March 2012 Archives

The Debate Over the Rating of "Bully"

The attention finally being paid to bullying in K-12 schools would seem to assure a wide audience for a documentary about the subject. But that hasn't been the case with "Bully," which received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because of six "f" words. Despite the absurd rationale, there are groups that support the rating, including the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan organization advocating responsible entertainment (" 'Bully' deserved an R," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 28). Although "Bully" is being released unrated by the Weinstein Co., the issue will not go away - and for good reason. ...


Is California a Bellwether for School Support?

There's no guarantee that what takes place in California will be repeated elsewhere, but it's a mistake to dismiss events in the Golden State out of hand. A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll serves as a case in point. Despite a series of reports about the persistent underperformance of public schools in the state, voters strongly support Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to increase the sales tax and raise levies on top earners in order to raise money for schools ("Strong majority backs Jerry Brown's tax-hike initiative," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 26). Specifically, 64 percent of voters surveyed were ...


No Surprise, Cheating Is Widespread

It's axiomatic that when the stakes are high enough in any field there will be cheating. But what is news is the extent of the problem in education. In the best tradition of investigative reporting, The Atlanta Journal Constitution found suspicious test scores in some 200 school districts across the nation ("Cheating our children: Suspicious school test scores across the nation," Mar. 24). A team of three reporters and two database specialists spent five months under freedom of information laws examining test results in math and reading at 69,000 public schools in 14,743 districts in 49 states. (Nebraska ...


Are Schools Becoming a Service Industry?

The public loves ratings in all fields of human endeavor. Anyone doubting that needs to look at Consumer Reports, which has expanded its coverage over the years from products to services of every category. So it wouldn't surprise me at all if K-12 schools will soon be rated overwhelmingly on parental satisfaction. At least that's what I see forthcoming after reading "Hospitals Aren't Hotels" (The New York Times, Mar. 15). I realize that comparing schools with hospitals is risky, but I think enough similarities exist to make a case. Theresa Brown, the oncology nurse who wrote the essay, explains that ...


Religious Fundamentalism and Public Schools

Although the presidential election is still seven months away, voters are already hearing arguments in support of allowing religion in public schools. "The labor behind the initiatives may be local, but the ideas, the money, and the legal firepower that make them possible are national," as Katherine Stewart makes clear in The Good News Club (Public Affairs, 2012). New York City is the latest venue for the movement. Encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Good News Club v. Milford Central School in 2001 that a school district discriminated against an after-school bible study group by barring it ...


Perform to Get a Teaching License

Ordinarily thought of as a way of evaluating teachers after they have been licensed, performance assessment will be used in Wisconsin to determine if teachers should be given a license in the first place ("New teachers getting ready to be graded on classroom work," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 11). Beginning on Sept. 1, 2015, teachers will have to demonstrate how well they can teach by submitting 5-day lesson plans, appearing in a 15-minute video of their classroom instruction and reflecting upon their work. The three-part process will be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 by independent trained reviewers ...


Pay Teachers Like CEOs

Teachers are slated to be judged and rewarded in the next school year largely on how well their students perform on the basis of quantifiable outcomes. The usual rationale is that this strategy is how top executives in business are evaluated and compensated. If adopted, the corporate model will transform schools and allow the U.S. to compete in the global economy. But the argument is dead wrong. "CEOs are different: They are almost certainly the only category of Americans who regularly get rewarded for failure with massive amounts of money" ("Executive Decisions," The New Republic, Mar. 1). To put ...


Parsing the Racial Discipline Data

The report issued by the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights leaves the distinct impression that public schools are unfairly disciplining black students ("Minority students as targets?" Los Angeles Times, Mar. 10). The operative word is "unfairly" because if this is true then the practice needs to immediately change. But I think there is more to this story than meets the eye. First, the Education Department acknowledged through a spokesperson that it is not just white teachers in predominantly black or in predominantly white schools who are disproportionately disciplining black students. In some cases, it is black principals at overwhelmingly ...


Blame It All On Teachers Unions

Scapegoating is a powerful tool to sway public opinion. That's why I'm not surprised that teachers unions are consistently being singled out for the shortcomings of public schools ("Can Teachers Unions Do Education Reform?" The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 3). After all, they are such an easy target at a time when the public's patience over the glacial pace of school reform is running out. The latest example was an essay by Juan Williams, who is now a political analyst for Fox News ("Will Business Boost School Reform?" The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28). He claims that teachers unions are "formidable...


Killing Teacher Morale Is Easy

The results of the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher confirm what has been apparent to anyone who has been paying attention to news and commentary about public schools. They show that morale is at its lowest point in more than 20 years ("Teacher Survey Shows Morale Is at a Low Point," The New York Times, Mar. 8). The findings have direct relevance to the reform movement. Because teachers are the most important in-school factor in student achievement, it is imperative to do everything possible to recruit and retain the best. But about one in three teachers said they ...


The Bullying Problem

Often thought of as an unfortunate but unavoidable part of growing up, bullying is finally being recognized for the serious problem it is. Yet "Bully," a documentary to be released nationwide this month that is aimed at raising consciousness about the issue, may not be seen by students because of its R rating for profane language ("A 'Bully' pulpit for Weinstein Co.," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 6). It's a telling commentary that we are more concerned about language (and sex) in movies than about violence. The double standard is troubling because ignoring bullying can have tragic consequences. I'm referring to ...


Do Good Looks Affect Teacher Ratings?

As farfetched as it sounds, pulchritude is an important factor in determining how teachers are evaluated. It's not that student test scores don't count (they will constitute up to 40 percent of a teacher's rating in some states beginning in the 2012-13 school year), but as long as classroom observations are factored in, the role of good looks comes into play. Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas-Austin, has conducted a series of studies on the role that appearance plays in the workplace. He found that better-looking men and women get paid more than average-looking men and women ...


Can El Sistema Be Replicated in Schools Here?

The debate over effective instruction is so familiar by now that it seems little more can be said. But a provocative article about how music is taught in Venezuela calls that view into question ("El Sistema for all, U.S. kids too," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26). The fame of Gustavo Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has focused attention on what is known as El Sistema because he attributes his success to it. Funded by $100 million a year, the state-run music education program in Venezuela is enormously popular. Its nearly 300 music schools for children, called ...


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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