Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 25
June 22, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Al Gore, master teacher
Voucher villains - or vitriol?
This week, Mike and Rick examine a brotherly feud in Florida, gamesmanship in Ohio, and Rick?s ability to grow facial hair. We have an interview with 21-year-old education student Jenna Conn (who doesn?t take Mike?s ''crap''), and Education News of the Weird will stick to the roof of your mouth. All in under 20 minutes? GOOOOOOL!?
Michael J. Petrilli / June 22, 2006
As hurricanes spawn tornadoes so has An Inconvenient Truth spawned articles about Al Gore: his political ambitions, his resilience, his newfound charisma, his biomass. But what caught my eye when reading reviews of his new documentary film was the depiction of Al Gore as master teacher.
Variety's Dennis Harvey, for example, calls the movie "an excellent educational tool.... Defining how global warming works on the atmosphere and dramatically illustrating its effects with before-and-after photos of drastically shrunken glaciers, et al., Gore's data is [sic] concise and accessible, greatly aided by a state-of-the-art slide show involving computerized charts, photos, archival footage, even cartoons."
But it's not just gee-whiz technology that makes the former veep pedagogically noteworthy. The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern explains, "This is not Al Gore the policy wonk.... Nor is it the slightly robotized presidential candidate, but a good teacher who makes connections between love of family and concern for the health of the planet-a planet whose atmosphere, he tells us, is as thin as the varnish on a globe" (emphasis added).
To be honest, I haven't actually seen the film yet. (Only rarely are we allowed out of the Fordham offices.) But the trailer provides a glimpse of the powerful classroom combination of an informed, intense instructor and high-tech, interactive media that reviewers have picked up on.
Which begs the question: If "computerized charts, photos, archival footage, even cartoons" are helpful to Al
June 22, 2006
Governor Jeb Bush is breaking out the fricasseed alligator tail to celebrate the recent announcement that a record 75 percent of Florida schools received As or Bs under the state's "A+" accountability system. Hold on, say the feds-NCLB data show that nearly three-quarters of Sunshine State schools didn't make AYP, including 1,233 that earned As or Bs according to the state's rating system. The mixed signals result from varying definitions of school quality. Florida focuses on growth over time while NCLB frets about achievement gaps. Jeb's not worried, though. "With no disrespect to anyone in Washington, D.C.," he said, "I believe our system is the most comprehensive...by far." Not really, says Democratic state representative Dan Gelber, who complains that the A+ system bases school grades on math and reading test scores alone (NCLB, of course, does the same thing). It's a fair point, though one that unfortunately applies to almost every state in the country. Here's a suggestion: combine the growth-model aspect of Jeb's plan, the achievement-gap focus of W's law, and the breadth of testing envisioned by Gelber. Now that would be a tasty dish to set before schoolchildren.
"Progress on FCAT has federal caveat," by Ron Matus, St. Petersburg Times, June 15, 2006
"Just hitting minimums won't cut it," by Dan Gelber, St. Petersburg Times, June 15, 2006
June 22, 2006
Listen to Ohio's media and we'll forgive you for thinking the Buckeye State's new voucher program is going down in flames. After all, newspapers are giving lots of ink to low initial student sign-ups for the program-so far 2,600 of the 14,000 available vouchers have been spoken for (there will be another sign-up period in late July and early August). Worse, news hounds are reading that a few public and private school parents are gaming the system and receiving vouchers for unqualified children. Cue Paul Harvey: "And now, for the rest of the story." Enrollment numbers are low, but two cities where vouchers are extremely popular-Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.-did even worse their first year out the gate. As for system gamers, the Ohio Department of Education and state legislators are working to close the legal loopholes that allowed that foul play. Plus, a little compassion is in order for the perpetrators. After all, these are low-income families just trying to get a decent education for their children. The fact that some of them may already be attending private schools doesn't mean they can afford to keep their kids there unaided. While Ohio goes through voucher growing pains, the media needs to remember there's more, much more, to the story. More important, the media's readers need to keep in mind that they're being fed just a portion of the story.
"2nd School Voucher Sign-up
June 22, 2006
Gadfly's hometown has suddenly turned into education reform nirvana. Last week we reported that competition from charter schools spurred the District of Columbia Public Schools and its teachers union to sign a reform-minded contract. Now comes news that the D.C. Board of Education has approved a plan (first floated in April) whereby the Will Academy (a new KIPP charter school) and Scott Montgomery Elementary (a failing D.C. district school) will share a building, and more. The two schools will work together on curriculum and teacher training, and Montgomery's fourth-grade students (who inhabit the bottom floor) will automatically transfer upstairs to KIPP for fifth through eighth grade. Then, to pile on the good news, the Board of Education took some sensible advice and voted to get out of the business of overseeing charter schools-a role that it had botched for years. With the D.C. Charter School Board-one of the nation's best charter sponsors-ready and willing to ensure charter school quality in the District, this is one case in which a single authorizer is preferable. Washington, D.C.: It's our kind of town.
