Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 34
September 4, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Johnny says: Show me the money!
No vote for you
September 4, 2008
Michelle Rhee, the still-newish, no-nonsense, hard-charging, and usually savvy schools chancellor of Washington, D.C., has succumbed to a dubious idea. Last month, she announced that, beginning in October, middle-school pupils who turn in their homework, make it to class, and maintain good grades will, for their diligence, be able to garner monthly paychecks of up to $100. She believes such promises of cash will motivate 12-year-olds to study.
She's not alone. Harvard professor Roland Fryer, who will manage D.C.'s program, is peddling this pay-kids-to-do-what-they-should approach in several cities, and deep-pocketed private foundations are willing to bankroll it. But is it a good idea?
Yes, in a world in which schools are charged only with increasing their students' test scores and nothing else; in which attaining that end justifies any means; and in which unintended consequences can be blithely ignored. But we do not occupy such a world.
The problems begin with Rhee's reasoning, an example of which is this: "When you have a job, your attendance is tracked, whether or not you're doing what you're supposed to be doing is tracked, and based on that you keep your job and you get a paycheck." Schools, she insinuated, should be much the same.
This view--and Rhee isn't the only one to voice it--is illogical because schools are not analogous to employers and pupils are not analogous to workers. A school, unlike an employer, does not reap the services of its
Michael J. Petrilli / September 4, 2008
Everyone knows that the internet is changing the way the world works, plays, and connects. Yet its most powerful applications only seem obvious after some entrepreneur (Amazon, Netflix) has brought them to life.
So it is with adult learning. Most professionals would rather develop their skills online, on their own schedule, at their own pace, than sit in daylong, mind-numbing "workshops" that bring a lot of boredom and frustration but little intellectual stimulation. So it's not surprising that as long ago as 2006 (eons in Internet time) the American Society for Training and Development reported that across all sectors almost 40 percent of professional development (PD) was delivered via technology. (Surely the numbers are even higher now.)
One would think that our elementary and secondary education system would embrace online learning for teachers and administrators, too. Individual teachers don't want or need homogenized training. They need "differentiated instruction," targeted to where they are in their careers and focused on the subjects they teach, their own strengths, and skills gaps. None of this is easy to deliver in traditional settings.
But as in so many other areas, our education system appears to be lagging behind in exploiting the internet. Last year the National Research Council (NRC) published Enhancing Professional Development for Teachers: Potential Uses of Information Technology. It reported on a recent survey by Leah O'Donnell of consulting firm Eduventures, which found that six in seven teachers had participated in "conventional" professional
September 4, 2008
It is indeed disappointing that Floridians will not have the opportunity to vote this November for educational choice in their state. Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court, a body renowned for its opposition to vouchers and charter schools, removed from ballots Amendments 7 and 9, which would have excised from the Florida Constitution its prohibition on providing state money to religious institutions (a prohibition which is a relic of anti-Catholic Blaine amendments) and would have made public schools the primary way, but not the only way, that Florida's pupils can receive educations (an important distinction). The justices haven't yet released their full opinion, but they basically found that both amendments were outside the purview of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which proposed them. We were guardedly hopeful that Floridians would be able to vote on these proposals, and we're sad to learn that the state's Supreme Court is determined to not let that happen.
"Tax swap, vouchers off Nov. ballot," by Alex Leary and Ron Matus, St. Petersburg Times, September 4, 2008
"Fla. High Court Strikes Levy, Voucher, School Measures from Ballot," by Lloyd Dunkelberger, The Ledger (Lakeland), September 4, 2008
September 4, 2008
As far as Gadfly knows and as of this writing, not one major orator at the Republican convention has uttered the phrase "No Child Left Behind" or any anagram thereof (e.g., flinched in the bold). First lady Laura Bush on Tuesday touted her husband's education-policy achievements, but even she neglected to identify by name what is arguably his biggest domestic accomplishment. This is unsurprising: NCLB is unpopular and elections are not won by candidates associated with unpopular things. But perhaps Republicans are also avoiding the law because they don't want to exacerbate the related rift in their party's ranks. The conservative wing of the GOP remains adamantly hostile to NCLB. But even some who worked closely with the law are attempting to distance themselves from it; Eugene Hickok, who served in the Bush Education Department as deputy secretary, bluntly called NCLB "a damaged brand." So, where does the Republican presidential nominee plant his flag? We found out yesterday, after John McCain's campaign told Education Week that the senator will "champion assessments and accountability, and he will be able to persuade the more conservative wing of his party... to support those policies." This issue isn't going away, and after the election is decided one way or the other, it will be interesting to watch the GOP deal with its internal NCLB-strife.
"Republicans may waver over NCLB," by Alyson Klein, Education Week, September 3, 2008
September 4, 2008
We've learned much, much over the past week about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (is she really the reason compasses point North?). But Gadfly was left wondering: What have been her stands on education? Thanks to the crack reporters at Education Week, he now knows. Just this past April, Palin worked with the state legislature and teachers' union to overhaul Alaska's education funding system to send more dollars to rural districts. The new scheme will also raise from $26,900 this year to $73,840 in 2011 per-pupil spending on the state's studentswith special educational needs. Palin supports performance pay for school staffs; in Alaska, everyone who works at a school--the principal, teachers, custodians, office workers, etc.--can receive bonuses if that school's pupils make academic progress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the leader of the largest state in the union also supports school choice and homeschooling. Gadfly was unimpressed with Palin's once-expressed suggestion that creationism be taught (or at least discussed) in K-12 science classes alongside evolution, but he was mollified by learning she hasn't pushed that idea or moved to include creationism in the state science standards. Lastly but least surprisingly, as governor, Palin wanted more flexibility for her state to meet No Child Left Behind mandates. And she once saved the lives of several 8-year-olds by strangling a charging polar bear with her toes.
"VP Choice Backed School Funding Overhaul," by Sean Cavanagh and Alyson Klein, Education Week, August
September 4, 2008
Students in Philadelphia's public schools need not bother slogging through Kant. School system employees are less lucky. Arlene Ackerman, the city's new superintendent, has already made clear that she intends to break with her predecessor's approach to management. She reinforced the uniqueness of her methods this week when she announced plans, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, "to require all central office staff to take ethics training." Said Ackerman, channeling Joseph Conrad: "I've seen some things in adults that I'm a little nervous with." Therefore, to prevent her senior staff from cracking under pressure and founding jungle-based personality cults, Ackerman will require them to take ethics classes, maybe as soon as next month. In time,, every central office employee will enroll in such training. Members of the city's ethics team will lead the sessions--but what's on the syllabus? If Foucault and Bentham ("Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure") are required reading, Philadelphia's schools are in trouble.
"Phila. schools chief wants ethics training for her staff," by Kristen A. Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 3, 2008