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The Public School Insights Blog

National Geographic filmmaker and writer Jon Bowermaster has long chronicled the declining health of the world's oceans. He has traveled the world by sea kayak, seeing first-hand troubling environmental changes in places as far-flung as Antarctica, the Aleutian Islands, South America, Vietnam, French Polynesia, Gabon, Croatia and Tasmania

Bowermaster recently spoke with us via satellite phone from a beach in the Maldives, a group of low-lying tropical islands in the Indian Ocean. He told us about us about the threats this island nation faces from rising sea levels and pollution--and why other nations like the United States should care about them. Environmental crises on distant shores can herald environmental, social, or political crises at home.

Bowermaster argues that his work holds critical lessons for educators and students. Why learn about the Maldives? Their present may well be our future.

Listen to highlights from our conversation here (6 minutes):

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A transcript of these highlights appears ...

Here's a new lineup of new public school success stories recently published on Public School Insights:

Eli Broad is counting his chickens before they're hatched.  In a Detroit Free Press op-ed, he counts Washington, DC among urban school districts that "have successfully turned around after producing abysmal student outcomes."

Seems a bit premature to declare victory in DC schools, doesn't it? Apparently, Broad is confusing the implementation of his favored reforms with their success:

In every one of these cities, real changes for students happened only after mayors or governors took over and put in place strong leaders who had a serious desire to rebuild.

It's true that DC's test scores rose significantly a scant ten months after Mayor Fenty took over the schools and Michelle Rhee became superintendent. But those gains could just as well have resulted from her predecessor's efforts to upgrade and align standards, curriculum and assessments. Before those gains became news, Rhee herself argued quite reasonably that it would take a few years for her reforms to show results.

Broad's op-ed illustrates a common, though worrying, tendency. We celebrate a short-term improvement as proof positive of our favorite reform's success--And then we campaign to multiply that reform in every city across the land.

The benefits of mayoral control are of course hardly beyond dispute. But to those who believe they have found the magic beans in mayoral ...

Dr. Suess gets with the times:

Would you forego a raise?
Would you, could you work for praise?
I would not, could not forego a raise.
My creditors want money, they don’t accept praise.


Would you, could you work for free?
We’re short 102 million dollars, you see.
I would not, I could not work for free.
I’m broke and tired, please let me be.
I do not like budget cuts with a slam,
I do not like them Sam-I-Am!

I'm not sure who wrote this riff on Green Eggs and Ham, but I found the full version here. ...

From the Washington Post:

Educators across the country are counting on a federal stimulus windfall to prevent teacher layoffs and improve schools. But while Washington is giving, some state and local governments are taking away.

After hearing that an initial batch of $11.8 million in federal funds would soon arrive in Loudoun County, supervisors slashed $7.3 million from the schools budget. They also made clear that if more federal recovery money flows to schools, schools might be asked to give back an equal amount of county dollars.

This does not bode well for the fate of school improvement efforts tied to stimulus funding.

According to Post, Secretary Duncan has spoken out against this kind of "shell game":

"Where we see a state or district operating in bad faith or doing something counter to the president's intent, we're going to come down like a ton of bricks," Duncan said in a March conference call with reporters. ...

A new Johns Hopkins study of privately managed public middle schools in Philadelphia suggests that such schools have performed worse than they city's district-run schools.

This study contradicts the findings of a 2007 study by Harvard researcher Paul Peterson, who gave privately-run schools the upper hand. Peterson, a well-known advocate for privatization, will no doubt reexamine the Hopkins research and conclude that it supports a utopian vision for private management.

There may be reasons for the differences between the two studies: Each examines different grade levels; they examine different time spans; they employ different methodologies; etc....

But the very fact that researchers have to break out their statistical magnifying glasses to discern any difference between the effects of the two governance models suggests that a change in governance isn't a miracle cure. We still have much more fundamental questions to answer about teaching and learning. ...

vonzastrowc's picture


Like many others, members of the New York Times editorial board hope stimulus funds for education will promote sound economic reform even as they forestall economic ruin. Fair enough. But let's make sure that, in our haste, we don't opt for superficial reforms that don't properly address longstanding systemic problems.

The way the Times describes one essential target of reform--the inequitable distribution of effective teachers--gives me pause. According to this morning's opinion page: ...

Apparently, a woman from Rochester, New York has been jailed for enrolling her children in a suburban public school miles away from her urban home . Students at the largely affluent suburban school perform well on state-mandated tests. Students at her local urban school, which serves mostly low-income students of color, do not.

Susan Eaton finds this punishment outrageous. She writes in The Nation that the suburban district "reportedly hired a private investigator and sent him after... urban parents who'd done the same thing. The taxpayer-supported sleuth will continue to trail mothers and fathers suspected of trying to cross the line and 'steal' from the town...."

Eaton links the difference between the two schools' performance to racial and economic segretation, laying some of the blame on "discriminatory practices in the nation's housing and lending markets." Setting the dogs on those who ...

Editor's Note: Yesterday, Hollywood producer turned Montana educator Peter Rosten sent us the following remarks about his school's innovative filmmaking program:

Greetings from Montana!

A friend of mine, Jan Lombardi, is the education policy advisor for Montana’s Governor, Brian Schweitzer. Recently Jan forwarded me a “Learning First” newsletter and pointed to an article titled “Learning in the Community: Teen Filmmakers Talk About Their Work and Its Impact on Their Lives”.

After reading this inspiring story, I reached out to Claus von Zastrow. Perhaps he’d be interested in a pretty cool media program here in the Bitterroot Valley in rural Western, Montana.

And here we are...

In 2004, we created MAPS: Media Arts in the Public Schools. (Be sure to visit our website and Youtube page.) The initial goal was to educate under-served, rural students in the media arts--and since ‘movies’ are cool, there was a healthy and eager response. ...

Rules that would allow schools to get credit for students who take more than four years to graduate are causing some debate. Critics of the rules worry that they relieve necessary pressure on high schools to improve their four-year graduation rates. Supporters argue that they encourage schools to take a chance on students who would drop out in four years.

NSBA's Center for Public Education offers some insight into the issue. The Center recently studied the academic performance, academic attainment, job prospects, civic involvement and health of people who take longer than four years to graduate. Center researchers concluded that:

On-time graduation remains the best prospect for students, and districts should make on-time graduation the first priority for all students. But the extra work late graduates and their schools put toward earning a high school diploma pays off—not only in academic ...

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