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Walter Dean Myers understands second chances. A high school dropout by age 17, he enlisted in the army and worked odd jobs as a young adult. It was his lifelong relationship with books that put him on a path to becoming one of the nation's most celebrated young adult authors. Five Coretta Scott King Awards and two Newbery Honors later, Myers is sharing the lesson of second chances with a new generation of at-risk youth.

Last week, Myers spoke with us about the central themes of his new novel, Dope Sick: personal responsibility and redemption. The novel tells the story of a young man facing the consequences of a drug deal gone wrong who has an opportunity to review and revise his life choices. This story line reflects a belief Myers avowed throughout our interview: We must empower teens to take greater control of their lives.

Dope Sick has become the centerpiece of an effort to do just that. Myers is collaborating with and the NEA on the Second Chance Initiative, which aims to help youth make better choices. As part of this initiative, the novel will be available for free on HarperCollins' website from February 10th through 24th. The initiative also offers Dope Sick reading guides and writing activities along with resources on preventing high school dropout, teen pregnancy and substance abuse.

Underlying this effort is Myers' long-standing faith that reading can offer hope to teens who need it most.

Listen to highlights from our interview with Walter Dean Myers here (16 minutes), or read a transcript below:


PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: You're releasing your new novel, Dope Sick, very soon. What's the novel about?

MYERS: It's about a young man who has reached a point of crisis in his life. He goes into a building, running from the police, and he meets another young man his own age. The new young man is a somewhat fantastic creature who can call up ...

There's something about the nation's education challenges that inspires a need for villains--and that's a shame. Many think tank dwellers cast teachers and administrators in that role: slothful, self-serving adults who value bureaucracy over children. (Please.)

Former big businessman and current Nevada university chancellor James Rogers is also on the hunt for villains in the education morality play, but he reserves his venom for "the public." Blogger Robert Pondiscio unearthed a Youtube video of Rogers exempting educators from blame: "The majority of educators work very hard, are much smarter than their critics, and are far more organized and efficient than their critics."

Rogers spends most of his time laying the blame for an education "disaster" at ...

As a Freedom Rider in 1961, Congressman John Lewis was brutally beaten by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama. In August 1963, he spoke alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. on the day Dr. King delivered his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech. On March 7, 1965--"Bloody Sunday"--Alabama state troopers' savage suppression of the peaceful march Lewis led across the Edmund Pettus Bridge helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Now, almost 45 years later, Congressman Lewis will witness the inauguration of Barack Obama just one day after the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

Congressman Lewis recently shared with us some reflections on the significance of this historic occasion.


[Listen to the full interview (4 min., 15 seconds)]


Interview Transcript
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Thank you so much for joining us, Representative Lewis.

REPRESENTATIVE LEWIS: I am delighted and pleased to be with you.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: We're fast approaching Martin Luther King Day, and one day later the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. What are the major lessons of these days for young people in our schools? ...

vonzastrowc's picture

There Will Be Blood?

Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher reminds us today that school improvement does not necessarily require a death-match between high-profile "reformers" and the education "establishment."

Fisher tells the story of a once struggling elementary school that has dramatically raised the achievement of its overwhelmingly disadvantaged student body: "Broad Acres did this without Rhee's reform tactics: no young recruits from Teach for America, no cash for students who come to class, no linkage of teacher pay to test scores."

In other words, Broad Acres made great strides without any of the capital "R" reforms that dominate national discussion about education. Nor did they make their gains over the dead bodies of recalcitrant teachers, administrators or community members.

What did Broad Acres do? The school fostered on-going faculty collaboration, gave strugging students individual attention, offered engaging out-of-school enrichment activities, and supported students' physical and mental well-being.

This is not to argue that we should abandon important discussions about those capital "R" reforms, which focus mainly on incentives and ...

Sally Broughton's middle school students have had a greater impact on their rural community than do many people three or four times their age. The Montana Teacher of the Year has helped her language arts and social studies students successfully advocate for policies to improve life in their school and their neighborhoods. In the process, her students at the Monforton School have strengthened their grasp of history, civics, mathematics, research, writing, and public speaking.

Broughton's remarkable achievements have earned her the American Civic Education Award from The Alliance for Representative Democracy. She recently told Public School Insights about the indelible mark her students have left on Bozeman, Montana. They have much to show for their work: public restrooms downtown, a school-wide bicycle helmet policy, a community playground, and a sophisticated early warning system for local residents living near a vulnerable earthen dam. And the list goes on....

President-Elect Obama is urging Americans to devote themselves to civic and community service. Sally Broughton's students in Bozeman can show you how it's done.

Download our full, 16-minute interview here, or read a transcript of interview highlights.


PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: I've heard quite a bit about these very, very fascinating projects that you've done and that have actually managed to change public policy in your community. Could you describe how you go about this, and how these projects support broader academic goals?

BROUGHTON: Absolutely. We do something called Project Citizen. During that time, the children find a problem that can be solved by public policy and they investigate it. ...

Phillip Johnson's Glass HouseA new article in the January issue of School Administrator examines a concept conspicuously absent from many recent reform discussions: transparency. The article profiles four school districts whose "openness" and "ongoing communication with the public" helped them win critical bond and finance elections. All four received Gold Medallion awards from the National School Public Relations Association.

The school districts won public support by reaching out to their communities. They learned about the public's aspirations and concerns, and they gave the public a stronger voice in decision-making. They also became much more open about how they spent their money, dispelling common public concerns that public schools will squander any new dose of funds.

School districts that use this approach can point to more than just victories at the polls. They boast stronger, more sustained public engagement in their work, which can in turn fuel critical gains in ...

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: ...

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:


vonzastrowc's picture

Russo Misses the Mark

The usually astute Alexander Russo really misses the mark in a recent article criticizing initiatives such as community schools. In the most recent issue of Scholastic Administrator, he argues that such initiatives' focus on out-of-school factors like health care and family well being distract from schools' fundamental academic mission.

Russo writes that such initiatives "shift attention away from classrooms" and successful school improvement efforts. "Now is not the time to abandon these efforts," he intones, knocking down the same straw man so many others have toppled before him.

Advocates for community schools have no intention of abandoning school improvement efforts. They clearly describe student success in the classroom as a primary goal of their strategy. They also marshal solid evidence that their approach improves student learning outcomes. ...

If there was ever a time to shore up support for poor students' families, it is now.

Newspapers across the country are reporting a spike in homelessness that could have dire consequences for schools in the nation's most distressed communities. (For a sampling of recent stories on the issue, see here, here, here, here and here.)

Homeless students who worry about where they'll sleep at night, or where they'll find their next meal, have that much less energy to devote to math or reading.  Many move from school to school as their parents shuttle between shelters and temporary living arrangements with friends or family.  Climbing school mobility rates depress student achievement. ...

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