"Back to Basics," Washington Post, June 21, 2006
"D.C. Charter School Applications Halted," by V. Dion Hayes, Washington Post, June 20, 2006
"Board Approves Alliance Of Public, Charter School," by Sue Anne Pressley Montes, Washington Post, June 15, 2006
June 22, 2006
The U.S. Department of Education recently laid the smack down on Iowa, threatening to severely limit its federal funding if it didn't make new elementary school teachers pass a standardized test, as required by NCLB's "highly qualified teachers" provision. Pinned to the mat, state education officials will require all teacher candidates to take and pass the Praxis II beginning in 2007. This is no ominous threat. Iowa has some terrific colleges, and the Praxis II is hardly a taxing exam. (For a look at how poorly it measures a teacher's ability to teach reading, for example, see here.) Yet some Iowans are fuming over the test's $100 fee. "It doesn't sound like a lot of money," said Jenna Conn, a senior elementary education major at the University of Iowa, "but teachers are paid crap." (N.B.: Jenna assures us that she would never use this word in the classroom.) Other undergrads disagree. Ashley Brink, an Iowa State University senior, supports teacher testing: "I know a lot of kids who went to college to be teachers who drank their way through." Jenna, stay out of Iowa City's bars. You'll have that Benjamin Franklin in no time.
"New teachers will have to pass test," by Lisa Rossi, Des Moines Register, June 16, 2006
June 22, 2006
When third-grader Nathaniel Barrios asked at home for a Fluffernutter sandwich (a sandwich of peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff), his father, Massachusetts State Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, was flabbergasted. The elder Barrios-whom a Boston Globe reporter described as "svelte and fitness-conscious"-was dismayed to learn that his son was learning such non-nutritious eating habits at school, where Fluffernutters are on offer in the cafeteria. The senator quickly vowed to place an amendment in a current anti-junk food bill "that would severely limit the serving of marshmallow spreads in school lunch programs statewide." Here we go again, with administrators pandering to their students' collective sweet tooth and lawmakers trying to over-regulate schools and micromanage their day-to-day operations. And some legislators, such as Senator Richard T. Moore, actually think the anti-Fluff movement doesn't go far enough. He said about the amendment, "we think we can go beyond that for something more comprehensive." Bad idea. Senator Barrios would do well to leave his gastronomical fetishes out of public policy, or quickly get working on another piece of legislation: a state-funded body guard to protect his third-grade son from the nuggies and swirlies that await him.
"Lawmaker wants schools to put a lid on Fluff," by Phillip McKenna, Boston Globe, June 19, 2006
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / June 22, 2006
Rowman & Littlefield Education
Edited by Phyllis Blaunstein and Reid Lyon
"This book is meant to help the millions of parents who find their children struggling to learn to read." So begins this swell collection of twelve essays in which Blaunstein and Lyon walk parents, step-by-step, through the science of reading, how that science has changed real people's lives, and how parents of struggling readers can improve things for their own children as well as others (see here and here). Impressively, there are no weak essays, but first among equals is Sally and Bennett Shaywitz's "Armed with the Facts: The Science of Reading and Its Implications for Teaching." Both physicians, the Shaywitzes navigate the mine-field of reading instruction jargon to explain what science tells us about how children learn to read, and what scientifically based reading instruction is. They use neurological research responsibly to describe dyslexia and to demonstrate that nearly all children can be taught to read at a high level. Their essay closes with a list of signs that a child is having trouble reading. Every parent of a school age child should attach that list to their refrigerator doors, and every K-3 teacher should have it on her desk. Besides the Shaywitzes, the book contains individual stories of personal success, usable education policy advice for grass-roots leaders, and information for new teachers who won't tolerate continued failure in teaching reading. Each essay is smartly developed
June 22, 2006
Paul E. Barton
Educational Testing Service
A few weeks ago, we reviewed an ACT study that purported to find that high school graduates need the same skills for work as they do for college. Paul Barton agrees—if you’re talking about relatively high-level work. But what about entry-level jobs? In this report, Barton combs through reams of data and finds no support for the claim that those headed directly from high school to lowly posts in the workplace need to be qualified for college-level courses. For example, he cites a 2001 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers about why companies reject applicants for hourly production jobs. Sixty-nine percent of employers cited “inadequate basic employability skills (attendance, timeliness, work ethic, etc.),” while just 32 percent noted “inadequate reading/writing skills,” 21 percent pointed to “inadequate math skills,” and 8 percent referred to “lack of degree or vocational training.” But this report is no rebuke to the ideas of the American Diploma Project (ADP) or to the ACT study cited above. While the lowest-paying hourly jobs may not demand stringent academic preparation, higher-paying jobs that may not require a college diploma do call for college-level skills. Since the 1970s, the average educational level in any given occupation has risen, and it continues to rise. Barton acknowledges that more and more, “middle class” wage jobs are the province of those with college degrees or whose academic skills are good enough to allow