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The Public School Insights Blog

Linda Darling-Hammond turns in a thoughtful review of mayoral control at the National Journal's new blog. (The Journal recently invited their expert bloggers to comment on mayoral takeovers.) Her major point seems to be that the proof isn't in the pudding: Outcomes evidence from major urban districts suggests that mayoral control is not necessarily any more effective than other governance structures.

Oddly enough, some of the staunchest mayoral control advocates contributing to the Journal's blog focus more on inputs than outcomes. This is a remarkable reversal, given the reformers' longstanding grievance that traditional educators are outcomes-averse. Perhaps inputs are making a comeback.

Darling Hammond is characteristically balanced in her assessment of mayoral ...

At the H1N1 Influenza (formerly known as "Swine Flu") Summit today, just about every speaker stressed the importance of linking schools with public health systems and community services. Without such connections, they argued, we stand a slim chance of containing another flu outbreak.

Are they proposing a Broader, Bolder Approach to children's health and safety? It turns out that strong, sustained partnerships between schools and government/community resources promote national security as well as student achievement.

Click here for our list of H1N1 resources 

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vonzastrowc's picture

Innovation!

Writing commentaries on the best use of stimulus funds has become a thriving cottage industry. Don’t fund the status quo! the general argument runs. Fund innovation instead!

I’m beginning to wonder if we should start using the word “improvement” instead of innovation. This strategy might help us counter the tendency of some innovation zealots to value novelty over quality.

Former IBM CEO Louis Gerstner offered an egregious example of that tendency late last year, when he advocated the abolition of all but the largest school districts. To him, innovation seems to mean doing something drastic and doing it now. ...

The National School Board Association's Center for Public Education is sporting a sophisticated new look, an engaging new blog, and a new report on the twenty-first century skills debate. What has not changed is the Center's mission to provide "accurate, timely, and credible information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation."

I haven't yet had time to read the twenty-first century skills report, but it's very high on my list of things to do this week. ...

A new and important study of the link between middle school success and high school graduation rates offers a useful caution to anyone looking for education miracle cures. After examining early warning signs that students might drop out, study author Bob Balfanz writes:

These findings...demonstrate why reform is difficult, as no single reform stands out as the major action required. Essentially, we found that everything one might think matters, does so, but modestly at best. This included parental involvement, academic press, teacher support, and the perceived relevance of what was being taught and its intrinsic interest to students. Some of these factors influenced attendance, others influenced behavior or effort, and they either indirectly or directly impacted course performance, achievement gains, and graduation outcomes. It was only when all the elements were combined in a well-functioning system that major gains were observed.

So don't put all your reform eggs in one basket--a useful admonition for education policy's chattering classes. The flip side of that admonition, of course, is that we shouldn't ignore critical improvement strategies either. Parent involvement, academic expectations, teacher support, relevance and other factors are all important to school success. As the nation considers school turnaround strategies, ...

"Hunger can be a positive motivator."

-- Missouri State Representative Cynthia Smith, who opposes free school lunches for children during summer months. ...

According to a new report by Arizona’s conservative Goldwater Institute, Arizona’s high school students are woefully ignorant of U.S. history and civics. By now, we’re all used to these kinds of studies, but one finding in particular stopped me in my tracks: The researchers found that only 26 percent of students surveyed could identify George Washington as the nation’s first president.

Twenty-six percent? Can that really be true? That finding just seems hard to swallow—though the media have apparently swallowed it whole.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly do not think American students’ knowledge of civics and history is nearly what it should be. A report by Common Core pointed to very troubling gaps in high school students’ knowledge. But even in that report, 73 percent of high school students could identify George Washington as the commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. If they knew that, they presumably also know he was our first president.

So what gives? Who were these students in the Arizona Study? How many were English Language Learners? How many took the telephone survey seriously? Are Arizona high school students that much more ignorant than students in the nation as a whole? Are the open response questions used by the Goldwater Institute that much more difficult than ...

vonzastrowc's picture

In the Same Boat

The education "establishment" and education "reformers" are not so different from one another after all. Just ask the Fordham Foundation’s Mike Petrilli.

As Petrilli suggests, reformers in the charter school community have received a strong dose of reality: It turns out that it’s not so easy to close achievement gaps and raise student performance. Faced with disappointing news about their schools’ performance, charter advocates have resorted to arguments than have long been anathema to reformers: We need more money! Those standardized tests don’t measure what’s really important!

More recently, charter supporters have been changing their tune about regulation. Reformers are discovering that we cannot use a regulatory vise to squeeze higher performance out of traditional schools while trusting that charter and voucher schools will flourish in boundless freedom. Frustration with both No Child Left Behind and lackluster charter school results has prompted people of various ideological stripes to think more deeply about the benefits and perils of regulation. ...

Yesterday, education blogger Kevin Carey sharply rebuked people who peddle simplistic solutions to difficult problems schools face:

All of this would be merely aggravating if this kind of sad excuse for policy debate didn't have a real, detrimental impact on the lives of students. When you tell people that large problems can be solved with simplistic, nominally clever policy solutions, you're implicitly raising a question: "If it's so easy, why haven't we done it already?" That in turns breeds cynicism and mistrust, a jaded worldview in which large social problems are either fundamentally unsolvable or hostage to venal politicians who won't do the right thing even though the answer is so obvious that anyone with a lick of common sense can see it. And once you get there, the temptation is strong to throw up your hands and worry about something else.

Carey is scolding Tom Friedman for advocating the particularly silly idea that states could address the dropout problem by making driver's licenses contingent on high school graduation. But his comments have much broader resonance than that. Many in the national media have made a habit of portraying popular new reform ideas as sure-fire strategies for dramatic school improvement. People skeptical of those reforms must therefore be obstructionists and villains. As I've noted before ...

Yesterday, we published our conversation with Christopher Cross about the Broader, Bolder Approach (BBA) Campaign’s new accountability recommendations. Today, we’re releasing an interview with another member of BBA’s Accountability Committee: Diane Ravitch, who followed Cross as Assistant Secretary of OERI during the administration of George H.W. Bush.

Like Cross, Ravitch requires no introduction. A long-time supporter of standards-based reform, she has become one of the nation’s most vocal critics of No Child Left Behind. Here are her thoughts on the BBA recommendations:

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: You have argued that "a few tweaks here and a little tinkering there cannot fix" No Child Left Behind. How do BBA's accountability recommendations depart from the NCLB model?

RAVITCH: NCLB is a punitive approach to school improvement. It mandates that test scores must increase or else! If they don't go higher, schools will be sanctioned, and the sanctions will get more onerous with each year that the schools fail to meet their targets. Each year, the targets get higher, and the number of schools that slip over the precipice increases. As schools fail, they are threatened with closure, restructuring, staff firings, or other consequences that may or may not improve the school.

In contrast, BBA suggests accountability that goes far beyond test scores. Test scores matter, but so does student engagement in a broad range of academic subjects, as well as students' health, well-being and civic behavior. Where NCLB is punitive, BBA seeks constructive ways to measure the condition and progress of ...

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