Sunday, January 30, 2011

Save Our Schools March - who we are, part 1.

Last Sunday, January 23, I introduced you to Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action, where I told you that

For the future of our children,
we demand the following . . .

* Equitable funding for all public school communities

* An end to high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation

* Teacher and community leadership in forming public education policies

and that the date of the event was July 28-31, 2011.

Starting today, I will begin to introduce you to some of the key people organizing the event, and explain why we are committing our time and energy to this important effort to save our schools.

Today I would like you to meet Katherine Cox.

From our About page you can learn that

Katherine McBride Cox, who grew up in Louisiana, initially began her career as a college English instructor. She recently retired after 35 years as an educator in Arizona where she was a classroom teacher, an elementary principal, and a high school principal. She developed a nationally recognized career education program for 5th and 6th graders called Window on the World. She taught self-contained gifted students for eight years and later worked with at-risk middle school students. She also served as an instructional coach, coaching other teachers. She serves on the Information Coordination Committee and the Blogging/Social Networking Sub-Committee.

I asked Katherine why she was volunteering in this effort. She told me the following:

When No Child Left Behind was passed, I was not as wise as others.

Arizona is one of the most poorly funded states in the nation as far as K-12 education goes. I was glad that we would be getting additional monies.

It took me awhile to see that we had made a pact with the devil. Standards actually were lowered because the state had to make the new state tests easier year after year in order to get enough students to graduate. The tests became meaningless, yet schools were ranked according to their test scores.

In order to get the excelling label, principals were telling teachers to drill and kill on the subjects tested – reading, math and writing – and to neglect science, social studies, p.e. and the arts. In the past, at least 75% of our students were on grade level or better. Now I could see that the top 75% of our students were getting a worse education than these students had received before NCLB.

As a high school principal, I could see a train wreck heading down the track. If freshmen had not had 4th grade geology – the rock cycle, including sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rock or 5th grade human body systems -- were we supposed to introduce these concepts for the first time to freshmen in biology and physical science classes?

Learning became tedious for students and teachers alike. No longer were we attempting to ignite fires in the minds of our students. I ended up retiring in December of 2009 and set up my website, In the Trenches with School Reform.

I began following teacherken on Daily Kos, as well as bloggers such as Anthony Cody, Nancy Flanagan, and Valerie Strauss. I continually said in my blog – I’m tired of talk. Others like me have been talking and explaining for years. It’s time to take action.

Anthony Cody and Victoria Young made contact with me and eventually I was asked to join this group. I was delighted to be asked to help.

I had spent 35 years as a teacher and principal trying to make our schools better and better. For a long time, I believe I succeeded. After NCLB came along, it seemed that my life’s work had been for nothing. Everything I had helped build was dismantled. For what? I knew that we had fallen into the rabbit hole where everything is upside down and nothing makes sense.

I’m in this battle to take our schools back and make them better. But first we must wrestle them away from the likes of the Michelle Rhees and Bill Gates of the world – and the grip of the federal government.

Katherine is just one those dedicated to the well-being our our students and health of our public schools who has stepped up to the challenges we face.

We ask that you join us in supporting Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action, July 28-31.

You can see who has endorsed us (and there you can find out how YOU can endorse us)

You can contribute to help us.

See how YOU can help us in this effort.

Thanks for reading.

Please consider helping let others know about this effort.

Help us Save Our Schools.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action

Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action

For the future of our children,
we demand the following . .

* Equitable funding for all public school communities

* An end to high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation

* Teacher and community leadership in forming public education policies

* Curricula developed by and for local school communities

Those the four key demands of an important initiative on public education.

It is geared towards a gathering in our nation's capital,
It is geared towards a gathering in our nation's capital, July 28-31 sorry - I had wrong dates before.

We want your help and support.

Here's our website

Let me tell you more, including why I am involved, and you should be as well.

