Scads of Responses on PovRacers vs. School Refs

My comments feature is disabled for now, but in the meantime I wanted to share some of the responses to the PovRacers post (below) that have been coming in fast and furious all day today. (Feel free to send any additional comments to me at AlexanderRusso@aol.com and I'll post them here.)

As you'll see, some like Mike Klonsky take offense in the extreme, while others including Deborah Meier reflect more evenly on how I framed the issue of how poverty and race fit into (and compete with) the school reform debate.



Great post on PovRacers.

I'd frame it slightly differently. We should also lump in "conservatives" like James Coleman and John Ogbu in that they believe the Achievement Gap is so powerful that school reform alone is unlikely to succeed without changing "culture." Rothstein shares that view, except he substitutes economic change instead of "cultural" change. Rothstein specifically writes that he does not oppose school reform, just that alone it will not fully close the Achievement Gap.

You make a good point that few in Grad School Ed World know much of Haycock and Finn. However, you might also include that the leading SchoolRefs are really George Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, et al., and the vast majority of the American public. While Kozol/Rothstein have good market share in universities, SchoolRefs win hands down in broad public opinion.

Finally, there is a small "third group" of rebels -- the No Excuses crowd. We agree with Coleman/Rothstein/Thernstrom that the Achievement Gap is incredibly difficult to close. And while we may disagree with one another about the precise CAUSES of the gap, we agree that the best "solution" is a group of very high-performing schools which generate enormous student effort can indeed pull it off. This group is rapidly gaining market share, particularly as Teach For America, the New Schools Venture Fund, and schools like Amistad, Roxbury Prep, and Kipp expand.

- Goldstein Gone Wild


I'm intrigued with the notion that more folks have heard of Richard
Rothstein, Gary Orfield etc than Finn, Ravitch, Haycock! You are
probably right about Kozol--who doesn['t claim to be a "school
reformer" of any stripe. It seems to me the refs have far more
resources to spread their arguments and that virtually all of
us--including teachers--live in a world dominated by the claim that if
only teachers and parents worked more conscientiously and better
schools could close the gaps. We even have a law that says so--with
some teeth--passed overwhelmingly by Democrats and Republicans alike.

As one who thinks schools can become very powerful communities and can
have transformative impacts, I still believe that expecting schools to
narrow all the gaps creasted by a gapful world is illusory at best,n
distracting at worst. I didn't become a teacher and spend 40 years
proving that we can create schools that work better for all children
because I thought schools alone could change the world! And nothing
in my own behavior as a mother and grandmother leads me to believe that
the "haves" don't and won't do all in their power to pass on their
advantages to their young. You cannot pass on what you don't have!
Schools can do a heck of a lot better--"unfortunately" they can do
better for the rich and the poor, leaving real gaps probably not much
diminished without other changes in social and economic policy.

Why see these as opposing forces, rather than as potentially
collaborative ones. The povs I know are often exhaustingly hardworking
school reformers who simply think it's a distraction--and untrue-- to
pretend that America's lower wage economy, loss of benefits, loss of
industry, outsourcing, trade deficits etc etc would be resolved if only
we had higher test scores or even truly better educated workers. I
sometimes hope that better educated citizens would force us to face the
real dilemmas facing us in a global economy more honestly. It's one
reason I have spent my energy focusing on what it takes to produces
more powerful thinkers who see themselves as legitimate members of the
body politc, and pay attention to the larger world. I somehow can't
get over the idea that someday democracy will help us figure things out

Let's not create another set of "camps".

Deborah Meier, author, school teacher, principal, school reformer
maybe--now at NYU


You must've been reading my mind with the post about the causes of poor minority student achievement. Last night I watched The Black Forum (TVONE) and Jonathon Kozol was one of the panelist. The discussion was disconcerting to say the least. The conversation was more about blame and less about how to deal with the issue. I think Kozol made a good point that suburban schools outspend many urban schools per pupil and that contributes to the gap. I also think that there are good arguments on both sides of the coin with respect to diversity in the classroom. Having been educated in an all black school for high school and a predominantly black school for college, there was a bit of culture shock once thrust into a world where I truly understood why blacks and others are referred to as minorities. So while scores may not change that drastically, students who have been educated around within the dominant culture are better equipped to deal with problems in college and in the workplace that could ultimately be the downfall for those whose experiences are more limited. Anyway, for the sake of Chicago, which is the area that we're most concerned about, diversity in the schools is close to impossible and is probably not the most pressing issue to deal with at this time. I do think that the entry is topical in the sense that it helps us to try to make sense out of a nebulous problem that many people simply don;t know the answer to.

