Articles in the Week in Blogs category

The week in blogs: School violence, in many forms

School violence was in the news this week after a 17-year-old boy opened fire at a suburban Ohio high school and killed three students. One of the more provocative blogs on the incident, found in Time magazine, is titled: Ohio School Shooting: Are Parents to Blame? It noted that across the United States approximately 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms.

“We are not saying that every time a kid does something wrong, a parent must be held responsible or be blamed,” write the authors, Erika and Nicholas Christakis. “But a system that focuses its attention for kids’ failings everywhere but at home is equally blind. We hold hosts liable when a driver drinks at their home and kills someone while driving drunk. Having an unlocked, loaded gun in a home with a child under 16 should be a crime.”

As tragic as school shootings are, they aren’t nearly as common as another form of school violence: sexual abuse, writes Eduwonk blogger Andrew Rotherham in another Time piece. According to a 2007 investigation by the Associated Press, “2,570 educators were found to have engaged in sexual misconduct between 2001 and 2005 and more than 80 percent of those cases involved children.”

While 2,570 is miniscule compared to a national teaching force of more than 3 million, it’s still a large number, Rotherham said. And it means that states, school administrators, and school boards, must be vigilant in screening employees and protecting students.

“… Here’s the uncomfortable reality: people who want to molest children go where children are, and schools are an obvious place,” Rotherham writes. “After the last decade, anyone who is surprised that big institutions are vulnerable to sex-abuse scandals — think the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church — just hasn’t been paying attention.”

On another note, homeschooling has been much in the news recently, with GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s denunciations of public school and the federal and state role in education. Then, on Friday, a so-called “Tebow Bill” that would have allowed homeschooled students in Virginia to play interscholastic sports was narrowly defeated by a senate committee from that state. To find out more about homeschooling, where it’s been and where it’s going, see the excellent Feb. 29 blog in The Educated Reporter.

Finally, here’s a wonderful video of a innovative middle school math teacher who substitutes 40 cent note cards for an expensive whiteboard (her district can’t afford the latter) in an effort to help them correct common mistakes. Thanks to blogger Joanne Jacobs and The Teaching Channel.

Lawrence Hardy|March 2nd, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Curriculum, High Schools, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs: Obama’s education budget (abridged)

Want to get the high points of President Obama’s K12 budget — that is, without sifting through all the numbers and the fine print? Read the Quick and the Ed post by Rikesh Nana on the “three key takeaways” from the Administration’s proposal. It’s an excellent synopsis of what the president is proposing and what it all means.

So what are those takeaways? In order: consolidation of Department of Education programs (something that’s been tried in past budgets but never adopted): continued funding of Race to the Top and other competitive grant programs; and — in the absence of congressional action — an administration-sponsored overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

OK, sports fans, this next column is not about Jeremy Lin. (But if we find one on the New York Knicks sensation that has to do with K12 education, we promise to include it next week.) Instead, Eduwonk’s Andrew Rotherham looks at the firing — and quick rehiring by another team — of NHL hockey coach Bruce Boudreau and what that says about the importance of professional “fit.” Hint: It applies to teaching as well as big-time sports.

Been to Cleveland recently? Even if you haven’t, or have no plans to do so, you’ll want to check out another interesting Quick and the Ed blog on the city’s “portfolio” system of managing schools. Schools would operate with greater or lesser autonomy depending on their performance. “Charter schools as well as district-operated ones would participate,” says the blog by Richard Lee Colvin, “with the goal of giving families a real choice among several good options in every neighborhood.”

Lastly, check out Mark Bauerlein of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the attitudes and academic habits of college freshman. Here’s an interesting paradox (actually a bunch of paradoxes): more than 70 percent of students placed their academic ability in the “highest 10 percent” or “above average,” but only 45 percent felt that confident about their math ability, and just 46 percent believed they were that stellar in writing.

Lawrence Hardy|February 17th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Budgeting, Charter Schools, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The week in blogs: Making elementary school feel safe for all

By its very title, the report suggests that playgrounds, as well as other places in elementary schools, aren’t viewed as  “safe” by many students.

Titled Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, the report was released this week by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. (GLSEN). It found, among other things, that 75 percent of elementary school students “are called names, made fun of, or bullied with at least some regularity.”

“Most commonly this is because of students’ looks or body size (67%), followed by not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%) or because other people think they’re gay (21%),” the report said.

Along with the report, GLSEN also released Ready, Set, Respect! a toolkit for helping teachers understand bullying, gender nonconformity, and family diversity. Board members should also see NSBA’s extensive information on bullying and visit Students on Board, which recommends that school board members get critical information from some of the best sources around – students themselves.

“Honest conversations with students can be the quickest way you can move toward practical steps to sustain or improve school climate,” the Students on Board website says.

