Teaching -- Where The Action's At

Tweaks, Bends, Waivers, Missed Deadlines (NCLB News)

Making Jay Mathews A Better Reporter (Media Coverage)

Lots of chatter this week about Jay Mathews' WashPost column: How to Make Me a Better Education Reporter, with some using the column as an excuse to bash education reporters and others taking aim at the study that Mathews used to make his point. (Turns out the sample size is pretty small.)

My take is that the quality of education coverage is fair game and a good topic of discussion, and kudos to Jay for raising it so prominently. The main point, as I see it, is that it's remarkably easy to get swallowed up talking just to education professionals -- administrators, etc. But that may be just as true on other beats.

Hey, where are the edublogs?

Baby Got...Back To School?

Target's new back to school ads feature a remake of "Baby Got Back," by Sir Mixalot, a racy homage to big backsides whose video (back when people still watched videos) was for a time too hot for MTV.

Wow. And I thought those Old Navy remakes of classic pop songs were bad. Maybe they're counting on most folks not knowing (or caring) what the original song was about. Maybe they're right.

For the orginal lyrics and more:
Target Gets Back And I Can Not Lie

Do Overs, Vomit Cleanup, and Summer Camp (School Life)

Hot, Hot, Hot!


USAT's Whitmire Takes on Orfield's Harvard Civil Rights Project

The most interesting piece on NCLB this week was Richard Whitmire's USAT editorial (No lessons left behind ) highlighting among other things the deafening silence in response to last week's generally good news about NAEP scores that came from not only the NEA (big surprise) but also from nominally progressive organizations like Gary Orfield's Civil Rights Project at Harvard, which has taken a mystifying stance against NCLB:

"Earlier this month, the group issued a report essentially accusing the federal law of being racially discriminatory because its accountability net caught too many poor and minority school districts. Huh? For years, poor and minority students have suffered from attending schools that have failed them. Holding those schools accountable is the law's bedrock."

Most misleading headline of the week goes to this one: Study: No Child Left Behind will fail most schools. It's the schools, not the law, that are failing, according to the report that's being cited. Blaming the law for failing the schools won't work.

Best of the Rest:

Utah plays waiting game on No Child rules Daily Herald
Requests Win More Leeway Under NCLB Education Week
Still swimming in Lake Wobegon Gadfly
An Interview with Chester Finn Education News
AFT Follows Separate Path in Changing Law EW

NRC Weighs In on States’ Science Assessments EW

NPR to School Reformers:
"Leave Now, and Don't Look Back"

Wednesday's NPR piece about No Child Left Behind -- Poverty Holds Back 'No Child Law' -- is both mystifying and disturbing.

In it, the whispery-voiced Claudio Sanchez takes us to East St. Louis -- one of the most blighted (and frequently profiled) communities in America -- to tell us, in essence, that even if NCLB is working it is destined to be overwhelmed other problems (gangs, violence, poverty, employment).

Among others, Sanchez is basically channeling former NYT columnist Richard Rothstein, whose recent book points out that there are so many larger social ills that to focus on education alone makes no sense.

The argument is a close cousin to the old but still pervasive notion that low-income kids can't achieve at high levels, or only once in a while. I thought we were done with that one, but apparently not.

Despite the lovely atmospherics (kids playing Double Dutch in the background, etc.), Sanchez never tells us if NCLB is working in East St. Louis, or how far the schools there have to go. Nor does he make much of a case that gangs and violence are getting worse, or are really in the way of school improvement.

Instead, he tells us about an "attractive" young mother who's pulled her daughter out of the public schools in favor of a parochial school, and a dedicated parochial educator who bemoans the lack of resources and civic capacity in the city.

Only briefly, through some snippets of interview with the firm-minded superintendent, does he give voice to the notion that high expectations can lead to high results, even without any magic wand.

Over all the piece doesn't cut against NCLB so much as it cuts against school reform efforts in general. The piece ends with Sanchez telling us -- and East St. Louis residents -- to leave now, and don't look back.