-- Chicago High School Principal


I do not believe we have met, but I so appreciate your writing and for some time have meant to say "Thank you". So thank you! You are a tremendous resource.

I have served as the state superintendent of schools in AZ and authored some ed reform legislation during my tenure in AZ's house of reps. Your comments today are painful and accurate .I have often lamented the inability of those of us who do support accountability provisions and choice to cast our goals in terms of equity of access.

I have had the privilege to debate Bracy, Ornstein and Monty Neill on various occasions, and doing so always reminds me how far we have to move in terms of a shared perception of what happens in American public school systems. We clearly have a viciously inequitable funding infrastructure, and will have for as long as local property taxes support local schools which are assigned to students. That is a given, and one which most decision leaders in any party don't want to discuss.

But ignoring it makes the trio above, for example, continually correct in terms of access to the greatest resources.

By the same token, the point you make about achievement in the presence of inequity is essential and correct. Children are being taught to exceptional success over and over again in the most under funded of schools. It happens more often now, hopefully, and again hopefully, the "sunlight" brought by the demand of disclosure ( credit NCLB for the current muscle behind it, but more so the work of the states over the past ten years) have created a greater pressure for this success on behalf of students.

At any rate, thanks for the ongoing thought provoking news and comment, and we will hopefully meet one of these days.

Lisa Keegan


Education gadfly Alex Russo really blew it this time. In his blog, "Two Warring Camps in Education: PovRacers vs. SchoolRefs", and in a column titled "Schools Can Excel Without Diversity" Russo claims that the main contradiction in school reform these days is between "those who think underylying problems of poverty and race need to be addressed before significant improvements can be made in education, and those who believe that schools can get much better at helping children learn within the current reality."

Russo surprises and saddens me when he sides with the latter, including the likes of neo-con think-tankers like Chester Finn and the "brilliant" Diane Ravitch (see my previous blog, "Diane Ravitch Barking Up the Wrong Tree" ), while launching a personal and vitriolic assault against against long-time advocates for social justice and racial equality like Jon Kozol, Gary Orfield, Rich Rothstein and Alex Kotlowitz.

Russo seems to be particularly shaken by the huge turnout for Kozol, who packed the University of Chicago's vast Rockefeller Chapel earlier this month, as well as with the success of Kozol's latest bestseller, Shame of a Nation. Kozol electrified the audience with his updated critique of the American educational system of "apartheid" schooling. He drew his loudest applause when he encouraged the hundreds of young teachers in the audience to concentrate their efforts in urban schools teaching the neediest kids.

But Russo believes that those who see America's two-tiered, racially segregated and unequal system of schooling as an impediment to the creation of quality schools, or "PovRacers," are not worthy of being called real school reformers, or "SchoolRefs," and that they "lack conviction" in what they are doing. In Russo's view, only those who downplay the centrality of diversity and equity are really about school reform.

Russo falsly claims that the "PovRacers" don't believe African-American kids can learn without white kids in the room, and that they want to "delay" the push for academic success. What BS! It is precisely the "PovRacers" who have shown the most commitment and who have been most successful in educating poor and minority kids as well as in creating some of the best new, small, urban schools in America.

Is Russo's argument just a reheated version of the long discredited separate-but-equal doctrine that we wrongly thought would die 50 years after Brown vs. the Board of Ed? I believe it is.


Media Coverage: Who Are The Best Education Writers -- And Why Don't They Win The Annual EWA Contest?

There's an interesting look at who might be the nation's top economics writers over on Economic Principals (New Kids On the Block) that names names familiar and otherwise -- and raises the topic of who the best education writers are.

The issue is particularly timely, given that the Education Writers Association annual awards contest is coming up again, with submissions due in January.

Too bad the top education writers (and writing) probably aren't to be recognized -- again.



In fact, the EWA top award winners' list includes few well-known names and many seeming omissions. The Times' Jacques Steinberg won in 1997. But the Times Magazine's James Traub, the Washington Post's Jay Mathews, the NYT columnist Michael Winerip, the Chicago Tribune's Stephanie Banchero, the New Yorker's Katherine Boo, and others aren't there. How can that be?

