A Super Bowl Sunday of Reading

Featuring an all-pro lineup, including Randi Weingarten, Andy Smarick, E.D. Hirsch, Peg Tyre, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Petrilli, Sonia Sotomayor, Tom Friedman, Jay Matthews, Robert Pondiscio, Diana Senechal, Rick Hess, Checker Finn, a Times editorial, Chiefs for Change, Rocketship, and the MET…. And that’s only the first half….



The MET: “not eligible for review”


This high-profile Gates-funded study of Measures of Effective Teaching, was deemed unworthy  of review by the blue ribbon federal Institute of Education Sciences (known as the What Works Clearinghouse) because it “does not include identifiable intervention and comparison groups.” The brief put-down says that the MET  study “does not test a specific policy, intervention, or practice. Instead, it assesses whether student achievement can be predicted from a continuous measure of teacher effectiveness.”


What Chiefs for Change say about measuring teacher effectiveness


These reform-minded education leaders might beg to differ with the WWC. “There is no doubt [the MET] findings will help education leaders develop evaluation tools to accurately measure teacher performance,” they conclude. “Most importantly, the study found rigorous evaluations can identify effective teachers, and that these teachers are effective regardless of the performance level of the students they are assigned. This finding directly contradicts the assertion that the performance of the teacher is influenced by the student to which he or she is assigned – an erroneous claim that undermines teachers by suggesting that they are only effective if they are `lucky’ enough to get assigned high-performing students.

“We are off to a very strong start in developing the best ways to evaluate teachers, and the additional information provided in this report, as well as newly emerging implementation experiences, offer invaluable insight into how to make teacher evaluations more valid, reliable and meaningful. The findings will help educators, administrators and education policymakers structure and implement reforms in a way that ensures they are best aligned for student success – ultimately helping to improve and modernize the teaching profession. We thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and their research partners on this important work.”


A bar exam for teachers


Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, explains to NPR education reporter Claudio Sanchez why the AFT is backing the notion of a “bar exam” for teachers. “How do you ensure that an individual teacher walking into her classroom the first day is confident and competent?” the one-time attorney asks. In addition to the exam, Weingarten suggests “some residency or actual classroom practice beforehand, some real internship before you walked into teaching.”  Also making appearances in this four-minute story are Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, Sandra Stotsky, and Arthur Levine.  “At the moment, clinical education and academic programs are entirely disconnected,” Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia, tells Sanchez. “People in the profession don’t even agree on how to prepare people for this field.”


The promise and perils of technology in the classroom


Pulitzer-prize reporter Peg Tyre throws some cold water on the tech enthusiasts. It costs a lot, she writes, and, so far, doesn’t seem to be doing anything to improve learning.


Rocketship changes direction



From Blendmylearning.org: a teacher teaches the power of numbers



Tom Friedman likes MOOCs


“Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems. And nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms that are being developed by the likes of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies like Coursera and Udacity.”


How about John Stuart Mill?


This is Diana Senechal’s second GothamSchools essay about teaching philosophy at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering. Both are refreshing accounts of how a teacher can bring a 19th-century thinker into a 21st-century classroom. And make it count.  Senechal’s book, Born to Rise, was voted the third best education book in 2012 by readers of Education Next.


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves:  Reading, writing, and listening


Though the education blogosphere will miss Robert Pondiscio’s wonderfully-crafted and incisive reports about the need for content in schools on the Core Knowledge Foundation’s blog (Robert has moved on to become executive director of CitizenshipFirst), the silver lining is that we get E.D. Hirsch, who founded CKF and almost single-handedly saved content-based learning from extinction.  Hirsch’s new essay explains the “deep foundations in linguistic and cognitive science” in his foundation’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program and the ELA Common Core State Standards, which he has endorsed.  This is a must-read.  Hirsch explains why it’s necessary to distinguish between “decoding” and reading (the former is not comprehension) and between listening and reading (both are about comprehending).  “Reading itself is a form of listening,” Hirsch writes.


Cut scores and the Common Core


“The angst is palpable among state officials—especially the elected kind—over the threat of soaring failure rates [on the tests being developed for the Common Core State Standards], and not just among the poor and dispossessed.” So says Thomas Fordham Institute’s president Checker Finn.  This is not a pat-on-the-back essay assuring those folks they have nothing to worry about; rather, it is a thoughtful and detailed critique by the education world’s leading gadfly, listing exactly what has to be done in order to assuage the worriers.  “I hope some smart people are figuring all this out,” concludes Finn. “Time is getting short.”


The Indiana legislature wrestles with the Common Core


Meanwhile, Finn’s colleague at the Thomas Fordham Institute, Mike Petrilli, was testifying before the Hoosier State’s Senate Education Committee  about whether the state, which just booted its reformist state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, should keep, eliminate, or change the state’s commitment to the Common Core.  The answer should be Yes, says Petrilli, but he offers a thoughtful and nuanced argument for getting there, one that should be read by all educators contemplating what to do about Common Core.


