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The Public School Insights Blog

Others may have known this was coming, but it threw me for a major loop. Jennifer Jennings, a.k.a. "Eduwonkette," is packing in her famous blog to spend more time on her dissertation. We will miss her ability to keep education wonks of all stripes honest. In her very first posting over a year ago, she famously wrote:

Education-policy debates are dominated by a small number of very loud voices....  Ideological claims, rather than research, data, the experience of educators, and common sense, are wielded as weapons.

The final sentence of her final posting leaves at least a glimmer of hope for her bereft readers: "So I guess this is goodbye, at least for now." ...

A sobering article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal details the Harlem Children's Zone's financial worries as foundations and and private investors cut back or bail out altogether. The deepening recession and Madoff mess have apparently taken a toll on Geoffrey Canada's groundbreaking effort to break the cycle of poverty in Harlem.

The WSJ article offers a bracing reminder of what can happen when efforts to serve the public good must rely overwhelmingly on private grants and ...

For the past several weeks, Public School Insights has used the presidential inauguration as an occasion or interviewing leading educators, community members and others about the status and future of civics education in American schools. In our final interview, South Carolina Superintendent Steve Hefner offers his thoughts on U.S. civics education in the wake of an historic presidential election and inauguration.

Hefner, whose Richland 2 school district has won broad acclaim for its civic education focus, is a bit less glum than most about the current state of civics. While he certainly presses for more civics in schools, he also believes that the surge of youth interest in the recent election and inauguration offers schools an extraordinary opportunity to promote greater civic knowledge and engagement.

Listen to about five minutes of highlights from our interview:

Or read the transcript of these highlights below:

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Are American students, in your view, getting enough civics education?

HEFNER: I think they're getting more today than maybe at the time that I first began in the profession, about four decades ago. Do I think they're getting enough? I think that there is still a need for a greater emphasis on civics education, but ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Evolution... Again

As the battle over evolution heats up again in Texas, science educators are presumably bracing themselves for more years in the wilderness.

At issue is language in the current state standards that requires students to examine the "strengths and weaknesses" of every scientific theory. Intelligent design advocates and their creationist kissing cousins are loath to see this language go, as it encourages skepticism about evolution. Science advocates, by contrast, would like to see these words dead and buried, because they see them as the thin end of the creationist wedge. 

As the evolution pendulum continues to swing back and forth, teachers will have to fend for themselves without consistent--or scientifically sound--guidance on how to survive in this uncertain environment. ...

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

vonzastrowc's picture

History Lessons

Schools across the country departed from their routines yesterday to observe the inauguration of President Obama. In newspaper articles describing schools' Inauguration Day activities, teachers and students alike observed--quite rightly--that they had a chance to be a part of history.

Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge Blog raised some important follow-up questions: Just how many students are actually familiar with the history whose culmination they witnessed? How many understood the historical references in President Obama's inauguration speech? Pondiscio writes:

If our children do not know the events and phrases to which Obama referred, they cannot fully appreciate the significance of this moment or even what this President is asking of them. How is it possible for them to be “the keepers of this legacy” — why should they value it and seek to keep it at all? — unless they understand the thing they are being asked to keep?

Without a doubt, the history of the nation's struggle towards equality might seem less exalted to students of color who still face daunting social and economic disadvantages. But ignorance of the nation's history and civic traditions will surely compound those disadvantages. If anything, the President's words should inspire educators, communities and policy makers to ...

As a Freedom Rider in 1961, Congressman John Lewis was brutally beaten by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama. In August 1963, he spoke alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. on the day Dr. King delivered his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech. On March 7, 1965--"Bloody Sunday"--Alabama state troopers' savage suppression of the peaceful march Lewis led across the Edmund Pettus Bridge helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Now, almost 45 years later, Congressman Lewis will witness the inauguration of Barack Obama just one day after the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

Congressman Lewis recently shared with us some reflections on the significance of this historic occasion.

 


[Listen to the full interview (4 min., 15 seconds)]

 

Interview Transcript
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Thank you so much for joining us, Representative Lewis.

REPRESENTATIVE LEWIS: I am delighted and pleased to be with you.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: We're fast approaching Martin Luther King Day, and one day later the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. What are the major lessons of these days for young people in our schools? ...

The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) is inviting schools to apply for membership in the Learning School Alliance, "a network of 100 model schools committed to professional development practices that promote student achievement. The educators from these 100 schools will support one another in applying the principles and standards of professional development grounded in NSDC’s definition of professional learning, its standards for staff development, and its principles for professional learning identified in The Learning Educator: A New Era for Professional Learning."

"Participants will learn together in their own schools, with other schools through webinars and facilitated conversations, and at convenings hosted by NSDC. They will share openly their goals, their progress--and over time--their results."

You can learn more about the Learning School Alliance here. ...

We have assembled a new--and growing--collection of resources to help educators and families take advantage of the historic presidential inauguration, which is only a week away.

These resources include:

  • General inauguration information
  • Ideas for Inauguration activities for schools and families
  • Our statement on public schools and democracy
  • Classroom resources
  • Inauguration lesson plans
  • Interviews with visionary leaders about the inauguration and civics education. ...

Last week, we caught up with Richard Norton Smith, former director of five presidential libraries, author of celebrated American biographies and a frequent commentator on the American Presidency.

Smith spoke with us about the state of civics and history education in the wake of an historic presidential election.

Like many, Smith hopes that record youth turnout in the recent election will herald a time of greater public engagement in our shared history and our common civic responsibilities. But he cautions us against complacency.

Even now, he reminds us, educators must compete with a popular culture that erodes our common heritage and consigns history to a cable channel. History risks becoming little more than a consumer choice on equal footing with Brittney Spears or Entertainment Tonight. Smith believes the education community can play a vital role in restoring history and civics as a “common language” that reveals unity amid the nation’s growing diversity.

He offers ample food for thought as we inaugurate a president whose election marks a critical chapter in the nation’s long struggle towards its founding ideals. Here’s hoping that the story of that struggle remains part of our children’s common inheritance.

Download our full, 16-minute interview here, or read the interview transcript below.

[Listen to about 6 minutes of interview highlights]

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: You've been the director of five presidential libraries and have presumably devoted a lot of thought to their educational mission. Do you think American students are getting enough civic and history education?

SMITH: Oh god... (Laughing).

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: That doesn't sound like yes.

SMITH: (laughing). No. They are not. And the moment I say that, I qualify it with an expression of sympathy for any teacher, at any level, who is competing with a mass culture that encourages historical and civic illiteracy, if indeed not ...

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