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The Public School Insights Blog

An article in yesterday's Houston Chronicle poses a very important question: "Can Teachers' Talent Be Transferred Elsewhere?" This question has profound implications for school staffing and equity. Are good teachers good no matter where they go? Or do a school's working conditions have a big impact on teachers' performance?

According to the Chronicle, a new national study is looking for answers to these questions:

[Cheryl] Contreras and 18 other HISD teachers are part of a national study that seeks to answer some of the most crucial questions in the public school reform movement: Can standout teachers get the same results from students at troubled campuses? If so, what incentives will draw them there, and will they stay?

Research is clear that schools in the roughest, poorest neighborhoods generally attract the weakest teachers. “Student achievement is at stake,” said Ann Best, HISD's director of human resources.

The Houston school district is one of seven nationwide taking part in this federally funded project, dubbed the Talent Transfer Initiative.

Accomplished teachers who agree to transfer to struggling schools receive $20,000 over two years. Math and reading teachers with a strong track record of raising students' test scores are eligible for the program. The study will track those teachers' success in troubled schools.

With luck, the study will help us improve policies to give low income students access to the most effective teachers. These days, most policy makers recognize that you can't just identify "the best" teachers and deploy them like troops to the schools that need them most.

Still, some policy wonks see teacher quality as an absolute value that never varies from year to year or place to place. More than one journalist has been taken in by this kind of thinking. What results is a kind of "widget effect"* where all good ...

As everyone knows by now, Aldine Independent School District in Texas won the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education. And they did it without mayoral control (gasp) or even a single charter school (say it ain't so!)

So what did they do? For one, the board, administrators, teachers and community members collaborated on common solutions to the district's problems. For another, they worked hard to give teachers and administrators the support they needed. Most important, they committed to improvement for the long haul. No quick fixes at Aldine.

The Learning First Alliance offered far more detail in a 2003 case study of Aldine. Here are a few highlights from what we learned back then:

  1. Recognize that you have a problem. When student peformance cratered in the mid 90s, district leaders knew they had to do something.
  2. Set high expectations for students and staff. Yes, this has become a truism--but only because it's so very true.
  3. Give schools a first-rate curriculum. In 1996, Aldine created "benchmark targets," a curriculum aligned with state standards. Teachers asked for

Fewer than half of students in Boston charter high schools make it to graduation. That's the bottom line of a union-sponsored study of the city's charters.

Charter leaders don't deny the numbers, but they do deny consciously pushing students out of their schools. It's those doggone high standards that are to blame! According to the Boston Globe:

Many students, charter leaders said, choose to leave to dodge high academic standards, returning to city-run schools where getting a diploma is often easier. Only in rare circumstances, they said, did a charter student quit school without subsequently earning a diploma.

“We are not just handing out diplomas,’’ said Thabiti Brown, principal at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester. “We want students to be successful in college, but unfortunately we have students who leave because they feel our academic standards are too high."

Is it me, or is there a double standard here? Shouldn't education reform zealots, for the sake of consistency, accuse Principal Brown of heresy? After all, he seems to believe that some children can't learn to high standards. Shouldn't a "no excuses" school do "whatever it takes" to hold on to each and every student, regardless of how unmotivated or intimidated by high standards? I though only "establishment" educators made excuses.

More to the point.... How can we say charter schools are better than traditional public schools if charters can't hold on to less motivated, less accomplished ...

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced an ambitious goal: To turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The Learning First Alliance (LFA), which sponsors Public School Insights, applauds that goal. Today, the Alliance released a set of principles for tracking the progress of the nation’s school turnaround efforts. Principles for Measuring the Performance of Turnaround Schools outlines how education agencies and communities can determine whether those efforts are leading to both swift improvement and sustained change in persistently struggling schools.

This statement offers a framework for aligning turnaround efforts with a vision for giving every child access to an excellent public school. The proposed principles can help policymakers, educators and communities identify schools in need of intervention, reliably gauge the progress and ...

Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, an expert on pandemics, has advised the U.S. government on the possible trajectory of the H1N1 influenza virus. He recently spoke with us about what we might expect from the virus this year.

Public School Insights: Do you have any predictions for the kind of flu experience we can expect in the coming months?

Lipsitch: I think that the first thing to say about any predictions about flu is that they are probably wrong. The goal is to be as close to right as possible, but everybody who spends time working on flu becomes very quickly humbled, not making predictions even about the near-term future.