This is an outgrowth of efforts by many educators to have our voices heard in the discussions over education policy over the past few years. When Anthony Cody established the movement of Teachers Letters To Obama, we got the support of thousands, but in conversations with the Department of Education, including with Secretary of Education Duncan, somehow we were not listened to, but rather talked at.

Let me share from the About Us page of our website:
Getting to this point has been a long journey. For the last few years, thousands of teachers and parents have been calling for action against No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and, more recently, questioning Race to the Top (RTTT).

Teachers, students, and parents from across the country have staged protests, started blogs, written op-eds, and called and written the White House and the U.S. Department of Education to try to halt the destruction of their local schools.

Numerous efforts have been made to get U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama to listen to US – the teachers, parents, and students who experience the effects of these disastrous policies every day. WE know that NCLB is not working. Unfortunately, it has been almost impossible to make our voices heard. Although we have the knowledge, the expertise, and the relationships with students that make education possible, we have been shut out of the conversation about school reform.

We, like all teachers and parents, want better schools. For our children’s sake, we are organizing to improve our schools – but not through the vehicle known as NCLB. It has been a disaster. Although there are various opinions about the many issues involved with school reform, it is now time to speak with ONE VOICE – that is, No Child Left Behind must not be reauthorized. We reclaim our right to determine how our children will be educated. We are organizing to revitalize an educational system that for too many children focuses more on test preparation than meaningful learning.We demand a humane, empowering education for every child in America.

Where we are today is due to the efforts of many people. Diane Ravitch had the integrity and the courage to speak up when she saw first-hand the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind. Jesse Turner (Children are More than Test Scores) walked from Connecticut to Washington, D.C. in support of public schools. The list of those who have inspired us goes on and on.

Ken Bernstein (teacherken), Nancy Flanagan, Anthony Cody, Rita Solnet – so many people began to step up, saying, “It’s time to do something.” And here we are in January 2011. With thousands and thousands of voices shouting, “No, no, no” to NCLB and RTTT, and with few policymakers listening, we say, IT IS TIME TO TAKE ACTION.

I am honored to be a part of this group, although there are others doing far more than am I. They include university professors, retired principals, teachers, parents, educational advocates.

Our list of endorsers can be seen here, although it is hard for us to stay up to date, as more and more people involved with education, well known and ordinary people, step up to support us.

We are planning a four-day event. It will include a gathering near the White House. It will include workshops and addresses based at American University. Diane Ravitch has already agreed to speak to us.

Those of us involved in doing the work to prepare for this are doing it on top of our other responsibilities, because we believe in its importance. We are working with a professional organizer who has previously helped organize similar events in DC for non-profits. We understand what we have to do for permits, we have reserved space for both the demonstration and for the conference.

But now we need more.

We need support.

We need endorsements.

We need more volunteers.

We can surely use contributions.

Look again at some of the major names in education who have endorse this

Diane Ravitch

Deborah Meier

Alfie Kohn

David Berliner, past president of American Educational Research Association

Yong Zhao of Michigan State University

Kenneth Goodman, emeritus at U of Arizona

Sam Meisels, President of the Erickson Institute in Chicago - an expert on early childhood education

Note the leaders of parent groups:

Julie Woestehoff of PURE in Chicago

Rita Solnet of Parents Across America

Mona David of New York Parents Charter Association

we have former state teachers of the year

we have university professors

we have film makers

we have ordinary teachers and principals

We have much of the leadership of Rethinking Schools

we have ordinary folks who care deeply about what is happening to public education

We are not being funded by the Gates or Broad Foundations.

We do not have the access to media of Davis Guggenheim with Waiting for Superman, or Michele Rhee being on the covers of Time and Newsweek

We have something far more important. We have the voices of those most committed to public education and the student in all of our schools, including charters.

We need more.

We need you.

Please consider how you can help.

You can contribute

You can sign up to stay informed.

You can volunteer by emailing our volunteer coordinator at elwaingortji at cbe dot ab dot ca

You can pass on the information about Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action to others - via email, Twitter, Facebook or other means.

