Gates Foundation: Not Just About Small Schools Anymore

I'm not sure that it has been adequately or completely noted noted out there in the education world that the recently-announced Gates-funded plan in Chicago to transform neighborhood schools -- but not necessarily convert them to small schools -- marks a big change from their past focus on converting existing schools and creating new ones.

Before recently, the Gates folks focused on giving money to folks who would help convert or create small schools. This summer, that started to change with some state-level grantmaking.

Not that anyone's walking away from small schools, but clearly it's a harder and perhaps less transformative thing than anyone thought:
Expanding the Supply of High-Quality Public Schools (NSVF), Lessons in Frustruation (LAT), New York's Small Schools--A critical look at implementation (Mike Klonsky).

Or at least that's the sense I get.

News & Notes from Around the Education Blogs

More than you could ever hope to read over at the Education Wonks' Carnival Of Education: Week 34.

Jay Mathews asks -- and answers -- a question that many others have or will ask themselves in the coming years: Why Did I Ignore Charter Schools?

Last week's education blog bully the Ed-Tech Insider Recants -- Sort of:

"If I'm going to make snarky posts about the lack of authoritative voices in the education blogosphere, I need to also fly the flag when established leaders start to take a more active role. Anne points out that the long-haired hippies at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development have set up a blog for their upcoming conference on teaching and learning."

There are also a few education-related sites and stories that are finalists over at CyberJournalist.com, including: Get Schooled education blog (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), My Favorite Teacher (Philadelphia Inquirer), Class Matters (New York Times), and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Post-Hurricane Focus on Achievement Gaps and the Underclass

The main thing that seems to be going on these days is a lot of swirling news and commentary about equity and achievement gaps -- perhaps obviously in light of the vivid reminder of the existence and struggles of Amercia's underclass that came from the recent hurricanes.

Another reason is that, for the second time in a week, there's a NYT piece focusing on achievement gaps hidden beneath the surface of most education systems: The Achievement Gap in Elite Schools.

It's worth noting that, since last week, a couple of folks have come out and questioned whether the gap closing in Wake County that was reported recently in the Times is for real: Fake Educational Miracle In Wake County North Carolina(Common Voice), Erasing Inequality (New York Sun via Gadfly).

There was also a hearing on achievement gaps in the House education committee: Kati Haycock Testimony, Richmond minorities closing gap Times Dispatch

I'll leave the instant anlysis of today's Hurricane-related news to others:
'No Child' Rules to Be Eased for a Year Washington Post

And I'm pretty jaded about NCLB complaints at this point:
No Child Left Behind delivers more hoops News Journal
No school nurses left behind Salon Magazine
Law fails test on minority students USA Today

The lawsuit in Florida is also moving ahead:
Suing a School District for Failing to Educate Jenny D

Thankfully, the NCLB tutoring requirement continues to delight and amuse:
Deadline extended for tutor program LATimes
Use tutors, not transfers Palm Beach Post
Tutors going untapped Miami Herald

Magnet Expansion Effort Reveals Challenges for High School Transformation Plan

The timing couldn't have been more revealing:

Just a week after announcing its big new plan to revamp neighborhood high schools -- about which I and others have expressed some healthy skepticism -- the Chicago Board of Education initiated a big and probably long-overdue effort to monitor and improve the results of a previous big plan -- the five-year old effort to create neighborhood magnet "cluster" schools.

Magnet schools must improve or lose funding Sun Times
Wide gap found in magnet schools Tribune

As the high school plan and Ren10 unfold, it's a timely illustration of what can happen to even the best of plans if they're not implemented thoughtfully, overseen regularly, and pushed to improve over time.

Analyzing Chicago's Plan to Transform High Schools WBEZ (audio)
Duncan: Improvements made, but students must do better Defender
Partnership to aid 7 troubled schools Tribune
Parents unhappy over release of information... Daily Southtown
Schools ordered to spend equally Tribune

30 years later, Whitney Young shows critics Sun Times
Chinese: The "It" Language Tribune

"Hurricane Reporting" in Education?

This week's revelations that some of the most vivid and disturbing news reports from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were unverified -- and probably untrue -- makes me think that maybe the education press needs to check itself for some of the same problems.

