Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 8
February 22, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
A world-class vision of a world-class education
Pound the table
The smart way to praise
An Apple for your thoughts
Holy devilish deception!
?A' for effort?
This week, Mike and Rick talk about Steve Jobs, smart kids, and the Japanese. We've got an interview with the AFT's Michele McLaughlin, and Education News of the Weird is either disgusting or delicious--we're not sure
For as long as we can remember, certainly for the past decade, K-12 education in Ohio, as in many other states (see here), has been defined by intermittent, piecemeal reforms and initiatives. Much of it has been partisan and self-interested. The result is many layers of accumulated efforts, like an archeological site at Jericho or Olduvai Gorge. The result is not world-class performance, the narrowing of achievement gaps nor the development of a high-skills, 21st Century workforce. Such woes may be especially acute in regions such as the Midwest that urgently need an education makeover in order to have a fighting chance of an economic makeover, but in fact they're true across the land.
Sometimes good makeover advice arrives at the national level, as in the fine recent report from the National Center on Education and the Economy (see here). That kind of advice is hard to follow, however, because we lack good national mechanisms for doing so and because the main responsibility for K-12 education in America remains state-specific.
Once in a blue moon, a state gets the advice it needs for a full makeover (see here and here). This month, Ohio received a smart, ambitious, comprehensive plan that deserves attention well beyond Buckeye State borders, even though its implementation is the responsibility of Ohio leaders. Ten days ago, the Ohio State Board of Education received a remarkable 137-page report (available here) that it had
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / February 22, 2007
There is an old adage among lawyers that says, "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts; if you have the law on your side, pound the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, pound the table."
Advocates of whole-language reading instruction have been doing a lot of table-pounding since 2000. That's when the National Reading Panel declared unequivocally that "scientifically-based reading research" (SBRR) shows that children learn to read better when they are taught using phonics at the feet of capable instructors, not whole language. In 2002, federal law accepted these findings and (in NCLB's "Reading First" program) decreed that any district accepting federal dollars to purchase reading programs can use only those based on SBRR.
So with neither the facts nor the law on their side, whole-language advocates are battling SBRR with the only stick they have left--ad hominem (and ad feminem) attacks.
The most recent target is Louisa Moats, an esteemed researcher and reading expert, and author of the recent Fordham report, Whole Language High Jinks: How to Tell When "Scientifically-based" Reading Instruction Isn't. In the report, Moats boldly called out reading programs that claim to be based on SBRR, but in fact are little more than whole-language programs with SBRR window dressing.
In an extended response, Richard Allington of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, charges, inter alia, that Moats
February 22, 2007
The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. The self-destructing St. Louis Public School District seems unable to take this step, so the Missouri State Board of Education is staging an intervention. In a 5-2 vote, the board created a three-member committee to oversee the chronically troubled district. Whether its role will be to govern or advise the district will be decided later this month (so they say), based in part on how district leaders react. Early signs aren't promising, however. At the state board meeting, St. Louis Superintendent Diana Bourisaw (the sixth superintendent in four years) protested that the district is now "being asked to provide data that is far beyond what other districts are being asked to do," while board member Donna Jones hurled accusations of racism at state school chief Kent King. (Her exact quote was, "Racism! Racism! Racist! Racist!") As with most downward spirals, it's the innocent bystanders that get hurt the most. In this case, that means the children of St. Louis.
"State's clock ticking for St. Louis schools," by Steve Giegerich, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 16, 2007
February 22, 2007
What's the surest path to raising smart children? Tell them how smart they are, all the time, because it raises their self-esteem and motivates them to succeed. So believe many parents and far too many educators. But the truth is just the opposite, according to psychologist Carol Dweck. In her work, Dweck found that students with high-flying IQs who are repeatedly praised for their intelligence wilt when faced with problems they can't immediately solve. However, students who are praised for their effort--including those with fewer God-given intellectual gifts--are are much more likely to rise to new challenges. As Dweck writes, students who are told they're smart would rather "look smart" than "risk making mistakes" with difficult material and look dumb. Some schools are starting to pay attention to the research, and they've enjoyed good results. Even Dr. Roy Baumeister, once a leading proponent of traditional self-esteem building, has seen the light. Looks like the "ninety-nine percent perspiration crowd" has it right. Someone please tell Charles Murray.
