Articles in the Dropout Prevention category

Putting school reform in context

1377-1245004138PKaRThe opinion piece in Sunday’s Washington Post by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and 13 other school leaders was titled “manifesto,” a word I find a little unnerving.  It suggests certain arrogance, a we-know-what-you-need-even-if-you-don’t kind of attitude. Plus, it’s inevitably colored by the work of two 19th century German theorists, who got some things right about capitalism but a lot more wrong.

So it didn’t’ strike me as a particularly stellar PR move. However, it turns out the name “manifesto,” might have been attached by some Post editors because other papers that picked up the piece called it something different. Still, judging by it’s tone, you couldn’t quite title it “All Together Now: Let’s Improve our Schools.”

No, the piece is an argument against the status quo and the power of teacher unions. And I must say I agree with much of it; personally, I believe principals should be able to hire – and fire – pretty much whomever they please, without having their hands tied with cumbersome seniority rules. What if a principal has a bias against a certain teacher and treats him unfairly? you ask. My answer: The same thing that happens in the private sector: if he’s good, he’ll go somewhere else, with a better boss.

The problem with the “manifesto” is it suggests that personnel rules are the only problem, that little else is holding students back in poor urban schools, and this is simply not the case.
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Naomi Dillon|October 19th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Photo by Jim Lillicotch courtesy of Publicdomainpictures.net

Photo by Jim Lillicotch courtesy of Publicdomainpictures.net

Greetings, blog readers. And welcome to The Week in Blogs’ First Occasional Pop Quiz About Important Education News You Should Know About. (We’re still working on the title.)

Today’s question: What big-city school leader announced plans this week to step down after a whirlwind tenure that included closing 22 schools, instituting a new evaluation system for teachers, and introducing performance pay?

Michelle who?

No, we’re talking about Mark Roosevelt, the innovative superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, who is stepping down Dec. 31 to seek the job of president of Antioch College, which had closed because of financial difficulties but is planning to reopen next fall.

An excellent analysis of Roosevelt’s tenure in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also describes the superintendent’s bold “leap of faith” in establishing the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program for city schools graduates who meet certain requirements. With the help of a major grant from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as well as its own fundraising, the program has provided more than 2,400 scholarships.

For a change of pace (or perhaps comic relief) read Slate’s story, entitled “Tea Party Candidate Wants to Eliminate Public Schools.” It’s about David Harmer, the GOP candidate for California’s 11th Congressional District, who 10 years ago said public schools are “socialism in education” and proposed going back to “the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood.”  Did we say this was funny? Slate cites one election analyst who gives Harmer a 54.7 percent chance of beating Democratic incumbent Jerry McNerney. (Thanks to Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education for alerting us to the stories about the Pittsburgh schools and Harmer’s candidacy.)

Lastly, read the Alliance for Excellent Education’s blog about the high cost to the nation (and to taxpayers) of students dropping out of college. The American Institutes for Research study says that states appropriated almost $6.2 billion between 2003 and 2008 to help pay for the education of students who did not return for a second year. The study underscores the important work school districts must do to ensure that all college-bound students are prepared for the academic challenges ahead.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|October 16th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools|

Fragile familes, fragile lives

Library of Congress photo

Library of Congress photo

Maybe you’ve never heard the term “fragile families” — I hadn’t — but you no doubt have many children from these families in your schools. If your district is relatively affluent, you probably have less of them; but if your district is poor, these children could easily represent 70 percent or more of your students.

Fragile Families are defined as couples that are unmarried when their children are born, according to a new report from The Future of Children, a collaboration between Princeton University and the Brookings Institution. According to the report, children from these families are more likely to live in poverty, have serious behavioral issues, and (it will probably come as no surprise) do poorly in school.
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Lawrence Hardy|October 12th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Homeless People, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Wellness|

The quiet crisis in adolescent literacy

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.net

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.net

When did you learn to read?  Kindergarten? First grade? Second grade?

Those are all good answers, but they tell only half the story. Because, if you eventually developed advanced literacy skills, you never really stopped learning to read as you moved through elementary and middle school and into high school. Gradually, as your skills improved, your focus shifted from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” as reading experts say. It’s a process that should occur by at least fourth grade, according to a new policy brief by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Unfortunately, many children never get to the “reading to learn” phase. While they may be able to repeat the words in a text, they lack the literacy skills to truly understand their meaning. These children, many of them poor and minorities, enter middle and high school reading at 4th grade reading levels or worse. And – not surprisingly – a large number of them fail.

A big problem is that many school districts aren’t designed to offer the kind of sophisticated reading instruction that young adolescents need, the Alliance brief says. Not enough high school teachers are trained in literacy instruction, and many high schools “silo” their subjects in ways that allow reading remediation to fall through the cracks.

The Alliance Brief is called The Federal Role in Confronting the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy, but it has much to say about the responsibility of states and school districts as well. And it links to several other studies that offer districts all kinds of ideas for addressing a crisis that too often goes unnoticed and unaddressed.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|October 5th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|

The week in blogs

Library of Congress illustration

Library of Congress illustration

No need to tell you – you’ve no doubt heard. A new education documentary came out today in selected cities, and it’s soon to be released nationwide. It’s called Superboard, and it tells the story of seven hard-working school board members who toil countless hours for the good of their communities. Stellar public servants all, these Mighty Seven are dedicated to student achievement, live lives of continuous improvement, and exude the kind of high-level boardsmanship that would make even W. Edwards Deming proud. Heck, just reading one of their agendas could bring you to tears.

