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October 2011 Archives

If Only the Billionaire Reformers Cared about THIS Data

Billionaire Bill Gates was in the news again this week, bemoaning the sorry state of America's schools, insisting that business leaders like him have a lot to teach us about measuring performance. Mr. Gates, in years past, has worried about the fact that we rank poorly on international educational comparisons, suggesting this will cause us to fall behind economically. The answer, according to Mr. Gates, is that we must get rid of bad teachers. He said, during his appearance on Oprah last year, that if we got rid of all the bad teachers, "our schools would shoot from the bottom ...


The Legacy of NCLB: Can We Force Schools to Improve?

When I was in Washington, DC, last July, I participated in a press conference prior to the Save Our Schools March, which I had helped organize. A gentleman who had asked several critical questions spoke with me afterwards. He tried to help me understand why tough federal mandates were needed to improve schools. He told me "You know there are school districts all over the country that have been stuck for decades, where there is corruption. We have got to have some way to force them to improve." This is the mentality that brought us No Child Left Behind. This ...


Lesson Study Works! An Interview with Dr. Catherine Lewis

Research consistently shows that teacher effectiveness and satisfaction with our work increases when we are able to engage in deep and meaningful collaboration. Earlier this month I wrote about one model for this sort of work, Teacher Action Research. Today I am sharing an interview focused on another model, Lesson Study. Both of these models have a strong history in the Oakland public schools. At Mills College in Oakland, distinguished research scholar Dr. Catherine Lewis is a national expert in Lesson Study, who has studied the practice for more than a decade, and worked with thousands of teachers in the ...


John Thompson: Will Duncan Learn Lessons from Chicago?

Guest post by John Thompson. In 2009, I assumed that President Obama appointed Arne Duncan to split the differences between data-driven and traditional reformers. I sure hoped the President did not think that a non-educator who became the CEO of Chicago schools at the age of 37 would have had the opportunity to learn how schools actually work. I hoped that Duncan understood that the briefings he received in that position were based on numbers that often said little about teaching and learning. Duncan served at the end of a twenty year experiment in "reform." I doubt that he had ...


The Dialogue Heats Up over Teach For America

A few days ago I posted this: Civil Rights Groups Press for Truly Qualified Teachers. I have hit a nerve, because the piece has gotten a number of comments. Last night some sharp questions arrived from a reader named Mike Hailey. I am interested in highlighting this dialogue, so I am going to post his questions and my answers here, and invite him to respond below. Mike Hailey writes: I have a couple of questions: First; Is the objection that TFA and other alternatively credentialed teachers are teaching in the classroom at all or that they have been designated as "Highly...


Civil Rights Groups Press for Truly Qualified Teachers

As Congress wrestles with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), they have a chance to address the issue of teacher quality once again. The Coalition for Teaching Quality -- 82 organizations representing civil rights, parent, community, disability, and education advocates -- have come together to demand that Congress re-commit to the objective that all children should have a well-prepared teacher. No Child Left Behind brought us a Federal mandate for "Highly Qualified Teachers" for all students. But after that law was passed, groups like Teach For America pushed for exceptions to be made, so that their ...


In John Merrow's Education Reform Land, Copycats Rule

In his September 28 reflection on Education Nation, John Merrow has provided us with a distillation of the solution being offered to improve learning in our low-achieving schools. Copy KIPP. For those who have not reviewed the methods at KIPP, Merrow describes them for us. KIPP kindergarten teachers explain to their kids why they are going to walk in a line and why they are expected to be quiet in the halls. Lots of regular teachers just tell the kids to line up and be quiet. The first way is respectful and creates shared responsibility, while the second seems likely ...


Improving Teaching 101: Teacher Action Research

Over the past two decades living and working in Oakland, I became well acquainted with Dr. Anna Richert. This professor of education at Mills College has built a powerful network of teachers engaged in systematically reflecting on their teaching practice. I have served as a member of the advisory board for the Mills Teacher Scholars for several years. I wrote about their work last May in this post. As we look for ways to improve our classrooms for our students, teacher research ought to be very high on the list. I asked Anna to share some of her expertise in ...


John Thompson: Coaching is Good for Doctors and Teachers Both

Guest post by John Thompson. Atul Gawande says that surgery is not like teaching where your best work is behind you by the age of thirty. Just kidding! In fact, Gawande's New Yorker article, "Personal Best" explains the value of programs for coaching teachers in order to show its potential in transforming doctors' practice. In medicine, as in education, the temptation is to look for transformative changes rather than teaching professionals to be more effective. The most famous example was the discovery that simple checklists and reminding doctors to wash their hands were able to improve health as much as ...


Jerry Brown Puts the Brakes on Test-Driven Reform

Jerry Brown is perhaps the most powerful leader in our country who actually understands what has happened to our schools as a result of standards-based data-driven reform. In a move that signals exactly what should be done with the moribund No Child Left Behind in Congress, Brown has issued a veto of a California law, SB 547, that revamped the state's similarly flawed accountability system. Governor Brown first made waves regarding education when, as State Attorney General, he wrote a scathing letter to Arne Duncan in response to Race to the Top. He sent another strong signal this spring, when ...


Color Coded High School ID Cards Sort Students by Test Performance

A high school in La Palma, California, is coming under fire for a system that publicly identifies and treats students differently according to their scores on the state standardized tests. Students who perform at the highest levels in all subjects receive a black or platinum ID card, while those who score a mix of proficient and advanced receive a gold card. Students who score "basic" or below receive a white ID card. Students with black or gold cards get certain privileges, such as free entrance to sporting events and discounts at local business events. Those with white ID cards get ...


Why I Support the Occupation Movement

Over the past nineteen days we have witnessed a remarkable movement emerge. First in New York City, on Wall Street, and now in cities across the country, young people have taken to the streets to protest the way their futures have been hijacked by decisions made far beyond them. I am with them 100%. I am with them because I have two sons, now in college, who have a very unclear future. Some 85% of 2011's college graduates are now back home living with their parents, with substantial debt. Every time I see my older son, Alex, we discuss his ...


Education Reform Takes a Corporate Path With Help From ALEC

Guest post by the administrative team of United Opt Out: Shaun Johnson, Morna McDermott, Laurie Murphy, Peg Robertson, Tim Slekar and Ceresta Smith (a website dedicated to ending punitive high stakes testing in public education). In the past year, a number of states have introduced laws that "reform" education in similar ways. In state after state, teacher seniority and due process has been undermined, and the use of standardized tests to pay and evaluate teachers been expanded. In recent months, reports have emerged of a shadowy group that has developed tremendous influence over legislation in states across the country. This ...


Alabama Law Creates Immigration Panic in Schools

Headlines from Alabama tell us that the latest "education reform" there is making sure we know exactly how much the state is spending to educate the children of "illegal" immigrants. According to a new law, parents are required to present documentation when registering their children to attend school. While the law does not require school officials to turn in the names of "illegals," it has sparked widespread fear among immigrant parents, and many have withdrawn their children from school. Meanwhile, Texas governor Rick Perry's poll numbers in the Republican primary have fallen after he said that members of his party ...


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