Thank you in advance for anything you can do.


July 28-31, 2011

Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus

If teachers, parents, school boards, administrators, community members, and lawmakers can listen to each other and work on this problem together, we can lessen the tide of teacher attrition, ultimately improving the learning and working environment in schools for everyone. (p. 156)

Those are the final words of this new book by Katy Farber. Depending on what statistics you use, we lose up to 30% of new teachers in the first three years, up to 50% in the first five. Some clearly should not have been teachers in the first place. But others bring the passion, knowledge and, at least potentially, the skill we need for all of our students. Some of those we lose early in their career are already great teachers, others are potentially so. The reasons that cost us these teachers also cost us those later in their careers, who all recognize are great.

This book can help us begin to address the problem.

Katy Farber was mentoring another teacher at her school in Vermont when that teacher quit after only two years. She was stunned. Her mentee was enthusiastic, creative, and the kids loved her. Farber decided to study the issue of teacher attrition, why we lose so many so early, and in the process began hearing consistent messages from teachers across the country. This was also at a point in her own professional career that potentially represented a cross-roads for her:
A perfect storm of difficult parents, a new principal, and a new teaching partner brought many of these issues to the forefront for me (p. xiii)

This book is something you can choose to sit down and read through, but the design makes it clear that there are other approaches you can take. After the various introductory materials, there are eight chapters, followed by a brief set of Final Thoughts by the author, a list of references, and an index. Each of the eight chapters focuses on a specific area that is a source of tension and possible disillusionment for teachers. In order, these are

1. Standardized Testing
2. Working Conditions in Today's Schools
3. Ever-Higher Expectations
4. Bureaucracy
5. Respect and Compensation
6. Parents
7. Administrators
8. School Boards

Each chapter presents a real-life scenario, drawn from Farber's contacts with teachers through conversations, posts on blogs, emails, and other forms of communication. The scenarios are followed by discussions containing thoughts from additional teachers, as well as a list of suggestions Farber describes as "practicable, applicable recommendations for administrators and teacher leaders" (p. xvi).

It is fair to say that while there is no one single reason causing teachers to leave the profession, a large number of the reasons that influence them, and which Farber explores in this book, could be generally classified as experiencing a lack of respect. That lack of respect applies to skill, knowledge, work conditions, salary, treatment by administrators, and treatment by parents.

Let's focus on working conditions for a moment. Teachers have far less flexibility for things like bodily functions and meals than do most menial workers. There are also issues with unhealthy buildings, use of toxic substances to clean. There are real issues of safety. Imagine you have a college degree. Now imagine you may have to go three hours without being able to take a bathroom break, or that you may have a lunch period as short as 15-20 minutes to yourself. That is the real world of conditions for many teachers.

Or consider this. A significant proportion of teachers, particularly at the elementary level, are female. If they are starting families, and wish to breast feed an infant, is there any provision for a teacher to express milk during the school day? Or is our solution going to be that we are going to exclude nursing mothers from being in the classroom, even though we might thereby diminish the pool of highly qualified and effective teachers?

Farber offers thoughtful comments from teachers on all the topics she covers. Because the impact of testing is perhaps the most covered of these, I will not explore the valuable material she offers on that topic. But we should not avoid exploring the related topic of ever-higher expectations. Even without the imposition of such higher expectations, responsible teachers already feel crushed by the demands on the time they have. Increasingly, the demands “are not directly related to teaching students” which as Farber notes, is often the main motivation for teachers to be in the classroom. She also writes:
This state of affairs is exhausting and dispiriting. Many teachers shared that they simply don’t have enough time to do everything that they feel they should be doing. And it is eroding their personal and professional lives. (p. 44)

The advice offered by veteran teachers is to set limits, as one experience suggests to no more than 9 hours of school-related work daily. Yet this can create conflicts for those really dedicated to their students. If, for example, I were to limit my workday to 9 hours, of which 7.5 were in school, how could I conceivably read and correct papers from the vast majority of my 192 students in order for those corrections to be part of a meaningful learning experience? Do I limit the amount of work I assign in order to keep up with it? Do I shortchange the feedback to which my students are entitled? Do I allow the responsibilities of effective teaching to consume time that should be available for things outside of my school responsibilities? None of the three choices is truly acceptable, yet in reality for many teachers such are the options from which they can choose. Choices like this are just one example of the pressures that many good teachers experience, and that can help drive them from the profession.