And more on Indiana (post-Bennett) here



Common Core and social justice


Peter Cookson of Ed Sector argues that the Common Core State Standards are good enough to help close the achievement gap between rich (suburban) and poor (urban) schools.


Pedagogies of the oppressed: E.D. Hirsch as progressive whistle-blower


This is an interesting take on E.D. Hirsch’s new “Wealth of Words” essay in City Journal.  Adam Laats, director of the Center for the Teaching of American History at Binghamton University (NY), seizes on a point largely overlooked in the debate about content and curriculum: the author of Cultural Literacy is really a progressive at heart. “No critic of progressivism is more appealing,” writes Laats, “than one who comes from the progressive camp itself.  In education as anywhere, a whistle-blower can claim a certain credibility others cannot.”


“No excuses” kids go to college


Speaking of Mr. Pondiscio, his new story for Education Next hits a sweet spot in the education reform world.  Ever since KIPP, one of the nation’s leading charter school networks, revealed that only 30 percent of its graduates finished college, educators have been plagued with self-doubt about what Paul Tough calls “the cognitive hypothesis.”  Tough turned the worry into a cover story for the New York Times magazine, What if the secret to success is failure?, then into a bestselling book, How Children Succeed (second best book of 2012). As Pondiscio writes, “Low-income black and Hispanic students are by far the least likely U.S. students to graduate from high school and attend a four-year college. Those who are accepted to college are least likely to stick around and earn a degree. For each one who earns a bachelor’s degree, 11 fall short somewhere along the line, giving students like [Rebecca] Mercado a mere 8 percent chance of graduating from college.”  See what these good charter schools will have to do to help their students succeed in college.

Let your kids fail


The Atlantic continues its finger-on-the-pulse coverage of education with this report by Jessica Lahey, an English, Latin, and writing teacher in Lyme, New Hampshire.  She emphasizes the need, per Paul Tough above, to find success through failure; or, there is such a thing as overparenting.


And How about parent training: can it work?


Sy Fliegel, a veteran New York City educator once said, “you don’t get good schools with parent involvement, you get parent involvement with good schools.” There is no better sword of Damocles in public education than parent involvement (which is not to be confused with parent “trigger”).  Is parent involvement in education “necessary” or just “nice”?  See this interesting report on Seattle’s efforts to solve the “intergenerational hardship” problem.


No-can-do: combating the “culture of can’t”


“When it comes to reforming American education, today’s would-be-reformers get it half right,” write Rick Hess and Whitney Downs in a provocative essay, also in Education Next. “They correctly argue that statutes, rules, regulations, and contracts make it hard for school and school-system leaders to drive improvement and, well, lead. They are wrong, however, to ignore a second truth: school officials have far more freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed.”


Is it time to do away with school districts?


Andy Smarick gets right to the point in this tautly reasoned argument for remaking American education:  “The problem with urban public education is that we have been led to believe that there is but one real way to deliver public schooling: the district. In fact, many people believe that `the district’ and `public education’ are synonymous. But they are not. The district is just one way to deliver public education. We can do something different.”  This essay is a good introduction to Smarick’s important new book, The Urban School System of the Future: Applying the Principles and Lessons of Chartering.


Taking the message to Busboys and Poets


When he’s not writing, Smarick is talking. A good story here about taking his brief for turning urban education into an earthly Elysian fields for charters to, according to the Washington Post, “a crowd of edu-minded folks gathered at Busboys and Poets” in Washington and “debat[ing] his conclusions with a panel including D.C. Chancellor Kaya Henderson. It turns out Henderson likes charters.


School choice regulation: red tape or red herring?


That’s the title of a new Fordham Institute study which looks at the question of why private schools don’t participate in school choice programs.


The Times cautions against opening charters “too quickly”


Commenting on the latest report from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford (CREDO), the Times concludes that, despite the success of charter management organizations like KIPP and Uncommon Schools, many charters are beginning to act like the schools they were meant to replace: they are failing and chartering agencies “have been increasingly hesitant” to shut them down, “even those that continue to perform abysmally for years on end.”


The ABCs of school choice


The Friedman Foundation has released its annual report about school choice, but you can find here comments by Milton Friedman, the godfather of the voucher movement, written in 2004.


The PTSD of poverty


This is a news story about a meeting of school district officials in upstate New York to discuss the coming fiscal cliff.  It is a sobering account and, money aside, contains a good description of the impact of poverty on a school.  It is from the superintendent of schools in Schenectady, a once prosperous industrial city near Albany that at one time boasted being The City that Lights and Hauls the World (think Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, G.E.), but now ranks as having the 13th poorest school district in the country.  Its superintendent, Larry Spring, told reporter John Mason that “What living in poverty does is that, when [the kids] are not sure they’ll have food for the weekend, they’re not sure if their home will be a violent place that weekend, it puts them in a mental state similar to soldiers. They come to school with post-traumatic stress disorder…  Their trauma affects their behavior. When it’s 50 to 60 percent of the school, it overwhelms the system….”  (See the school’s video here.)


Is there hope for ESEA reauthorization?