Having said that, I think that the current situation clearly shows that this virus can spread very effectively even when it’s not the usual flu season of December, January and February. I think that given the precedent of prior pandemics and the evidence we have about ...

Gather round, boys and girls. Reporter Alan Borsuk will give a lesson on the difference between change and the status quo.

"What does it mean to be a Democrat when it comes to education?" he asks. "Does it mean you stand for sticking pretty much to the way things are now, except for adding more money? Or does it mean calling for some big changes in the way things are done?" I think you know whose side he's on.

Borsuk is writing about Milwaukee, but he's giving a lesson many national journalists have given before him. Here's how it goes:

  • Change: Mayoral control, performance pay, charters, vouchers.
  • Status Quo: Everything else.

Got it?

Borsuk and many like him are blissfully untroubled by a few  facts:

But why dwell on such trifles when change is at stake?

Needless to say, Borsuk's article irked me. Let's get this straight: No one is satisfied with the status quo. No one thinks current achievement gaps or ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Message to Technocrats

Teacher Nancy Schnog has a message for education technocrats: Give us time and space to teach!

Lest you misunderstand me: The "technocrats" in this case need not be ham-fisted administrators who cramp teachers' style. They could just as well be policymakers and pundits who foist new reforms on teachers without regard to why teachers want to teach in the first place.

In Sunday's Washington Post, Schnog describes her life as a teacher:

My daily rounds included five literature classes with roughly 10 minutes to review assigned books before class. That was all the time I had to prepare lessons and grade papers too. In between 250 minutes of instruction each day, the "free periods" were a mind-numbing dash from students' questions to parents' e-mails to administrative duties. Throw in, too, the daily troubleshooting: investigating a case of plagiarism, fixing the Xerox machine (again), explaining to the girl texting during class why she is going to the discipline committee.

Schnog teaches in a Maryland prep school. She speculates that the ...

OECD reports always leave me wanting more. The most recent report on child well being in industrialized countries is no exception. I want more information, better context, greater clarity. The report just seems to gloss over too many factors that affect children’s welfare.

One finding does seem abundantly clear: The United States fares poorly on many measures of child well-being. Our child poverty rate is over 20 percent, almost double the OECD average. We’re in the basement on children’s health and safety: twenty-fourth out of 30 OECD countries. And we do just as poorly in educational well-being. Our achievement gaps are much larger than in most other OECD countries. American students are also more likely than their OECD peers to lack important resources like textbooks, computers, or even a quiet place to study.

The report also finds that U.S. spending on children is higher than the OECD average. (Cue outrage over big spending on social programs....) But the OECD analysis leaves so much out of account that this conclusion is hard to support.

Take, for example, health care spending. The OECD admits leaving it out of the analysis: “Although the analysis does not include public spending on health, many of the indicators of child well-being are related to health.” Oh.... That's kind of a big deal.

In the U.S., poor children receive much worse health care than other ...

"Say Yes to Education" may finally get its due. Joe Biden, Arne Duncan and Tim Geithner converged on Syracuse yesterday to learn about the innovative program.

We've honored Say Yes time and again on this website. The initiative has nearly closed high school and college graduation gaps separating urban youth from their suburban peers. How? By providing low-income youth comprehensive supports ranging from health care to academic help and college scholarships.

So will this event catapult Say Yes into the national consciousness? Early signs aren't good. The event has been covered, well, almost nowhere. Not in the education press. Not in the blogosphere.

It did get a few hits in the local Syracuse papers, but those focused mostly on college affordability: an important, but small, facet of the Say Yes program. I suppose I can understand why. The White House Task Force on Middle ...

Charles Haynes has called public schools “a microcosm of our public square, an arena where we debate and define who we are as a people." The recent kerfuffle over President Obama’s speech to school children is just the latest sign that the public square is shrinking fast.

Perceptive bloggers saw the speech as a chance to get students talking about their personal and civic responsibilities. In other quarters, irrational fears trumped common sense. Don’t like the president? Shield your children from his every word. Pull them back into the bunker.

Haynes sees public schools as places where we “engage one another across our differences--and, where possible, find a common vision of the common good." This vision of public school as public square seems all but absent from current debates about the future of schools.

Is public education a “marketplace of ideas” or just a marketplace? It’s hard to ...

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