Hopefully by now you have a sense that that book will connect you with the real experience of real teachers. The structure provides not merely their reactions, but a context from which those reactions flow, as well as material that can help ameliorate some of the problems that are contributing to our losing some of the teachers we really want to keep.

Just that justifies purchasing the book as a valuable reference tool. But that is not all one gets from this book. The final four pages of text, 153-156, are under the title of “Afterward: Final Thoughts” and these pages bring together final conclusions from the wealth of material Farber has provided. There are three sections, titled respectively, Why Teachers Teach,: To Educational Leaders, Policy Makers and Politicians; and To Teachers. In the first, Farber tells that most teachers look beyond the challenges discussed in the book.

They tend to be idealists. They strive constantly to improve their teaching, public education, and the lives of their students. It is our responsibility as citizens, educational leaders, parents, and politicians to support them in doing so. (p. 153)

In the 2nd, directed to those who are not teachers but have a great influence on education, Farber offers 4 points, the last of which is this:
Elevate the dialogue about public education by infusing your comments, thoughts, and ideas about education with respect for the hard work that teachers are doing in America. As you may have noticed from this book and several others like it, teaching is no easy task. Before making broad and sweeping pronouncements about education, think how your comments will forward the goals of educating children and supporting teachers. (p. 155)

Speaking as a teacher, were the public dialogue about education more respectful about teachers, we would likely be less resentful of others who do not understand the task of teaching and seek to impose “solutions” without regard to the real welfare of the students who are our primary concern.

Farber concludes with words directed towards teachers. You have already read, at the very beginning of this review, her final words. In this final portion of the book she refers to words by Jonathan Kozol about making the classroom “a better and more joyful place than when [the students] entered it” (from his Letters to a Young Teacher). Kozol also reminds us that we cannot let our concern for professional decorum overwhelm and suppress our very human need to reach out to and comfort our students. Farber concludes her quoting of Kozol with words from p. 208 of that book directed to teachers: “A battle is beginning for the soul of education, and they must be its ultimate defenders.”

Farber wants teachers to remember why we got into education, to reconnect with our beliefs, use those to fuel our energy. Or as she puts in the final sentence of her penultimate paragraph on p. 156: “Remember your core beliefs about life, learning, and teaching, and then let them guide and refresh you.”

For public education to properly serve our students and our society, we must focus on quality teachers. They are the most important in-school factor. We certainly do not want to discourage the best of them, to continue to see them leave the profession out of frustration.

This is a book by a teacher, with words of teachers, about teachers, and about the challenges they face. It can remind those of us who do teach why we do so, not only to reconnect us with our core beliefs, but also to motivate us to speak up beyond our individual classrooms on behalf of the well-being of our students and the ultimate success of public schools.

The book is also something that others concerned with education should read with care, if for no other reason that no meaningful improvement in public education can occur without a solid and continuing cadre of dedicated and committed and highly skilled teachers. Insofar as politicians, policy makers and others ignore that, they will undermine the possibilities of any meaningful reform.

We can no longer continue the ongoing loss of skilled teachers. It costs too much financially. It costs even more in lost learning and benefits to our society.

