Join the conversation

...about what is working in our public schools.

Connected Community

Blog Entries

The phrase "high expectations" means more than some policy wonks seem to think it does. It refers, of course, to our expectations for children's success, but it also refers to what students should be able to expect from the world around them. Schools, families, communities and policymakers are all on the hook.

That is one of the lessons I draw from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, which I finally read this week. Gladwell's book pokes holes in the Horatio Alger "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" myth of success in America. The culture that shapes your behavior and the conditions in which you grow up have an enormous impact on your chances for success.

We therefore all share responsibility for helping children strike a grand bargain with adults, Gladwell suggests: Work hard, treat others well, and we'll give you every opportunity to succeed. (KIPP schools, which Gladwell profiles in Chapter 9, make this bargain explicit). Unfortunately, adults all too often renege on their end of the bargain.

The wealthy are lucky enough to have "Great Expectations" in the ...


Things are happening in Mobile.

The Alabama district mounted an innovative public engagement campaign early this decade, and student performance has been rising ever since.


Though the district has a larger share of low-income students than does Alabama as a whole, it boasts higher scores on state assessments. We recently profiled two very successful Mobile County public elementary schools—George Hall and Mary B. Austin—on our Success Stories Page.

Last week, we caught up with Mary B. Austin principal Jacquelyn Zeigler, who has worked with dedicated staff and parents to narrow achievement gaps dramatically. She described the ingredients of her success:

Public School Insights: We've heard a lot about Mary B. Austin School, but I thought I'd give you an opportunity to say in your own words what kind of a school it is. Describe the sort of students you serve.

Jacquelyn Zeigler: There are no -- or very few -- new families coming in. So to keep my doors open, 80 percent of the children are on transfer. We get them from all over Mobile County. And because of that, we are right at 50/50 boy/girl, 50/50 black/white, and about 34 percent free and reduced [lunch program]. We have a wonderful cross-section of society.

Right across the street is Springfield College, and then just down the street is the University of South Alabama, so I'm very fortunate because I am able to get their student teachers and their interns; a lot of the volunteers to come and work with my ...

Linda Darling-Hammond turns in a thoughtful review of mayoral control at the National Journal's new blog. (The Journal recently invited their expert bloggers to comment on mayoral takeovers.) Her major point seems to be that the proof isn't in the pudding: Outcomes evidence from major urban districts suggests that mayoral control is not necessarily any more effective than other governance structures.

Oddly enough, some of the staunchest mayoral control advocates contributing to the Journal's blog focus more on inputs than outcomes. This is a remarkable reversal, given the reformers' longstanding grievance that traditional educators are outcomes-averse. Perhaps inputs are making a comeback.

Darling Hammond is characteristically balanced in her assessment of mayoral ...

At the H1N1 Influenza (formerly known as "Swine Flu") Summit today, just about every speaker stressed the importance of linking schools with public health systems and community services. Without such connections, they argued, we stand a slim chance of containing another flu outbreak.

Are they proposing a Broader, Bolder Approach to children's health and safety? It turns out that strong, sustained partnerships between schools and government/community resources promote national security as well as student achievement.

Click here for our list of H1N1 resources 


A new and important study of the link between middle school success and high school graduation rates offers a useful caution to anyone looking for education miracle cures. After examining early warning signs that students might drop out, study author Bob Balfanz writes:

These findings...demonstrate why reform is difficult, as no single reform stands out as the major action required. Essentially, we found that everything one might think matters, does so, but modestly at best. This included parental involvement, academic press, teacher support, and the perceived relevance of what was being taught and its intrinsic interest to students. Some of these factors influenced attendance, others influenced behavior or effort, and they either indirectly or directly impacted course performance, achievement gains, and graduation outcomes. It was only when all the elements were combined in a well-functioning system that major gains were observed.

So don't put all your reform eggs in one basket--a useful admonition for education policy's chattering classes. The flip side of that admonition, of course, is that we shouldn't ignore critical improvement strategies either. Parent involvement, academic expectations, teacher support, relevance and other factors are all important to school success. As the nation considers school turnaround strategies, ...

Yesterday, we published our conversation with Christopher Cross about the Broader, Bolder Approach (BBA) Campaign’s new accountability recommendations. Today, we’re releasing an interview with another member of BBA’s Accountability Committee: Diane Ravitch, who followed Cross as Assistant Secretary of OERI during the administration of George H.W. Bush.

Like Cross, Ravitch requires no introduction. A long-time supporter of standards-based reform, she has become one of the nation’s most vocal critics of No Child Left Behind. Here are her thoughts on the BBA recommendations:

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: You have argued that "a few tweaks here and a little tinkering there cannot fix" No Child Left Behind. How do BBA's accountability recommendations depart from the NCLB model?