Richard Lee Colvin, for many years the top education writer at the LAT, never won the top prize. Sara Mosle, formerly of the New Yorker and the Times Magazine, never won. Neither has Jodi Wilgoren, the Times reporter who is regularly dragooned into covering education. Ditto for former Baltimore Sun writer Mike Bowler, and the Philly Inquirer's Dale Mezzacappa (who, according to Blinq, is leaving the paper along with a host of other veterans.) [CORRECTION: DALE WON IN 1994.] Would the Times' Fred Hechinger, arguably one of the best education writers of all time, have won the EWA award? I'm not sure.

To be fair, some of these folks (Banchero, for example), have won lesser EWA awards. And some of these writers and their organizations don't bother to submit entries to the EWA contest, which makes things harder. Some would argue that the EWA top prize is rightly slanted towards long, investigative pieces and series rather than overall quality or one great article.

As some of you may remember, I raised these and other issues related to the EWA contest last winter, and you can find my post and EWA's response here. But nothing really seems to have been done. (There's still no category for lazy freelancers and bloggers, for example. The nerve of those people.)

To my mind, the obvious solution would be for the EWA (a) reconsider its grand prize criteria to consider great and widely read education writing not just hard work, and (b) to include stories from outside its membership -- even including pieces not formally submitted for the contest. (Relying on individuals to submit them seems wishful thinking.) That would bump some beat reporters off the awards table, of course, which is why it probably won't happen. But it would mean that the EWA awards really meant that you were the best.


Love you and your blog and thanks for publicizing the contest! Some
of your facts need to be checked:

*the EWA contest is open to everyone - you do not have to be a member
to enter or win

*Dale Mezzacappa of the Philadelphia Inquirer won the Hechinger
Grand Prize in 1994

*Michael Winerip and Jay Mathews have won prizes in the contest, as
has Richard Colvin

*Stephenie Banchero won a first prize in 2004 and was nominated for
the Grand prize along with others noted in your Feb 2005 post -
as with all major prizes - there's just one of these each year

*EWA created the beat category award several years ago to honor those
people who have done excellent reporting across the beat and
recognize outstanding writers

*Finally, lazy freelancers and bloggers can enter almost all of the
categories in the contest

I want to reiterate our offer of last year for people to send us
their ideas for best education reporting so we can encourage those
reporters to enter the contests. (send nominees to Tom Kenny )

And, we'd love your ideas for how to deal with nominees to the
contest - that is, how to cover the contest entry fee, how to make
sure that smaller outlets not on the east coast are recognized, etc.

Finally, there is only one top prize each year in the National Awards
for Education Reporting (but 18 first prizes and unlimited numbers of
second prizes and special citations are possible). Inevitably as
with all contests, only one entry is going to win.

Lisa J. Walker
Executive Director
Education Writers Association


I was an EWA "first prize" winner in 1984 and later served for
several years on the EWA board of directors (as have other, more
prominent education writers and editors, including Mike Bowler,
Richard Colvin, Linda Lenz, John Merrow, Dale Mezzacappa, Richard
Whitmire, Anne Lewis and Kent Fischer). From what I understand of
EWA's history, the organization has sustained itself with support
from those education writers and philanthropic organizations who were
committed to developing education writing as a profession.

The EWA contest has encouraged and supported many education writers
over the years to develop and continue to pursue their craft. Their
national awards gave them extra sway in newsrooms, where status is
often a major factor in the quality of work you're given the time and
space to do. Or at least that was the case during my days as a daily
education reporter.

While there's certainly room for EWA to create a "lifetime
achievement" award similar to the Oscars, I don't think "Oscar" is
the best analogy for the EWA contest. In some ways, a better analogy
might be those award programs that encourage and identify young and
emerging talent. Like many, many other contest winners at smaller
dailies, my award led to job offers from larger newspapers and a shot
at a career track that wasn't immediately visible or obvious in the
small capital city where I worked. I chose another path, but many of
today's most prominent education reporters can trace their "rise" in
the profession to a first prize or grand prize in EWA's National
Awards for Education Reporting.

