Join the conversation

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

Connected Community

Blog Entries

Yesterday morning, I emerged long enough from our newborn's diapers and wipes to catch up on some reading. My jaw dropped when I came across this paragraph from David Brooks's Friday op-ed:

[The impressive results of charter schools in the Harlem Children's Zone] are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right.


Did Brooks really just argue that the Harlem Children's Zone's success supports the schools alone approach championed by "reformers"? That's like arguing that the Surgeon General's reports discredit the link between smoking and cancer. ...

Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey believes we can make the college graduation prospects of inner city children every bit as strong as those of their suburban peers. As president of Say Yes to Education, she has the data to back up her claims. Schmitt-Carey recently spoke with us about her model and its astonishing impact in several U.S. cities.

Say Yes topples barriers to college by offering disadvantaged youth comprehensive supports ranging from health care to college scholarships. The results of this work are stunning. In communities where it is active, Say Yes has dramatically narrowed the high school and college graduation gaps between inner-city students and their suburban peers.

Schmitt-Carey emphasizes the need to rally many community partners around common goals. In Syracuse, for example, Say Yes has built a strong a coalition including the school district, mayor, city council, school board, teachers unions, higher education community, business organizations and community-service organizations. Rather than pointing fingers of blame, Schmitt-Carey says, these partners share responsibility for children's long-term success.

Hear highlights from our interview (6 minutes). [A transcript of these highlights appears below]

Or listen to the following excerpts from ...

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, ...

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 ...

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 ...

Syndicate content