I highly recommend that anyone concerned about the future of public education read and absorb this book. That would be a good start towards turning our discussions about educational policy in directions less destructive of the core of skilled teachers we have but we are losing.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mario Small Responds

Dear all,

Considering the visibility of the Boston Review piece---and given its numerous distortions and misrepresentations---I think it's important for people to read the original paper themselves and arrive at their own conclusions. The Boston Review piece is threatening to set the discussion back 30 years. The Introduction to the issue (Small, Harding, and Lamont 2010) is available for free here: . I believe the full issue is available for free, too: . Inspired by Wikileaks, I believe people should have the opportunity to read the sources.

There might be a place at some point for a full rebuttal of the Boston Review piece, but a few especially pernicious misrepresentations are worth noting.

1. On the claim that the Annals piece is trying to resurrect "the culture of poverty." This is completely untrue. The Introduction explicitly rejects the Lewis "culture of poverty" model for its theoretical inconsistencies and its failure to stand up to empirical scrutiny. A NYT reporter may have titled her column, "Culture of Poverty Makes a Comeback," but journalism is not scholarship, that column largely cites scholars who were not part of the Annals volume, and the Annals piece makes no such claim. For what it's worth, the title of our piece is "Reconsidering [that is, *rethinking*] Culture and Poverty."

2. On the claim that the Annals piece is arguing that we should favor cultural explanations over structural ones. This is untrue (and rather ridiculous, for anyone familiar with Harding's or Small's work on neighborhood effects, organizational conditions, etc.). Instead, the Introduction explicitly argues that (a) decades of research have made clear the significance of structural conditions, and (b) we should evaluate cultural explanations *empirically*, not *politically*. If such explanations find no support, they should be dropped, which is the way scientific knowledge grows.

3. On the implication that the Annals piece is arguing (as represented in the A&L Daily's lead to the Boston Review piece) that "black culture causes black poverty." This is not only untrue (and, again, preposterous to anyone familiar with our empirical research); it is precisely the opposite of our argument. We specifically reject the idea that there is a homogeneous black culture and, separately, report and cite the dozens of studies that have debunked the notion that the values of the poor are the cause of their poverty. Only Steinberg---and others in the media---seem to believe that anyone is still having that debate, which has been settled by the scholarship long ago. (I also find it disturbing that the Boston Review piece seems to use "black" and "poor" interchangeably when discussing cultural models, another tendency of 1960s research. Our review is not about African Americans, most of whom [as I have also argued elsewhere] are not poor, even in metropolitan areas.)

There are many other distortions, but I should at least point out what we do argue. First, our core argument is that scholarship in poverty has been stuck in old models of culture (including the ideas that culture=values and that culture causes poverty) that have long been abandoned by sociologists of culture. The sociology of culture over the last 30 years has developed a long literature---on cultural capital, scripts, frames, institutions, and other models of culture---that have been fruitful in education, social movements, and other fields, and---we argue---would be useful in poverty research as well. This argument seems so elementary and non-controversial that one would have to be either blinded by an agenda or fully unaware of the recent sociological literature to find much to disagree with. Still, we argue that this task is important for three reasons (pg 9-11): (a) to understand why people, e.g., in the same poor neighborhoods, differ in their ability to cope with poverty; (b) to debunk the existing popular myths about the culture of the poor (yes, this is *our* argument, not Steinberg's); and (c) to clarify a rather messy literature on the definition of "culture." (We also show that ignoring culture can lead to bad policy.) Again, I urge you to read the works on your own, rather than rely on the representations of others.

For what it's worth, readers will notice that Steinberg uses the Annals piece as a foil to have a one-on-one debate with Wilson that he's been having for decades. I'll let the principals speak to that. However, the fact that most of Steinberg's citations are dated before 1980 provides a hint that the review, superficial representations aside, is really not about our Annals piece.

