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Archive for the ‘Guest Bloggers’ Category

Market-Oriented Reforms Really Don’t Work. What Should We Do Instead?

[Editor’s note: Guest blogger Elaine Weiss is the national coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.]

Elaine WeissAs many of us have long suspected, the impacts of popular market-oriented reforms are not as positive as their proponents would have us believe. Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and then-CEO and now-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who ran the school systems in New York, Washington, DC and Chicago, respectively, along with the mayors who controlled the school systems they led, all exaggerated their successes. In fact, the report I recently co-authored as National Coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, “Market-Oriented Reforms’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality,” discovers that using student test scores to make high-stakes decisions did little good and more than a little harm.

We found that across all three cities, student NAEP test scores rose less than they did in comparable high-poverty urban districts. In Chicago, reading scores, already below average, fell further. New York City students achieved the second-lowest average test score growth across fourth and eighth grade reading and math of the ten districts studied, beating only Cleveland. And Washington, DC students, who had been gaining ground in both subjects, saw that growth stop or even begin to fall. Moreover, what small gains did accrue went heavily to white and higher-income students, so many achievement gaps grew rather than narrowed. Closing schools neither helped students nor saved money, and drove teacher turnover, not teacher quality.

These would be terrible findings for any districts. They are particularly troubling, however, given these districts’ power (mayoral control), money (NYCDOE increased spending far more than other large urban districts, and DC Public School spending rose throughout the post-recession years), and the fact that they are held up as models by their own leaders and by philanthropists, policymakers, and organized advocates who advance their agenda.

The question, then, is not just how these three districts should change course, but how we can derive lessons from the findings that other districts, states, and the federal government can use to advance smarter policies.

We would say, first, look to the districts’ own small, less visible successes, which tell the flip side of the quick-fix reform story. New York City’s small schools delivered their best results by focusing on strong, sustained teacher-student relationships and hands-on learning experiences. Chicago’s multifaceted college-and-career readiness strategy contrasts sharply with test preparation that deprives students of real knowledge and skills. DCPS’ high-quality universal pre-kindergarten program nurtures all of children’s developmental domains and increases the diversity of the early childhood education setting.

Second, listen to teachers and principals. Stripping teachers of their morale and professionalism, and the teacher pool of the expertise that principals need to build strong teams, is a recipe for disaster. Montgomery County, Maryland’s Peer Assisted Review system, which leverages excellent teachers to assess and mentor novices, builds trust and promotes continuous improvement, not churn.

Third, pay attention to poverty. In urban, rural and, increasingly, suburban districts, student and community poverty pose impediments that, unaddressed, stymie even the best reform efforts. New York City and Chicago both house large clusters of full-service community schools that acknowledge, tackle and alleviate the effects of poverty. If the next mayor advances this supports-based approach, outcomes could look more like those in Cincinnati — more engaged, higher-achieving students, taught by satisfied and motivated educators.

Achievement gaps are driven by opportunity gaps: in kindergarten readiness, access to health care, qualified teachers, the capacity to navigate the college application process, and others. Only reforms that address those gaps in opportunity can deliver real change.

What Happened to Creativity in the Classroom?

[Editor’s note: The author is a retired New York City public school teacher.]

One of the many luxuries of retirement that I now enjoy is time to spend browsing the newspaper, especially the Sunday Times. Occasionally I find myself glancing through the Business Section thinking there will be nothing there to hold my interest. Invariably, however, I become engaged in a human interest story, biography, or innovation that is detailed in this section.

Several Sundays ago a piece about creativity in the work place captivated my interest. A primary focus of the story was that architects and designers were formulating nooks, hallway spaces, etc. to encourage employees to sit and think quietly, reflect and think creatively. During the same time period I happened to tune into a documentary about the old Ma Bell business model. Since the telephone company was a monopoly for an expanse of time, funding was rarely an issue. Employees at Bell Lab were encouraged to invent and create without necessarily addressing specific needs or problems. A result of this environment was the invention of laser technology and early prototypes for cell phones. Indeed an astounding number of patents came directly from this lab on almost a daily basis.

This type of support for creativity and inventiveness is laughingly and obscenely absent in our current school system. More »

Getting the Story Wrong on Teacher Data Reports:
An Open Letter from a 5th-Grade Teacher

My heart sank when I found out. I was checking the news and a chill went down my back. My morale died. “Why?” you may ask. Well, let me start with a notable quote from a classic movie, “The Paper,” by the character Michael McDougal (played by Randy Quaid):

We run stupid headlines because we think they’re funny. We run maimings on the front page because we got good art. And I spend three weeks bitching about my car because it sells papers. But at least it’s the truth. As far as I can remeber we never ever, ever knowingly got a story wrong, until tonight.

