June 2011 Archives

Takeover of Detroit Schools

The news that the 39 lowest-performing schools in the Detroit school system will be placed under the authority of the newly formed Education Achievement System starting in the 2012-13 school year was greeted as a long overdue step ("State Authority to Run Worst Schools in Detroit and Michigan," Education Week, June 20). But before applauding the strategy, we need to examine what has happened in other cities that have attempted to turn around their failing schools through similar means. I wrote about this subject in a Commentary for Education Week ("When States Seize Schools: A Cautionary Tale", June 13, 2007). ...


Joel Klein Is At It Again

Since resigning as chancellor of New York City public schools to become CEO of News Corporation's educational division, Joel Klein has become a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of newspapers across the country. His output no doubt pleases Rupert Murdoch, but his views are proving to be an embarrassment. Let's consider only his most recent writing. As I explained in my column on June 24, Klein commits the base rate fallacy in continuing to claim credit for improvement of test scores when he was chancellor ("Common Errors in Coverage of Education"). He then further calls into question his understanding ...


Common Errors in Coverage of Education

Once upon a time, errors in reportage and commentary about education warranted scant attention because relatively so little was at stake. But today, these errors have widespread implications. I'd like to focus on three common mistakes, in the hope that by doing so readers will become more discerning. The first is cherry picking. As the term suggests, this means carefully choosing self-serving data. Since so much of the accountability movement depends on quantification of outcomes, it's easy to see why those with a particular agenda engage in this practice. They can then claim that they have evidence to support their ...


Ignorance of History Permeates All Levels

The latest test scores in history posted by students in 4th, 8th and 12th grade on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are cited as evidence that public schools are not doing their job. Only 20 percent, 17 percent and 12 percent, respectively, of the students tested demonstrated proficiency ("U.S. Students Remain Poor at History, Tests Show," The New York Times, June 15). This is indeed troubling, but if it's any consolation college students are not doing much better. A brief stroll down memory lane reveals why. In 2006, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute measured the civic literacy of 14,000...


Summertime Learning Loss

The living may be easy in the summertime, but the learning lost over the two-month break is hard to overcome. Research has shown that students on average lose about one month of academic skills. For low-income students, however, the loss can be three times as much. In recognition of this problem, June 21 has been designated as National Summer Learning Day. It's a reminder of the importance of maintaining the knowledge and skills taught during the regular school year. There are several excellent programs dedicated to this proposition. I'd like to focus on Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), which ...


Holding Parents Accountable for School Failure

Education ideally is a partnership between teachers, parents and students, as the best schools readily acknowledge. But reformers give short shrift to the role that parents play, preferring instead to blame teachers when schools underperform. Yet there is a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon. According to The New York Times, legislators in some states have introduced bills holding parents responsible for their children's performance and behavior ("Whose Failing Grade Is It?", May 21). Whether these bills ever become law is another matter, but at least they signal a possible shift in the accountability movement. Let's be frank: No ...


Should Students Evaluate Their Teachers?

It's not often that my column elicits as many interesting comments as "A Fairer Way to Evaluate Teachers." Perhaps this is because final report cards have been handed out, but it also may be because the subject by its very nature is controversial. In either case, I'd like to expand upon an excellent suggestion that one reader made. Why not include ratings made by students? After all, they observe what takes place in the classroom on a daily basis. Unlike the dog-and-pony shows sometimes put on when teachers know they will be observed, this continuity is indispensable to obtaining a ...


Education and Business Share One Particular Need

Although business and education have different missions, there is one exception worth examining. I was reminded of this by a provocative essay written by Kate Canales in The Atlantic with the apt title "Finding Creative People Is Easy (and Here's How)." Canales maintains that the most creative people don't do things "by the book." They engage in behaviors that workplace cultures don't support. Specifically, they occasionally break rules, push things through without first getting permission, and don't make numbers. (The latter means not hitting stipulated targets.) Canales says that "just about everyone is looking to bring creativity into his or ...


A Fairer Way to Evaluate Teachers

Reformers have long maintained that the system of evaluating teachers is a travesty. They cite evidence showing that tenure is virtually automatic after teachers complete a minimal number of years and that subsequent ratings are unreliable. I agree with this overall conclusion. But rather than bemoan the situation, I think it's time to present solutions. In this regard, I urge readers to consider what the Montgomery County Public Schools are doing ("Helping Teachers Help Themselves," column, The New York Times, June 6). Under a program called Peer Assistance and Review, a panel consisting of eight teachers and eight principals are ...


Principals as Management, Teachers as Labor

Lest any doubt remain that public schools are under enormous pressure to operate as businesses, a new report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation presented to the Los Angeles Unified School District should put an end to the question ("Report says L.A. principals should have more authority in hiring teachers," Los Angeles Times, June 7). It backs the right of principals to hire any teacher they wish without regard for existing district rules. If the LAUSD Board of Education approves the recommendations, displaced tenured teachers who aren't hired within the district in one year would be terminated. At present, ...


Not for Academics Alone

When the NAACP joined a lawsuit brought by the United Federation of Teachers to prevent the closure of 22 public schools and stop the growth of 19 charter schools in New York City, the news was greeted with disbelief ("The NAACP's mystifying decision to side with a union over students," editorial, The Washington Post, June 2). That's because the schools affected are overwhelmingly failing black students. For example, at the Academy for Collaborative Education, which is earmarked for closing, only 3 percent of students were performing at grade level in English last year, and only 9 percent in math. Why ...


What Does Accountability Mean in Education?

In an editorial published on May 31, The New York Observer dared the teachers unions in New York State to contest Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to count standardized test scores for as much as 40 percent in the evaluation of teachers ("In Classroom Accountability Battle, Cuomo Will Take the Unions to School"). In high dudgeon and even higher certitude, the editorial blamed teachers unions for what it calls "truly shocking - and infuriating" results posted by the state's public schools. It pointed to the fact that New York spends more money per student than any other state - more than $18,000...


Does More Classroom Time Mean More Learning?

Every year about now, students are focused more on summer vacation than on learning. This places enormous pressure on teachers to command their attention. Yet despite the reality of the situation, reformers insist on expanding the school year and school day, arguing that students in this country aren't in school as long as students in other industrialized countries. (They fail to mention that Finland, which is acknowledged to have the best schools, requires students to spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom in the developed world.) Cynics counter that if public schools here are as bad as reformers ...


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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