March 2011 Archives

Questions of Possible Cheating in DCPS

DC Schools chief Kaya Henderson has asked DC's inspector general to investigate in response to Monday's USA Today front-page story suggesting that some big DCPS test score gains may have been the product of cheating. Henderson's move was the right one, because the questions raised by the USA Today analysis are real, legitimate, and serious ones. RHSU readers know that I'm unapologetic about defending Henderson's efforts in DCPS (and those of her predecessor, Michelle Rhee) against cheap shots, but the questions raised here are more substantial--and absolutely deserve the kind of careful evaluation that Henderson has endorsed. As the Washington ...


Déjà Vu on the Whole "Turnaround" Thing?

For all the enthusiasm that school turnarounds are generating in some quarters, I've been consistently underwhelmed by the coherence or historical literacy of the would-be turnarounders. While a new bit of jargon--the term "turnaround" (can't you just feel the power?)--and $3.5 billion in designated federal funding for School Improvement Grants is enough to push many an edu-reformer to the brink of hubris, it's fairly clear that no one actually knows what to do. More to the point, it's clear they've mostly ignored what we've learned from previous go-rounds. This all came to mind yesterday while I was over ...


The Future of Pell

Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education offered up a forum on what the future holds for Pell Grants. CHE explained, "When Congress proposed last month to cut spending for the Pell Grant program, which was created more than 30 years ago and remains the foundation of federal higher-education support for needy students, the move intensified a national debate over what role, if any, the grants should continue to play in helping low-income students attend college during these tough economic times." It will come as no surprise to RHSU readers that this invitation to rethinking is my favorite way to ...


Getting Geared Up for AERA

We're a couple weeks out from the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New Orleans. AERA's annual meeting is a huge affair that typically draws close to 20,000 participants and features thousands of papers. The work too often involves hiding pedantic argument behind walls of incomprehensible jargon, as well as a dogmatism and quasi-partisan groupthink that I find troubling in a scholarly environment. That said, I believe in keeping one's oar in the water. So I attend every year, and participate in sessions when asked. On a personal level, I like damn near everyone I know ...


How Moral Crusading Makes Us Stupid

One of my least favorite things about education is how eagerly we turn sensible discussions into bizarrely polarizing moral crusades. Aided by competing, mindless invocations of "it's for the kids," we manage to turn otherwise sensible discussions about school accountability, teacher evaluation and pay, school choice, or tracking into incoherent, hysterical morality plays. So, today, I'm just going to vent for a bit. I hope you don't mind. For instance, it strikes me that it's obviously smart, in a 21st century labor market, to pay good educators more than bad ones--and to steer dollars in ways that recognize and reward ...


How's This for a New ED Motto? "Qualified Subs Are Good Enough"

The Washington Post's Jerry Markon reports today on the Obama administration's decision to file a civil rights lawsuit against a small Chicago-area district for refusing to grant a three-week leave of absence to its only math lab instructor during its end-of-semester marking period. The teacher, 29-year-old Safoorah Khan, a Muslim, had been working at the Berkeley district's MacArthur Middle School for nine months when she requested three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca. Berkeley's administration declined her request, determining it was unrelated to her job, not authorized by the union contract, and represented an "undue hardship" for the district ...


School of One Leaving the Nest

Today, School of One honcho Joel Rose announced that he's departing the New York City Department of Education to launch an independent effort to take the School of One to scale. It's not yet clear what the new organization will be named, but Rose will be founder and CEO. Rose drafted the original proposal for School of One back in summer 2008, while serving as NYCDOE's chief executive for human capital. Running the School of One became Rose's full-time job in February 2009. For those unfamiliar with the School of One, it allows teachers to customize what a student learns ...


We're Craven...and Our Prez Is Just Like Us

You ever see the Us Magazine feature "Just Like Us?" It features pictures of stars taking out their garbage, walking their dogs, and generally looking like the rest of us. I've been thinking how aptly that captures our relationship with our not-so-bold President. As a nation, we're staring at trillion dollar deficits. Unless we address them, we're headed for some ugly times--with the bulk of the lifting to be borne by those kids we're always so eager to claim our fealty to. States are in the same boat, looking at cumulative deficits in the hundreds of billions over the next ...


Customized Schooling

So, if you're ready to get your geek on, have I got a treat for you. Harvard Education Press has just published Customized Schooling: Beyond Whole-School Reform. The book, edited by Bruno Manno and yours truly, is an attempt to pull together a bunch of sharp thinking on how we get past just trying to "fix" schools--or to merely give families a choice between school A and school B--and how we start to think about using new tools, technologies, and talent to transform the quality of teaching and learning. School turnarounds are a swell idea, and will occasionally work. And ...


Kline to Obama: Chill Out

Gosh, so House Education chair John Kline has responded to the Obama-Duncan insistence that we are going to reauthorize NCLB this summer by telling them to back off. Geez, who could have seen this coming? (Oh, yeah, it was me... here, and here, and here, and here, and here.) As I've said before, there's been a bizarre Obama-centrism when describing "bipartisan" support for reauthorization. Somehow, supposedly neutral, incisive reporters have taken to reporting Duncan's assertions that there's bipartisan backing for the administration's "blueprint" as evidence that such backing indeed exists. They've taken his claims that the bill represents a common ...


