Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 16
April 24, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
ANAR and the denial industry
Tendentious on tenure
Battle of Britain
All you need is love
Practices from the Portfolio, Volume I
Thanks for being you
This week, Mike and Rick talk NCLB, NYC, and WASL. Jeff Kuhner is taking some time off to cool down, and Education News of the Weird is about bad lunches and the Good Book.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 24, 2008
Denial of hard facts and unwelcome implications runs the gamut. At its outer edge, we find a few sorely misguided folks denying that the Holocaust occurred, doubting the wickedness of Stalin, contending the greatness of Lincoln. Once upon a time, the Catholic Church denied Galileo's discovery that the planets revolve around the sun. On a modern denial cloud of their own are those who dispute evolution or the transmission of AIDS. In the privacy of our homes, we may deny increasing avoirdupois, receding hairlines, the tattered state of a favorite garment, the whiff of cigarette (or cannabis) smoke around a protesting teenager.
Denial has many origins and explanations, but its primary source is obvious: facing reality would be inconvenient, embarrassing, unpleasant, or costly (whether in money, votes, reputation, book sales, family relationships, or other metrics). So the denier insists that it isn't true or didn't happen. Sometimes that insistence is just for public consumption and personal aggrandizement--there is attention to be had and money to be made from certain kinds of denial. Often, though, the denier really believes it or manages to convince himself, too.
As we mark the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk on Saturday, most people gratefully acknowledge that epochal commission report's sounding of an overdue and much-needed alarum, pointing out to Americans a generation back that the country faced a quality crisis in its schools that would imperil our very future if we failed to take urgent
Michael J. Petrilli / April 24, 2008
You have to hand it to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and her team: they are hardly dawdling during their Administration's closing months. On Tuesday, they announced a massive set of regulatory changes to No Child Left Behind that incorporates many of the "pilot programs" and reauthorization proposals that Team Bush and others have floated over the past year. Mirabile dictu, maybe they don't really need new legislation after all.
While Spellings put forth much that's laudable and sensible, upon close inspection there's a bit less there than meets the eye, particularly when it comes to the law's interventions for schools deemed "in need of improvement." The problems with the law's current "cascade of sanctions" are multiple and legendary, but Spellings's new regulations don't provide the overhauls necessary to right that ship.
Take the lethargic efforts of many school districts to advertise the law's "free tutoring" (also called SES) opportunities. The proposed regulations would make a number of small and useful changes. For example, districts could spend federal money on marketing and outreach activities and charge that spending to the 20 percent of their Title I funds that they are supposed to allocate toward tutoring and school choice. Districts would also have to notify parents of their choice options at least 14 days before the start of the school year, and publish a description of their efforts to inform parents of these opportunities. Plus, before moving the
April 24, 2008
Perched atop a soap box in the New York Daily News, United Federation of Teachers boss (and upcoming AFT chieftain) Randi Weingarten steps up her ongoing assault on logic and reason. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein wants to consider student test scores when awarding tenure to teachers. Almost everybody in the real world (i.e., outside the field of education) concurs. Weingarten, however, thinks this is a terrible plan. Teachers up for tenure are already scrutinized, she writes: "Supervisors are supposed to observe probationary teachers in their classrooms several times a year for three years--and evaluate them in more than 20 categories." The key phrase is "supposed to," which in this case should be replaced with "hardly ever." And while Weingarten doesn't argue with Klein's point that few teachers are ever denied tenure, she does claim that, because "a third of new teachers are either dismissed or leave the classroom before the final tenure decision," it all, you know, balances out. She doesn't bother specifying that this third is likely composed of promising young teachers who leave because they're frustrated with stifling work environments and uncaring or inept colleagues. To round out her sophistry, Weingarten argues that tenured teachers can easily be fired after receiving due process. Unfortunately, in New York City, due process means locking teachers in a room and paying them $60,000 to work on their screenplays. You almost had us fooled, Randi.