Two Republicans will step into key K-12 education roles in the next Congress: Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Representative Todd Rokita of Indiana. Alexander is not just a veteran legislator, he has been an education reform leader for years. As Alyson Klein writes here, “Mr. Alexander brings distinct experience to his role [as ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee], having served as U.S. secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush,” during which “he helped press for national standards in core academic subjects and a $500 million federal voucher plan…. . And as governor of Tennessee from 1979 to 1987, he made education policy a cornerstone of his time in office, championing such measures as merit pay and career ladders for teachers in the early 1980s.” Rokita, who will take over the House education subcommittee on K-12 policy, is less experienced in education, but, according Klein, more conservative than most of his colleagues. But he will have, says Klein, “prime opportunity to influence the direction of the long-delayed ESEA reauthorization.”


Arne hit by school boarders


After four years in office, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan still hasn’t won over local school board members.


The school to prison pipeline


A new report by a group of civil rights organizations details a shockingly high rate of juvenile arrests and detentions in Mississippi.  According to this Times story, the group  found that “in one Mississippi school district, 33 of every 1,000 children were arrested or referred to juvenile detention centers; that in another, such referrals included second and third graders; and that in yet another, only 4 percent of the law enforcement referrals were for felony-level behavior, the most often cited offense being “disorderly conduct.”

Are school closings racist?


The U.S. Department of Education is, says this Times story, “investigating complaints that plans to close or reorganize public schools in Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark discriminate against


The gifted-student race card


Another thoughtful essay by Checker Finn, offering some perspective on another hot-button issue: racial disparities in gifted-and-talented school programs. Finn says that a recent page-one New York Times  story “made a huge fuss about this as it plays out in our largest city—specifically, in a K–5 school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that is 63 percent black and Hispanic but in which such kids comprise only 32 percent of the enrollment in the gifted classes.”  He ascribes the Times’ perspective on the issue — that “New York’s education department discriminates against `children of color’ via selection mechanisms that result in white (and Asian) youngsters receiving the best odds of accessing such programs and schools” – as both predictable and wrong.  “We might first acknowledge that many urban school systems would be thrilled—and praised—if a third of the kids in their gifted classrooms were black and Hispanic,” he writes. “But the more important point is that the supply of such classrooms is skimpy almost everywhere and America’s entire K–12 education enterprise does a lousy job of identifying and cultivating high-ability kids whose parents (for whatever reason) are not prepping and steering them into the available seats in such classrooms. We’d be outraged—as would be the Times —if we learned that there weren’t enough special-ed classrooms, teachers, or programs to accommodate the population of children with disabilities. (Indeed, a big problem in the special-ed realm is over-identification of such kids.) But when it comes to high-ability students, instead of lamenting the under-identification challenge and the dearth of suitable classrooms, teachers, programs, and outreach efforts, the Times—and a lot of others—settle for playing the race card.”


We know the answer: what’s the question?


Eric Hanushek takes to task a recent report for the Economic Policy Institute, by Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein, that suggests that performance by American students on internationally normed exams is not as bad as people think if you adjust for factors like poverty and family background. Hanushek says that such calculations “simply do not deal with the relevant differences in skills across countries.  We have the population that we have – not the population of Finland.  So their adjustments cannot address the question of how well prepared our future labor force might be.”  Hanushek argues that out that a “prior analysis by Paul Peterson, Ludger Woessmann, and me shows, looking at just our most advantaged socio-economic subgroup (children of college educated parents) does little to erase the deficits with other countries in advanced math and science performance, which is the preparation for science and engineering careers.”


A school where it’s cool to be smart


Hint: it’s a charter school in Dayton, Ohio.


Sotomayor’s elementary school closes


“I am heartbroken,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Times’ David Gonzalez  about the closing of her Catholic elementary school. She was on tour for “My Beloved World,” her new memoir. “You know how important those eight years were?” she told Gonzalez. “It’s symbolic of what it means for all our families, like my mother, who were dirt-poor. She watched what happened to my cousins in public school and worried if we went there, we might not get out. So she scrimped and saved. It was a road of opportunity for kids with no other alternative.”  Gonzalez notes that “a glance at some of New York City’s most successful and influential Latino and black professionals and politicians is like a Catholic School All-Star alumni roster. It would include Fernando Ferrer, a former Bronx borough president and acting chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Nelson Roman, recently nominated to be a federal judge; Julissa Reynoso, United States ambassador to Uruguay; Jennifer Lopez; and her former beau, Sean Combs.”


The education of Michael Bloomberg


In a front-page interview Mayor Michael  Bloomberg goes public about why he has donated so much money to Johns Hopkins and why he urges other wealthy people to donate to education.  He laments, “In our society, we are defunding education.”


Job shadowing that pays


The Washington Post’s Jay Matthews profiles Cristo Rey, a network of Catholic private schools run by the Jesuits serving primarily low-income families. One of the secrets to its success, says Matthews, is that its students work one day a week in wage-earning jobs and give their earnings back to the school.


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