December 2010 Archives

The end of the year is a propitious time to take a closer look at the proposal that teachers should be paid like workers in business because it's when bonuses are handed out. In this regard, no group is more fitting to examine than executives, whose pay is ostensibly based on company performance. But the truth is that far from being deserved, those at or near the top in corporate America receive pay packages largely disconnected from individual performance. Wall Street is the most blatant example, although it is hardly alone. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on ...


A new report by the non-profit Education Trust found that more than 15 percent of secondary school teachers were teaching outside their areas of expertise in the 2007-08 school year. Although this is a decrease from about 17 percent four years earlier, the finding is still disturbing. Yet there is more to the story than initially meets the eye. If knowledge of subject matter were the most important factor in delivering a quality education, then professors with doctorates and a long list of publications in their field would make ideal candidates for K-12, as I wrote in a letter to ...


Readers of this column know by now that I strongly support parental choice of schools. But like most policies, the devil is in the details. At issue is whether it is possible to devise a system that promotes both choice and fairness. This point is either overlooked or downplayed by reformers, who maintain that if parents were treated as consumers their children would be assured of a quality education. They base their argument on the business model. But unlike the free marketplace, public schools are also concerned with equity. As a result, it's worthwhile taking a closer look at how ...


It's rare that two behemoths so different in many ways are so alike in one particular area. I'm referring to how both China and the U.S. are deluded about the value of a four-year college degree. China is learning the hard way about the price of its obsession. In 1998, colleges and universities there turned out 830,000 graduates a year. Last May, the number had climbed to more than six million. Ordinarily, this increase would be seen as laudable. But China's economic growth, as impressive as it is, simply cannot provide enough good jobs for the graduates ("China's ...


When schools consistently fail to make improvement, the most draconian measure advocated by reformers is closure. Yet little attention has been paid to the experience of cities that have voted to do so. That's why the initial reaction in two districts which have chosen to go down this road is worthwhile studying. In November, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board voted to close ten schools ("In North Carolina, a racial uproar over schools stirs old echoes," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19). What ensued was a backlash not seen for decades in the progressive southern city. The reason was that the student bodies ...


The news out of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island is deeply troubling. The Providence Journal reported that upwards of 15 percent of the roughly 87- teacher faculty is absent on any given day, six are on long-term leave and two have abruptly resigned ("Resignation, absenteeism by teachers hampering turnaround in Central Falls," Dec. 15). Clearly, something is terribly wrong. This is the school that made headlines in February when it fired all teachers because only 48 percent of its students graduated after four years, compared with a statewide average of 75 percent. In May, all cashiered teachers were ...


Given the dire financial straits school districts across the country are in, it was inevitable corporate sponsorship would follow. In Los Angeles, the arrangement allows the superintendent to sign agreements up to $500,000. Larger amounts would require board approval ("Cash-strapped L.A. schools seeking corporate-naming sponsors for athletic fields, other facilities," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 16). The district intends to seek sponsorship contracts for programs that are presently paid for out of the general budget. In return, corporations would be permitted to place their logos on the athletic field, in the cafeteria and on printed materials, in what is ...


The media are declaring victory in the war on high school dropouts in the wake of the release of a report by America's Promise Alliance showing that the graduation rate has begun to rise after hitting rock bottom at the end of the 20th century. But let's not uncork the champagne just yet. To understand the reasons for this guarded appraisal, it's necessary to peel back the layers of statistical legerdemain that for too long characterized the way data were collected and reported on this controversial issue. Determining the rate at which students drop out is a straightforward matter for ...


In a decision that has wide-ranging implications, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge approved changes to the last-hired, first-fired rule in the nation's second largest school district. The American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued that students on campuses with a preponderance of new teachers were deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate basic public education because their schools took the brunt of the seniority-based layoffs. The court's ruling mandates that layoffs have to occur at about the same rate from campus to campus across the LAUSD. This requirement means that newer teachers at some schools could hold onto ...


Critics assert that schools are not producing enough qualified math and science graduates to meet the needs of companies as they attempt to compete in the new global economy. But the latest data released by the National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates call that view into question. A record 49,562 doctorate degrees were awarded in the 2008-09 academic year, representing a 1.6 percent increase over the 2007-08 year. According to the foundation, the growth was largely due to increases in the number of degrees in science and engineering. In 2009, 67.5 percent of all doctorates were ...


The media seemed mesmerized by the latest results of the Program for International Student Assessment, as if the rankings portended the future of the U.S. Before jumping to any such absurd conclusion, readers need to understand more about the nuts and bolts of the test. I grant that this process is technical and dry, but it is the only way of knowing if valid inferences are being made about PISA. You've got to look under the hood of a car if you want to know why the engine is malfunctioning. PISA measures learning that has taken place since birth, ...


When Geoffrey Canada urged business leaders at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon recently to get involved in school reform or witness the decline of the country, his remarks were considered gospel. Yet what he said is hardly new and certainly exaggerated. As Larry Cuban wrote in The Blackboard and the Bottom Line (Harvard University Press, 2004), there has been a "century-long prickly relationship between educators and business leaders over school reform and their contrasting assumptions about what is needed to improve schools." Business participation in public schools is characterized by "many examples in which reformers have exerted various ...


Even the brightest columnists sometimes reveal their woeful misunderstanding of testing. The latest reminder was Thomas L. Friedman's "Teaching for America," which was published in the New York Times on Nov. 21. He asserted that critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication and ability to collaborate - the skills indispensable for success in a knowledge economy - are measured by the international tests currently in use. He then compounded his error by arguing that the reason other countries such as Finland and Denmark outscore the U.S. is because their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. ...


If any doubt still lingers that public schools have nothing to do with the nation's economic woes, it is dispelled by a scathing essay by Sherwood Ross posted on Nov. 27 ("Why Poverty Spreads Across America"). He shows that today's unprecedented poverty is a cancer that is caused by employers, who have "shown not an ounce of loyalty to their work forces" and by the federal government, which "has lied the nation into costly criminal wars." These are serious charges that demand evidence. Ross is up to the task. He cites Camden, N.J. as a glaring example of what ...


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