Also of interest this week is the National Journal’s Education forum on the push for more comprehensive education in civics. And NSBA’s Center for Public Education looks at a comprehensive study showing that teacher evaluations based on multiple criteria  – including well-designed and regular classroom observations – can be highly effective and accurate.

Lawrence Hardy|January 21st, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Bullying, Data Driven Decision Making, Diversity, Educational Research, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs: A gentleman’s C?

Education Week’s Quality Counts 2012 came out this week and with it the annual State of the States report card.  So how did the nation do?

“Overall, the nation received a grade of C across all policy and performance areas, which remained the same as a year ago,” writes Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

 That’s the average. But if you want to know whether that’s a half-full C or half-empty one, you’ll need to read the details, which Hull summarizes in his EDifier blog. The good news: states have been taking steps to improve their standards. The not-so-good news: states haven’t been especially innovative in terms of teacher policies.

One big teacher policy issue, value-added teacher evaluations, received a boost this week from a Harvard/Columbia study of teacher effectiveness, writes Hull in his second blog this week. For another look at the study, read Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. And for background, see the Center’s report “Building a Better Evaluation System.”

One critic of value-added is education historian and former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, who says in a recent blog that they “never” should be used.

Also read Ravitch’s post “NCLB Death Star,” which you have to admit — however you feel about the federal law that turned 10 this month — has a great title.

The Big Questions kept coming this week with a rather brave post by Jay Mathews, of the Washington Post’s Class Struggle blog, who revisits the issue of Intelligent Design and says (for a second time) that he thinks it should be taught alongside evolution.

After his first blog on the subject, Mathews received 400 not-so-nice e-mails. “Seventy percent of them said I was an idiot,” Mathews quipped. “Many added that I was a dangerous idiot.”

However, Mathews has an interesting reason for wanting Intelligent Design included. And — as you might expect — his post sparks a lively discussion.

 

 

Lawrence Hardy|January 13th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Student Achievement, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs: Center report on time in school elicits big response

Public education, like any discipline, has accumulated a lot of truisms over the years, most of which are, well … true.

Who can challenge statements like: Parents are the first teachers. School boards should set policy, not run the district. Next to home influences, teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education.

Pretty self-evident stuff.

And then there’s this: U. S. students don’t do as well as their international counterparts because they spend less time in school. True? Well, plausible enough (and certainly repeated enough) that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a reference to it recently, saying that students in India and China “are going to school 25 to 30 percent longer than we are,” and adding, “Our students, I think, are at a competitive disadvantage.”

Such a deficit might indeed be a competitive disadvantage —  if it were true.  But NSBA’s Center for Public Education examined the claim and, using the best available evidence, concluded that it was not.

For the report Time in School: How does the U.S. Compare? Senior Research Analyst Jim Hull compared the hours required in school by several nations that compete with the United States with the those required from five of the more populous states. (States were used because they set minimum hour requirements.)

His conclusion? U.S. students attend about the same number of hours as students in most of these other countries, with some variations. (Less than in Italy, for example; more than in Finland.) Moreover, Hull said, a big issue for schools is often not how much time they require, but what they do with the time they’ve got.

The report took off in the blogosphere, being featured in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet column in the Washington Post and several other places.

“Many modern school reformers have unfortunately maintained a narrow focus about the conditions that lead to academic success, including the notion that more time is necessarily better,” Strauss said.

In an EDifier blog, Hull said he appreciated the Posts citation, but he emphasized that “while simply adding more instructional time will not automatically improve student achievement. What gets lost is that adding time can be an effective tool to improve student achievement especially for students from low-income families.”

As they always say  — truism alert! – the devil is in the details.

The study was also picked up byThe Denver Post and U.S. News & World Report.

Lawrence Hardy|December 17th, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs

Beware the blog that begins, “If you want my opinion….” because chances are you’re going to get it, whether you want to our not.

So, as I was saying, if you want my opinion (promise I’ll keep this short) on the whole Newt-Gingrich-wants-poor-kids-to-work-as-school-janitors thing, it’s not the idea itself that bothers me, it’s the attitudes that seem to support it.

That is, I could imagine a small charter-type school in a disadvantaged neighborhood where the students were charged with taking care of the building as  part of a team-building, esprit-de-corps type activity.

But to suggest, as the Republican presidential candidate did, that poor children as a group lack any kind of working role models — well, that to me is a bit much. Gingrich obviously hasn’t spent much time in a diverse American high school with lots of poor immigrants, where oftentimes the problem isn’t students not working, but working so much outside of school to help support stressed families that they have precious little chance of passing their courses.

For the record, here’s some of what Gingrich said, according to the New York Times’ Politics blog, which, in turn, quoted Politico:

You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

Among the many who criticized the candidate was Charles Blow, of the Times, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“Who in their right mind would lay off janitors and replace them with disadvantaged children — who should be in school, and not cleaning schools,” Weingarten said. “And who would start backtracking on laws designed to halt the exploitation of children?”