Don't Leave the Teachers Out

While many took notice of the Frank Herbert op-ed about the impact of dysfunctional high schools (Education's Collateral Damage), not enough attention may have gone to the editorial that accompanied it during the same week: Failing to Teach in High School, which raises key issues about the quality of teachers in high schools and the adequacy of the teacher preparation programs that deliver them.

Another great report on teacher recruitment and retention out from Philadelphia's Research For Action: The Quest for Quality: Recruiting and Retaining Teachers in Philadelphia (PDF via Gadfly).

Best of the Rest:

The Inside Story of the Teacher Revolution in America TCRecord
A Race to the Bottom National CrossTalk
NBPTS and IL School Leadership? Teach and Learn

Small Schools Ups & Downs

Lots on various small-school reform models this week -- from Seattle Weekly's tirade against the small schools movement (Bill Gates' Guinea Pigs) to EdWeek's piece on High Schools That Work Reform Model Found to Spur Gains in Kansas).

Gates-inspired small schools aren't the only model that's running into trouble:
After a 10-Year Run, Boston ‘Pilot’ Schools Sore Point for Union, and Turnaround Schools
(EdLeadership via EW).

Not to be left out, there's plenty on Renaissance 2010, Chicago's small-schools effort: Troubled charter school to turn over control (Sun-Times), New Schools: They Ain't Gonna Suck Themselves (Teach and Learn), CPS to open 18 new schools (ABC News), New Options for Closed Schools (News Herald).

Bush Pics, Tracking Campers, Grand Theft Smut, and More (School Life)

Principal ordered Bush portrait removed Smoking Gun via EN
I thought those pics were in all the classrooms.

Keeping Tabs on Campers Time
Electronic ankle bracelets for kids at summer camp?

Grand Theft Adult NYT
More fallout from cartoon sex in a violent video game.

Dork Pride! It's cool to be uncool CNN
Napoleon Dynamites of the world, unite.

Sneaky New Ways To Fight Shoplifting Slate
Since we all know what kids are doing this summer.

Proof "Magic School Bus" Books Dangerous Chicagoist
School bus crash-em-up in Chicago.

Asthma: The Young and the Breathless PsychToday

The emotional components of asthma.

Mad Hot Reggaeton NYT
You've heard it but didn't know what it was.

How Costco Became the Anti-Wal-Mart NYT

Hiding From the Sun in Plain Sight NYT


No Child Grab-Bag (NCLB News)

Seat Belts, Harry Potter, Bling Grandparents, and ECE Graduations (School Life)

The Race Between Reform Models

Big news this week about the race between charters and vouchers, and the rise of homeschooling:

Charter Schools Prove More Popular Than Vouchers NYT
One Million Homeschooled Students TC Record

The reality is that reforms compete against each other for attention and resources, and no doubt this takes place in the public school alternative space. Small schools are also competing in the same space.

On one hand, the rise of charters helps the small school movement, since most charters are small, but I sometimes think that charters and small schools are separate, and somewhat competing, approaches that siphon momentum from each other at various times. Charters are much more controversial these days, which cuts differently depending on your perspective. Small schools within the district system may be somewhat harder to pull off, and already seem a little bit outdated.

Smaller schools left behind
Star Tribune via Stateline

"Fringe" Responses: Like Asking Quakers About Iraq

Of the dozen or so responses and comments that have come in response to my initial posting about FairTest (below), my favorite is the one that says quoting FairTest is like asking Quakers for their views on the war in Iraq.

In addition, the organization itself has sent out a press release this morning -- much calmer than Jerry Bracey's typically hyperbolic initial response -- but still in my view hiding behind the fig leaf that FairTest is not anti-testing and that its positions are anywhere near the mainstream:

"Russo's extraordinary attack on an organization with a twenty-year track record did not accuse FairTest of a single factual error or even cite an example of over-the-top rhetoric. Instead, he mischaracterizes us an "anti-testing outfit," a label easily shown to be false by examining the assessment reform proposal we advocated in Russo's home city of Chicago, a plan that includes periodic standardized exams as one component.

