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The dream of college for all is one of the first casualties when jobs dry up and the future looks bleak. More and more people are questioning the wisdom of paying big tuition for what could be a small return. Technical school may be a better bet, they say, especially for poor youth who can't afford to get into debt.

They may have a point. But I think it's a very bad idea to retreat from our commitment to get many, many more poor students through college. At the same time, it's unwise to assume that education alone will solve our economic woes.

The "college for all" argument is important, because it offers a vision for overcoming stubborn class inequities. Let's face it, the vast majority of wealthy parents expect their kids to go to college. Even some of those pundits who pooh pooh college in the pages of the Times or The Wall Street Journal would likely pitch a fit if their own children decided to go the voc-ed route. Poor children face a very different reality.

It may be true that college isn't for everyone. But until student inclination--and not income--becomes the major sorting mechanism for college, I'm not ready to abandon the focus on college. After all, those who never went to college are ...

We in education could learn a lot from the US military. That's the major message of the new State Education Standard. This remarkable issue of NASBE's quarterly magazine is well worth a read.

People in schools don't naturally look to the military for advice. When they hear "military," many think "rigid," "stern" or "traditional." A story in Wednesday's New York Times shows just how damaging such perceptions can be. It charts the decline of private military academies that long ago billed themselves as reform schools--hardly the best way to market private schools these days. The schools may have changed, but the reputation lingers.

The State Education Standard offers a very different view of what the military brings to the table. Many decidedly un-military educators will no doubt like what they see there. In some respects, there's nothing at all military about the military. Here's a brief sampling of ideas I took away from the magazine:

Nurture your talent. This passage from a story on leadership stopped me in my tracks: "Typically, officers spend between one-quarter and one-third of their time in schools, either as students or as instructors!" Yes, the military does a great deal to steer its best people into leadership tracks. But once leaders are in those tracks, they receive sustained, job-embedded staff development. It's ironic that the ...

I continue to be amazed by the fact that it has become taboo in some school reform circles to talk about strategies for clearing away non-academic barriers to student learning. Calls to address problems like hunger or poor health are often seen as excuses for poor schooling rather than as concrete strategies to improve the lot of children. This tendency strikes me as very counterproductive.

It's not the job of schools to ensure medical care and proper nutrition, we're told. It's not the job of schools to do what parents should be doing. Those are lovely sentiments. Many teachers and other school staff would probably agree that the job they thought they signed up for didn't involve finding health care for children, getting them warm clothing in the winter, or offering them breakfast when they're hungry.

But such expectations don't mean a whole lot when a child in your classroom can't concentrate because she has a tooth ache, can't see the board because she needs eye glasses, or is hungry because she went without breakfast. High-sounding talk about what a school's "mission" should or shouldn't be must ...

I'm hearing concerns that too much power over schools is passing into the hands of people who have not been elected by the public to serve the public interest. What a thorny issue.

An article in yesterday's Washington Post offers a case in point. A group of foundations warned that they might not keep the money flowing into Washington DC's school reform efforts if the district's leadership changes. In other words, the funds may dry up if a new mayor takes the reins. Not surprisingly, this warning has caused an outcry over the influence of foundations on the mayoral race.

A new commentary in Edweek raises similar concerns about the concentration of power. Russ Whitehurst, the founding director of IES, writes that Race to the Top (RTTT) was an end-run around Congress. "Based on the ARRA itself, he writes, "I don’t think Congress intended to give Secretary Duncan the carte blanche he took."

The legislative process is messy, but we are better served in the long term by allowing our elected representatives to decide on the education policies we are to pursue as a nation, rather than having them dictated to us by the executive branch under the guise of a grant program to reward reform and innovation.

Duncan and the foundations may well counter that they can't very well dole out money without strings attached. But growing suspicion of government ...

At a time when most American industries have been struggling to find their footing, at least one has been experiencing a real boom: The public school horror film industry. The filmmakers and financiers behind these movies may see themselves as defenders of children. But some of them are just leading the charge out of public education and into--what?

They're aiming for outrage. But they're just as likely to create disaffection and disengagement. That's bad news for school reform.

Here's a little sampling from the new Tinseltown genre. Two Million Minutes portrayed our high schools as relaxing spas for idle youth. Then there's Race to Nowhere, which depicts our schools as cruel pressure cookers that drive children to suicide. And we mustn't forget The War on Kids (!), which argues that U.S. schools are really just prisons designed to crush our children's spirits.

It hardly matters that these horror stories contradict one another. The overriding message is clear and consistent: Get your kids out now!

The films generally offer simple solutions to the problems they present, and that lets viewers off the hook. Most examples of the genre point to charters and vouchers. Take, for example, The Cartel, which has just hit theaters. According to The Boston Globe, "'The Cartel' leads its audience to what Bowdon [the filmmaker] sees as a promised land of better American education, populated by vouchers and ...

Mike Town is a man with a mission. This Washington state environmental science teacher has spent the past 25 years educating students on environmental issues. His students do real-world projects designed to show the relevance of science, get them thinking about the environmental impact of their actions, and introduce them to the emerging green job sector.

