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...


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 news out of New York City and Los Angeles, homes of the nation's largest and second largest school districts, respectively, was predictable. The two districts announced that they will use standardized tests to grade teachers, rather than merely to grade students. It was the inevitable next step in the obsession with these controversial instruments. Let's begin in New York City, where a law passed last year requires that teachers be graded from "ineffective" to "highly effective." Teachers who are found "ineffective" for two consecutive years can be fired. Standardized tests given to students will determine 40 percent of the ...


With the cost of educating students in public schools rising and state funding declining, it was inevitable that school districts would be forced to resort to new methods of narrowing the gap. In a front-page story, The Wall Street Journal detailed the way different states have added lab fees, book fees and even fees for extracurricular activities ("Public Schools Charge Kids for Basics, Frills," May 25). In response, the American Civil Liberties Union last year filed suit in California arguing that the practice violates Article IX of the state Constitution, which guarantees a free education to students. The ACLU is ...


A favorite argument made by reformers is that if public schools were forced to compete for students the educational landscape in this country would change for the better. Yet an essay in The Weekly Standard presents the downside of this strategy without fully realizing its implications for the accountability movement ("Learning on the Last Frontier," May 30). The focus was the Southeast Island School District in a remote part of Alaska, with a total of 161 students and a $5.5 million budget. Seven of the district's schools have only one or two teachers who teach all students from K-12. ...


When Michelle Rhee announced that George Parker is joining Students First as its initial senior fellow, the news was greeted with disbelief ("Former Foes Join Forces for Education Reform," The New York Times, May 21). That's because as former president of the local teachers union, Parker had often done battle with Rhee as former chancellor of the District of Columbia schools. It's hard to know exactly why Parker decided to go on board with Rhee. The news story read much like a press release in trying to explain the reason. Parker said he did not do so for the money. ...


Every year about this time, the media report about job prospects for new college graduates. It comes as no surprise that the news is dismal this spring because of the battered economy. Not only have employment rates fallen sharply in the last two years but only half of the jobs require a college degree ("Jobs Outlook Is Bleak Even for College Graduates," The New York Times, May 19). Campus Progress maintains that the situation is even worse for high school graduates who have not gone to college ("Graduating Seniors Are About to Leap Out Into the Great Recession's Job Abyss," ...


Tying ratings of teachers to student achievement took a new twist on May 10 when the Board of Education of the Los Angeles Unified School District decided that all members of Huntington Park High School must reinterview for their jobs even though the school met improvement goals on standardized tests. The plan is expected to result in the replacement of at least half the faculty by July when the start of school for the year-round campus begins ("L.A. district plans shakeup at Huntington Park High," Los Angeles Times, May 10). What makes the decision so controversial is that the ...


Few strategies are as effective as half-truths in swaying public opinion. That's because unlike blatant falsehoods, they have enough plausibility to mask their insidiousness. One of the best examples is "The Failure of American Schools," (The Atlantic, June 2011) by Joel Klein, who served as chancellor of the New York City school system from 2002 through 2010 before resigning to become CEO of News Corporation's educational division. Klein begins by acknowledging that despite the improvements made on his watch, the system is "still not remotely where it needs to be. That story holds more than true for the country at ...


Reformers like to point to schools overseas as models because they say American schools are inferior. I've written often why this view is overblown and why a more nuanced view is necessary. The latest reminder was a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal about India's system of education ("India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire," Apr. 5). Despite India's reputation for graduating hundreds of thousands of students each year who are prepared for career or college, the truth is that employers cannot find enough qualified workers to meet their needs. As a result, they are forced ...


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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