RAVITCH: NCLB is a punitive approach to school improvement. It mandates that test scores must increase or else! If they don't go higher, schools will be sanctioned, and the sanctions will get more onerous with each year that the schools fail to meet their targets. Each year, the targets get higher, and the number of schools that slip over the precipice increases. As schools fail, they are threatened with closure, restructuring, staff firings, or other consequences that may or may not improve the school.

In contrast, BBA suggests accountability that goes far beyond test scores. Test scores matter, but so does student engagement in a broad range of academic subjects, as well as students' health, well-being and civic behavior. Where NCLB is punitive, BBA seeks constructive ways to measure the condition and progress of ...

Christopher Cross was an assistant education secretary in the George H. W. Bush administration. He recently spoke with us about new accountability recommendations the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education campaign released today. Cross joined a committee of other education luminaries to formulate the recommendations, which go well beyond the current system and its predominant reliance on standardized tests.

Why do you think we need a new accountability system? What's wrong with the current one?

CROSS: I think there are many problems with the current system. One is that it has certainly not engendered widespread support from the education community. Number two is that it is viewed as being narrow. Third is the question of how the system operates--what the sanctions are, who is held accountable for what and at what level. ...

Recent calls for stronger regulation of charter schools have raised the ire of some charter school movement True Believers. Their over-the-top response says more about the limits of their ideology than it does about the dangers of regulation.

Secretary Duncan, hardly an enemy of the charter movement, called for measures to hold low-performing charter schools accountable for their performance. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools followed suit with recommendations to strengthen oversight of new charter schools.

“Blasphemy!” cried the True Believers.

Free marketeer John Stossel tarred the Charter Alliance people as “bureaucrats” for even entertaining the idea:

National Alliance bureaucrats weeding out bad schools will fail as government bureaucrats failed….

Sure, some charter schools are lousy. But failure is part of innovation. Parents will quickly figure out if their kids’ school is lousy, and if they are allowed other choices, they’ll pull their kids out. The weak schools will die from lack of customers. The best schools will grow, and help more kids.

Of course, Stossel has long cherished sublime free market theories untainted by supporting evidence. He's not so concerned about recent findings that traditional public schools perform as well as or better than 83 percent of ...


While the national debate rages over the benefits of early childhood education, an innovative, district-wide early childhood education initiative is bearing fruit in Bremerton, Washington. Since the initiative's founding, the percentage of Bremerton children entering Kindergarten knowing their letters has shot from 4% to over 50%. The percentage of Kindergarteners needing specialized education services has plummeted from 12% to 2%. And the share of first graders reading on grade level has risen from 52% to 73%.

Last week, I spoke with a woman at the center of the program: Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, the district's Director of Special programs. She described some keys to the program's success. The district:

  • Aligns existing school and community resources
  • Raises the quality of existing preschools rather than creating new ones
  • Focuses on literacy and numeracy
  • Heeds the research, and
  • Holds all providers to high standards of quality


Read extensive highlights from our interview with Sullivan-Dudzic:

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: What are the major goals of Early Childhood Care and Education Group, and what do you believe you've accomplished in striving towards those goals?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: We have two goals. [The first is] to increase the number of children entering kindergarten with early literacy skills--and now we've added early math foundation skills. And the second goal is to decrease the number of children, students, with learning disabilities or learning differences associated with reading.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: And do you feel like you've made headway in reaching your goals?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: Yes. In literacy definitely. We're just starting in math. We have decreasing numbers of kids qualifying as learning disabled, and we have increasing numbers of kids entering kindergarten with early reading foundation skills.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: So you have all kinds of community partners?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: Sure. I started 29 years ago with Head Start, as a ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Engaging ideas

A fascinating piece in Sunday’s Washington Post touches on a formidable, often neglected, barrier to promising education reforms: Community opposition. Especially as we try to fast-track reforms fed by stimulus dollars, we should not forget that community engagement is an essential (though frequently missing) ingredient in school reform efforts.

The essay’s author praises the year-round calendar adopted by her son’s elementary school. The longer school year allows time for “intersessions,” or “short breaks throughout the year.” During these breaks students take “fun, creative classes” where students learn “karate, ballet, photography, cooking and a host of other things.” She’s clearly a fan.

Forget for a moment whether you believe this is a good use of an extended calendar. (Some might see it as an antidote to “kill-and-drill” teaching methods during the rest of the year. Others might see it as a lost academic opportunity, especially for low-income children).

A larger lesson I drew from the piece is that any sort of plan to extend the school year can run afoul of both parents, who worry about the effect of longer years on their children’s well being, and summer amusement businesses, which rise or fall on teen-age labor. Reformers can easily leave very important stakeholders on the sidelines of important education debates.

One of the strongest proponents ...

Syndicate content