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The Public School Insights Blog

Editor's Note: Soiled diapers and a desperate need to consult Dr. Spock on the matter of newborn sleep schedules will keep me from blogging today, so I thought I'd bring back an oldie but goodie: our interview with Canadian education leader Raymond Théberge. As I get into the parenting groove over the coming week, Public School Insights will feature guest blogs by leading teachers, new interviews with education innovators, and my own occasional commentary. In the meantime, enjoy Dr. Théberge.

(First published November 7, 2008.)

As we swoon over Finland's celebrated education system, we often forget about another high achiever just to our North: Canada. Canada scores among the top three countries in PISA assessments of 15-year-olds' reading literacy and science.

What are the reasons for this success? Canadian education leader Dr. Raymond Théberge believes they include Canada's commitment to education equity and its strong support for struggling schools. He also credits the country's general dedication to the health and well-being of its children and families: "We cannot expect the schools to solve all of our society's problems."

We recently spoke with Dr. Théberge, who in 2005 became Director General of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). (In Canada, responsibility for education rests entirely with the thirteen provinces and territories. The CMEC helps provincial education ministries collaborate with one another and the federal government on strategies for improving Canadian schools.)

You can download our entire 17-minute conversation here, or listen to just over 5 minutes of interview highlights:

[A transcript of these highlights appears below]

Alternatively, you can listen ...

The title of this interview, which is also the title of Robyn Jackson’s recent ASCD book, is sure to raise a hue and a cry among those who believe we should urge teachers to work more, not less. Yet Jackson is far more concerned with how teachers work than with how much they work.

We recently spoke with Dr. Jackson, a National Board Certified Teacher and former school administrator, about her book’s big lessons. She uses an old adage to sum up an overarching message: “The person working hardest in the room is the only person learning.” Even the most dedicated teachers fall short if they do the work their students should be doing. Master teachers, by contrast, inspire students to do the important work on their own.

By no means does Jackson excuse teachers from hard work. Master teachers, she argues, must understand where students are, where they need to go, and what support they need along the way. They must hold themselves to very high expectations for promoting student success and seek feedback on their performance.

Jackson’s work holds important lessons for policymakers, not just teachers: Support educators’ capacity! Simply urging people to work harder is not a feasible reform strategy.

You can download the entire audio interview here or listen to six minutes of interview highlights:

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[A transcript of these highlights appears below]

Alternatively, download the following excerpts from ...

Elena Johanna Prytula von Zastrow was born this morning at 10:30 am. She weighs 6 pounds, 12 ounces and looks beautiful.

Mother and baby are doing wonderfully.  Father (that would be me) managed not to faint.

--But it was touch and go for a minute there.... ...

A new book review on asks: “Why Can’t We Concentrate?” The author’s answers won’t surprise you: the internet, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, ipods and many other electronic distractions are eroding our attention spans, she writes. One could add another culprit: Standardized tests that prize short answers over extended essays or projects.

I don’t mean to knock standardized assessment, which is important for a host of reasons. But the kind of assessment on the cheap that favors easily scored multiple-choice questions over open response items hardly encourages sustained reflection. In the meantime, extended research papers and senior projects have gone the way of vinyl records--assuming they were ever that prevalent.

It won’t be easy, but we have to invest much more aggressively in far better assessments, including assessments of students’ ability to do substantive projects that require sustained attention. ...

I'm guessing that today's Washington Post article on India's "Educated, but Unemployable Youths" will light up the blogosphere. Here are some sample paragraphs:

"This is the biggest wake-up call for India. Our schools and colleges do not provide the skills that India's new economic drive demands," said Amit Kapoor, a professor at the Management Development Institute in Gurgaon, near New Delhi. "People are graduating without learning how to get things done, without complex problem-solving skills, without knowing how to put their theoretical education into practice, and with poor articulacy. Our schools are centers of rote learning and give out degrees without imparting employable skills."

