July 2010 Archives

The Importance of Affect in the Classroom

The New York Times published a front-page story about the delayed impact the best kindergarten teachers have on their students ("The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers") on the same day I wrote about the benefit in delaying evaluation of teachers until years after their students graduate ("Who's a Good Teacher"). Raj Chetty, who conducted the Project Star study reported in the Times, is an economist. As a result, he understandably placed heavy emphasis on the pecuniary benefits to students who were taught in kindergarten by an inspired teacher. He says that all else being equal, these students were making ...


Who's a Good Teacher?

When Chancellor Michelle Rhee fired 241 teachers in Washington D.C. on July 23, the news was heralded as evidence that true accountability was finally a reality because the evaluation system used is considered one of the most rigorous in the nation. But like most controversial issues in education, there's more to the story than initially meets the eye. The firings included 165 teachers for poor performance and the rest for lack of proper teaching credentials. These constituted 6 percent of the district's 4,300 teachers. Rhee put an additional 737 on notice that if they don't improve next year, ...


Creativity in the Classroom

The Newsweek cover story proclaimed a creativity crisis exists in schools that threatens America's future ("The Creativity Crisis'). The report bases its conclusion on a steady decline since 1990 in scores on a creativity test first designed by E. Paul Torrance in 1958. The test, which involved a series of tasks, was given to a group of some 400 third graders. These tasks are considered the gold standard in the field because of their high predictive value. According to Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University, the correlation between scores on the test and lifetime creative accomplishments is more than three times ...


Hard Data Won't Change Educational Beliefs

The debate over how to improve educational quality for all students in this country is predicated on the assumption that empiricism rather than ideology will eventually prevail. But a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe by Joe Keohane calls that belief into question ("How facts backfire," July 11). "Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our mind," he wrote. "In fact, quite the opposite." Keohane goes on to cite a series of studies in 2005 and 2006 by researchers at the University of Michigan showing that facts can actually make misinformation stronger. The reasons for this counterintuitive finding range ...


Helping Parents Help Their Children Learn

A little more than a decade ago, James Traub wrote a cover story for the New York Times Magazine with a provocative title that I still remember ("What No School Can Do," Jan. 16, 2000). He argued that even the best schools are limited in what they can accomplish with students. Although Traub was primarily referring to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, his comments apply to other students as well. I was reminded of this piece the other day when I was at the dog park. Parents often bring their children there while they allow their pets to blow off steam. ...


Corporate Criticism of Teacher Pay Is Sheer Hypocrisy

Corporate leaders have repeatedly demanded that teachers be paid strictly on the basis of the performance of their students because that's how the "real world" works. Yet even when they miss their goals, top executives continue to receive fat paychecks, including generous bonuses. Curiously, this double standard is given short shrift in the debate over school reform. In the summer and fall of 2007, the Securities and Exchange Commission sent letters to 350 corporations to gather information about how executive pay is determined. The SEC expected full cooperation in light of of public anger over the issue. But instead, it ...


Economic Inequality = Educational Inequity

The role that poverty plays in learning is so well documented by now that it seems superfluous to raise the issue once again. But the cover story in the latest edition of The Nation serves as a powerful reminder that the worst is yet to come ("Inequality In America And What To Do About It"). Six essayists lay out the dire consequences for the country of the Great Recession and of the failure to take steps to address its fundamental causes. The implications for schools stand out because narrowing the academic achievement gap between racial groups has become a top ...


Evaluating Teach for America

Dueling views about innovative programs aimed at improving educational quality are nothing new. What is different today is taxpayer demand for evidence to support these proposals. Two recent essays about Teach for America, which was started by Wendy Kopp in 1989, serve as cases in point. On July 10, the Wall Street Journal published "What They're Doing After Harvard" by Naomi Schaefer Riley, and in Spring 2010, Rethinking Schools published "Looking Past the Spin: Teach for America" by Barbara Miner. (Full disclosure: I weighed in on TFA in the September 2008 issue of The School Administrator with "Top Collegians Won't ...


The Case for Foreign Language Classes

The demands of the new global economy have led school reformers to place overwhelming emphasis on math and science, and to a lesser degree on reading. There is no doubt that these are vital subjects to be mastered. Strangely, however, little attention has been paid to the importance of learning a foreign language, probably because English is considered the lingua franca. This strategy is a big mistake. While fluency is the primary goal of foreign language instruction, it should not be the sole objective by any means. There is also the matter of learning about the cultural values of the ...


Does Student Free Speech Apply to Online Comments?

Two recent court rulings about the right of students to exercise free speech have left me baffled. I'm referring to the decisions initially handed down in February in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia but now up for reconsideration. One case involved a middle school student and the other a high school student. Both dealt with vulgar remarks they posted online from their homes about their respective principals. Yet despite the similarities—at least to my thinking—one panel of the federal court decided in favor of the high school student, and the other panel ruled in favor...


Will D.C.-Union Contract Benefit Students?

The agreement reached last month between the District of Columbia and the union representing its 4,000 teachers was hailed by the Wall Street Journal in an editorial on July 1 as a model for school districts across the country ("Teacher Tenure Breakout"). The Journal's jubilation was understandable because the contract established the rules for tenure, seniority and pay that the newspaper and others had long fought for. Equally important - or arguably more important - in their eyes, it demonstrated that determined education reformers can stand up to hidebound teachers unions and triumph. But the question no one is ...


The Home Schooling Option

Lost in the debate over school choice is the rapidly growing home school movement. At last count, an estimated 2 million children, or about 4 percent of the total school-age population, were receiving their education in this setting. The number of children learning at home is expanding by 15 to 20 percent a year, according to the Department of Education. Home schooling was in the news most recently in February, when a German family was granted asylum in the U.S. because home schooling is illegal in their native land. The Romeikes wanted to teach their five children in a ...


Are Proprietary Colleges Worthwhile?

Just when the heated debate over the payoff of a four-year college degree seemed to have died down, The Weekly Standard published a piece in the July 5-12 issue that is sure to reignite the flames ("Obama's Crusade Against Profits"). Andrew Ferguson, the magazine's senior editor, argued that the only genuine difference between non-profit (traditional) and for-profit (proprietary) colleges is that the latter earn a profit. He believes "nowadays that's enough to make you suspect." Actually, there's more to the story than what Ferguson maintains. Let's start with the numbers. Despite the cost, enrollment in proprietary colleges has soared. Average ...


The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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