Every day, credulous reporters pass on what they hear from teachers, administrators, parents, and community organizers -- often without any real verification or even healthy skepticism.

But is what's passed on accurate? A mom says her kid was kicked out of school. A kid says that the teacher told him he had to pass the test. A teacher says that she barely has any time to teach social studies. An administrator says that it takes days and days out of the calendar to administer tests.

I'm guessing most reporters don't know either way. It fits the story. They need a quote. It's totally uncomfortable asking someone to prove what they say is true (though one reporter in New Orleans apparently tried to track down the reports of rape to no avail). It's hard work verifying it yourself. There's no time. Who am I to question what someone says is true?

That's what seems to have happened in New Orleans -- reporters passing along hearsay (second- and third-hand information), failing to push for more specifics and corroboration, falling prey to their own predispositions and expectations, and lacking skepticism.

My vote -- not that I really have one -- is that all of us who cover education take a moment to think about what happened to the reporting in New Orleans and try really hard this year to keep our skepticism intact and our expectations tightly bottled.

Hurricane Katrina Coverage PBS NewsHour (transcript)
Lawlessness: Fear Exceeded Crime's Reality in New Orleans NYT


The Benefits of Ridiculing Education (and Education Journalism)

I am a big fan of those who make fun of super-serious topics like public education, school reform, and education journalism.

That's why I've tried to include as much education- or journalism-related parody as I can, including No Child's Sweet Behind (The Daily Show), NCLB: A Satire (Alternative Reform Network) and TFA Chews Up Another Ethnic-Studies Major (The Onion).

I'm also a big fan of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is trying to get the school board in Kansas to require teaching about the Spaghetti Monster in schools, and a delightful chart I came across recently called Making adequate yearly progress: The game (Research For Action). Hilarious. Scary.

I think we need every little bit of fun we can get, and sometimes a point is best made through humorous exaggeration. There's too little making fun of education (and education journalism). We need more.

No big surprise then that I highly recommend a piece in the November edition of The Atlantic which is about widely-circulated bits of journalism that are floating around out there -- never published, published only after great delay, or never meant to be published: The greatest stories never told

These articles are often insider accounts or sendups of crazy and dumb practices in journalism.

Here, a Boston Globe writer suggests what his editors, apparently known for their crushing comments, might do to the Gettysburg Address:
"Fourscore and seven years ago (can't we just make it 87 years ago?) our fathers (WHO ARE THEY?? Any mothers???) brought forth on this continent (North America?? Northern Hemisphere??) a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men (people, men and women, what???) are created equal. (Why don't we just say they founded the United States and leave it at that? Pacing's better.)"
Here is a NYT parody of what is to my view one of the most loathsome and prevalent practices in journalism-- the human interest or "color" opening (or lead, or lede), which may or may not have much to do with the story itself (and is usually attached at the last minute, like Frankenstein's head), but is still required by most editors:
"DALLAS, Nov. 22—Elvira Brown's aging face seems almost to be a map of the parched, weatherbeaten Texas countryside that has been her home for 83 years... Years ago, she would sit on this porch and watch cattle drives pass.

Today, a procession of quite a different sort passed along the now-paved course. It was a motorcade. It flew by at top speed on its way to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Top speed, because, it seems, the President of the United States was inside. And he was dead."
The problem is that the people most often in a position to make a little bit of fun about something can't afford to do so publicly for fear of offending the bosses. [As a fledgling education researcher right out of grad school, I remember concocting a sendup of the vague and impenetrable language of the federal evaluation reports I was reading -- and writing -- and suggesting that my text could be used as a template for pretty much anything we put out. No suprise I didn't last long there.]

Occasionally in the past, I may have gone too far -- or hit a nerve, I'm not sure which -- as when I linked to an inflammatory post from The Gadfly called Pay no attention to the bias behind the curtain which gave mock-serious instructions on how to write a misleading education story ("start with a tearjerker," etc.). I thought it was funny and sorta right. Not everyone agreed.

Still, this is great stuff. Bracing, if not always "ha-ha" funny. Occasionally the source of that big belly laugh we really needed. Instructive, even if you don't agree.