April 24, 2008
In the United Kingdom today, over 8,000 schools were shut down by a strike of the National Union of Teachers, angry because its members' pay, which has risen 19 percent in real terms since 1997, is scheduled for only a 2.45 percent bump next year. Thus, no school for little Nigel. Just about everyone, even those in Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labor government, has come out against the union. And George Bridges, former campaign director for Conservative Party leader David Cameron, has had enough of this sort of thing. In a piece titled "Time to crush the National Union of Teachers," he writes, "If we are to raise standards in education, we have to break the NUT's grip on schools." The strike isn't truly about money, Bridges notes, but about scrapping standardized tests and pushing a leftist agenda. To combat it, he recommends that the Tories make the "argument about standards, not structures" (i.e., focus less on the process of forming good schools than on emphasizing its results; tell parents about the fine schools that choice will produce, not the process of school-choice itself), and he pushes a "Big Bang" theory of reform through which many things are done at once (rather than the incremental changes that often occur). His plan is ambitious. To which Bridges would surely respond, "So are our enemies."
"8,000 schools could close in tomorrow's national teachers' strike," by Alexandra Frean, The Times
April 24, 2008
Finally, we know what separates great teachers from their more-middling peers: "unconditional love." So writes educator Mark Ryan in an op-ed for The Arizona Republic, a respected newspaper that doesn't usually print pieces about love, joy, sunshine, and kittens. But this is a time of hope, we're told, and Ryan's article fits the bill. Unconditional love, he notes, means that a teacher "never gives up and gives in, even to students whose academic development is slow and social growth stunted." Such educators are "as demanding of a student's persistence in meeting high standards as the teacher is of himself or herself." These are all certainly good qualities, but indications of "unconditional love" they are not. Holding all students to high standards and never giving up on classroom stragglers are, in fact, part of a teacher's core job description and shouldn't be portrayed as rare actions based on individual, wispy feelings. Ryan is right to believe that an educator's persistence in the classroom leads to student success, but he is wrong to couch such determination in the language of love. Talking about high expectations, standards, and accountability may not be romantic, but it has the virtue of being accessible, precise, true, and replicable.
"Great educators have attitude of unconditional love," by Mark Ryan, The Arizona Republic, April 24, 2008
April 24, 2008
Seems Australia's new government has pulled a bait and switch, promising citizens Down Under significant education reform and then forgetting about most of it. So says Kevin Donnelly, esteemed commenter on all things edustralian, in a recent article wherein he notes that new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has not acted upon campaign commitments to establish a national curriculum, nor is he headed toward the creation of effective standards for measuring student progress and holding schools accountable. "No wonder," Donnelly writes, "more than 30 percent of students go to non-government schools." He recommends freeing state schools from bureaucratic messes, implementing a system of vouchers, and refashioning the nation's teacher-training programs. Good suggestions, all.
"Rudd's cycle of promises is more spin than revolution," by Kevin Donnelly, The Australian, April 19, 2008
Coby Loup / April 24, 2008
NewSchools Venture Fund & FSG Social Impact Advisors
This is the first in what we're told will be a series that highlights the best practices of the promising educational organizations that the NewSchools Venture Fund (NSVF) supports. The inaugural volume is organized around three topics: human capital, organizational growth, and curriculum and quality. The first of those sections, focusing primarily on how NSVF's partners recruit teachers and principals, is the most interesting, especially considering today's emphasis on teacher quality. One chapter, for instance, highlights High Tech High's self-designed and state-approved teacher credentialing program, which made it the first charter school network (or EMO) allowed to certify its own teachers. Although High Tech High's model draws on some typical ed-school practices (through its partnership with the University of San Diego), it benefits greatly from the flexibility to give candidates training in, and exposure to, the classrooms where they'll actually be teaching. There's plenty of other good stuff packed into the 250-plus pages of this report. Download it here.