One such project is the Cool School Challenge, a model he helped develop that engages students and teachers in reducing their school's greenhouse gas emissions. Now available for free on the web, this approach has saved over 1.6 million pounds of CO2 nationwide (and saved Redmond High School more than $100,000 over the past three years). And he and his students are scaling up the concept in their community, joining forces with the local government for the “Eco-Office Challenge.” ...

When the President's Blueprint for Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act appeared last month, Chuck Saylors was struck by what he didn't see: much attention to parent engagement. The President's budget proposal had already seemed to eliminate the Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), the only federal program devoted solely to parent engagement in schools. (The Learning First Alliance just released a statement urging a much stronger federal focus on parent engagement.)

Saylors recently told us about the National PTA's work to make parent and family enagement a national priority. Despite his disappointment with the Blueprint, Saylors is optimistic. The administration seems ready to listen, he told us, and the PTA is not about to let up on its fight for parents.

Public School Insights: What are the biggest legislative priorities this year at PTA?

Saylors: There are several things on the agenda, but I am going to say that the reauthorization of ESEA is probably the issue of the day for us. We want to make sure that ESEA is reauthorized in a timely manner and we want to do everything that we can to get parents involved in the process. There are a lot of components to the legislation that need to be addressed, and we want to make sure that a parent voice is at the table.

Public School Insights: Is your sense that the blueprint the Obama administration offered for this reauthorization included the parent voice?

Saylors: I have to admit that I'm very disappointed that it was not more direct in including parental engagement. There are some brief references, but as the leader of the PTA I can tell you that I am very disappointed in the fact that there's not more concrete reference to parental engagement in the blueprint.

That being said, I have to publicly admit that PTA does have a good working relationship with the administration and we are very thankful for that. But this is ...

I was wrong. I thought the debate between the value of schools and the value of community support for children was winding down, but it seems the debate is alive and well in the pages of the Washington Post.

Joel Klein, Michael Lomax, and Janet Murguia resurrected it in an op-ed last Friday. Their opening strikes me as a bit of a strawman:

In the debate over how to fix American public education, many believe that schools alone cannot overcome the impact that economic disadvantage has on a child, that life outcomes are fixed by poverty and family circumstances, and that education doesn't work until other problems are solved.

I don't know many people who believe that education won't work "until" we fix all the other problems. Groups like the Broader, Bolder Approach (which is a likely target of the op-ed) call for robust work to improve schools and address those factors outside of schools that can hinder students' learning.

The op-ed's following sentences might be jarring to people who work in and for schools: "This theory [that life outcomes are fixed] is, in some ways, comforting for educators. After all, if schools make only a marginal difference, we can stop faulting ourselves for failing to make them work well for millions of children."

Few educators would be "comforted" to think they can make only a "marginal difference." Why go into a line of work that yields such small financial ...

When Melissa Glee-Woodard became principal of Maryland’s Lewisdale Elementary School four years ago, it was struggling. The school was in the dreaded “school improvement” process because of the performance of multiple subgroups of students, and it needed change.

Change is what it got. But not the dramatic “fire-all-teachers” change that has been making the papers. Rather, Glee-Woodard inspired teachers, parents and students with a new vision. The staff began focusing on student data in a meaningful way. Targeted professional development addressed areas of weakness in the instructional program. And new summer programs ensured that students kept their academic success going even when school was not technically in session.

As a result, Lewisdale has made AYP every year Glee-Woodard has been principal. The National Association of Elementary School Principals recently honored her for her transformational leadership.

She joined us for a conversation about the school and its journey.

Public School Insights: How would you describe Lewisdale?

Glee-Woodard: Lewisdale Elementary School is located in an urban setting in Prince George's County, Maryland. We are in the backyard of the University of Maryland, College Park. It is a working-class neighborhood. 80% of our students are Hispanic. 17% are African-American.

All of our students walk to school each and every day, and we are a neighborhood school. Our parents are very actively involved. Anytime that you are outside in the morning, you will see a lot of parents either walking their children to school or dropping their children off in cars.

Lewisdale is also a Title I school. 84% of our students qualify for free or reduced meals. And 54% of our students speak English as their second language. So that gives you a general idea of ...

I've worried before that too many pundits seem to see change as an end in itself. The bolder the reform, the better, whether or not it's likely to work. An editorial in Saturday's Washington Post betrayed shades of this thinking.

The Post laments that the boldest reform plans lost points in the Race to the Top competition. The authors have muted praise for the two winning states but write that "other states with even more ambitious plans lost out." Support from unions and school boards carried too much weight, they argue, and that sends a "mixed message": "Alas, the lesson that officials may take from the first round [of RttT] is that perhaps it's better to lower your sights sufficiently to achieve buy-in from the education establishment."

The writers even ask, apparently incredulous, "what was the real worry of the reviewer who considered [DC's] application 'too ambitous'?" They seem to think that's code for "too bold for the unions and school boards." But the reviewers actually go into some detail on the flaws of the DC plan, citing lack of progress in building data systems and lack of detail in other key areas.

But for many pundits, concerns about feasibility seem almost beside the point. You can't possibly be too ambitious.

That stance pretty much sums up what's wrong with the prevailing rhetoric of ...

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