Others, including Peter Meyer of the Fordham Foundation, said Gingrich was on the right track.

“It was a bit odd to to see Charles Blow (of the New York Times) take out after Newt Gingrich for saying that ‘really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,’’’ Meyer said. “I had just returned from an inner city school where teachers and administrators and parents were saying the same things as Gingrich.  In fact, I’ve been hearing these complaints from teachers – and business leaders – for years.  Teaching children the ‘habits of working’ is a growing part of the school reform movement.”

Yes, there was other news this week. For starters, check out Joann Jacobs’s discussion of how schools’ emphasis on reading and math tests could be crowding out other subjects.

Lawrence Hardy|December 10th, 2011|Categories: Curriculum, Immigrants, School Board News, Urban Schools, Week in Blogs|Tags: , |

The week in blogs

Pundits made a big deal about Rick Perry forgetting the name of one of the three federal departments he plans to eliminate if elected president– for the record, it was the Department of Energy — but blogger Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute is more concerned about just what the Texas governor means when he says the Department of Education would also be “gone.”

“It isn’t clear that abolishing the Department would itself end any federal education programs (since they can migrate elsewhere),” Hess wrote. “So, specifically, which programs and activities will you eliminate?”

Then – wouldn’t you know it? – it gets complicated.

Would Perry try to eliminate federal funding for special education? Hess asked. How about Pell grants or Title 1?

“Many will think there are obvious right and wrong answers to these questions,” Hess writes after posing a few other queries “But I do want to know what the GOP candidate’s bold promises really mean.”

Remember nearly 10 years ago when Connecticut went to court over No Child Left Behind, claiming it would cost millions in unfunded mandates? Well, just look at what it could cost California in required “reforms” in order to be granted an NCLB waiver by the Obama Administration, writes This Week in Education’s John Thompson, and Connecticut’s decade-old legal gambit doesn’t seem that out of line.

Lastly, we turn to two timely blogs from NSBA’s Center for Public Education.  In one Mandy Newport, a former teacher, Center intern, and graduate student at George Washington University, takes the Heritage Foundation to task for it’s ill-conceived idea that paying teachers less will result in education improvements.

Then there is Research Analyst Jim Hull’s blog on Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, the title of which I absolutely love:

“Using research to inform policy without understanding the research.”

Sort of like, “Vowing to eliminate the Department of Education without understanding what the Department of Education does?”

Lawrence Hardy|November 19th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , , |

The week in blogs

My favorite response to the Heritage Foundation’s controversial study that teachers just aren’t as, well, smart as your typical college grad and, therefore, are way overpaid is this Modest Proposal from a reader of Jonathan Chait’s New York Magazine blog:

“How about we just don’t pay teachers anything at all and hope for the best possible outcome. That’s my kind of public policy.”

Ours too! And we have a think tank we want you to join.

Seriously, it’s fairly well known that education majors don’t score as highly on standardized tests, on average, as graduates in other fields. So, while some may consider such a study offensive and counterproductive, one could argue that there’s a certain logic in trying to compare wages by cognitive ability.

On the other hand, there’s a lot more that goes into teaching than test scores, many teachers enter the field from other majors; and cutting teacher salaries, as the report’s authors suggest, seems to be the last thing you’d want to do improve the profession. Finally, after an unprecedented year of public employee — and, especially, teacher — bashing, it’s disturbing to see teachers as targets once again.

For other views on the study, see Time magazine; former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee (via Politico), and a response by report co-author Andrew Biggs.

A lot of grand ideas come out of Washington, emanating from think tanks such as Heritage and, of course, from government itself. Right now, Congress is taking a critical look at one of the biggest “grand ideas” — No Child Left Behind — struggling to preserve its goal of higher achievement for all while revising or abolishing its more onerous mandates.

That’s what’s happening here; for a view of what it was like in the trenches, read Mandy Newport, a former teacher, NSBA Center for Public Education intern, and graduate student in education policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., as she describes the real-world impact of NCLB.

“No chalkboard space was left in classrooms because we were required to use that space to hang standards and essential questions. Science and social studies were taken away for the younger grades and replaced with test taking skills for an hour a day … Lesson plans had to be a certain font and size and were on a template given to teachers by the district.”

But if we just paid teachers less…..

Finally, read Newport’s evenhanded — and largely positive — review of Denver’s ProComp Pay for Performance plan.

Lawrence Hardy|November 4th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Reauthorizing the federal education bill has been a little like the reverse of that old saying:  “hurry up and wait.” No, when it comes to renewing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — something that was supposed to happen, oh, four years ago — it’s been more like: “wait — now hurry up.”

