September 2011 Archives

Are Values A Proper Concern of Schools?

The school reform movement is obsessed with quantifying outcomes. Whether through standardized test scores, dropout rates or college acceptance rates, the coin of the realm is measurement. Yet there is another side of the story that is largely overlooked. It was highlighted in a cover piece in The New York Times Magazine on Sept. 18. In "What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?," Paul Tough focuses on the importance of developing character. He quite correctly recognizes that without it, students are shortchanged. Because the term means different things to different people, Tough explains which traits qualify based on research ...


Why Evaluate Teachers and Doctors Differently?

It's become a mantra of reformers that the quality of teachers is the single most important in-school factor in student performance. If so, is the quality of doctors the single most important in-office factor in patient health? This question passed my mind after I read a letter to the editor written by Richard Amerling, M.D., director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, that was published in The Wall Street Journal ("Better Use of Medical Records Is Good as Far as It Goes," Sept. 26). Although Amerling's remarks were about the practice of medicine in this country, they ...


A Teacher's Worst Nightmare

The abrupt request for a leave of absence by a ten-year veteran high school art teacher only two weeks after the start of the fall semester serves as a reminder that accountability is still a one-way street. According to a column in the Los Angeles Times, Jeremy Davidson was done in by a combination of factors all too familiar in these troubled times to public school teachers ("At Manual Arts High, a caring teacher is at the end of his rope," Sept. 24). What happened was that students in Davidson's ninth-grade drawing class at Manual Arts High School turned the ...


Erect Wall Between Test Companies and School Officials

In the wake of the stock market crash, Congress wisely passed the Glass-Steagall Act in 1933. The landmark legislation successfully separated investment and commercial banking activities until it was repealed in 1999. Many economists today believe the decision to do so played a major role in the country's financial meltdown. I see a dangerous parallel taking place in education. As columnist Michael Winerip explained in "When Free Trips Overlap With Commercial Purposes" (On Education, The New York Times, Sept. 19), test companies are increasingly involved in the decisions made by state education officials. Winerip detailed how the Pearson Foundation through ...


A Closer Look at Skills Mismatch in Workplace

For the past four years, there has been a steady stream of news and commentary about the disconnect between what employers are looking for and what workers have to offer. The latest entry into this debate was "Looking at Education for Clues on Structural Unemployment" (The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 9). According to the article, the mismatch is a "classic example of what economists call a 'structural' issue in the labor market. In time, workers will develop the skills the job market needs - or employers will readjust their needs to the skills workers have available - but that process ...


Teachers vs. Principals Hurts Students

The practice of law in the U.S. is an adversarial system that is widely accepted as being the most effective way of ensuring that justice is done. This is the antithesis of the way educating the young is supposed to be conducted in this country. Nevertheless, the system too often still pits teachers against principals, to the detriment of students. A case in point was an article in The New York Times on Sept. 16 ("Bronx Science Sees Exodus of Social Studies Teachers"). Eight of the school's 20 social studies teachers chose not to return this year. To put ...


What About Homework?

It's not at all surprising that homework is now a front-burner issue in many school districts ("Is Homework Out of Control?" Parade, Aug. 21). Although teachers who assign heavy loads have never been popular, it's only in the last few years that they have moved into the spotlight. After all, when elementary school teachers ask children in second and third grade to complete worksheets every night, I have to wonder if things have not gotten out of hand. The rationale for homework is that it enhances learning by reinforcing and enriching classroom instruction. But there are several caveats. First, it ...


When School Choice Is Counterproductive

As readers of this column know, I've long supported parental choice of schools, even though I acknowledge that not all children have parents who are involved enough in their education to take advantage of the options open to them. But there's another consideration that has been largely overlooked: What happens when there are too many choices available to parents? Posing this question probably seems more theoretical than practical in the U.S., where choice is still not the norm. But that's not the case in England. According to an article in The Independent on Sept. 10, parents are faced with ...


What Schools Can Expect As U.S. Slips in Competitiveness

It had to happen sooner or later. The World Economic Forum recently ranked the U.S. No. 5 in economic competitiveness. Although the Geneva-based organization based its decision specifically on huge deficits and declining faith in government, it won't be long before public schools are implicated. It has to be that way because frustration and anger can be discharged only by means of a lightning rod, and schools fit the need to a tee. As Clinton E. Boutwell wrote in Shell Game (Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1997), "America's corporate elite charged that their incompetence was not responsible for the ...


Mayoral Control of Schools Shows Mixed Results

The justification for mayoral takeover of school districts is that it pinpoints accountability. I've always believed, however, that the rationale sounds better on paper than it plays out in reality. The situation in the New York City school system is a case in point. According to a New York Times/CBS News Poll, voters are "broadly dissatisfied" with the quality of public schools since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took control in June 2002 ("New Yorkers Say Mayor Has Not Improved Schools," The New York Times, Sept. 7). They base their views on a frustrating system of school choice, services for disabled ...


Drawing Conclusions from Educational Experiments

Under increasing pressure to produce evidence of greater student achievement, schools are eager to adopt practices that have a proven track record. This has led the Houston public schools to engage in a novel experiment called Apollo 20 ("A School District Mimics Charters, Hoping Success Will Follow," The New York Times, Sept. 6). By implementing five key tenets of successful charter schools (such as the Knowledge is Power Program) at nine secondary schools last year, the district hoped to be able to post similar results. One high school reported gains that were enough to move the school to acceptable after ...


LIFO Also Protects Good Teachers

Leave it to Michelle Rhee to pit teacher against teacher just as the new school year begins. In "The Great Brain Game" (Time, Sept. 12), she argues that a policy of last-in first-out in determining layoffs ensures that "thousands of great teachers" will be lost. I have no doubt that there are many outstanding new teachers who don't deserve to be shown the door when staffs have to be cut. But there are also many outstanding veteran teachers who would be vulnerable if seniority were eliminated. Rhee cites the case of Christine Simo in Las Vegas to make her point. ...


Personal Philanthropy No Substitute for Public Policy

Despite the guarantee of a free basic education for all students as stipulated in most state constitutions, the protracted recession has caused at least 23 states to date to slash spending on public education. This has created an uneven pattern of supplemental support by parents, business and residents. The latest example was in New York City, where in early August Mayor Michael Bloomberg and five other wealthy individuals raised $1.5 million to reinstate the Regents exams given in January that New York State had eliminated because of budget cuts ("When Schools Depend on Handouts," The New York Times, Aug. ...


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.
Advertisement

Most Viewed on Education Week

Categories

Archives

Recent Comments