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Have economists brought nothing but woe upon public schools? Has all the talk of efficiency, productivity, merit pay and market incentives poisoned the field? Well, it depends. Do those economists have a clear vision for how their favored policies will affect teaching and learning?
According to two articles published yesterday, the answer so far has been yes and no.
The Harvard Education Letter paints a rosier picture of "the invisible hand" than you might expect. The HEL reminds us, for example, that economist James Heckman has done about as much as anyone to push early childhood education. In the process, he has set the stage for richer conversations about program quality. Overall, economists can spur us to pay closer attention the efficiency and effectiveness of our programs.
Then there's Russ Whitehurst's recent article: Don't Forget Curriculum! He says economists just don't get the importance of curriculum. Here's the money quote from his piece: "[P]olicy makers who cut their teeth on policy reforms in the areas of school governance and management rather than classroom practice...may be oblivious to curriculum for the same reason that Bedouin don’t think much about water skiing.”
The disciplinary training, job experience, professional networks, and intuitions about what is important hardly overlap between governance and curriculum reformers. For the governance types, teaching ...
Actress Danica McKellar first became famous as the beautiful Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, a hit TV show that aired in the late '80s and early '90s. In the years since, she has starred in over 30 films, TV movies and plays.
But it's her work in mathematics that has most recently caught the attention of educators around the country. McKellar has written two books to get tween-aged girls hooked on math. Math Doesn't Suck aims to help middle school girls overcome their fear of math and understand that it pays to be smart. Her sequel, Kiss My Math, helps girls slay the pre-algebra dragon. A third book, this one on algebra, is in the works.
A summa-cum-laude math major from UCLA, McKellar comes with impressive mathematical credentials. She has even co-authored a theorem on two-dimensional magnetism that now bears her name.
McKellar recently spoke with us about girls and math.
Girls and Math
Public School Insights: Do girls really hate math? And if so, why?
McKellar: Let's face it: Boys and girls in this country, by and large, are not huge fans of mathematics. But the issue seems to be particularly problematic for girls because, on top of the stereotypes about how difficult and “nerdy” it is to study math, girls are also getting the message that they're not supposed to be good at it.
Public School Insights: Where do you think that message is coming from?
McKellar: I think that it is coming from all over. Girls are inundated with images of what women are supposed to be, from billboards, magazines and pop culture in general – that girls are supposed to be sexy and appealing, and maybe even a little dumb, and that this is considered attractive. That's the message that ...
As everyone knows by now, Aldine Independent School District in Texas won the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education. And they did it without mayoral control (gasp) or even a single charter school (say it ain't so!)
So what did they do? For one, the board, administrators, teachers and community members collaborated on common solutions to the district's problems. For another, they worked hard to give teachers and administrators the support they needed. Most important, they committed to improvement for the long haul. No quick fixes at Aldine.
- Recognize that you have a problem. When student peformance cratered in the mid 90s, district leaders knew they had to do something.
- Set high expectations for students and staff. Yes, this has become a truism--but only because it's so very true.
- Give schools a first-rate curriculum. In 1996, Aldine created "benchmark targets," a curriculum aligned with state standards. Teachers asked for
A New York Times puff piece on reading workshops has ignited a firestorm in the blogosphere. Stop force-feeding kids the great books, the article implies. Let them read what they want to. Bloggers' reactions range from horror to approval.
I can understand the horror. When will children make the transition from Captain Underpants to Shakespeare, Twain or Hurston? What happens if we raise them to believe that reading should always be easy or fun? The most challenging books often offer the biggest rewards.
Perhaps there is a middle course. If children become enthusiastic about books they choose themselves, can teachers direct this enthusiasm toward more challenging books? Children's Literature Laureate John Scieszka seems to think so. (Or at least that's what he told me in an interview last ...
First published August 19, 2008.
Harvard professor and cultural critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. captured some 25 million viewers with his riveting PBS documentary series, African American Lives (WNET). Using genealogical research and DNA science, Gates traces the family history of 19 famous African Americans. What results is a rich and moving account of the African American experience.
Gates recently spoke with Public School Insights about the documentary and a remarkable idea it inspired in him: To use genealogy and DNA research to revolutionize the way we teach history and science to African American Students. Now, Gates is working with other educators to create an "ancestry-based curriculum" in K-12 schools. Many African American students know little about their ancestors. Given the chance to examine their own DNA and family histories, Gates argues, they are likely to become more engaged in their history and science classes. As they rescue their forebears from the anonymity imposed by slavery, students begin to understand their own place in the American story.
If the stories in African American Lives are any guide, they're in for an experience.
The Significance of African American Lives
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Tell me about "African-American Lives" and its significance, in your view.
GATES: Wow, that's a big question. [Laughing] I got the idea in the middle of the night to do a series for public television that would combine genealogy and ancestry tracing through genetics. I've been fascinated with my own family tree since I was 10 years old - that's the year that my grandfather died. ...
In Defense of Field Trips: A Conversation with Educators from an Extraordinary Alabama Public School
People looking for a public school Cinderella story need look no further than George Hall Elementary in Mobile, Alabama. The once struggling school, which serves mostly low-income children, now boasts state math and reading test scores most wealthy suburban schools would be proud of. (See our story about George Hall's Success).
George Hall did not have to sacrifice all but the basics to get there. Instead, the school's staff courageously focused on what some would consider frills in an era of high-stakes accountability: innovative technologies; rich vocabulary and content knowledge; even field trips.
We recently spoke with George Hall principal Terri Tomlinson and teachers Elizabeth Reints and Melissa Mitchell.
Hear highlights from our interview (5 minutes)
Changing the Graduation Equation in a Texas District: A Conversation with Superintendent Daniel P. King
When Daniel P. King came to the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district in 2007, the district’s dropout rate was double the Texas state average. Now, it is half the state average.
How did the district do it? Dr. King and his colleagues created a College, Career and Technology Academy to steer dropouts--some as old as 25--back onto a path towards graduation. Not only do those students gain the skills and course credits they need to graduate, they also gain college credit along the way. (See a story about the Academy in our success stories section).
King recently spoke with us about the district’s remarkable success.
Public School Insights: What prompted you to create the College, Career & Technology Academy in the first place?
King: I was entering new into the district. I was moving from a small district to a large district, and I was overwhelmed when I saw that the district had a dropout rate that was twice the state average. The prior year had seen approximately 500 dropouts.
When I asked for an analysis of the 500 dropouts from the previous year I found that not only was there the typical freshman bubble (where students don't make it past the ninth grade, get stuck there and ultimately drop out), but there was [also] a relatively new phenomenon that I call the “twelfth grade bubble, ” [caused by] exit testing and rising standards.
In a small district I had dealt with [the dropout problem] very successfully, simply through ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
A VISION FOR GREAT SCHOOLS
On this website, educators, parents and policymakers from coast to coast are sharing what's already working in public schools--and sparking a national conversation about how to make it work for children in every school. Join the conversation!