Well, at least the tears part is true. Because there were lots of tears on Oprah on Monday as the mega talk show host introduced David Guggenheim, the director of the new documentary Waiting for Superman. (Along with Bill Gates and Washington D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee – whom Oprah dubbed a “warrior woman.”) And, sorry, it’s not about the wonders of school boards. 

I haven’t seen the film, but from what I’ve heard, Superman is a pretty damning portrait of the education “establishment”  – and a love letter to charter schools. (Although, to her credit, Oprah did mention that there are some very bad charter schools, along with the good ones. Maybe you know of some.).
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Lawrence Hardy|September 24th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|

High School Harassment, real and imagined

0909vailgraphicWe’re a bit late jumping on the bandwagon, but my wife and I recently watched the first season of Glee – Fox TV’s comedic take on a high school glee club — and are now, according to the lingo, certified “Gleeks.”

Why are we so smitten? Well, for one, the characters are expertly cast, and the singing, dancing and, especially, acting, are remarkable. The young stars have really gotten into the heads of adolescents and given us a true portrait of what high school is like.

Sort of. Because, in truth, much of the appeal of Glee is pure escapism. McKinley High is a mythical kind of school, a place where even the bad guys (and girls) are endearing and the worst thing that can befall you is being doused with a Slurpie in the hall or — if you’re Kurt, the one gay glee club member – ritually tossed into the trash bin by the football players at the start of school. (Mr. Schuester, the Spanish teacher and glee club director, drives by the trash bin a few times, and barely notices. So no harm done.) 

The real world is not so benign. A report released yesterday by the national gay rights group Campus Pride found that nearly one quarter (23 percent) of gay and bisexual students face harassment on college campuses, and more than a third (33 percent) “have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate,” according to a news release accompanying the report.
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Lawrence Hardy|September 21st, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Discipline, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, School Climate, School Security, Wellness|

For some kids, first day back is not filled with new hope and promise

stockvault_7682_20070524Coincidence or not, I have many friends and loved ones who happen to be teachers, including my fiancee whose first day of classes began this week.

He works in a challenging high school in a rough neighborhood of Washington D.C. But even I was surprised to hear about one particular episode during his class.

While he roamed the room, lecturing and introducing them to the principles and expectations of the course, a handful of students kept up a steady stream of stage-whispered expletives— the kind that would make your mother blush.

As shocked as I was to hear the retelling of this tale, my fiancee was, no doubt, even more set aback.

Rather than ignore these disruptive mutterings or respond with an outburst of his own, he noted the disturbance, deduced the offenders, and continued on with his instruction.

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Naomi Dillon|August 25th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Dropout Prevention, Leadership, School Climate, Teachers|Tags: |

A silver bullet is tarnished

Photo courtesy of stockvault.net.

Photo courtesy of stockvault.net.

It sounded almost too good to be true.

According to a 2009 report from Stanford University professor Carolyn Hoxby and her colleagues, New York City’s charter schools had accomplished something that most urban school systems find virtually impossible – they had significantly closed the “Scarsdale-Harlem gap.” That is, they had largely addressed and conquered one of the thorniest problems in public education: how to improve the academic achievement of poor and minority children.

“This is a shocking finding that, if true, would suggest that charters could be the magic bullet after all,” writes Marco Basile, a researcher at the Century Foundation, in a report released Monday by TCF and the Economic Policy Institute. 

Unfortunately, Basile says, it isn’t true.
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Lawrence Hardy|August 10th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|

The week in blogs

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.

It just gets weirder in Arizona.

Most everyone knows about the state legislature’s tough new immigration law, the most controversial parts of which were struck down by a federal judge last month. Less well publicized – at least outside the Grand Canyon State – is the effort by Arizona School Superintendent Tom Horne to make the largely Hispanic Tucson Unified School District drop an ethnic studies course that he says promotes “destructive ethnic chauvinism.” But Horne, a candidate for state attorney general, seems to be doing his best to keep it in the news.

The latest development, according to education blogger Joanne Jacobs: Horne is threatening to withhold 10 percent of Tucson’s state funding if the course is not dropped. Moreover, he’s insisting that the district videotape the classes.

“If they refuse,” Horne told Tucson’s Fox News affiliate, “we would intend to make that evidence to the administrative law judge that TUSD is in violation and they’re attempting to hide the evidence.”
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Lawrence Hardy|August 6th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|

The problem with paradise

Isola_di_Utopia_MoroI don’t know about you, but I’ve always found utopias to be kind of creepy. Whether it’s Thomas More’s Utopia, with its peasant dress and communal dining, or Aldous Huxley’s Island and its – in the immortal words of Wikipedia — “parrots trained to utter uplifting slogans,” it seems that one man’s paradise is another’s authoritarian hell.

America has its own rich history of utopianism, and if the real-world consequences of this multifaceted movement seem more benign, in retrospect, that the fictitious musings of More and Huxley, maybe it’s because the great majority of American utopias didn’t last long enough to realize their exalted dreams. (Shakers, you needed a better business plan.)

In his critique in the June issue of Teachers College Record, Larry Cuban isn’t going after the Shakers or the Owenites, but rather a strain of utopian thinking that the emeritus Stanford Education professor says persists today and is distorting the national conversation about public school reform. It may not be popular to rail against American optimism – even during what sometimes seems like Twilight in America — but Cuban makes a compelling case. 

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Lawrence Hardy|July 13th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|
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