The hurry-up happened Thursday, when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, voted 15 to 7 to approve a bill that greatly reduces the federal role by dispensing with a complicated and flawed accountability system for determining which schools need “improvement” and which do not.

That, and many other provisions of the bill, were welcomed by NSBA, state school boards associations, and school districts that had been laboring under the strictures of ESEA’s latest iteration: No Child Left Behind. But while NSBA was happy about that — and pleased that, after waiting so long, the Senate was finally addressing these issues — it cautioned against moving too fast in committee on a bill that still has a lot of bugs.

“The bill also contains many operationally unrealistic features that will need to be addressed,” NSBA Associate Executive Director Michael A. Resnick wrote in a letter to the committee this week. “For example, it contains extensive data collection and reporting requirements, as well as overbearing specificity in several key programs areas that cross well into the micro-management of our schools.”

 NSBA didn’t get the delay in the mark-up it wanted, but the committee did accede to a call from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, to hold a hearing on the bill on Nov. 8.

The blogosphere has been all over the map on this process, and, rather than try to make sense of it myself, I’m going to just give you the links and … .well, you can tell me what it all means. For starters, there was the unusual agreement between Paul, a Tea Party favorite, and liberal blogger Susan Ohanian, about the need for more time.

Then there was the Progressive Policy Institute – from the so-called reformist camp – charging that the law, as currently revised, “guts school accountability.”

Alexander Russo, of This Week in Education, asked “where was [Arne] Duncan?” He said the education secretary didn’t press the committee for a bill with a more robust federal role. Meanwhile, at the Fordham Institute, Mike Petrilli said much the opposite, asserting that Duncan’s influence helped make it all happen (so far). Petrilli also called the bill an improvement over the current law.

So reaction was indeed divided, which is not surprising given the complexity of the issues and the laborious process itself. But will there be a finished product soon, and will it pass?

Not likely, Education Sector’s Anne Hyslop told the Christian Science Monitor. With this divided and sometimes sclerotic Congress, she doesn’t see a bill passing the House until well after the 2012 campaign.

Lawrence Hardy|October 21st, 2011|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, School Reform, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , , , |

The week in blogs

At the more popular charter schools operating within the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are lotteries to see who gets to attend and waiting lists that are very long – 500 children long, in the case Larchmont Charter elementary school. But if you’ve got the money and the time, according to a revealing story in LA Weekly, you can go to the front of the line as “founding parents” — even though the school opened in 2004.

“Add something called a ‘founding parent’ to the long list of ways that charter schools are accused of manipulating which children get to enroll and who doesn’t,” writes Alexander Russo, who cites the story in his This Week in Education blog. But “before you go crazy…” he adds later, “remember that district schools also have all sorts of ways of letting students in through the back door …”

True …but, the scale of the Larchmont “program” and the amount of money involved – and how it bridges the increasingly blurry line between public and private schools – is truly amazing. And it backs up what charter skeptics have long said about charters tailoring their admission policies in various ways (for example, not accepting near as  many special needs children) but claiming a universal benefit for an area’s students.

Need something lighter? When I do, I turn to the Principal’s Page and Superintendent Michael Smith’s often amusing view of his job and life. This short piece is on his junior high school daughter’s unusual level of self-esteem, which is uncannily high for someone who has every right to be the brooding teenager.

My favorite line: “Her worst day ever was great.”

It reminds me of those brilliantly funny Dos Equis beer ads – yes, brilliant beer ads – featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” played by the late Jonathan Goldsmith. (I love these two lines, especially: “When he’s in Rome, they do as he does.” And: “His Mother has a tattoo that reads, ‘Son.’” – both uttered with mock gravity by a reader who, in real life, does the ultra-authoritative voiceover for PBS’s Frontline.)

Enough fun. There are serious issues to consider. And Jay Mathews has taken on a weighty one in his Class Struggle blog, namely how well schools are addressing the needs of gifted students. Actually, Mathews is commenting on a much longer article by Rick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, who says “not very well at all.” But, like Mathews, I don’t think re-restricting access to Advanced Placement courses, because they’re presumably not as rigorous as in the past, is the way to go.

The final item is not a blog, but a piece Friday on NPR’s All Things Considered about how the recession caused a drop in the U.S. birthrate. (Scroll down to “US  Birthrate Dropped During Recession,” which refers to this Pew Research Center report.)

So what’s so bad about 300,000 or so less babies a year? Well, think of that in terms of the reduced number of parental Babies R Us visits, and you get an idea of the economic impact.

“Then, as we look further down the road, school enrollments will be begin to fall,” said Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau who was interviewed on the radio show. “We would need fewer teachers….   A school board that looks at 15 percent fewer students has some tough decisions to make down the road.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 14th, 2011|Categories: Charter Schools, Student Achievement, Uncategorized, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , |
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