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The Public School Insights Blog

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The True Defeatists

Last week, I took a couple of swipes at Charles Murray's fatalistic, offensive, and oddly persistent claim that many children (by which he generally means poor children and children of color) are largely ineducable.

Richard Nisbett does a much better job of tackling Murray's arguments in his recent book, Intelligence and How to Get It. (The New York Times reviewed Nisbett's book on Sunday.) IQ is malleable, he argues, so it makes all the sense in the world to help struggling students excel academically.

Any educator worth his or her salt subscribes to this view. Still, Murray's work lives on. It earns respectful reviews even from people who generally know better.

Murray's persistence should focus the mind of anyone interested in improving ...

Last week, teen filmmaker Jasmine Britton told us about the impact of her filmmaking on her life plans and academic prospects. Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization, has reinforced Britton's academic skills and strengthened her motivation to go to college.

This week, we're sharing our recent conversation with Reelworks filmmaker Isaac Schrem, who expands on themes introduced by Britton. Shrem describes how his school's arts programs, together with filmmaking opportunities through Reel Works, shaped his professional aspirations.

Listen to approximately 5 minutes of highlights from our interview (or read through the transcript below):

Interview Highlights
Tell me about the film you made, The Other Side of the Picture.

ISAAC: I was always interested in filmmaking, but I didn't know exactly what I wanted to with it. I went with the phrase, "Write what you know." The one thing that I knew or wanted to understand, at least, at the time, was the situation with my parents, and my father leaving us and going away to Paris. So I went with that story.

It was a very rough topic for me to tackle because I still ...

Jasmine Britton is one of a small but growing group of talented teen documentary filmmakers whose work is winning accolades from educators and critics alike. I recently had the chance to chat with her about her documentary work and its impact on her education and life. Jasmine, who attends high school in Brooklyn, is quite outspoken in her opinion that more schools should offer students opportunities similar to those she has enjoyed.

Together with her peers at Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, Jasmine is working on a new documentary about U.S. national parks that will serve as a companion piece to Ken Burns's forthcoming documentary on the same subject. Reel Works is a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization that helps over 150 teens each year conceive, plan, film, edit and promote original documentaries. Last year, Over Here--a Reel Works documentary about the World War II homefront--aired on New York public television station Channel Thirteen.

In our interview, Jasmine describes her first documentary, a tribute to her mother entitled A Message to Marlene. She also credits her experience at Reel Works with motivating her to think much more earnestly about college. Finally, she urges educators to make the Reel Works experience much more accessible in schools.

Listen to highlights from our interview (5 minutes):

Read a transcript of these highlights below, and stay tuned next week for an interview with Reel Works filmmaker Isaac Shrem.

Interview Highlights:
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Tell me about your film.

JASMINE: My film was called "A Message to Marlene," and it was basically a tribute [to] my mother. At the time, ...

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Say No to Fatalism

Fatalist and pseudo-scientist Charles Murray believes that IQ is immutable, that efforts to close achievement gaps are wasted, and that programs to level the social and economic playing fields drain life of meaning.  

He would do well to examine the achievements of Say Yes to Education, a remarkable program that has dramatically changed the odds for disadvantaged urban students in several U.S. cities: 

The Say Yes promise and supports begin when a child enters kindergarten and continue through high school and beyond. The range of services Say Yes offers across its Chapters include everything from after-school and summer programming, mentoring, tutoring, and school-day academic support to family outreach, scholarships, and social work/ psychological services. Additionally, Say Yes partners provide high-quality health care and legal assistance.

Students in Say Yes communities have high school graduation, college-going and college completion rates similar to those of suburban students.

Not that any of this would change Charles Murray's mind. He's a slow learner. ...

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story on a New York state school district that has adopted "standards-based report cards." These report cards differ from the more traditional variety in that they aim to measure mastery of knowledge and skills more faithfully:

In Pelham, the second-grade report card includes 39 separate skill scores — 10 each in math and language arts, 2 each in science and social studies, and a total of 15 in art, music, physical education, technology and “learning behaviors” — engagement, respect, responsibility, organization. The report card itself is one page, but it comes with a 14-page guide explaining the different skills and the scoring.

