Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 28
July 26, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Spiritual teachers, secular schools
By Bruce S. Cooper , James M. M. Hartwick
NCLB watch: Will the center rise again?
Kauffman Thoughtbook 2007
This week, Mike and NCTQ President Kate Walsh chat about Obama, Edwards, and Bloomberg. Kate tells us all about her organization's recently released Yearbook, and Education News of the Weird is a Turkish delight.
The extremes to which public schools will go to keep faith outside their doors are well known--no nativity scenes or menorahs at Christmas or Hanukkah, no public prayer, and a reluctance to teach the Bible or Quran. But does this mean that schools are free of religion? What about the people who teach in public schools? Do they check their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door?
Until now, no one has bothered to ask public school teachers about their spiritual beliefs and practices. Do they believe in God? Do they pray? How important is their faith to their personal image of themselves as public servants, and to sustaining their work as teachers? Do they feel that teaching is a "calling"--a religious way of contributing to society?
We have some answers. In a confidential, anonymous survey of over 300 randomly selected teachers in Wisconsin, we asked about their religious faith, beliefs, and practices. Wisconsin--a state with rural and urban communities, and a healthy mix of liberal and conservative citizens--is representative of the general American population in many ways. And our results do not support the prominent view that public schools are religion-free environments.
First, most public school teachers in the sample (94%) believe in God or a higher power. Approximately half of the public school teachers surveyed consider religion to be "very important" to them, and an additional third feel that it is somewhat important. Thus public school teachers are only slightly
Michael J. Petrilli / July 26, 2007
Once upon a time, Rick Hess and I argued that a Washington Consensus birthed the No Child Left Behind Act, and that this centrist coalition remained firmly entrenched, at least at the elite level of policymaking. Events of recent months have raised questions about this grand theory of ours, with key conservatives peeling off the NCLB bandwagon on federalist grounds, and Democratic presidential aspirants pummeling the law to appeal to their teacher union base (watch this discouraging clip from Monday night's CNN/YouTube debate, for example).
But for supporters of the law, all hope is not lost. A pair of recent proposals call for mending, not ending, the Act.
The first--which might be considered the center-right proposal--comes from Senators Richard Burr and Judd Gregg and, implicitly, the Bush Administration. (Secretary Spellings praised the package and surely had a role in its development. Burr is staffed by Celia Sims, who served the Bushies in the first term at the U.S. Department of Education; Spellings's counselor is now Townsend McNitt, formerly Gregg's chief aide.)
Hewing closely as it does to the Administration's NCLB proposal (which we earlier called a "pretty decent repair attempt"), the bill includes several worthy reform ideas. It allows "differentiated consequences," which means it reserves the toughest sanctions for the worst schools. It expands eligibility for growth models to all 50 states. It brings some rationality to the law's accountability measures for
July 26, 2007
Was it a furtive trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a secret love affair with the way Cézanne depicts apples and pears, that caused New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to hold principals accountable for the quality of their arts programs? Perhaps not. But whatever their motivation (Fordham's latest report, perhaps?), Bloomberg and Klein have decided to include arts standards in the Big Apple's new school report card program, which begins this fall. The plan received only tepid praise from skeptical arts advocates; just a few months ago, the NYC Department of Education eliminated a multi-million dollar program for arts education. (Principals will now be able to use that money as they see fit.) Mayor Bloomberg supported that decision, and pointed out that "money alone will not improve student outcomes in the arts or any other subject. Money doesn't make the difference, accountability does." He may be right; it certainly seems true that accountability for math and reading alone leads schools to ignore other subjects, including the arts (more evidence on that front came out just this week). Let the renaissance begin!
"Bloomberg Announces Plan to Shore Up Arts in Schools," by Jennifer Medina, New York Times, July 24, 2007
July 26, 2007
Reg Weaver thought he had a cunning strategy for cornering elected officials (read about his cell-phone attack here). But his wiles are no match for his counterpart to the south. Elba Esther Gordillo--who's known as la maestra (the teacher)--is the head of Mexico's teachers' union, is probably the country's most powerful woman, and may be its second most powerful politician. Gordillo controls a significant amount of legislators and usually negotiates directly with Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who tacitly backs her control over the nation's schools. And when she's forced to work with the education department, she has some help on the inside, too: her son-in-law is Mexico's deputy minister in charge of basic education. The government shows its love for Senora Gordillo by deferring money from the education ministry to the union--$70 million in 2006 alone. Meanwhile, Mexico's schools remain lousy. Weaver could learn a lot from Gordillo. Let's hope he doesn't. ¡Ay, caramba!