Steinberg's piece is devoted to angrily denouncing that cultural values among blacks are not the cause of their poverty. No kidding. We have known that for years, and no one was arguing otherwise. What we do not yet know, for example, is why poor children who equally value education differ in their possession of the cultural knowledge required to apply to college. Or how the cultural assumptions of policy makers and legislators are affecting anti-poverty policy. Both of these issues, among many others, are the subject of our volume, not the rehashed material that the Boston Review piece misleadingly implies. Steinberg's rhetorical trick is to resurrect a debate that no one was having and to declare himself the winner by adopting a long-settled position. Unfortunately, anger is no excuse to not keep up with the literature.



For some reason the system is not allowing me to post responses to my own post.

Let me say that I put my earlier response up much too quickly, and that, in fact, I sent the Lamont and Small article to my entire faculty months ago because I was impressed with it. I should have made this clear.

Wilson is a different issue--whether he means to be or not. And Steinberg's larger concerns are legitimate, whether the details of his issue with this book are completely on target.

This is a danger of quick posts. Nonetheless I take full responsibility for the earlier post.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Poverty of Culture of Poverty Arguments

Note: See Mario Small's Response here.

Poor Reason: Culture Still Doesn’t Explain Poverty, by Stephen Steinberg

Indeed, the comeback of the culture of poverty, albeit in new rhetorical guise, signifies a reversion to the status quo ante: to the discourses and concomitant policy agenda that existed before the black protest movement forced the nation to confront its collective guilt and responsibility for two centuries of slavery and a century of Jim Crow—racism that pervaded all major institutions of our society, North and South. Such momentous issues are brushed away as a new generation of sociologists delves into deliberately myopic examinations of a small sphere where culture makes some measurable difference—to prove that “culture matters.” . . .

While he routinely violates his own axiom about the integral relationship between culture and social structure, Wilson injects what might be called the “culturalist caveat.” In a section on “the relative importance of structure and culture,” he concedes, “Structural factors are likely to play a far greater role than cultural factors in bringing about rapid neighborhood change.” But what structural changes does he have in mind? Despite the fact that Wilson’s signature issue for many years was jobs, jobs, jobs, since his cultural turn there has been nigh any mention of jobs. Affirmative action is apparently off the table, and there is no policy redress for the nation’s four million “disconnected youth” who are out of school and out of work.

A few years ago I was preparing a section of a course to examine the current research on the causes of urban poverty. What I found was disheartening. William Julius Wilson has always been on the edge of "blaming the victim" arguments (if not over it). The description in the article linked above of the resiliency of "culture of poverty" arguments, despite their lack of much explanatory power, even among "progressive" scholars is extremely destructive. I have enormous respect for the authors in the book that this article focuses on. Mario Small and Michele Lamont are two of the best scholars we have. But I worry that because their focus is culture that they may end up inadvertently strengthening the culture of poverty issue. Their academic interest is culture, and so they seem to stress the importance of culture even when culture is not really that important. (I've made a similar argument before about the obsession of educators with pedagogy even when pedagogy is not the core issue.)

Let's be clear. There is NO robust evidence that there is a durable "culture of poverty" in the central city or elsewhere that independently prevents people from succeeding. There IS extensive evidence that people develop a range of strategies designed to respond to the specific realities of their context. (I make this argument in more detail here.)

A fascinating study of an Indian reservation before and after the coming of a casino found that children of parents who had been poor prior to the casino acted in ways indistinguishable from children who had always been middle-class after the casino brought new income to their families.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Faculty at WSU College of Education Weigh in on WA Governor's Proposal

When Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a major overhaul of the state’s education programs last week, I needed some expert input in order to have an informed opinion. I’m still learning what I can. So far, most educators I’ve asked agree on the need for change, but have reservations about the governor’s approach. Or they like her proposal, but doubt it will get past the political hurdles.

Here are some of the comments I’ve received from my best source of information, the College of Education faculty:

Darcy Miller: It is a long overdue change. Folks involved with education from preschool to graduate school need to work together. As it is, their efforts are fragmented and disjointed. One group requires one thing, and another group mandates something else. While the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) sees its job as working only with K-12 schools, we in college teacher education programs must work with OSPI. It is involved with our accreditation, impacts the quality of our programs, and influences many aspects of teacher education. We need that office to view colleges of education as partners in preparing teachers.