And I want more.

That's where you come in. There must be other examples lying around in someone's desk drawer or on their hard drive -- of Education Week, or the Times columnist Michael Winerip, or professional development, or annual evaluations. (A much-rumored but never seen mock version of the education magazine Catalyst Chicago is out there, somewhere, I'm told.)
Come on, loyal readers -- the door is open for any and all education- or journalism-related sendups, satires, and parodies.

Don't make me start trying to be funny myself. That could only end badly.


"Farenheit No Child Left Behind"

Based on two short trailers, "NCLB: The Movie"seems both embarassingly propagandistict and moderately provocative.

The premise and purpose of the movie is very Farenheit 9/11:
"After spending a year as a student teacher in a New York City elementary school, documentary filmmaker Lerone Wilson explores the effects of President Bush's momentous No Child Left Behind Act on schools across the country."
The most embarrasingly obvious parts include staged readings by students about test anxiety and not wanting to be held back in 3rd grade (not a part of NCLB). There's the ominous ringing of church bells in the background. There are some of the same old mistaken tirades about lack of funding and the miracle grow of choice and competition.

But Reggie Weaver and Amy Wilkins both get a sound bite. And the filmmaker (age 23) has reportedly made changes to try and ensure the documentary is more balanced.

You can view the trailers among other places at Shut Up And Teach. But School of Rock or that Harlem ballrooming dancing movie might be better choices if you're looking for insight and entertainment.


The Kozol Konundrum

The main question that I’m looking forward to asking author Jonathan Kozol when I interview him in a couple of weeks is how do we get from where we are now – an insufficient educational system that has rapidly resegregated during recent years -- to where we want to be.

Between the ghetto squalor and governmental indifference that has come to light from Hurricane Katrina and the wall-to-wall press coverage that his book has generated, the problems and some of their causes seem pretty clear:

Editorial: Hard Bigotry of No Expectations NYT
'The Shame of the Nation' New York Times
Author: Our schools are still segregated Chicago Sun Times
Writer Laments ‘Apartheid’ Schooling Education Week

In that sense, as many have noted, the Kozol book could not be more timely.

But, as described in a recent post on the conservative blog Powerline (Kozol's crusade), Kozol’s writing can, despite its power and purpose, seem “one-note.” Even to sympathetic ears, it is easy to put Kozol in with Kotlowitz and Orfield (and Kahlenberg) as those who are better at shaming or informing us than bringing us to solutions.

After all, only a handful of communities (
La Crosse, Wis.; St. Lucie County, Fla.; San Francisco; Cambridge, Mass.; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.,) have income-based integration in place, and even good news like in today's NYT won't be enough to convince many: Raleigh Credits Integration By Income .


Rose-Colored Remembrances of Sandy Feldman's Reign

I didn’t know Sandy Feldman, though I did come within a hair’s breadth of working for her 10 years ago when I was heading to New York City and trying to figure out whether to work for embattled Board of Ed Chancellor Ray Cortines or for Feldman at the UFT. (In the end, I took what turned out to be a very short-lived job with Cortines – maybe not the right decision.)

I assume that those who have described her as smart, honest, and hard-working are correct. The past few days of obituaries and remembrances nearly all suggest as much. Her accomplishments are many, of that there is no doubt. And I certainly share the sense of sadness at her passing.

However, there’s something sentimental and fundamentally unsatisfying about many of the latest accounts of Feldman’s reign, which leave out or discount among other things the failed merger with NEA, the big turn against charter schools, which were for so long the hard-fought compromise between the status quo and private school vouchers, and the demise of several “reform” union leaders who were once considered part of the AFT elite.

This much seems clear: Nearly 10 years after Al Shanker’s death, the AFT is nowhere near where it once was. To be sure, running a teachers union is no easy thing in this day of Wal-Marts and tight budgets, and of the details I know little. But still, if Feldman was as honest and straight-shooting as many have described her, is it right to remember her through such rosy-colored glasses?