Dennis Lauro, Pelham’s superintendent, said that standards-based report cards helped students chart their own courses for improvement; as part of the process, they each develop individual goals, which are discussed with teachers and parents, and assemble portfolios of work.

Effort and extra credit are not part of the equation, and the report cards do not measure students against each other.

Some years ago, the Chugach, Alaska public school district took the standards-based reporting system a good deal farther. In Chugach, each student works at her own pace, advancing to the next grade level only when she can demonstrate mastery of material through portfolios and other assessments. Some students progress to ...

He’s baaaack…. And he continues to repudiate the American ideal of equal opportunity.

In his 1994 book The Bell Curve, Charles Murray infamously attributed achievement gaps to inherent genetic differences among racial groups. His most recent book, Real Education, extended the argument, calling for education policies that build on ostensible differences in students’ capacity. He believes we should put low-performing students out of their academic misery by shunting them off into less demanding vocational courses. He is content to see demography as destiny, counseling us to abandon our “romantic” notion that we can narrow or close achievement gaps.

In a dyspeptic op-ed for Sunday’s Washington Post, Murray extends his argument again by railing against European-style social programs that seek to level social and economic playing fields.

The Washington Post op-ed argues, in effect, that European social programs drain life of its purpose by coddling people. To illustrate his point, Murray recalls reactions to a speech he delivered in Zurich: “Afterward, a few of the 20-something members of the audience came up and said plainly that the phrase ‘a life well-lived’ did not have meaning for them.” Now there’s a representative sample: a few Swiss 20-somethings who (1.) attended a Charles Murray speech and (2.) actually wanted to speak with him afterwards. Murray claims that these aimless souls ...

Secretary Duncan gives community schools a central place in the Pantheon of education innovations. He made that abundantly clear in his recent appearance on Charlie Rose.

He advocates for keeping schools open 12 or 13 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, and 12 months out of the year. He sees schools as centers of learning and community well-being. He calls for stronger partnerships between schools and non-profits. He supports stronger investments in students health, nutrition and safety. He champions a vision of accountability that includes "traditional educators, parents, students, the business community--all of us." And he links these strategies to student learning:

The more we open school buildings to the community, the more we work together--not just with our children but with the families--the more we create an environment where ...

On March 5, The Learning First Alliance, which sponsors Public School Insights, held its second Summit for Public Education. We focused on "Community Connections," and over 200 education leaders from across the country met to learn about ways to foster collaborations that increase student success. When schools, professionals, parents, community leaders, and partners from different sectors work together, we can develop the comprehensive supports today's students need.

Read our press release: ...

In his March 10th speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, President Obama repeated his campaign pledge to help states expand and improve early learning programs.

In defiance of skeptics who question the value or feasibility of early childhood education, the National Association of State Boards of Education points to Obama's home state of Illinois. The Illinois program can boast both strong acadmic results and cost-effectiveness, NASBE argues in a recent policy brief:

Illinois met nine of its 10 benchmarks for pre-k quality, ranked... 12th in access for 4-year-olds and first in the nation for 3-year-olds, while spending slightly more than ...

The 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer is the latest newspaper to run its own obituary. It followed closely on the heels of the Rocky Mountain News, which bid adieu to its Denver readers after 160 years. More newspapers and journals are sure to follow. Just this morning, I received an alarming email solicitation from The Nation, ominously titled "1865-??", requesting donations to forestall its own demise.

The implications of this situation for education are not hard to grasp.

For one, it reflects and exacerbates the erosion of civic education in this country. As Kathleen Parker notes in a recent Washington Post editorial, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press recently "found that just 27 percent of Americans born since 1977 read a newspaper the previous day." Young people don't seem to have much appetite for serious newspapers. Many educators feel they don't have much time to whet that appetite.

Yes, young people get some news on line, but ...

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