Chad Lochmiller: There are two elements in the proposal that could, if implemented and funded, result in serious reforms. First, the governor’s idea of consolidation is good, except that she’s consolidating the wrong elements of the system. It makes more sense to consolidate the Department of Early Learning, OSPI, and the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges into one seamless system while leaving the university system independent. This would mean that the state is responsible for early learning through an associate’s degree. My belief is that we need to think in terms of a P-14 public education system. Every child should graduate with the skills and knowledge that comes with an associate’s degree and have access to the job market that the associate’s degree creates. Second, I like the creation of launch year for high school seniors — a concept that could work if OSPI and SBCTC were consolidated. Allowing students to begin exploring their professional interests in high school makes sense. We’re making a big mistake to route every child onto a college/university path. For some kids, that’s not what they want to do.

Leslie Hall: A new Department of Education is a great idea for several reasons. First, the state’s biggest expense after personnel is education. As the executive officer of the state, the governor needs to know what is going on in all areas of education. In addition, the current bureaucracy does not make it easy for K-12 educators, OSPI, or higher ed and their multiple committees to talk about the common goal of educating students. My hope is that a Secretary of Education would facilitate conversations so that efforts would not be duplicated and a common vision for P-20+ students would inform all who work in Washington’s education arenas.

Janet Frost: In my experiences related to the Riverpoint Advanced Mathematics Project, I strongly agree that the educational system is fractured. For example, although a uniform college mathematics placement test was developed for use by all institutions of higher education, it is not being enacted because of those very divisions. Likewise, education funding is often split up in a way that limits projects like ours. For example, we cannot be funded to provide professional development for college math faculty, only for high school math teachers, thereby losing an opportunity to strengthen teaching at both levels so that students can make the transition successfully.

Gene Sharatt: There is no question that overlapping and conflicting commissions, committees and boards of directors often impede improvements in educational attainment for our students. However, it is unclear how one secretary of education would streamline the efficiencies of these organizations, because it would be essential for the new secretary to form advisory committees for sound counsel. More importantly, maintaining public accountability is critical and the highest form of public accountability is the general election. Maintaining independent bodies to ensure checks and balances is preferable to appointed leadership under one party.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Arne Duncan on School Reform

On many issues, Democrats and Republicans agree, starting with the fact that no one likes how NCLB labels schools as failures, even when they are making broad gains. Parents, teachers, and lawmakers want a system that measures not just an arbitrary level of proficiency, but student growth and school progress in ways that better reflect the impact of a school and its teachers on student learning.

Most people dislike NCLB's one-size-fits-all mandates, which apply even if a community has better local solutions than federally dictated tutoring or school-transfer options. Providing more flexibility to schools, districts and states - while also holding them accountable - is the goal of many people in both parties.

Both Republicans and Democrats embrace the transparency of NCLB and the requirement to disaggregate data to show achievement gaps by race, income, English proficiency and disability, but they are concerned that NCLB is driving some educators to teach to the test instead of providing a well-rounded education.

That is why many people across the political spectrum support the work of 44 states to replace multiple choice "bubble" tests with a new test that helps inform and improve instruction by accurately measuring what children know across the full range of college and career-ready standards, and measures other skills, such as critical-thinking abilities.

NCLB's accountability provisions also prompted many states to lower standards, but governors and legislators from both parties in all but a handful of states have rectified the problem by voluntarily adopting higher college and career-ready standards set by state education officials.

Finally, almost no one believes the teacher quality provisions of NCLB are helping elevate the teaching profession, or ensuring that the most challenged students get their fair share of the best teachers. More and more, teachers, parents, and union and business leaders want a real definition of teacher effectiveness based on multiple measures, including student growth, principal observation and peer review. . . [read on]