August 2010 Archives

Why Not Name and Shame Teachers?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan's speech delivered in Little Rock, Ark. put an end to any doubt about the Obama administration's position on full disclosure of teachers who fail to boost their students' standardized test scores. In unambiguous language, he declared: "The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter." So let's take a closer look at the "truth" as Duncan sees it. What is the ostensible purpose of publishing the names of teachers whose students do not make progress on these closely watched tests, as opposed to publishing the names of teachers ...


The Value- Added Chronicles

Since I wrote about the decision by the Los Angeles Times to publish its ratings of 6,000 elementary school teachers based on the value- added model, the debate has heated up ("How Not to Win Support for Teachers Unions," Aug. 18). In a series of front-page stories under the heading of "Grading the Teachers," followed by op-eds and letters to the editor, the Times has focused national attention on the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest. Although the LAUSD is not the first district to be associated with the controversial metric, it is being closely watched ...


Role of Research in School Reform

Frustration and anger over the plodding pace of school reform in this country have reached a fever pitch. Asking disaffected taxpayers, particularly those with children in failing schools, to be patient will only exacerbate matters. When people are desperate for a solution, they understandably are not receptive to explanations. They demand immediate action. In an op-ed that was published in the New York Times on Aug. 20 ("Don't Drop Out of School Innovation"), Paul Tough, the author of Whatever It Takes (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), makes an enticing argument: The government cannot wait until "airtight proof that a pioneering program ...


Performance Is Not Necessarily Learning

Leave it to the British to teach Americans about their common language. A report by the Institute of Education on more than 100 international studies found that obsessing on performance on standardized tests is counterproductive to learning about the subjects evaluated by these tests ("Pupils do better at school if teachers are not fixated on test results," The Guardian, Aug. 13). Semantics comes into the picture because reformers use the words "performance" and "learning" interchangeably. But as teachers have repeatedly maintained, they are not necessarily the same. Students can score high (perform) but internalize little (learn). In my opinion, the ...


Open Season to Run Schools

It was predictable that demand for an unfettered educational marketplace would bring out opportunists less interested in instruction than in profit. The $3.5 billion earmarked this year for turning around failing schools - about 28 times as much as in 2007 - is proving too alluring for companies with little or no experience in the field to pass up. Only in education is this absurdity allowed. Overhauling the approximately 5,000 schools in the U.S. that have been identified as failing requires a combination of expertise in education and management. But what works in the business world does ...


How Not to Win Support for Teachers Unions

In a blunder that will undermine taxpayer support for teachers unions when they need it the most, A.J. Duffy, president of the 40,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles, urged members to boycott the Los Angeles Times ("Union leaders calls on L.A. teachers to boycott Times," Aug. 16). The newspaper's sin was to publish a front-page story that reported on the use of the value-added model to estimate the effectiveness of teachers in the nation's second largest school district, and include the names of a few teachers as cases in point ("Who's teaching L.A.'s kids?, Aug. ...


Evaluating High Schools Through One Lens Only

As pressure has mounted to hold public schools accountable for their performance, it was inevitable that traditional yardsticks would no longer be adequate to satisfy the demand. That's why it comes as no surprise what New York City is doing to hold its schools' feet to the fire ("Schools Are Given a Grade on How Graduates Do," Aug. 10). Rather than rely almost exclusively on the percentage of students who earn a high school diploma as a sign of success, the New York City Department of Education now demands to know how many of these students are prepared for college. ...


The Latest Indictment of Colleges

If colleges were not already feeling enough heat about the education they provide students, a new book adds fuel to the fire. In The Five-Year Party (BenBella, 2010), Craig Brandon maintains that ten percent of the nation's 4,431 liberal arts colleges are essentially party schools. Although he never provides a list of names, he explains why these schools are education-free zones. Brandon cites diluted curriculum and grade inflation as evidence of the predictable consequences of wooing applicants who are not capable of doing college-level work. He places the blame largely on administrators who are more interested in numbers than ...


Is Teacher Empowerment Finally Here?

For too long, teachers have not been consulted about efforts to turn around failing schools. This exclusionary strategy has understandably created resentment among them. But that approach is finally beginning to change - at least in Boston- where Teach Plus has assembled teams of experienced teachers who will constitute a quarter of the staff devoted to the task ("Lesson Plan in Boston Schools: Don't Go It Alone," On Education, Aug. 9). Under Teach Plus, which is financed by the Gates Foundation, teachers will teach a full load, but will act as leaders for their grade level of experience and areas ...


Foreign Language Instruction and Athletic Training

A news article in the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 6 contains some useful reminders for teachers of foreign language ("English Gets the Last Word in Japan"). The report focused on Rakuten Inc., Japan's largest online retailer by sales. CEO Hiroshi Mikitani has mandated that by 2012 the company's 6,000 employees will all speak and correspond with each other in English. To achieve this ambitious goal, weekly meetings, work documents, menus in the company cafeteria, and signs in elevators are in English. What does Rakuten's strategy have to do with teaching a foreign language in this country? The best ...


Identifying Gifted Students

The latest chapter in the gifted student saga was on display at Hunter College High School in New York City when a graduating senior delivered a commencement address that called into question the basis for admission to the storied school ("Diversity Debate Convulses Elite High School," Aug. 5). The school uses a single, teacher-written test that has not changed for decades. Although the test is defended by Hunter College, which oversees the high school, as "very valuable in terms of preserving the kind of specialness and uniqueness that the school has," it has resulted in a decline in the percentage ...


Do Colleges Deserve Diplomatic Immunity?

With the start of the fall semester just weeks away, high school seniors and their parents will have to decide which of the 1,600 public and nonprofit private colleges and universities offering a bachelor's degree offers the educational quality they are seeking. That's just the problem. The accountability movement to date provides them with little useful information. If education is as vital to the nation's future as reformers maintain, don't colleges and universities warrant the same scrutiny as K-12 schools? The question mark in the title of a new book by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus is an indication ...


Evaluating the Evaluators of Public Schools

Taxpayers today are exposed to a stream of studies about public education that purport to be based on scientific research. Yet too often the reports issued by institutions with impressive sounding names turn out to be little more than junk science. At least that's the conclusion of a new book, Think Tank Research Quality: Lessons for Policymakers, the Media, and the Public (Information Age Publishing, 2010). It argues that a large number of studies are policy briefs, rather than original research. This view has far-reaching implications in the debate over how to improve educational quality for all students. Taxpayers have ...


The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check 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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