Friday, October 14, 2005

Keep up to date on CA election news

Be sure to check in on Shari's blog to keep up with the California special election which is now a little more than three weeks away. She wrote about it here, here, and here.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Is "innovation" the new "reform"?

New Orleans schools will rise again. But first will come the demolition crews. From the AP:

Thursday, October 13, 2005; Posted: 11:04 a.m. EDT (15:04 GMT)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AP) -- The pungent smell of mold seeps out of broken windows at Louis Armstrong Elementary School, where toppled desks lie under overturned bookcases, all caked with layers of potentially toxic mud.

The school is a historic site that, along with another nearby school, was the first in New Orleans to integrate more than 40 years ago. Now a symbol for what faces area schools, it could be bulldozed if found too water-damaged and dangerous.

As the schools figure out how to proceed though, they can hardly guess how many students they will have:

But before a top-notch educational system can be realized, children who will fill these new, improved classrooms and hallways must return, something no one can promise.

"I would be surprised if they get 10,000 students this year," Jacobs said. "I'll be surprised if they end up with 25,000 next year. A tremendous amount of people are out of town where they're likely to find better housing, better schools and better jobs."

As of mid-October, families of about 2,000 students had contacted the school board saying they would return in November.


2,000 out of hundreds of thousands. It's really mind-boggling what happened there. But now as the schools rebuild, something else is happening that is equally mind-boggling:

Some said that if the majority of students don't return, it might be easier to create a new school system with the help of groups like the Gates Foundation, Council of Great City Schools and Pearson Learning Group.

"We'll be a smaller system in a smaller city, which might not be a bad thing for us," said Margaret Nicolosi, a teacher at Jean Gordon Elementary School.

Innovation may be the key for rebuilding.


Innovation is a good thing. But it seems to me that in education, innovation is like reform. Innocuous sounding and agreeable in general, it's often odious when the details are presented.

I like the Gates Foundation. I like the idea of small schools. But I'm not so sure what the agendas of the Council of Great City Schools and Pearson Learning Group are exactly. I'll be researching them more in the days to come. In the meantime, does anybody out there know more about them and their agenda for New Orleans' schools?

More technology, please

A report by the British Curriculum Authority (I like the name) says that students in English classes need to use more technology to be ready for the 21st Century workplace.

No doubt there will be growing pains as teachers and administrators struggle to adapt curriculum to a rapidly changing world. But sometimes I think these things are overblown. As with most skills, kids in the middle and upper classes will pick up these technologies easily because they are in their homes. A little instruction wouldn't hurt, but it's probably not so critical.

Where exposure to technology is desperately needed is with the poor. But then, needs are generally higher with the poor. From the BBC report about the recommendations made by the Curriculum Authority, there doesn't seem to be any mention of targeting resources to lower and lower-middle class schools to insure that disadvantaged kids have a chance. That's a shame.

NCLB is GREAT!


Check out this picture of Secretary Spellings. How much Botox can one person handle?

Maybe it's not Botox, but have you ever seen a person that peppy before?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Spellings gets "a little raunchy"

Secretary Spellings was quoted in the Washington Post talking about would-be Supreme Court Justice Harriet Miers. When asked about Miers' role as gatekeeper to the President, her comments were, well, interesting:

"The thing about Harriet is, it wasn't about Harriet," said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, a friend. "To her, it was a matter of moving the grist through the mill. . . . She was a manager of the process."

Unlike some high-level presidential aides, Miers has never sought to advance her own views. Amid the clash of ideas and egos in the West Wing, colleagues say, she has been an island of reserve and decorum. "She blushes when the rest of us got a little raunchy," said Spellings, who worked with her closely as Bush's domestic policy adviser.



A little raunchy? OK, I so do not want to know what is going on in the Oval Office. Ewww!

Remember this?

Anyone think Bush is exploring his inner Clinton?

Don't hate, advocate

Is "innovation" the new "reform"?

New Orleans schools will rise again. But first will come the demolition crews. From the AP:

Thursday, October 13, 2005; Posted: 11:04 a.m. EDT (15:04 GMT)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AP) -- The pungent smell of mold seeps out of broken windows at Louis Armstrong Elementary School, where toppled desks lie under overturned bookcases, all caked with layers of potentially toxic mud.

The school is a historic site that, along with another nearby school, was the first in New Orleans to integrate more than 40 years ago. Now a symbol for what faces area schools, it could be bulldozed if found too water-damaged and dangerous.