From AERA's Too-Good-to-be-True File

Imagine my glee upon learning about the American Education Research Association's Critical Educators for Social Justice (CESJ) graduate student forum on "Responding to the Moment." Scheduled for April 8, just before the annual AERA conference, the forum is for educators eager to "advocate for and benefit those hurt by devastating policies and natural disasters as well as to interrupt the 'common sense' narratives around these issues found in the mainstream media." What is CESJ, you ask? Well, its members are "committed to teach, promote, and implement the principles of critical pedagogy in order to establish an educational movement grounded in ...


Tightening Up Title I

On Friday, along with my friends at the Center for American Progress, I co-hosted a pretty neat conference on "Tightening Up Title I." Held over at CAP, the papers waded into the regulatory and operational questions of NCLB (aka ESEA) that too often get overlooked in the rush to overhaul accountability or dream up new teacher quality or school improvement schemes. A few of the papers broached topics that never get seriously addressed. In perhaps my favorite piece, attorney/consultants Melissa Junge and Sheara Krvaric penned an eye-opening account of how federal language around "supplement not supplant" frequently stifles smart ...


Studying TFA as a Spawning Ground

Question: What do KIPP Academy cofounders Mike Feinberg and David Levin, Tennessee state chief Kevin Huffman, StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee, D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, and hard-charging Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston have in common? Answer: They're all alumni of Teach For America (TFA). Like these folks or hate 'em, it's clear that TFA has had a profound impact on the face of American education. In the recent Ed Next feature "Creating a Corps of Change Agents," Harvard's Monica Higgins, Wendy Robinson, and Jennie Weiner, and yours truly explored the degree to which TFA has played an outsized role ...


Loving Those Pranksters at TCR

After writing more about Wisconsin the past week or two than is probably healthy, I thought it'd be nice to address something a little lighter. Fortunately, the pranksters at the Teachers College Record offer sweet, sweet succor in the form of what seems to be an early April Fool's joke--something akin to their own version of the Fordham Institute's annual "Gladfly." You see, the new TCR online features a "special section" on, yep, you guessed it, "Social Aspects of Self-Regulated Learning: Where Social and Self Meet in the Strategic Regulation of Learning." I can picture the TCR editors giggling into ...


From the Department of Feigned Indignation

It's being played as big news that one consequence of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's efforts to dial back public employee collective bargaining is that it would, gasp, weaken his political opponents. For reasons that continue to elude, Walker and his defenders won't admit this--so there's an awkward kabuki dance unfolding in which critics ignore his plan's substantive merits while feigning shock that he'd try to weaken his political opposition, and Walker and his defenders profess naïveté about the practical impact of his proposal. As the New York Times editorial page opined the other day, Walker has used Wisconsin's fiscal ...


Seriously, People?

In a free nation, people are going to disagree about ideas, values, policies, and the rest. We honor the legacy of freedom by embracing that diversity of views. For what it's worth, when engaging in public debate, I do my best to steer clear of ad hominem invective, guilt by association, or the assignation of villainous motives. Why? Because it's more often a way to dodge the important questions than to either persuade or inform. Such tactics are nothing more than lazy efforts to delegitimize one's opponents and avoid having to weigh their views. In short, they're just more cheap ...


The NYT's Fierce Defense of Wishful Thinking

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that most political disputes come down to a clash between the party of hope and the party of memory. Yesterday's New York Times brought that to mind, as I read their take on New York's fiscal crisis. The NYT editorial page bellowed, "At a time when public school students are being forced into ever more crowded classrooms, and poor families will lose state medical benefits, New York State is paying 10 times more for state employees' pensions than it did just a decade ago." The NYT explained, "The huge increase is largely because of Albany's outsized ...


Breakfast at Arne's

As Michele McNeil reported, a few of us wandered over to 400 Maryland yesterday morning for croissants and chit-chat with the Secretary of Education. Michele, being the stellar reporter she is, gives a fair rundown of the news of the day. If you're interested in a full account, go read her post. Below, I thought I'd just briefly offer a few Duncan comments that might be of particular interest to RHSU readers. (And, I've said it before but I'll say it again. While I have real disagreements with some of the Department's efforts and concerns about some of what Duncan ...


Newsflash: Moderate Dems Who Liked ESEA Blueprint...Still Like It

That would've been a perfectly adequate headline for yesterday's no-news announcement that the moderate Democrats who backed the administration's "ESEA blueprint" last year... still like it. Our earnest Secretary of Education showed up to celebrate the staunch backing of the same Senators who have been enthusiastic all along. Whoo-hee, can't you feel the momentum building? What's funny is that the administration and its Senate allies are having any success ginning up news in this fashion. The eleven signatories are pretty much the same centrist Senate Dems who backed the administration's 'blueprint' last year--leading many edu-observers to excitedly suggest last spring ...


Wisconsin, DFER, and the Return of Combative Conservatism

Much of the turmoil roiling the national edu-debate in the wake of Wisconsin can be understood as the shocked, disheartened realization by "ed-reform" Democrats that principled, small-government conservatism has regained its footing in the Republican Party. For the past decade, Republican edu-thought was dominated by the Bush administration's "big government" conservatism, with its affinity for federally-mandated testing, new spending, and intrusive interventions in "failing" schools. This made it remarkably easy for the Bush administration to make common cause with school reform Democrats and progressive groups like The Education Trust, even as conservatives had little of substance to say when it ...


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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