Weekend Reading

It was a wild and wacky week in education (aren’t they all?)… Catch up on the MOOC mania, teacher unions, the New York City bus strike, the big news on the high school graduation front, why Valley of the Dolls may be in a classroom near you…

Taking back teaching


Veteran education journalist Richard Lee Colvin, now a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, has written a masterful story about “a small but rapidly growing national movement to give classroom teachers opportunities to make a mark on their profession and on public education.” Many of these groups have broken from their unions on such hot topics as value-added performance metrics and seniority. They have names such as The Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellows, the New Millennium Initiative, the Viva Project, Teach Plus, Leading Educators, NewTLA, and Educators 4 Excellence.  Colvin suggests that it’s a young persons’ movement and quotes Julia Koppich, a policy analyst who has studied unions and union-district relationships, saying “the new generation of teachers aren’t collectivists, they’re pretty much individualists. They don’t understand unions. And the unions don’t understand them.”

Union membership falls to 97-year low


This is a story about private sector unions, but the numbers are not good for teacher unions either. See here.

Wisconsin teachers diss their union


The Association of American Educators, another non-union teachers group, has posted a video featuring teachers in Wisconsin who have chosen to join the AAE.

The winds of evaluation change in Chicago


After all the sturm and drang during Chicago’s boisterous teachers union strike last fall, it may come as a surprise to some to learn that as much as 30 percent of the teacher evaluation metric in the Windy City will be based on student performance and that 50 percent of the evaluation given to principals — twice the minimum recommended by a 2010 state law – is also based how students do on standardized tests.

New York City’s bus strike brings angry editorial


According to this Times editorial, “New York City mayors have long tolerated one of the most inefficient school transportation systems in the country — made so by a labor agreement that undermines competitive bidding and poorly designed bus routes.”

New reports from the What Works Clearinghouse

Tools for Getting Along,” “SpellRead™,” the “Talent Development Middle Grades Program,” and “enVisionMATH“; and quick reviews on “Information and College Access: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment,” “Charter School Performance in New Jersey,” and “Can Scholarships Alone Help Students Succeed? Lessons from Two New York City Community Colleges.”

These blue ribbon reports are recommended by Mathematica Policy Research.  Make sure to see its “Research in Review” page (here).


High School graduation rates highest in nearly 40 years


From the federal Department of Education:  “A new report from the Department of Education shows that high school graduation rates are at their highest level since 1974. According to the report, during the 2009-10 school year, 78.2 percent of high school students nationwide graduated on time, which is a substantial increase from the 73.4 percent recorded in 2005-6. The report shows that graduation rates were up for all ethnic groups in 2010, and that the rate for Hispanic students has jumped almost 10 points since 2006…. While the nation’s overall dropout rate is declining, Secretary Arne Duncan noted yesterday that the dropout rate is still “unsustainably high for a knowledge-based economy and still unacceptably high in our African-American, Latino, and Native-American communities.”

Teaching grit with creative writing


Teacher Ross Trudeau guest blogs for Mike Goldstein about character education (without once mentioning marshmallows).  “Character education takes many forms,” writes Trudeau.  “There’s Ninja Turtle afterschool public service announcements. Yuck. There are unscripted and ill-advised teacher sermons. Teachers like me sometimes default to that when we notice bad student behaviors, but they can be cringe-worthy. What to do when a wrathful student writes a narrow-minded narrative condemning a former friend turned `backstabber’? Or when a scorned lover pens an invective poem targeting her once-cherished?  Vocabulary, structure, pace: these things I am empowered to teach. Is it my place to concern myself with character education? What about when it impedes good writing?” Read this to find out how it can be done.

A video lecture about true grit


Angela Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, presents her research on how non-cognitive competencies can predict academic and professional success at a TEDx event.  She’s smart, articulate, and persuasive.

More MOOC mania – and some skepticism



More colleges are signing on to the Massive Open Online Courses craze, reports Tamar Levin in the New York Times, offering details on a new consortium of public universities called MOOC2Degree. Meanwhile, the Times’ digital reporter, John Markoff, offers a cautionary view in another story:  One of the “dirty secrets” about MOOCs, he writes, “is that they are not very effective, at least if you measure effectiveness in terms of completion rates.  If as few as 20 percent of students finishing an online course is considered a wild success and 10 percent and lower is standard, then it would appear that MOOCs are still more of a hobby than a viable alternative to traditional classroom education.”

They need a big Hail Mary (and a tax credit?): 24 Catholic schools to close in New York



More than 4,700 Catholic school students across the Hudson Valley and in New York City will be looking for new schools next year if the New York archdiocese makes good on its promise to close 24 of its schools.  By June, according to the New York Times, “the archdiocese will have about 150 elementary schools, down from over 200 before it began working on a plan three years ago to consolidate students in fewer schools and manage those schools through regional boards, rather than parishes.” If these students go to their local public schools instead of another Catholic school, it represents an additional $84,600,000 (at $18,000 per student) burden on New York taxpayers, which is one reason that a group called Invest in Education has formed to lobby the state legislature for an investment tax credit that would spur contributions to non-public schools.

Walking in The Valley of the Dolls and other bad books


Core Knowledge foundation president Linda Bevilacqua takes on the “voice-and-choice” question in teaching literature: do you assign the classics or just let students choose what they want to read?  She quotes J. Martin Rochester from the University of Missouri telling the story of a student, entrusted with selecting a `great book’ to read as the basis for a semester project, opted for Paris Hilton’s autobiography.  She tells the story of her daughter’s fifth-grade teacher, who believed in letting students read whatever they wanted, admitting that she herself never liked to read until she read Valley of the Dolls. As Bevilacqua warns, “When students, especially young students with so little knowledge to draw on, get to choose their own books, their vocabulary and knowledge acquisition will almost certainly slow down, and their future reading ability will be in jeopardy.”

 We need less data not more


A very good read, written by a veteran British teacher unrelated (as far as I know) to Paris Hilton:  “I know, it’s all a bit silly but data-sets are indeed getting larger and ever larger in schools since as a matter of course we now collect and electronically record data on student attendance, performance, personal details (including behavioural and medical data) and much more….  Let’s just stop now, forget evidence-based policy making, it’s already making a mockery of itself; collect less data and talk to teachers more.”


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