As the schools figure out how to proceed though, they can hardly guess how many students they will have:

But before a top-notch educational system can be realized, children who will fill these new, improved classrooms and hallways must return, something no one can promise.

"I would be surprised if they get 10,000 students this year," Jacobs said. "I'll be surprised if they end up with 25,000 next year. A tremendous amount of people are out of town where they're likely to find better housing, better schools and better jobs."

As of mid-October, families of about 2,000 students had contacted the school board saying they would return in November.


2,000 out of hundreds of thousands. It's really mind-boggling what happened there. But now as the schools rebuild, something else is happening that is equally mind-boggling:

Some said that if the majority of students don't return, it might be easier to create a new school system with the help of groups like the Gates Foundation, Council of Great City Schools and Pearson Learning Group.

"We'll be a smaller system in a smaller city, which might not be a bad thing for us," said Margaret Nicolosi, a teacher at Jean Gordon Elementary School.

Innovation may be the key for rebuilding.


Innovation is a good thing. But it seems to me that in education, innovation is like reform. Innocuous sounding and agreeable in general, but often odious when the details are considered.

I like the Gates Foundation. I like the idea of small schools. But I'm not so sure what the agendas of the Council of Great City Schools and Pearson Learning Group are exactly. I'll be researching them more in the days to come. In the meantime, does anybody out there know more about them and their agenda for New Orleans' schools?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lying liars

Ken Mehlman was back courting African-Americans only 43 days after the Administration's colossal failure after Hurricane Katrina. His message:

Mehlman urged the audience to give the Republican Party a chance, especially if they are dissatisfied with the quality of their children's education, housing or retirement options.


Wow. The Republican Party is going to improve education, housting, and retirement how? By dismantling the social safety net? By privatizing education and social security?

Of course, I'm not surprised. Deception -- no, let's call it what it is, lying is the modus operandi of the Bush Adminstration and its lackeys.

"I wanted to slap him"

You may or may not have seen the interview that an Irish journalist did with President Bush two summers ago. It was wildly entertaining. She refused to acquiesce to the president's slippery, evasive answers, instead pushing him to answer. Bush was clearly agitated with her and the exchange really was rare and entertaining.

Last Sunday, the journalist, Carole Coleman, wrote a narrative about the interview. I highly recommend it. Said Coleman, "I wanted to slap him." I understand the sentiment, but generally, it's not a good idea to slap a president. Physically, that is. Her questions were punishing enough.

The more things change...

I like this article.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Tidbits from TNR (which is now free)

The New Republic finally went to a free registration. Looking around I noticed that they didn't list one single Department of Education appointee on their top 15 hacks in the Bush Administration. I don't know the roster of the Ed. Dept. as well as some, but that surprise me.

Also, they have an excellent section on the history of the evolution vs. creationism debates.

Teacher success and student achievement

Jenny D. went to a conference in Dayton, OH that was also attended by Rod Paige and Checker Finn. Her account of the conference, supported by the conservative Fordham Foundation, was very intriguing.

First of all, two of the ideas from the conference -- establishing a mandatory year of service after high school and establishing a more coherent social studies curriculum -- are very sensible ideas that I think any progressive could get behind. Any chance of reaching across aisles to get these things done?

Second, I find it fascinating that ex-Secretary Paige wonders why teachers don't like NCLB. (Oh, let me count the ways.) Writes Jenny D:

Paige and I talked about my days as a magazine editor when I ranked schools. He also asked me if I thought that the resistance to NCLB on the part of professional educators came from their (the educators') beliefs that they cannot improve student achievement. I said yes, in some cases. But I also said that I thought we ought to be able to improve pedagogy, to study and better understand what teachers do that has a big impact on student learning, and then leverage those moves.

It was interesting. Checker Finn eventually called me an agitator...which I took as a compliment coming from him.


I very much agree with Jenny D. that we need to better understand what teachers do that improves student achievement, but the main thing is self-evident: they care. They form relationships and get involved in students' lives. The rest is important, but secondary.

But we've also got to be clear about what we mean by "achievement." Think about what you've done in your life that you would qualify as achievement. Maybe you got a college degree, maybe you got a good job, you raised children who are kind and good, you bought a book, you took a class that pushed you, you made a difference in someone's life... There would be a million things on any relatively happy person's list. But I wonder, if you really do this thought experiment, would you anywhere --anywhere -- on that list put your score from a standardized test? From any standardized test? I just don't get how passing a test -- by itself -- can be characterized as achievement. It's way too narrow.