The problem extends even to India's much-hyped engineering graduates, who have been the backbone of the country's thriving outsourcing industry in the past decade. Every year, India produces about 650,000 engineers. But Pratik Kumar, executive vice president for human resources at the information-technology and outsourcing giant Wipro, says his company considers fewer than a quarter of them employable."

The question is what lessons we can draw from this article. That India's education system isn't currently the powerhouse some people make it out to be? Certainly. That the U.S. should not reflexively emulate Indian ...

My favorite education innovation is better than yours.

That seems to be the reigning sentiment in many policy discussions across the education blogosphere these days. Gotham Schools offers a recent, though relatively mild, example. Together, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and NYU professor Pedro Noguera visited PS 28, a successful Brooklyn elementary school serving low-income children. They came back describing what could have been two different schools.

Noguera praised the school for its focus on both the academic and non-academic needs of its students: The school offers an extended school day, social services, social and emotional learning, professional development for teachers, etc. Klein praised the school for using data to improve instruction.

Frustrated by what he saw as Klein's unwillingness to acknowledge the school's focus on non-academic needs, Noguera told Gotham Schools reporter, "I told him to look at the full picture, all of the things that they were doing.... A lot of people are stuck on this idea that there’s only one way to go about educating urban kids: It’s the KIPP way."

The Gotham Schools story illustrates a common destructive tendency to set apparently successful school reform models in competition with each other. Data-driven improvement can exist comfortably with support for non-academic needs, but you wouldn't know it from much education policy discussion these days.

Happily, both Noguera and many KIPP supporters can see the virtue of multiple approaches to ...

The move towards common standards is picking up steam.  Many who agree on the need for "fewer, clearer and higher academic standards" see collaboration among states as a strong.mechanism for creating such standards.

While many believe the state consortium model protects the common standards movement from undue federal influence, uncertainty about the federal government's role in supporting the common standards movement persists. Questions about the federal role loomed large at a House Panel yesterday. ...

New research suggests that perceptions of college affordability can influence student motivation and academic performance as early as seventh grade. Rising costs can become yet another deadweight on poor students' performance.

The "Education Optimists" blog offers the following account of this research, which appeared in the April issue of Psychological Science:

Researchers provided low-income Chicago 7th-graders in two randomly selected classrooms with one of two kinds of information: Classroom A received information about need-based financial aid opportunities, indicating that college was a possibility for them while Classroom B was provided information about the enormous costs associated with a college education, indicating that college was not a viable option (specifically they were told that the average college tuition costs $31,160 to $126,792).

The researchers then assessed students' motivation levels and mentality towards school using questionnaires about goals, grades, and time usage.

The students in Classroom A expected to do better in school and planned to put more effort into studying and homework, compared to the students in Classroom B, who did not view college as a realistic possibility.

In a sensitivity analysis the researchers repeated the study with Detroit classrooms, and changed the second condition from info about college costs to no info at all. Results again indicated that ...

Public School Insights has assembled resources to help schools and districts prepare for the unlikely case of a swine flu pandemic. ...

Today, esteemed education historian Diane Ravitch condemned the political misappropriation of the recent McKinsey Report on the economic costs of low educational achievement. Apparently, some have made the extraordinary claim that the report questions the link between achievement gaps and poverty:

At the press conference, according to the story in The New York Times, Chancellor Klein “said the study vindicated the idea that the root cause of test-score disparities was not poverty or family circumstances, but subpar teachers and principals.” This study offered Chancellor Klein the opportunity to argue yet again, as the Education Equality Project does, that schools alone can close the achievement gap, and that such things as poverty and social disadvantage are merely excuses for those unwilling to accept the challenge.

Actually, the report doesn’t say this.... The document says little about causes and cures, just lays out what it costs our society to have so many people who are poorly educated. It does say that low-income students are likely to get less experienced, less qualified teachers, and that ...

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