AFT's Feldman was true fighter for teachers NYT
Former AFT Leader Dies of Cancer EdWeek
Sandy Feldman, RIP The Doyle Report via Eduwonk

God As Interior Designer, the Perils of Hanging Out, Google Geometry, PJs At School, (School Life)

Intelligent Design New Yorker
In which the gods get together and collaborate on the design a new world.

'Hanging Out' Continues To Grow In Popularity The Onion
It's pervasive --and highly problematic.

Video: God v. Darwin Daily Show
View at your own discretion -- may not be suitable for work.

Google Maps Geometry Tools... EdTech Insider
Wearing PJs to school all the rage CNN
1 million U.S. children are caregivers USAToday

Chicago's High School Transformation Plan, DOA:
"Mid-South" By Another Name?

On Monday, Chicago Board of Education officials gathered at Farragut High School in Little Village to unveil their Big Plan to transform high schools over the next 10 years. Two days later, the school had to be "locked down" because of violence within the school.

Even without that unfortunate sequence of events, I can't help but thinking that the New Plan is the doomed product of too many smart people sitting in rooms coming up with Plans.

...click below to read the rest

It won't be rolled back like Mid-South was in the face of strong community activity and the threat of schools being closed. But it resembles Mid-South in that it is the inorganic result of Planners, working largely in private -- totally unlike, say, the 9/11 Commission with its hearings and subpoena powers.

There's no oomph behind it, no clear imperative (beyond a Gates Foundation requirement that CPS engage in a Planning Process with outside consultants), no political juice beyond that of a foundation broadenings its small schools strategy and a mayor and Board of Education trying to maintain some sense of -- or at least appearance of -- momentum.

Another key flaw of this Plan is that it has no hard edges -- no real shape. It talks a lot about "instructional support packages." It's conceptual. It's not like Ren10, last year's Big Plan, which for better or worse sets a clear and concrete goal and a timeframe. Board spokesman Peter Cunningham says that the Board is trying to avoid unveiling new Plans every year -- the policy churn that was part of what hobbled the last years of the Vallas administration.

But you can't have it both ways. You can't put out a non-Plan and hope that it has the effect of a Plan and any chances of being implemented. (For more on this, see Cornelia Grumman's Tribune editorial about too many plans and too little funding.)

Some plans have decent chances of being implemented. Some don't. Sadly, this one has all the signs of being one of the latter. Though I'd be happy to be wrong wrong wrong.

Big--and double--vision at CPS Tribune
High schools to get overhaul Sun Times
Reform on horizon for city high schools Tribune
Schools much improved, but more must be done
(Mayor Daley) Sun Times

Making the changes that matter WestEd

Schools left alone, to shine Tribune
Leave Us Alone, We're Doing Fine Chicagoist

Norfolk wins $500K Broad prize for achievement NYT

Dispositions, Migration, and Hard Work (Teachers and Teaching)

I’m generally for teachers.

The New College Try
Slate via SmartBrief
For Montessori School, A Hands-On Approach
What I Learned in Elementary School
American Educator

I’m pretty much against the current practice of encouraging them to migrate wherever they want to go.

A-list teachers avoid poor kids LA Daily News via Gadfly

Romney wants teacher merit pay
Tenure, Turnover and the Quality of Teaching NYT
Schools Chief Urges Teacher Pay Changes NYT
N.Y.C. Pressed on Staffing Neediest Schools
Minority pupils shortchanged LA Times
Teacher-Turnover Cost
Teacher Sorting, Teacher Shopping, and the Assessment of Teacher Effectiveness

What if being a good teacher had more to do with how you thought than what you knew or did?

The dispositional dispute
Education Next
NCATE Response on Dispositions (on the Fordham site)

The Ideology and Best Practice of Effective Teachers of Diverse Children and Youth in Poverty Education News


The Sad State of Education Blogs

Are education blogs any good? Are they informative, thought-provoking, insightful -- accurate?

I keep wondering, and I may not be alone.

Last week's post about fake blogs was met with dismay and derision.

The WCER blogger said I got it all wrong.

Eduwonk chastized me for "refereeing" what is and isn't a blog (Russo on Blogging).

For what it's worth, I still think that real blogs are independent and come from individuals, not organizations or institutions, and -- I forgot to mention this last week -- allow comments and questions. That's another key feature, if you ask me. (You didn't, I know.)