I don't know about anybody else but that's one of this teacher's problems with No Child Left Behind.

The inequity of college opportunities

TomPaine.com runs an informative little article about the declining educational opportunities for lower income Americans.

Nut graf:

Enrollment at four-year colleges increased by 20 percent for the richest segment of Americans in the last two decades, while it actually declined among lower-income children. As David Brooks put it, "…each generation of Americans seems to be challenged in its own way to provide its children with an open field and a fair chance."


It is unconscionable and, more pragmatically speaking, unwise and harmful to the economy to let that situation persist.

We don't need no stinkin' science

The Palm Beach Post reports that millions of tax dollars support the teaching of creationism in Florida's private schools.

Money quote:

"Many of the parents bring their kids here because they want a Christian education," said Frederick White, principal at Mount Hermon Christian School, where about a dozen of the 115 students are using vouchers. "And a Christian education does not include evolution."


Indeed, it does not. All the more reason to leave private schools private. (Via NSBA's Board Buzz.)

Technological advances in learning

There's an interesting article on technology in American colleges at US News & World Report. A sample:

Colleges and universities around the country are scrambling to keep pace with innovations in technology, both to flaunt their abilities as cutting-edge research institutions and to engage a generation of students armed with camera phones, Wi-Fi laptops, and Google. Some classroom technologies, like course websites, are already widespread while others--such as podcast lectures--are still experimental. But each new technique aims to revolutionize the learning process. Many faculty and students worry, though, that these advances are just distractions from the material and from time-tested methods of teaching. No one yet knows how effective these new teaching tools are. For now, students and instructors are engaged in what amounts to a national beta test to determine which of these technologies will go to the head of the class.


They give some anecdotes to illustrate some of the new technologies that are being used. There's no doubt that most of them are useful, but, in the final analysis, no technology can substitute for a teacher's passion and a student's interest. Technology can enhance a learning experience but it's no substitute for a teacher-student relationship.

Kindergarten Sobriety Test

Stephen Colbert will be leaving the Daily Show to start his own show. We can only hope that he, too, will cover education stories. Who could forget "No Child's Sweet Behind" or the piece on abstinence education or Evolution Schmevolution Week? Great stuff.

Apparently he's already considering at least one education segment. In Howard Kurtz's Washington Post media column, he writes about Colbert's office which has notecards with ideas for segments. One of them is "Kindergarten Sobriety Test." I can hardly wait.

As to why Colbert left Jon Stewart and Co:

As for losing Colbert, ... [Stewart] says: "We were lucky to have the guy as long as we had him. One year we kept him because we hid his keys."

Colbert says that although "The Daily Show" is a decent program, he jumped ship because "I really think they have shirked the responsibility that comes with the awesome power of basic cable."


And Stewart's role in the new show?

Stewart, whose show has won Emmys for three straight years, is also an executive producer of "The Colbert Report." Which means what, exactly? "I clap my hands, and people bring me fruit," he says. "It's a title, like in the House of Lords."


And how much does that pay?

Property taxes don't make sense

Funding schools by taxing property simply doesn't make any sense anymore. It made sense when property was the main measure of a person's wealth but now it's one of many and income is far more important.

Here's more evidence from the Boston Globe:

Momentum is growing on Beacon Hill to change the state education funding formula, answering the call of leaders in Ipswich, Rockport, Newburyport and other communities, who think property values are an unfair measure of their school districts' financial needs.

The current formula, which determines a community's funding level by its property tax base, has worked against cities and towns with swiftly rising property values but stagnating incomes, according to many local leaders.

Over the last decade, for instance, property values for single-family homes in Ipswich soared 117 percent, from a median value of $192,600 to $418,700, but the median household income of the town rose just 17 percent, from $52,279 to $61,409.


We have the exact same problem in Texas. If schools are ever to be funded adequately, and if taxpayers are to ever be taxed fairly, school revenues must not be tied as closely to property wealth as they are now.

Hurricane relief bill on the shelf for now

The hold up? At least partly, the Bush Administration's insistence on including the largest voucher program ever -- by far -- is to blame.

See today's NSBA Board Buzz for details.

Bush has precious little political capital to use. Is this really how he wants to use it? There are so many other ways to help out evacuated students that the argument that this is for the kids is ridiculous at best. To this point, there has been no sign from Sen. Enzi (R-WY) , Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, that he will give in on the issue of vouchers.

We'll find out who blinks when Congress comes back in next week. Don't blink, Senator. Don't blink.
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