I had since believed this represented an unwritten creed of the news media. Perhaps my view was incorrect, or perhaps the media has changed in its rush to keep up with the Internet. In either case I have been proven wrong.

It was ruled by a judge that the media — as it demanded — can release names of teachers with their grades from the 2008-2009 Teacher Data Reports. As many teachers falling at the low end of the scoring spectrum must also feel, I know my grade will paint an ugly and unfair portrait of my teaching career. More »

The Way It Was: A Reflection on a Public School Education

[Editor’s note: The author is a retired New York City public school teacher. She wrote the following letter on Oct. 10 to the New York Teacher in response to an article on picture books, and a subsequent illustration, published in the New York Times.]

Dear Editor,

I am writing to you as I certainly hope that my fellow colleagues are openly responding to the article on picture books, and the overall condition of early childhood classrooms. I can’t imagine how children will not be affected down the road by the stressful expectations placed upon them in today’s “learning” climate.

I had a wonderful childhood growing up on the Lower East Side, living in a community of caring neighborly people. My mother sent me on errands to the grocery store with a note pinned to my coat. She never worried about me, and I was proud and confident to be given responsibility at age five.

I attended kindergarten when I was four and happily spent countless hours playing games, singing, dancing, creating artistic expression, and listening to stories during story hour. I spent two wondrous years in kindergarten. I clearly remember each and every teacher with great reverence. Well-dressed, perfumed, wearing fascinating broaches and always ready to teach, to share, to listen, and to expect the very best from us. I marveled at the artifacts they brought back from their summer vacations and I know their presentations of travels with maps, photos and objects some to touch, some to observe, greatly inspired by interests in studying anthropology and art history. More »

Why Educators Should Support Barack Obama

[Editor’s note: Linda Darling-Hammond, formerly a public high school teacher, is currently a professor of education at Stanford University and an advisor to the Obama campaign.]

I was shocked recently to read an editorial pronouncing Barack Obama and John McCain nearly alike in their views on education — a statement that could hardly be further from the truth. I realize it might be possible to believe this if your major source of information is television news, which obsesses over personalities and pigs in lipstick rather than covering serious issues. Ever wonder what 24-hour news shows could do with all that time if they actually spent it evaluating what the candidates plan to do about the issues that affect our lives? But that’s a topic for another blog.

Although we hear little about education from the press, Obama announced a detailed plan a year ago and talks about education regularly. He has pledged over $30 billion annually in new investments in education — from early childhood to support for college tuition — because he believes education is the key to our nation’s future and to each child’s success. Not only is this commitment 30 times greater than anything John McCain has discussed, it is focused on supporting public schools and teachers, rather than punishing them. And, it is based on what we know makes a difference for success. More »

The Picador Precedes the Matador: The Toreadors Begin To Encircle Mayoral Control

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple, where this post originally appeared.]

On Tuesday, a combined meeting of the New York State Assembly and Senate selected three members of the Board of Regents, they reappointed Geraldine Chapey and appointed two new members, Betty Rosa and Lester Young.

Rosa was the Community Superintendent in District 8 in the Bronx and highly regarded by the Bronx political and educational pre-Klein establishment. Young was Community Superintendent in District 13 in Brooklyn, served a year under Klein as the first Director of the Office of Student Placement, Youth and Family Support Services (SPYFSS).

Both spent decades working their way up through “the system” and represented all that Klein has been so busy tearing down. More »

The 1.75% Solution

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple, where this post originally appeared.]

The recently announced school budget cut is 1.75% of the total allocated 07-08 tax levy budget. Half of the budget allocation has already been spent … the impact of the cut therefore is closer to 4%.

Principals are rightly screaming foul … school after school reports cuts that will seriously impact core education. From an elementary school in the Bronx:

We have been cut $104,000 for this school year with another $300,000 slated for next school year. Frankly the $104,000 right now will be worse than the $300,000 in the fall. As it should be, we spend the bulk of our money at the beginning of the school year on academic support personnel (part and full time), instructional coaches and new curriculum materials. We have no “extra money” sitting in our budget for superfluous items.

More »

The Soylent Green Approach to School Reform

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple, where this post originally appeared.]

The State Education Department (SED) announced the latest round of Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) schools in a virtually incomprehensible press release. Out of the 700 plus school districts, the many, many thousands of schools, these are the lowest achieving schools in New York State. More »

Everything Old Is New Again: The “New” Principal Selection Process

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple, where this post originally appeared.]

