September 2011 Archives

John Thompson: Gates Foundation Teacher Effectiveness Researcher Seems to Support the 'Status Quo'

The National Bureau of Economic Research just published "School Choice, School Quality and Postsecondary Attainment" by David J. Deming, Justine S. Hastings, Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O. Staiger. Tom Kane, of course, heads the Gates Foundation's $400 million dollar "Measuring Effective Teaching" experiment, and yet his work provides little or no support for the policies preferred by Gates and other "reformers." In fact, the study confirms the judgments of teachers and education researchers who the accountability hawks condemn as the "status quo." If Gates and Kane had had any idea that their research would yield the results reported in ...


Circular Reasoning at the Gates: Education Nation off to a Confusing Start

Last September NBC brought us the first Education Nation, developed in coordination with the release of the pro-charter documentary, Waiting For Superman. The network ran into a few bumps in the road, catching flak when it was pointed out that panels were loaded with "superheroes" like Michelle Rhee, and critical voices like Diane Ravitch, and those of classroom teachers, were largely absent. This year, NBC has made an effort to be a bit more balanced and inclusive of teachers voices, and the Teacher Town Hall yesterday made a start in that direction. On a stage dominated by the largest golden ...


Public Schools and Post Offices: What do they have in Common?

Last week, one of Stephen Colbert's guests was a former mail carrier named Phil Rubio, who raised the alarm about the potential demise of a basic government service, the US Post Office. Dr. Rubio explained that the Post Office is a rather strange government/business hybrid, where it is controlled by Congress, but expected to cover its expenses through the revenue it generates. Yet it is not supposed to compete directly with the United Parcel Service or FedEx. When Stephen Colbert asked Dr. Rubio why we should care about the Post Office, he replied: "Universal service." He pointed out that ...


John Thompson: Should Schools Grade Students' Moral Character?

Guest post by John Thompson. Part two of two. Last week I read Paul Tough's New York Times Magazine article, "What if the Secret to Success is Failure?," about the approach being taken by the KIPP schools and others, inspired by the work of Martin Seligman. Two big issues came up for me. The first were some practical concerns, regarding what happens when public schools attempt to implement a "no excuses" model. The second were some larger philosophical questions about the moral lessons being taught, and the roles our schools play in this arena. Yesterday's post addresses the first set ...


John Thompson: Does a "No Excuses" Approach Really Work?

Guest post by John Thompson. Part one of two. Last week I read Paul Tough's New York Times Magazine article, "What if the Secret to Success is Failure?," about the approach being taken by the KIPP schools and others, inspired by the work of Martin Seligman. Two big issues came up for me. The first were some practical concerns, regarding what happens when public schools attempt to implement a "no excuses" model. The second were some larger philosophical questions about the moral lessons being taught, and the roles our schools play in this arena. This post addresses the first set ...


The Slekar Family Stands Up and Opts Out

Recently we have heard news of more and more parents taking a stand against standardized testing, acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their children. Two of the leaders of this movement are Tim and Michelle Slekar, of Pennsylvania. I asked them if they would share their perspective. What led you and your wife to take a public stand on opting out? Tim Slekar: There is a simple answer and then there are all the academic and philosophical reasons. Let's start with the simple answer. Last year my wife (Michelle) and I went in for a ...


Are Michigan Lawmakers Taking their Cue from Ann Coulter: Teachers Useless?

A few days ago, Fox News personality Ann Coulter sparked outrage when she asserted that kindergarten teachers "have useless jobs," and suggested their work be turned over "to vouchers, to charter schools. They fight for every last dime, they get summers off, they're off at two, and they make more money than most of those pipefitters who no longer have jobs." Coulter is known for saying outrageous and provocative things, but she has a canny way of revealing the vicious thinking that actually seems to be driving some of our policies. Because over the weekend we heard an urgent call ...


What?? Girl's T-shirts Sold: "Allergic to Algebra"

Back in 1992 the Mattel Corporation released a line of talking Barbie dolls that uttered the phrase "Math class is tough!" Reaction from parents and consumers was strong, and the company recalled the dolls. This month we revisit the controversy over messages about school, this time in the form of stylish t-shirts. First came JC Penney, which included in its back to school line, a girl's t-shirt that read "I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me." The company has withdrawn the shirts after more than 1,600 people signed an online petition. ...


