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MoralityPlay.jpg For months now, Washington think tank dwellers have been casting supporters of the Broader Bolder Approach to Education as characters in a morality play about the future of school reform. The storyline goes like this: BBA supporters, who link student achievement to influences both inside and outside of schools, are slothful defenders of the status quo. Struggling against them are righteous warriors for school reform.

As we've noted before, this is a bogus story. No one benefits from this phony battle between school improvement and out-of-school supports for student success.  Students need excellent schools, but they also need excellent pre-K and after-school programs, health care programs, and other out-of-school supports for learning. ...

Where we satnd busWEB.JPGLast night, public television stations nationwide aired a one-hour documentary, Where We Stand, which evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. public education system.  While the noise of our current financial crash is drowning out news of the documentary, I do hope it will fuel robust conversations about public education.

The documentary's story line is already familiar to the education policy crowd:  The world is changing; our children will have to compete for jobs with their peers in Helsinki or Hong Kong; we're being creamed in international assessments of student performance; and our nation's prosperity depends in part on the fate of our schools.  Yet we have ample evidence that this message has not necessarily penetrated the public consciousness.  While just about everyone supports high academic standards in the abstract, students and their families alike often balk at ambitious coursework in, say, advanced mathematics or science. ...

In a story that has received remarkably little media attention so far, eight urban public schools in Connecticut are participating in an experiment to give teachers, parents and communities greater autonomy over curriculum, governance and budgets.  The Connecticut Alliance for CommPACT Schools is helping these formerly struggling schools reorganize.

Among the hallmarks of this effort: ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Heckman on Our Minds

HeckmanPicture.jpg Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman--and his research on early childhood education--have been very much in the news in recent months. In late August, authors from the Reason Foundation distorted this research in a Wall Street Journal hit job claiming that pre-school actually harms children.

Heckman, a strong supporter of early childhood, quickly called them out on their distortions, and researcher David Kirp followed suit a few days later. In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Paul Tough cites Heckman's conclusions that "specific interventions in the lives of poor children can diminish" the skill gap that separates them from their wealthier peers, "as long as those interventions begin early (ideally in infancy) and continue throughout childhood." ...

SocialEmotionalWEB.jpgLast week, the Chicago Sun Times ran a series of editorials advocating social and emotional learning in Chicago Public Schools.  According to the Sun Times, troubled schools whose students regularly face the consequences of violence and neglect confront sobering odds in raising those students' academic performance.  The writers call for a social and emotional learning curriculum in all schools, as well as for more social workers, school counselors and psychologists. 

Like the signers of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, they recognize the importance of stressing "social development and non-academic skills" alongside academic learning.  And like the Broader, Bolder Approach signers, they will likely be accused of abandoning academic rigor for some fuzzy-headed notion of "life skills." ...

Welcome back to school!  Many of you are now preparing back-to-school presentations, columns, and other communications.  The Learning First Alliance--which sponsors Public School Insights--has just released language you can use in your back-to-school communications.  You have our permission to use it all or in part, as your needs dictate.

Our sample language outlines an emerging vision for 21st century public schools, a vision that is already taking shape in schools from coast to coast.  It reaffirms the extraordinary mission of our public schools and encourages strong partnerships among public schools, citizens and communities.

Feel free to steal our words.  Make them your own.

You can download the language here.   ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Dealing with Darwin

Early Cartoon of Darwin On Saturday, the New York Times ran a fascinating story about a Florida science teacher's struggles to teach evolution to students raised on the biblical story of creation.  (For the first time this year, the Florida Department of Education began requiring all public schools to teach evolution.) That teacher's struggles no doubt mirror struggles faced by thousands of teachers across the country.

Laws on evolution in public school classrooms will continue to swing back and forth as intelligent design advocates and their creationist kissing cousins keep pressing their case with policymakers. In the meantime, teachers simply have to make do without strong--and scientifically sound--guidance on how best to survive in this environment.

In 2002, Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center offered some thoughts on a way forward.   ...

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Following the Polls

TelephoneSurveyWEB.JPGPhi Delta Kappa, International has just released the results of the 40th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.  It makes for fascinating reading.

The Big Headlines

The press will no doubt focus on the following findings: ...

In a Washington Post editorial today, Robert Samuelson reacts to author Bill Bishop's caution in his new book, The Big Sort: namely, that Americans are increasingly segregating themselves by social and political values into so-called "lifestyle ghettos."  Samuelson soft-pedals Bishop's claim that this trend is exacerbating political polarization and endangering our long-held commitment e pluribus unum, but other commentators lend Bishop's concern greater weight.  ...

Krista Parent AASA Picture WEB.jpgWhen Krista Parent arrived in rural Cottage Grove, Oregon in the mid 'eighties, it was a timber town whose students regularly dropped out of high school to work in the lumber mills.  Academic achievement was not among the community's top priorities. Now, over 20 years later, students in Cottage Grove's South Lane School District perform well above state averages in assessments of reading and mathematics, and the district's high school graduates more than 95% of its students.

We were recently lucky enough to interview Parent about how she and her colleagues at South Lane worked with the community to transform the district's schools.  Parent describes how South Lane's educators reached out to their community to transform the academic culture.  They attended meetings of civic organizations, parent groups, church groups and other groups that had a stake in the schools' success as the lumber mills fell on hard times. Parent and her colleagues won community members' trust by listening to--and honoring--their aspirations and expectations for their children and their schools. ...

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