February 22, 2007
Apple users are famously loyal, many teachers among them. So Steve Jobs's sudden bout of teacher-union bashing deserves at least brief notice. At a recent conference in Austin, the Apple CEO called teacher unions and the influence they wield "off-the-charts crazy." "What kind of person," he asked rhetorically about school principals, "could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" Apple fans may not forgive him but Jobs is a shrewd observer. There's no way Apple would be so successful as a company if it had to negotiate the same type of contracts that schools do.
"Apple CEO Jobs attacks teachers unions," by April Castro, Associated Press, February 18, 2007
February 22, 2007
Perhaps it makes perfect sense that Batman would turn up in a place called Cave Creek. Still, three schools in this Phoenix suburb were placed on lockdown for 45 minutes last week after a Desert Arroyo Middle School student reported seeing Batman (or a person mimicking the Caped Crusader) run across campus, hop a fence, and vanish into the desert. After police combed the dusty landscape and, unremarkably, found nothing, it was determined that the tipster student--whose identity is still shrouded in mystery, although sources suggest he may be a billionaire industrialist and international playboy--had lied. Cave Creek Unified School District spokeswoman Nedda Shafir was upset by the untruth. "I don't know what to say," she said. "I'm at a loss for words." Explaining the district's reaction, Shafir continued: "We're in an area where we're in a desert, and we have to take these reports seriously."
"Student lied about Batman, school says," Associated Press, February 16, 2007
Eric Osberg / February 22, 2007
University of Sussex
Perhaps sparked by the work of Newcastle University's James Tooley, there is an increasing interest in studying private school systems in the developing world. This paper examines how sixty low-income parents in Lucknow, India chose among a plethora of inexpensive private schools. Readers should be forewarned that it is written for academics and uses needlessly complex language. Still, the author uncovers a few interesting nuggets, including the clear perception among respondents that private schools served brighter kids and offered better education. The author also notes that those interviewed tended to take a "consumerist" and "active engagement" approach to their children's schooling. They negotiated tuition fees, weighed multiple factors before choosing a school, and acted as "quality-conscious ‘alert clients'" (i.e., they care about school quality). Srivastava draws some dubious policy conclusions from her own work, however, including angst that a proliferation of such private schools will hurt their state-run peers and that India's more-engaged parents will opt for private instead of public education. But in a country with hundreds of millions of poor children not becoming literate from the government system, ordinary readers might find such schools a blessing. You can find the paper here.
Coby Loup / February 22, 2007
In this brief paper, Education Week editor Lynn Olson offers some lessons on revitalizing the teaching profession that she gleaned at a 2006 Aspen Institute seminar. The meeting brought together representatives from eight countries who discussed how they've tried to improve the quality and quantity of classroom instructors. Discussion revolved around three classes of teachers--"novice," "experienced," and "expert." Many of the ideas here are old hat to American educators. In Switzerland, for instance, novice teachers are assigned experienced mentors. But there are some interesting suggestions for strengthening the more-experienced teachers. To Japan, where senior teachers "are expected to change schools every 5 to 10 years so that their ideas and practices spread more readily from school to school and the best teachers are spread more evenly among schools." In addition, Japan's government subsidizes 40 days of intensive professional development for teachers in their tenth year. In other countries, reforms have been more radical. Singapore maintains a regimented system of career tracks in which promotions are based strictly on performance assessments. In Sweden, by contrast, principals negotiate raises and bonuses on a teacher-by-teacher basis. The paper is short and anecdotal, and Olson never examines how a nation's teacher policies may affect student achievement. But it offers food for thought and can be found here.