Jeffrey N. Golub: Common Core Standards Leave Teachers Out of the Equation

Guest post by Dr. Jeffrey N. Golub. The story goes that, some years ago, a Midwestern university decided to build a new library on its campus. So an architectural firm was commissioned to design and build the building. Within weeks after its opening, however, the new library began to sink into the ground. Seems the architects had not factored in the weight of the books. Oops! This tale, it turns out, is actually an urban-legend that has been circulating among students on college campuses and elsewhere for years and years. The situation never actually happened, but I mention this story ...


A Teacher Responds to Steve Denning's Ideas: These are Education, Not Management Issues

I present here a rebuttal to the interview I carried last week with management expert Steve Denning. It was written by a Massachusetts teacher who goes by the name Chemtchr. Guest post by Chemtchr. Steven Denning's Forbes essay on "The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education" was welcomed by teachers, because it deplores some of the egregious management practices imposed on public school systems in the name of corporate education reform. Mr. Denning was then kind enough to answer some interview questions for teacher-blogger Anthony Cody on Edweek, and this led to a lively discussion in the comments. Denning ...


John Thompson takes on Nyamekye's Defense of Testing

Guest post by John Thompson. There is more to the job of teaching than encouraging students to relentlessly pursue knowledge. We also have to sign in and out, take attendance, teach capitalization and spelling, wash our coffee cups in the faculty lounge, and post grades on time. Above all, our job requires a respectful attitude towards everyone. Perhaps that is why a recent Education Week Commentary, "Putting Myself to the Test," by Ama Nyamekye has been bothering me. Nyamekye explains that she had been an opponent of standardized testing until she had been challenged by her principal to prove that ...


Interview: Steve Denning offers Radical Ideas for Reframing Education Reform

A couple of days ago I was surprised to find an insightful post in Forbes Magazine, offering us "The Single Best Idea for Reforming Education," by columnist and management expert Steve Denning. I wrote a post describing his idea, and also sent him some questions, because I think he offers some useful ways to reframe our concerns around the current direction of our schools. Here are his answers. Interview with Steve Denning: What would you say is the biggest problem with our educational system today? The biggest problem that the education system faces today is a preoccupation with, and the ...


The Single Best Idea to Come Out of Business in Years

Usually when business magazines like Forbes offer advice on education reform, I prepare to cringe. But this week we got a surprise. Management guru Steve Denning offers us "The Single Best Idea for Reforming Education," and it actually makes a great deal of sense. Denning starts with a critique of the status quo. ...the biggest problem is a preoccupation with, and the application of, the factory model of management to education, where everything is arranged for the scalability and efficiency of "the system", to which the students, the teachers, the parents and the administrators have to adjust. "The system" grinds ...


Environmentalists Join Educators in Protesting Obama Policies

The New York Times today reported that many environmentalists are expressing frustration at recent policy decisions by the Obama administration. The story carries some strong echoes of the way educators have felt for the past two years, as Secretary Duncan has extended and intensified the worst aspects of No Child Left Behind. In the past week more than a thousand demonstrators have been arrested at the White House in protest of the administration's unclear stance on the licensing of a pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands. Even former administration staffers, and Dr. James Hansen, the head of ...


John Thompson: Time for our Unions to Lead Reform

Guest post by John Thompson. Mark Simon's "High-Stakes Progressive Teacher Unionism" is a must-read. Simon's contributions to I Used To Think... And Now I Think.... are the reflections of a pioneer in the "new unionism" of the 1990s. Even back then, he realized that if the union did not advocate for "reforms that preserve the integrity of good teaching and real learning," that the alternative would be "Taylorist teacher-proofing." Now he knows that data-driven "reformers" attacked us with more self-righteousness than could have been expected. "Today," writes Simon, "the antiteacher and antiunion reform approach has hit with such a vengeance ...


The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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