"'The teacher' holds back the pupils," The Economist, July 19, 2007
July 26, 2007
When engineer Nicholas Aggor's sons Samuel (14) and Joshua (13) brought home bad grades in math, he didn't just help them with their homework or call their teachers for a conference. No, he decided to rewrite their textbooks. Now, the two boys are in advanced math classes and Dad's textbooks--14 of them--have caught the eye of several school districts and publishing companies. At Seitz Middle School in Riverview, Michigan, where Aggor lives, his books are the only texts used in the geometry class. Math teacher Shelley Zulewski loves them. "There's step-by-step instruction," she said. "If the kids don't get the concept from the teacher, they can just about teach themselves." Aggor's wife was a principal in their native Ghana, so he is acutely aware of k-12 education's importance. According to the engineer, his "hope is to have students stay in school, so they don't drop out, and then they'll be able to be somebody some day." Thanks to his innovation, it seems, a sizable number of youngsters may now have a better shot.
"Dad's math book makes the grade," by Karen Bouffard, Detroit News, July 20, 2007
July 26, 2007
Reformers face a Catch-22: they want to try new approaches, which by definition haven't yet been proven. But a skeptical public wants assurances that doing something differently will yield better results. Thus we empathize with Superintendent Larry Lewis of Lancaster, Texas, a suburb south of Dallas, who wants to move his schools from a typical five-day schedule to one with four extra-long days. But whatever the merits of the plan (he says it will save money and improve instruction; detractors worry about additional childcare costs and the risk of teenagers having "unprotected sex" on Fridays), Dr. Lewis certainly could have done a better sales job. Rather than admitting to a skeptical forum of parents that the approach was new and thus unproven, he pointed to a 1992 research article he found on...Google. Then he pulled out this choice bit of tortured logic: "If we shot down every idea in the Lancaster district and the city because we don't believe it will work, what will we have?" Gadfly will go out on a limb and predict that the children of Lancaster will be in school five days a week this fall, as normal.
"Lancaster parents blast 4-day school week plan," by Kathy A. Goolsby and Karen Ayres, Dallas Morning News, July 20, 2007
July 26, 2007
National Institute for Excellence in Teaching
This report from the Working Group on Teacher Quality, whose participants include the National Council on Teacher Quality, the Center for American Progress, and the New Teacher Project, among others, is based on the assumption that it's easier to do merit pay wrong than right. (See Houston, for example.) Hence, it suggests design features and implementation tactics for pay-for-performance plans that will stand the test of time. The survey covers all the key questions, such as how to evaluate teachers (its advice: expand the criteria beyond student test scores) and how to ensure unbiased reporting (train teacher "raters" and sponsor multiple evaluations). The report's most useful portions are the appendices, which draw lessons from successful state and district initiatives such as Minnesota's Q-Comp plan and Denver's Pro-Comp (which effectively garnered teacher buy-in). The paper would benefit from enhanced study of these initiatives, but it's still a useful resource for states and districts now getting into merit pay for the first time. Check it out here.
Coby Loup / July 26, 2007
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
For the past three years, instead of publishing a run-of-the-mill annual report, the Kauffman Foundation has put out a "Thoughtbook," a collection of essays by staff, grantees, and friends on the foundation's adventures in philanthropy. About a third of the report deals with education--specifically, math and science education, urban school reform, and higher ed. In the first section, Kauffman Vice President Dennis Cheek's essay describes the foundation's ten-year plan to turn Kansas City into a "test bed for the thorough evaluation of educational interventions in mathematics, science, and technology." By facilitating and learning from experimentation in a demographically diverse, 32-district metropolitan area, Kauffman hopes to make Kansas City the center of the nation's STEM efforts over the next decade. (We hope, of course, that such advances don't come at the expense of equally important subjects.) Subsequent essays in this section, including one by "Zhia," a teacher from the "Homework Zone" help line, examine the challenges and successes that Kauffman has faced so far in Kansas City. The second section includes a rundown of the Kauffman Scholars program, which prepares inner-city middle-schoolers for college and beyond; an interview with "social entrepreneur" Bill Strickland, who started the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh; and a roundup of innovative school models, including Cristo Rey and KIPP. A final education-related section is dedicated to getting the topic of entrepreneurship into higher-ed curricula. All in all, it's