"The core of Russo's argument is that FairTest is "out of the mainstream." That charge is also false. A broad range of polls and focus groups show that the American public, particularly parents and educators, continue to have grave doubts that the test-and-punish approach will bring about real improvements in academic performance. The impetus for schemes such as "No Child Left Behind" and state graduation tests comes from politicians and corporate executives who have latched on to the simplistic notion that there's no problem in education that more testing can't solve.

"We hope that you will continue to draw on FairTest as a resource in covering the increasingly heated debates around the proper role of testing in the nation's public schools, colleges, and workplaces. "

NAEP Proxy Battle Over NCLB

This week's to-and-fro over NAEP scores isn't really about NAEP, which for many years no one has cared much about, but rather about something much more viscerally important: shaping public opinion on whether NCLB is "working" or not.

Young Students Post Solid Gains in Federal Tests NYT
US Report Card: Young readers make big gains CSM
9-year-old Hispanics, blacks show test gains Chicago Tribune
First thoughts about the NAEP Gadfly

I say that the news here has less to do with NCLB than with what's going on in schools and classrooms. Kudos to the kids and the teachers and everyone else who's worked so hard to make things better.

Online Libraries, Hidden Sex Games, and the End of "Playing Outside" (Technology and Education)

Hidden Sex Scenes in Grand Theft Auto NYT
A not-so-innocent video game turns triple-X.

Childhood pastimes are increasingly moving indoors USAT
No more "go outside and play" for today's kids.

Tell the Children It's a Toy NYT
They might learn something.

This online library will read to kids, but will it isolate them too? CSM
Or: why I hate iPods.

Pitching cell phones to the younger set Wash Post via DA Daily
Scary trends but not really that new.

Getting Things Done: A New Cult for the Info Age Wired
The newest refuge of the disorganized teacher.

Many Teachable Moments Assorted Stuff

Think before you blog.

Going to School by Way of the Net NYT


How “Fringe” is FairTest? Very.

A recent email exchange among education reporters about the difficulty of finding good (informed, thoughtful, balanced) sources to talk about NCLB brought up the issue of whether FairTest, or any other anti-testing outfit, is too “fringe” to be used as an expert source.

I say they are fringier than the fringe on my old suede cowboy jacket, and as such don't often make for good expert sources in stories on mainstream testing.

It’s not because FairTest is wrong or right on the issues of standardized testing and accountability. In the field of education, some – many? – tests may designed, administered, or used inappropriately.

Nor is it that being on the fringe is necessarily a bad thing. Abolitionists were once a fringe group. So were advocates for women’s suffrage. Evolutionists. Vegetarians. The list is endless.

But FairTest advocates a world that is radically (substantially?) different from the one that we live in. That makes it a fringe position, or organization.

By definition, fringe means out of the mainstream. There are fringe festivals in lots of big cities to celebrate outsider art. The grass surrounding the green in golf is the fringe.

The world we live in has tests – lots of them – used for everything from measuring how well a student is learning new vocabulary in a class every week to deciding whether a student gets to graduate or not.

For better or for worse, I don’t see testing going away anytime soon.
And -- this is key -- I don’t see a broad public or parental view that they should.

NCLB would never have been passed [or lasted this long] if the public didn’t approve of pop quizzes and standardized tests, and none of the current testing and report card requirements in the states and districts would survive a minute if a broad majority or even a substantial minority of the public was opposed.

Tests and teachers – we’re “stuck” with them both. And, far is I can tell, the people generally like it that way.

For these reasons, being as wholly against standardized testing as FairTest seems to be [these days] seems to meet the definition of a fringe position.

For those reasons, journalists using them as convenient experts [on statistics, psychometrics, etc.] who readers assume hold reasonably mainstream views seems likely to be misleading.

There are other testing experts out there -- at NAEP, at the National Academy of Sciences, etc. Maybe I should make a list of them.

Again, Bracey et al may turn out to be right on some of the substance.
As usual, I may be all wrong.
Bring on the fire and brimstone.


Now There's No Excuse Not to Cover Pre-K

A couple of weeks ago the Hechinger Institute put out a report showing that the education press isn't doing right by early childood coverage, and missing out on lots of good stories.