Along to stir the pot this week comes Tom Hoffman, the Ed Tech Insider, with a provocative post about the proliferation of blogs, and blog readers, without enough "authoritative" voices in the mix (The Exploding Education Blogosphere). Be sure to read the comments.

Now, I don't know most of the blogs he's criticizing, but I do know that there are too many to keep up with, and that some (in the ed policy section of things particularly) are incredibly predictable, over-opinionated, and ill-informed.

Are there better blogs out there? If so, let me know. Until then, I have to agree with Hoffman's overall assessment. Some more grown-ups would be good.

OK, enough navel-gazing.


Opportunism & Hype in the Hurricane Katrina Response

Other than the many individual schools and teachers that are doing right by the displaced kids, nobody in the education world is looking so good in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Some schools and districts are apparently unclear about their responsibilities to educate displaced students: Law Requires Homeless Children Have Access to Public School (NYT).

Some states and advocacy groups are trying to line up for more money and justify NCLB waivers, which the USDE is apparently considering:Requests Seek Financial Aid, Policy Waivers,
Secretary to Weigh NCLB Waivers for Crisis on a Case-by-Case Basis (EdWeek)

Meanwhile, the White House and USDE are proposing a $500 million school aid plan that includes a voucher element: Bush Proposes Private School Relief Plan (Washington Post) -- a proposal that many Democrats have already spoken out against and Eduwonk thinks might be a big deal and/or a political trap....or it might not. (Ah, the perils of instant analysis.)

Joanne Jacobs writes: Oh Suck It Up.


Hurricane Fluff from The New Yorker

Usually, when there's something in the New Yorker that touches on education issues, you're going to get a piece that's well-written and that gives you insight both into the human elements of schools and their larger political and financial underpinnings.

For example, recall Katherine Boo's insightful piece about the charter school in Boston that was designed originally for Chinese immigrant children but has ended up serving low-income African American kids. Or Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating if inaccurate comparison of No Child Left Behind to a centralized industrial economic model.

But not last week. In a short "Talk of the Town" piece, a writer whose byline I've never seen before basically profiles the arrival of a high school senior from New Orleans into the NYC public school system. She's taken to the head of the line. She gets into a specialized high school in Brooklyn. She wants to be an actress.

That's about it. There's some colorful backstory about how she and her family got to New York, and the family's long history in New Orleans. But there's little else -- about immigrant and refugees students, about the debate over whether to educate the Gulf Coast kids separately. It's too bad.

Transfer Student (New Yorker).


Faux Blogs: Cheesy Ways of Getting Attention

While I like the Wisconsin Center for Education Research's work just fine and am glad to have ready access to it, I can't help but being a little peeved that (a) their PR folks decided to use the same "look" as this education blog (and a couple of others), and (b) they call what they're doing a blog, when it's really just a new-look rendition of the press releases and reports they'd be putting out anyway. So peeved I won't even link to them.

To be sure, WCER is not alone in putting together faux-blogs to try and benefit from the supposed appeal of blogging. EdWeek has a faux-blog of sorts, and I know I've seen others. And, in truth, if the content is good, I'm not sure I really care all that much. The Gadfly and Eduwonk are examples. But it's not blogging.

Maybe I'm just jealous that they have a podcast.


Research Assistant/Intern Needed at "This Week In Education"

Are you a cunning policy analyst, an open-minded educator, or a savvy journalist in training looking for a great part-time work experience this fall? If so, this may be the opportunity for you:

"This Week In Education," one of the most widely-read and respected education blogs in the nation, is now looking for a brilliant, highly-motivated research assistant/intern for the 05-06 school year.

Responsibilities include gathering and analyzing media coverage of education issues, field reporting (press events, school visits, conference calls), and writing and editing posts. Benefits include first-hand experience working in education writing and bylined clips from the website.

Hours and schedule are flexible but ideally amount to 4-8 hours per week. The ideal candidate is based in Chicago and could work onsite at the Wicker Park-based blogging complex at least part of the time. The position offers neither pay nor health benefits. Diet Coke and limitless amounts of cereal are provided.

