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The Public School Insights Blog


Public School Insights is off between the holidays.  In the meantime, enjoy another interview from our archives.

[Originally published June 17, 2008]

Luajean Bryan is a star.

Just ask her principal at Walker Valley High School in Tennessee, the students who flock to her advanced math and science classes, or the people at USA Today who named her to their 2006 all-star teaching team. 

WalkerByBalloonWEB.jpgBryan recently spoke with us about the innovative teaching practices that have won her local admiration and national attention.  Her emphasis on hands-on learning is exciting students and swelling enrollments in higher-level science and math classes. With support from the NEA Foundation, for example, she accompanies students into caves and on untethered hot-air balloon trips to help them learn first-hand about mathematic and scientific principles that govern the world around them.

Be sure to listen to our highlights from the interview (5 minutes):

Or, read our transcript:  

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: You're credited with increasing enrollment in high-level math and science courses.  I was wondering how you managed to do this.

BRYAN: I found that students were reluctant ...

Public School Insights is still on hiatus between the holidays. In the meantime, we're re-publishing some of the many interviews we conducted with visionary education leaders in 2008.

(Originally published April 22, 2008.)


In a few days, a new and expanded edition of Richard Louv’s best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, will hit bookstores around the country. Louv’s book has fueled an international movement to combat what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” children’s growing alienation from the natural world. (Louv’s term for the disorder is quickly catching on, turning up in major newspapers, on television, and even in a February cartoon by Bloom County creator Berke Breathed.) ...

Public School Insights is taking a bit of a hiatus between the holidays. In the meantime, we're re-publishing some of the dozens of interviews we've conducted with visionary education leaders.

(Originally published March 11, 2008.)

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Michael de Vito and Carmen Macchia of Port Chester Middle School, one of the many successful schools we feature on this site.

De Vito and Macchia told me the remarkable story of how they and their colleagues created:

  • A safe and positive school climate; 
  • A richer, broader curriculum focused on literacy and aligned to state assessments; 
  • A commitment to literacy across the curriculum; 
  • Intensive collaboration among school staff; and 
  • Strong support for teachers' work.

A central piece of their strategy: a focus on reading across the curriculum. DeVito and Macchia describe how their school-wide focus literacy has actually enriched their curriculum, rather than narrowing it. ...

Some radical reform zealots have used America's standing in international comparisons of student achievement to justify all manner of miracle-cure education reform propositions. (Abolish school boards! Abolish school districts! Abolish school buildings!)

Cooler heads have looked beyond mere rankings to examine practices common to the most successful countries. Most recently, Achieve, the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers released a report on such practices.

As I read it, Benchmarking for Success offers some important (if implicit) lessons for reformers:

  • Beware miracle cures that have little to do with what gets taught and how it gets taught;
  • Seek coherence rather than erratic, disjointed interventions;
  • Build public schools' capacity for success.

The report offers more specific recommendations for creating a world-class public education system. Here are a few highlights: ...

Like everyone else, Rick O'Sullivan thinks we're all in for a rough ride--perhaps even through 2010. The noted economist recently spoke with me about the causes and consequences of our current economic unpleasantness.

According to O'Sullivan, the causes of the downturn lie deeper than corporate greed, individual excess and widespread financial ignorance. The decline in the numbers of young people--who buy houses and plump the workforce--has stalled two of the nation's major economic engines: the housing and financial markets. And this decline will have a profound impact on the work and finances of public schools.

So what are the major "growth markets" for American schools? Lifelong learning, world languages and education about other countries, O'Sullivan argues.

Listen to about five minutes of highlights from this interview:


In his recent U.S. News & World Report commentary on twenty-first century skills, Andy Rotherham creates a bit of a straw man. He writes:

Schools, the 21st-century skills argument goes, focus too much on teaching content at the expense of essential new skills such as communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, and concepts like media literacy and awareness.

Is that really how the argument goes? I'm not so sure. Most 21st-century skills advocates, including those in the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills (P21), see content knowledge and 21st-century skills as closely linked, even mutually dependent. ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Choosing Arne Duncan

President-Elect Obama's choice of education secretary has drawn praise from both Democrats for Education Reform and the National Education Association, two organizations that don't often see eye to eye. His decision certainly muddies the storyline repeated ad nauseam by national commentators: namely, that Obama would have to choose sides in The Great War between the Reformers and the Establishment.

Of course, that story relied on reductive accounts of reform championed by comic-book protagonists who inhabit a world without tradeoffs.

If all goes well, we may be in for a more thoughtful, inclusive and constructive national discussion ...

About this time each year, public schools face a "December dilemma": What to do about the religious content of the holidays? In a new interview, First Amendment scholar Charles Haynes offers some guidance on how public schools and school districts can avoid common pitfalls.

Of course, public schools should not turn their holiday assemblies into the kinds of devotional events one would expect to find in a church. Such assemblies violate the First Amendment. Nor should public schools banish all mention of religion. Attempts to create anodyne, content-free holiday events often anger religious parents and create more problems than they solve.

Instead, Haynes argues, public schools should use their holiday assemblies as opportunities to teach students about a variety of religious holidays. Such assemblies can help schools fulfill their mission to educate students about the diverse religions and cultures represented in their communities and the nation as a whole. Haynes is careful to point out that school districts can avoid all manner of heartache if they fully engage their communities in finding solutions to the December dilemma. ...

Dr. Susan B. Neuman has received much media attention recently as the apostate former Bush administration official who publicly opposes No Child Left Behind in its current form. As the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education who presided over NCLB's early implementation, she certainly made waves by arguing that schools alone cannot close achievement gaps.

But Neuman has received less attention for her affirmative vision of what we can do to improve poor students' odds dramatically. Her new book, Changing the Odds for Children at Risk, lays out "seven essential principles of educational programs that break the cycle of poverty." On Wednesday, she talked to me about her book and her thoughts on current education policy.

The book uses extensive research on child development and effective programs to make the case for responsible, substantive investment in areas such as early care and education, comprehensive family supports, and after-school. (Not surprisingly, Neuman was an early signer of the "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education," a manifesto urging investment in more comprehensive supports for students' well-being.)

Neuman's thoughts on accountability deserve particular attention. She has famously criticized NCLB's accountability regime for emphasizing sanctions over support, but she is no critic of rigorous accountability. Rather, she argues that accountability structures should ensure sound program goals, adequate resources, timely course corrections, and strong outcomes.

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


The Great Expectations School, Dan Brown's harrowing and touching memoir of his first year teaching at an elementary school in the Bronx, has won high praise from heavy hitters in education, including Susan Fuhrman, Randi Weingarten, Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch.

Dan recently took the time to speak with me about the lessons of his experience teaching low-income children who could be by turns loving, enraged, vulnerable, brazen, curious and deeply disaffected. He shared his thoughts on the support new teachers need to function in this environment, specific strategies for serving children in poverty, and policy implications of day-to-day challenges in urban schools.

Hear five minutes of highlights from Dan's account of his first year:

Or, listen to about four and a half minutes of highlights from his discussion of education policy:


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