This week, the Harvard Education Letter lets loose with some new articles to help you get up to speed. Their new site, Focus on Early Childhood Education (www.hel-earlyed.org), is just recently online and includes a bunch of full-text articles, including:

Early Childhood Education at a Crossroads (a great overview)

From Literacy to Learning: An Interview with Catherine Snow

Bridging the PreK-Elementary Divide (the school-level story)

Testing Goes to Preschool (the hot button political issue)

Education Reporting -- The Good, the Lousy, the Lousy

I guess I'm not the only one with strong feelings about education coverage this week:

First there's Jenny D, whose post
(Lousy Education Reporting) lambastes a recent series as follows: "it didn't add anything to the debate about education, or the difficult work of educators."

The Education Wonks find some praiseworthy work in their posting (Local Education Reporting: A Positive Example
), highlighting the article for" journalism that asks probing questions and yet refrains from counterproductive personal attacks."

UPDATE: Lori Crouch of EWA pipes in with a helpful lesson in journalism:
"Unfortunately, some bloggers can't seem to differentiate between news stories and editorials/columns. The item singled out by edwonks is an editorial, not a news story. Editorial writers are free to ask hard question *in* their copy while reporters have to ask hard questions of sources and hope they give straight answers... Presumably the editorial is based on an actual story about the district spending that $11,0000...."
Earlier this week, my post (The NYT Misses Badly on Education Funding Story) chastized the Times for a misleading headling and unbalanced story about NCLB funding.

I won't belabor the point, but Stateline's article on NCLB also seems skewed towards conflict and controversy (and liberal bias): No letup in unrest over Bush school law. Connecticut has yet to file its lawsuit, Utah has yet to turn down the cash or take any concrete steps towards negating NCLB, and scads of states (including Vermont most recently) are seeking and finding relief through waivers and accommodations from the USDE.

Websites, Thrill Rides, Teletubbies, and Facebook (School Life)

The usual array of light articles that are somewhat possibly maybe related to education:

50 Coolest Websites 2005: Arts and Entertainment Time
Why Should I Foot the Bill for White Kids' Teletubbies? LA Times
Are Thrill Rides Too Thrilling? Time
Finding Friends with Facebook Wired News

Down and Out in Suburbia Psychology Today

The New College Dropout Psychology Today

Outsourcing Teaching Tech Central Station

Hating Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

In anticipation of the upcoming remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the New Yorker's Margaret Talbot takes a look back at Roald Dahl -- the J.K. Rowling of another era -- and finds among other things that parents don't like him much:
"Dahl is also, however, a children’s writer whom many adults over the years have disliked or distrusted, though they have not always found it easy to say why."
Who knew that there was such a battle between kids and adults over Roald Dahl somewhat akin to the hatred directed by parents and teachers at Shel Silverstein or the Teletubbies, or the suspiciousness of C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia?

Why grown-ups hate Roald Dahl The New Yorker via Slate

Alternative Summer Camps

Parents have an increasing array of camp options to choose from this summer, including themes and styles not normally associated with the traditional summer camp approach:

My favorite? Camp Night Raven, where kids learn about nature and wildlife "through the bastardized teachings and barely recongizable rituals of the Native American peoples."

From The Onion


The NYT Misses Badly on Education Funding Story (Media Coverage)

One of this week's most-noted education articles comes from the Monday New York Times and is headlined -- laboriously and, in my opinion at least, misleadlingly -- as follows: Federal Spending Increases, but More Schools Will Get Less Money for Low-Income Students.

Yeesh, that's hard work already, and we haven't even gotten past the headline. Indeed, many people won't bother going any further. Many will see "more schools" getting "less money" and assume the worst.

Even if they bother to read the article, what they'll find is not much help. The article is misleading. It lacks any real context or balance. It confirms misconceptions about NCLB funding. It highlights the outliers rather than the meat of what the data show. And it's all but single-source journalism.

In essence, the piece is a defense of the needs of low-poverty districtst (with 5 percent or less poor kids) over all others, while it fails to explain the context for the changes that are being made or their rationale. These are unfortunate and serious lapses.

