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There seems to be no escape from the phony debate over whether schools alone or out-of-school social programs alone can close achievement gaps. Recently, David Brooks fanned the flames with his over-hasty conclusion that the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academies bolsters the schools alone case.

Brooks distorted the conclusions of a recent Harvard study examining the academies' academic results. Responding to a chorus of complaints about Brooks's tactics, blogger Andy Rotherham fine tuned the argument a bit: “It’s the schools that actually matter most even in the HCZ [Harlem Children's Zone] model," he declared. To be fair, Rotherham isn't pulling his conclusions entirely out of thin air. The study's authors suggest that the Promise Academies are an indispensable ingredient of their students' success--and that the HCZ's wraparound services alone don't guarantee strong academic results.

But Rotherham and other Brooks supporters don't ask the essential follow-up question: Can the schools do it alone, without the HCZ model? The study’s authors ...

A New York Times analysis finds that schools led by principals trained through non-traditional routes “have not done as well as those led by experienced principals or new principals who came through traditional routes”:

The Times’s analysis shows that Leadership Academy graduates were less than half as likely to get A’s as other principals, and almost twice as likely to earn C’s or worse [on the city's grading system for public schools]. Among elementary and middle-school principals on the job less than three years, Academy graduates were about a third as likely to get A’s as those who did not attend the program.

This kind of analysis has the potential to redraw battle lines and unsettle ideologies held by educators and reformers across the political spectrum. ...

Editor's note: Over the few days, we have published guest postings by Renee Moore and Larry Ferlazzo on how teachers view parent engagement in public schools. Today, Larry responds to Renee's posting. 

Renee’s point about how teachers are intimately involved with parents on a day-to-day basis outside of school in her rural area is a good one. In many (if not most?) urban schools, teachers never see parents (or their students) in a non-school situation since most of us don’t live in the same communities where we teach.

I’d say that rural-urban difference emphasizes the particular need for urban schools to embrace home-visiting by teachers and/or other types of “engagement” efforts. The personal trust that parents have for Renee and her colleagues in their rural community, I think, is less likely to occur in ...

Eli Broad is counting his chickens before they're hatched.  In a Detroit Free Press op-ed, he counts Washington, DC among urban school districts that "have successfully turned around after producing abysmal student outcomes."

Seems a bit premature to declare victory in DC schools, doesn't it? Apparently, Broad is confusing the implementation of his favored reforms with their success:

In every one of these cities, real changes for students happened only after mayors or governors took over and put in place strong leaders who had a serious desire to rebuild.

It's true that DC's test scores rose significantly a scant ten months after Mayor Fenty took over the schools and Michelle Rhee became superintendent. But those gains could just as well have resulted from her predecessor's efforts to upgrade and align standards, curriculum and assessments. Before those gains became news, Rhee herself argued quite reasonably that it would take a few years for her reforms to show results.

Broad's op-ed illustrates a common, though worrying, tendency. We celebrate a short-term improvement as proof positive of our favorite reform's success--And then we campaign to multiply that reform in every city across the land.

The benefits of mayoral control are of course hardly beyond dispute. But to those who believe they have found the magic beans in mayoral ...

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 ...

A sobering article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal details the Harlem Children's Zone's financial worries as foundations and and private investors cut back or bail out altogether. The deepening recession and Madoff mess have apparently taken a toll on Geoffrey Canada's groundbreaking effort to break the cycle of poverty in Harlem.

The WSJ article offers a bracing reminder of what can happen when efforts to serve the public good must rely overwhelmingly on private grants and ...

The Great Expectations School, Dan Brown's harrowing and touching memoir of his first year teaching at an elementary school in the Bronx, has won high praise from heavy hitters in education, including Susan Fuhrman, Randi Weingarten, Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch.

Dan recently took the time to speak with me about the lessons of his experience teaching low-income children who could be by turns loving, enraged, vulnerable, brazen, curious and deeply disaffected. He shared his thoughts on the support new teachers need to function in this environment, specific strategies for serving children in poverty, and policy implications of day-to-day challenges in urban schools.

Hear five minutes of highlights from Dan's account of his first year:

Or, listen to about four and a half minutes of highlights from his discussion of education policy:


Larry Cuban's thoughtful op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post has received remarkably little attention in the education blogosphere.  That's surprising, because he assesses the performance of DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, whose name is usually catnip to education bloggers everywhere.

Cuban argues that Rhee is a sprinter in a world where marathon runners are most likely to succeed.  He faults her and other sprinters for attempting to tackle the unions far too early while paying little attention to other critical ingredients of long-term school reform:

[Sprinters] suffer from ideological myopia. They believe low test scores and achievement gaps between whites and minorities result in large part from knuckle-dragging union leaders defending seniority and tenure rights that protect lousy teachers. Such beliefs reflect a serious misreading of why urban students fail to reach proficiency levels and graduate from high school.

As important as it is to get rid of incompetent teachers, doing so will not turn around the D.C. school system or any other broken district. The failure of urban schools has more to do with turnstile superintendencies, partially implemented standards and other ...

On Thursday, the Center for American Progress released Financial Incentives for Hard-to-Staff Positions, a report on teacher pay that draws lessons from fields like government, the military, medicine and private industry. The report offers very valuable analysis of the kinds of incentives that might coax effective teachers into hard-to-staff schools.

Yet it also disappoints in a couple of respects. For one, it offers little information about effective pay-for-performance structures in other fields. (It will hardly end acrimonious debates between supporters and critics of performance pay). It also minimizes the importance of other strategies for ensuring poor and minority students access to the most effective teachers and administrators.

Among the points that caught my attention are these:

  • Teachers' base pay should be competitive with base pay in other fields. "In each of the sectors we studied, financial incentives for hard-to-staff positions are layered on top of a starting salary that is fundamentally competitive with candidates' job opportunities in other industries or organizations."
  • Incentive pay in education tends to be way too low. "Employers across sectors are providing much larger incentives than
vonzastrowc's picture

"C" for Effort

BadNewsReportCardWEB.jpgNew York City public schools have received a new round of letter grades for their performance, and the results are either encouraging or bewildering, depending on whom you ask.  NYC Education Department officials point to the overall improvements over last year, due in large part to the city's rising test scores in mathematics and reading.  Critics of the Department point to large fluctuations in grades from one year to the next as evidence that the grading system is fundamentally flawed. ...

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