in school reform efforts.

The essay’s author praises the year-round calendar adopted by her son’s elementary school. The longer school year allows time for “intersessions,” or “short breaks throughout the year.” During these breaks students take “fun, creative classes” where students learn “karate, ballet, photography, cooking and a host of other things.” She’s clearly a fan.

Forget for a moment whether you believe this is a good use of an extended calendar. (Some might see it as an antidote to “kill-and-drill” teaching methods during the rest of the year. Others might see it as a lost academic opportunity, especially for low-income children).

A larger lesson I drew from the piece is that any sort of plan to extend the school year can run afoul of both parents, who worry about the effect of longer years on their children’s well being, and summer amusement businesses, which rise or fall on teen-age labor. Reformers can easily leave very important stakeholders on the sidelines of important education debates.

One of the strongest proponents ...

The education thinktankocracy has become bewitched by all those sexy innovations that dominate education policy discussions--charter schools, new compensation systems, etc.  The national preoccupation with those innovations is crowding out critical discussions of more hum-drum, but perhaps more effective, improvements to public education. That's the conclusion Russ Whitehurst draws in an important March 2009 essay.

For those of you who don't know, Whitehurst was the beleaguered director of the Institute of Education Sciences in the Bush administration. It seems he has spread his wings since becoming head of the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

In his Brookings essay, Whitehurst draws an important distinction between flashy new innovations ("product innovations") and incremental ...

A recent editorial in the San Francisco Examiner smears President Obama’s “zero to five” early childhood education aspirations as a “Scam.” The authors’ grand claim? “There is no evidence that expanding the time American children spend in state-run schools will produce any educational benefits at all."

Oh really? How about this? Or this? Or this? Or this? ...

Editor’s note: Our series of guest blogs in which accomplished teachers offer ideas for how to spend stimulus funds concludes with Susan Graham's thoughts. The opinions she expresses are, of course, her own and do not necessarily represent those of LFA or its member organizations.

This series also includes contributions from Ariel SacksHeather Wolpert-Gawron and Mary Tedrow.

Bob Woodruff, the ABC news correspondent who suffered traumatic brain injury in Iraq, didn’t plan to be a journalist. In a recent address to students he recalled that he took a pay cut when he went into journalism, but he went on to say, "I really believe in doing what you want to do. Especially at a young age, do what your heart tells you to do."

What does this have to do with innovative efforts in public school? Before stumbling into journalism, Woodruff spent four years in college and four years in law school. The vast majority of ...

Editor’s note: This week, we are continuing a series of guest blogs in which accomplished teachers offer ideas for how to spend stimulus funds. Last week, Heather Wolpert-Gawron and Ariel Sacks shared their thoughts. Today, Mary Tedrow offers her contribution. The opinions she expresses are, of course, her own and do not necessarily represent those of LFA or its member organizations.

True reform happens one student at a time: a single student finally participates in his own learning, reflects on growth, incorporates new knowledge into his life, and uses new knowledge to serve both his immediate needs and the needs of the community. The tool for achieving this revolution already exists but is widely neglected and even undermined by the current emphasis on standardized tests. (see:

MY PROPOSED STIMULUS INVESTMENT: Spend funds to develop writing across all curricula in all grade levels and in all schools in the nation.

Award stimulus dollars to districts that pursue the placement of at least one writing coach in every building, supported and trained through ...

There seems to be no escape from the phony debate over whether schools alone or out-of-school social programs alone can close achievement gaps. Recently, David Brooks fanned the flames with his over-hasty conclusion that the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academies bolsters the schools alone case.

Brooks distorted the conclusions of a recent Harvard study examining the academies' academic results. Responding to a chorus of complaints about Brooks's tactics, blogger Andy Rotherham fine tuned the argument a bit: “It’s the schools that actually matter most even in the HCZ [Harlem Children's Zone] model," he declared. To be fair, Rotherham isn't pulling his conclusions entirely out of thin air. The study's authors suggest that the Promise Academies are an indispensable ingredient of their students' success--and that the HCZ's wraparound services alone don't guarantee strong academic results.

But Rotherham and other Brooks supporters don't ask the essential follow-up question: Can the schools do it alone, without the HCZ model? The study’s authors ...

Editor’s note: This week, we’re running a series of guest blogs in which accomplished teachers offer ideas for how to spend stimulus funds. Today, California teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron offers her contribution. The opinions she expresses are of course her own and do not necessarily represent those of LFA or its member organizations.

A knock at my door signals its arrival. “Sign here,” mumbles the delivery guy. At last. My stimulus package has arrived, and I know just how to spend it. My mythical program will solve everything, increasing both morale and teaching quality, and in so doing, increase student achievement. What is this magic bullet of which I boast? The Tapping Teachers Interests Program.

MY PROPOSED STIMULUS INVESTMENT: TTIP (tee-tip) is a teacher-driven elective program that provides funding for each teacher to have one period a day to teach the subject of his or her choice. There is a tangible difference between teachers who teach just because they are credentialed to do so, and those who truly love what they ...

Editor’s note: We wondered what ideas accomplished teachers might have about good ways to invest stimulus funds. Answering our call, members of the Teacher Leaders Network to give us their straight-from-the-classroom perspectives. The ideas, of course, are their own and do not necessarily represent those of LFA or its member organizations. In the first of four teacher contributions, Ariel Sacks offers her thoughts:

This June will complete my fifth year of teaching at a high-need public middle school in New York City. At age 30, I’ve developed skills as a teacher and a leader, and I’m looking to advance my career. But the only way, it seems, to move up in the field of education is to leave my students and move out of the classroom.

This year, startling numbers of my colleagues across the city with three, four or five years of experience will leave teaching. They aren’t leaving because they feel ineffective or because ...

A New York Times analysis finds that schools led by principals trained through non-traditional routes “have not done as well as those led by experienced principals or new principals who came through traditional routes”:

The Times’s analysis shows that Leadership Academy graduates were less than half as likely to get A’s as other principals, and almost twice as likely to earn C’s or worse [on the city's grading system for public schools]. Among elementary and middle-school principals on the job less than three years, Academy graduates were about a third as likely to get A’s as those who did not attend the program.

This kind of analysis has the potential to redraw battle lines and unsettle ideologies held by educators and reformers across the political spectrum. ...

Editor's note: In the final of a series of four guest blogs on how teachers view parent involvement and engagement in public education, Renee Moore responds to Larry Ferlazzo's distinction: Parent Involvement or Parent Engagement?

Earlier today, we published Larry's response to Renee's posting, How Much Parent Involvement Do Educators Really Want? 

Larry’s thoughtful distinction between “involvement” and “engagement” of parents is more than just semantics. We agree that the attitude of educators toward parents significantly determines the quality of response we can expect. For a more detailed look at the dynamics of trust in parent/ school relations, read the book Trust in Schools (Bryk and Schneider, 2002).

Larry is also right (as numerous studies and our own teaching experiences show) that any level of school/community/parent cooperation produces some positive effect on student achievement. My concern is that ...

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