Yes, large numbers of mostly small, low-poverty districts are getting less than they did in the past. Yes, the number of these low-poverty districts affected may be larger this year than last. Sure, they don't like it much. Good folks of Conejo Valley, I feel for your loss.

But the flip side of the coin largely not presented here is that most high-poverty districts are getting much more, and that's an admirable or at least defensible strategy -- and a highly negotiated change made by the Congress after several failed attempts at changing the formula in the past, some of which I participated in.

What's going on in Title I funding is not accidental, and not a function of decreasing Title I funding. It's called targeting -- an effort to concentrate limited federal funds where they are most needed rather than spreading them thinly to nearly every district in the nation, and to have poverty funds follow actually follow poor children rather than being held hostage by districts whose poverty rates or numbers are decreasing in comparison to other places.

The real news -- all but buried -- is that 41 of 50 states are getting Title I increases. LAUSD is getting $53 million more next year than this year. Philadelphia is getting $29 million more. Chicago is getting $22 million more.

However, these findings are all but ignored here in favor of the laments of lots of low-poverty districts and the conclusions of the Center on Education Policy report, taken pretty much at face value.
Quoting Tom Fagan (the report author) and Jack Jennings (the report publisher) in the same story doesn't really count as including two different perspectives, much as I admire those guys and the Center's work. A cursory quote from the USDE is really all that's there. It doesn't seem like the Times bothered to talk to anyone on the Hill, or anyone in a high-poverty district.

Federal Spending Increases, but More Schools Will Get Less Money for Low-Income Students New York Times

Title I Funds: Who's Gaining and Who's Losing Center on Education Policy


School Reform As Conflict or Complement (Media Coverage)

"Framing" Charter School Stories (Hechinger Institute via EWonk) raises important issues about how the media cover school reform efforts, and the issues aren't just relevant to charter schools.

In essence, the essay suggests that most coverage presents charter schools in a competitive or a complementary frame, depending on whether the story is a policy-driven story or a narrower local school story. The same could be said of many other aspects of education coverage.

However, journalists need to be aware of and present both elements of the charter school movement, according to the article, especially as positions on charter schools are evolving and the charter school movement is increasingly serving as a proxy for the voucher and privatization debate that it once bridged:

"Most journalists trying to accurately describe this movement have yet to recognize and describe these dual aspects of the charter schools movement. Using only a single frame, and describing charter schools in language only in terms of conflict and competition or, conversely, only about small public schools serving children with unique needs, fails to describe what is really going on."

Kudos to Hechinger and to Alex Medlar for a thought-provoking piece.

Online Summer School and Casual Video Games (School LIfe)

Education "To Do" List for Self-Anointed Progressives

From this week's Eduwonk, guest-blogged by Bryan Hassel:

  1. Stop public charter schools
  2. Stop Teach For America
  3. Stop differential pay for teachers
  4. Complain about Robert Gordon and TNR.

It's almost as if there are conservatives on both sides of the debate...

Laid-Back NCLB Standards for Illinois (Chicago IL)

Just a week after a report from the Harvard Civil Rights Project described Illinois as one of the few states that had already not sought relaxed standards for NCLB, Illinois announced ... relaxed standards for NCLB: Standards on No Child eased (CST), Schools get a break with No Child rule changes (Daily Southtown).

Under the new plan, the subgroup size changes to 45 students, dropping the number of schools with special needs subgroups by over 100 schools. And schools will not have to include scores of students who have been at the school for less than a year. Perhaps most importantly to places like Chicago, the new rules also make it harder for districts to be categorized as failing to make AYP. According to ISBE,"If any one grade span across the district makes AYP, the district makes it as well." Woo hoo. The minimum score does go up to 47.5 proficient, though.

Depending on your view of things, these changes either mean (a) schools in Illinois will no longer be "punished" for being more diverse and for other factors outside their control, or (b) schools in Illinois will effectively be able to ignore low-performing subgroups of children without fear of being labeled as failures.

Best of the Rest:
Profiles of teacher prep and induction programs Joyce Foundation

After looking around, Skinner stays put Chicago Journal
May CPS Board Decisions (Hi, Allison) CPS