Is it true that a young Tweed MBA was perusing yellowed files in the bowels of Ed Central and came across a folder entitled, “Board of Examiners” … and shouted, “What a great idea … testing for competence before you hire someone!”

The announcement that Tweed would prescreen principal applicants is sad. More »

Tests Should Be a Tool, Not A Hammer

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple, where this post originally appeared.]

Teachers and kids in elementary schools are breathing a sigh of relief … the ELA tests are over. This week Middle Schools undergo the ordeal, and High School Regents Exams begin January 22nd. Andy Wolf in the NY Sun is concerned about the lack of supervision by the Department and the possibility of cheating, while another Sun writer urges parents to take their kids out of school on testing days. More »

The NYC Progress Report Catch-22

[Editor’s note: Eduwonkette blogs at Eduwonkette.]

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

What does it mean for a school to be good? It depends on who you ask. Turn to NCLB, and we learn that a school in good standing is one that increases the percentage of kids passing state tests each year. Ask the New York City Department of Education, and we find out that an “A school” is one that improves the academic growth of its students (55%), yet does well on the overall performance measure (30%) and keeps its parents, students and teachers satisfied (15%). As a result of these conflicting definitions, there are many schools in New York City that received As or Bs but are designated schools in need of improvement under NCLB, as well as schools that received Ds or Fs but are in good standing with the state. More »

How Should We Measure Accountability?

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple.]

Every public and charter school student in grades 3 – 8 will be taking the New York State English Language Arts (ELA) exam in two weeks. The results of the exam are the core of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and a major section of the School Progress Report.

From the NCLB perspective the results of the exam measure “proficiency” and schools can be branded as Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI) or Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) … and this designation is one element in determining school closings. The exam is a major factor, along with “growth,” in deciding what letter grade a school gets on its School Progress Report.

More »

Bundling Accountability

[Editor’s note: Sherman Dorn is the author of Accountability Frankenstein, the editor of Education Policy Analysis Archives, and an associate professor of education at the University of South Florida. He blogs on education policy at shermandorn.com.]

The controversy over giving letter grades to New York City schools last month demonstrates two features of modern accountability: it has bundled different types of accountability together, and the bundling of accountability has gone too far.

On November 5, New York City revealed single letter grades assigned to each public school in the five boroughs. Patterned after Florida’s assignment of letter grades, it boiled down statistical data to a single judgment. Unlike in Florida, the inconsistencies and illogic in the letter grades have become the center of vigorous debate.

But the controversy has obscured an important point: while the assignment of letter grades is politically clever—if students receive letter grades, why can’t schools?—it also bundles several different features of accountability into a single package. The same Joel Klein who fought Microsoft’s bundling of software is now engaged in bundling of accountability for public relations purposes. More »

Leaving “No Child Left Behind” Behind

[Editor’s note: teacherken is a high school social studies teacher in the MD suburbs of DC and an active blogger on education and other subjects. This post was originally posted at Daily Kos.]

Our No. 1 education program is incoherent, unworkable, and doomed. But the next president still can have a huge impact on improving American schooling.

So says perhaps the most cogent writer on educational matters, Richard Rothstein, in a piece in The American Prospect whose title, like that of this diary, is Leaving “No Child Left Behind” Behind. Before The New York Times lost its senses, Rothstein wrote columns regularly on educational matters. Those of us who try to help the general public and policy matters understand the reality of educational policy have often drawn some of our best arguments from his work.

The article, which just became available online, presents the key issues as well as they can be presented, and there is little I can add, although I will offer a few comments of my own. The notable educational figure Deborah Meier has said that we should blog about this and distribute the article as widely as possible. I urge you to consider doing what you can, including if warranted recommending this diary, to make the article as visible as possible. More »

The Importance of the School Progress Debate

[Editor’s note: Seth Pearce is from the NYC Student Union.]

A few days ago, walking to the train after an NYC Student Union meeting with some of my fellow students, it struck me to ask, Why has the debate on the NYC DOE’s Progress Report program garnered so much attention? Why have so many newspaper articles been written on it, so many people been riled up about it? It’s just a silly report card program right? Aren’t there so many important issues out there?

Well, yes and no.

While there are more urgent issues facing our schools, especially class size, this issue gains its importance because it very thoroughly defines the main theme of Klein/Bloomberg’s tenure running our schools: The Search for Results. Under this administration, and probably in many other school systems around the country, the focus of broad educational policy will be measurable results. These results will set the agenda for individual schools and school systems as a whole. More »