In gang and prison culture, there are no elected leaders. Instead, whoever has the muscle and political savvy to gain power becomes the one in charge. These people are referred to as the "shot-callers," because they make the important decisions. It seems to me that in American education, in spite of all our hopes about the change Obama may bring, we may be continuing to move towards a culture in which powerful figures call the shots. Case in point: the news this week that Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday that mayors should take control of big-city school districts where ...


Former New York Times columnist Richard Rothstein has published a powerful book at a critical moment. We find ourselves poised on the brink of change, but just at this moment, we seem to be wavering. In my view, No Child Left Behind was a dismal failure. Nonetheless as we go forward some leaders seem bound and determined to preserve many of its most destructive elements. In Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right, Rothstein has come along just in time to remind us what we should be focused on. First, let’s remember why we educate. For this, Rothstein recalls that Franklin, ...


In my blog last week, focusing on the chance that the Dept. of Education may promote some form of merit pay based on standardized test scores, I got a bit more hyperbolic than usual, and wrote the following: But if those rewards are based on the same standardized tests that candidate Obama decried, what behavior will they promote? More emphasis on test preparation, and less time for art, science, music and history. Test preparation is educational malpractice -- it is bad for our students. We must not reward malpractice. I see a lot of test preparation occurring in low-scoring schools. ...


One of the reasons I was excited about the election of Barack Obama was the chance it offered us to turn our energies in education in a positive direction. His campaign website stated: Obama and Biden believe teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests and he will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college. There are disturbing signs, however, that under the leadership of Education Secretary Arne Duncan we may not have escaped the tyranny of the tests. In his recent speech ...


I have been writing about teacher turnover in my urban district because I think it is critical that education policy be informed by real on-the-ground data. Numbers alone do not tell the story. Last week we heard from two urban teachers, one in the San Francisco area, and one (in the comments) in Philadelphia, who shared their similar realities and the reasons they will be leaving soon. The portrait they drew is backed up by statistics that show that after three years, 55% of the teachers who start out teaching in Oakland will be gone. This University of Pennsylvania study ...


As I have written, I work to support science teachers in Oakland, seeking to retain them so as to strengthen instruction, and so our students can benefit from their experience. As the year has progressed, it has become clear that this is a difficult challenge, and so I have been trying to delve into the reasons our teachers are leaving. Last week I wrote about the many pressures these teachers face. This week, I want to share a message I received from a young science teacher in an urban Bay Area school district who is preparing to leave. If we ...


This has been a tough one to grapple with. I left the classroom several years ago, and although I was recognized as a successful teacher, I did not feel very successful my last couple of years. So when I write about teachers leaving the classroom, my own story lurks behind the broader narrative. This year I am working with young teachers, trying to keep them teaching in Oakland, and that is causing me to revisit the issues I dealt with in my own decision, and trying to think about ways we could make things better. There are things most people ...


Oakland is addicted to low-cost beginning teachers. Ten years ago, the Oakland schools had a big problem. Every summer 400 teaching positions would open up, but only one hundred teachers would be found who were willing to accept jobs in Oakland at the salary offered. When fall came, 300 teaching positions (out of 2,500) would be left unfilled. The new Superintendent Dennis Chaconas thought he had an answer. Raise teacher pay in Oakland by 20%, moving us from way below average to a bit above average for the region. It worked! Over the next two years, fewer teachers left, ...


I have to admit I have been a bit puzzled by the way our world seems to work, especially the latest news from Wall Street. Executives there apparently require bonuses that are several times their annual salaries – already in the millions of dollars – in order to motivate them to perform the duties for which they were hired. It has made me wonder about the reason policy makers seem so fixated on attaching bonuses to teacher pay for the things they value, like student test scores. Frequently we hear teachers being accused of “opposing accountability,” because we are reluctant to have ...


Dennis Overbye wrote in the New York Times last week that “Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth.” In a comment responding to this column about the resurgence of science under the Obama administration, a reader named Aaron writes: Scientific thinking can and should be practiced by everyone, not just those who do science for a living. I'd love to see logical and critical thinking better integrated into the public school curriculum. I'd also like to see students learn how to formulate clear questions and design good experiments, rather than ...


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