Please send inquiries (with a resume or job history of some kind) to AlexanderRusso@aol.com

Feel free to pass this announcement along to friends, students, or related listserves.

Why Chicago -- & Why Tutoring?

While everyone else may accept the conventional wisdom on this, I remain mystified and impressed that the US Department of Education reversed itself on whether the Chicago Board of Education could be a tutoring provider after months and months of sticking by its guns and saying that the Board could oversee but not directly provide $50 million in tutoring.

Among many questions tumbling around in my head are the following:
-- How did CPS manage to pull this off at the last minute?

-- Why would the USDE care particularly about Chicago's complaints?

-- Why did the USDE decide to provide a waiver on tutoring (instead of other things like the restructuring requirements or the AYP calculations)?

Back To School Bounty

For what it's worth, a slew of articles and reports that I've written over the past few months all happen to be coming out at around the same time:
For starters, there's a serious-minded piece I wrote for the September issue of the Harvard Education Letter about the phenomenon of "hard to staff" schools -- what they are, how if at all they're different from the old standby descriptor "low-performing schools," and what strategies folks in Virginia and elsewhere are using to try and address the most acute examples of the problem: Where High Turnover Meets Low Performance (Harvard Education Letter).

The current issue of Catalyst magazine includes an update on how the Chicago Board of Education decided to meet the letter if not the spirit of NCLB's "restructuring" requirement, and compares this to other efforts to turn around low-performing schools in Philadelphia, New York, and Miami by taking direct political and logistical responsibility for them. NCLB Restructuring Plans Reveal Familiar Reforms (Catalyst).

The Hechinger Institute has just published a profile of preschool education in Chicago as part of a larger report on preschool education and the media. I don't think that the report is online yet, but there's already lots of good stuff at the site for anyone interested in preschool coverage and media issues.

As you may already know from my incessant self-promotion about it, my profile of DePaul University in the current issue of Chicago Magazine, highlighting the university's massive growth and serious efforts to retain its focus on working-class parents -- even as the surrounding neighborhood has turned into one of the toniest barrios in town and financial pressures to become a research university continue to mount.

Last but not least, there's also a fun little piece on how blogging isn't just for teachers and students anymore -- superintendents, administrators, and even board members are doing it -- in the latest issue of Scholastic Administrator magazine, featuring none other than Mike Lach, head of Chicago's science initiative. Blah, blah, blog (Scholastic Administrator). Thanks, Mike.


New Schools, New Principals, Community College Failures, & the Cristo Rey Model (Chicago IL)

Hard To Staff, HQT Loopholes, New Teachers, and Targeted Pay (Teachers and Leaders)

Quality, distribution, leadership, and preparation issues all come to the fore in these teacher policy pieces from the past few weeks:

Where High Turnover Meets Low Performance Harvard EdLetter
Improving TQ: Better Luck Next Time EdWeek
7,000 New Teachers On the Job WashPost

Commission Urges Comprehensive Induction Programs
Lawmaker and Educator Propose Incentive Pay NYT
New Support for Doubling Principals' Pay WashPost
Educators Shy from Top Job AJC

Center on Education Policy Forum on NCLB Teacher Recruitment and Retention and Professional Development
September 13, 2005 tneal.cep@verizon.net

Scary Books, Class Clowns, and One-Note Teaching (In The Classroom)

Thinking About Poverty & Race

Whether you're for or against NCLB, what better time to think about race and class -- usually no less ignored or skated by in American education than in the initial Hurricane Katrina coverage -- than now:

Civil Rights Groups, New-Style Funders, and Lucas

Education groups play an important role, usually behind the scenes, in shapring policy initiatives, proxying for political views, and communicating what's working and what isn't to the public. There's an interesting collection of stories over the last few weeks about what's going on inside education groups, be they advocacy-oriented, or funders, or relatively new on the scene:

Civil Rights Groups Split Over NCLB EdWeek
The New Philanthropists Education Next
Young Students New Focus of Big Donors NYT
Taking a Light Saber to Tired Old Teaching NYT

Empty Nests, Preschool Smoking, and PJs in School