John Norton
Education writer
Little Switzerland, NC

Previous Media Coverage Posts:
The Best Education Writing Of the Year -- Sort Of
Better Education Writing In '05
Making Jay Mathews A Better Reporter
Unfair And Unbalanced CJR
Education Reporting -- The Good, the Lousy, the Lousy
Beware Over-Covering Convenient Stories

Kudos and Criticism of Media Coverage

School Reform As Conflict or Complement
The NYT Misses Badly on Education Funding Story
A Lazy Look at High School NAEP Scores
NPR Tells Reformers to Give Up
How Fringe Is FairTest? Very


School Life: Glitter Lung, Dangerous Toys, Colored Soap Bubbles, & Risque Teens

"Glitter Lung" On The Rise The Onion
Bare ivy Joanne Jacobs
Teen People kills story about Hitler-loving twins Romanesko
Handling the 'gimme' season CNN
This season's ten most dangerous toys Boing Boing
Colored soap bubbles Boing Boing
A Jolt of Caffeine, by the Can NYT
What's Wrong With This Outfit, Mom? Washington Post

Dr. Linda Norr scans a sufferer who spent more than two decades in the classrooms.

School Technology: Overhead Projectors, Blogging Rights, & Video Game Learning

Chicago Roundup: The Annual Rush to Flee Neighborhood Schools

For all of the city's efforts to create choices and improve neighborhood schools, there's still this year a glut of parents who want to get their children out of local schools and into something else -- a charter, a magnet, or anything else they can find.


The pressure on the magnets continues to be intense, despite the creation of magnet 'cluster' schools that are supposed to be local versions of the much-desired magnet schools. City braces for load of magnet school applications (Tribune).

One obvious bottleneck is the cap on charter schools, currently set at 30: Charter school waiting lists grow (Tribune). As the Ren10 applications, approvals, and waiting lists reveal, the new charters created last year and this one come nowhere near to meeting the demand. The cap also limits the number of national school creation outfits that Chicago can get, since they can't or won't open without a charter.

But the main factor is that Chicago schools don't have enough success to generate parents' confidence in neighborhood schools. Articles like this one (Colleges find students lacking Tribune) do little to suggest that they should. And so parents rush for the magnets and charters and all the rest - even though not all of them are nearly as successful as some think: "We had good intentions..." (Small Talk).

Catalyst Charter to open Austin school by 2007 (Austin Weekly).
Charter School Wins Architecture Award Chicagoist (see pic above)

Best of the Rest:
District 95 reveals plans to combat reading slide Pioneer Press
Some schools to get leeway over reforms Tribune
`Teaching with toys' Tribune
Montessori for the Mandarin set Chicago Journal
Few books in the library, no water in the pool Sun Times
Diversity goal a challenge to area schools Daily Herald
Rhodes scholars have Chicago ties Tribune
More kids will be tested this spring Daily Southtown
Public Education: Cost and Quality Chicago Matters
Daley seeks more schooling for kids Tribune


Two Warring Camps in Education: PovRacers vs. SchoolRefs

Looked at from afar, there are basically two main factions when it comes to thinking about education these days -- those who think underylying problems of poverty and race need to be addressed before significant improvements can be made in education, and those who believe that schools can get much better at helping children learn within the current reality.

Thus far, at least, it seems to me that it is the former, not the latter, that have won the hearts and minds of most educators and the public, and that all too often school reformers forget or fail to respond to the prevailing view.

UPDATE: Scads of Responses on PovRacers vs. School Refs


In the gossip magazine tradition of TomKat and Bradgelina, let's call thos who believe that poverty and race are determining factors the PovRacers.Their number includes best-selling authors like Jonathan Kozol and Alex Kotlowitz, Harvard's Gary Orfield, and former NYT columnist and author Richard Rothstein.

On the other side are choice advocates and standardistas, that big, squabbling group of school reformers who, for all their disagreements, share more than they usually realize. I will call them SchoolRefs.

However, their advocates are nowhere near as well-known to the public. Few outside of education circles have heard of Kati Haycock or Checker Finn or Diane Ravitch, even (though Ravitch's brilliant screeds against politically correct textbooks do seem to break through to the surface of public consciousness).

Despite decades of effort and substantial progress, the arguments and anecdotes of the PovRacers still resonate much more powerfully among parents and the public.

The reason for this inequity is not that there aren't many who think and write about the power of school improvement, but rather because we are not, as a country, really ready to conceive of the idea that high-poverty, high-minority schools -- not just individual students -- can and do succeed.

In addition, many educators, even those working on reforming education, are in their hearts of hearts really PovRacers. They lack conviction in what they're doing, or at very least lack the tools to respond to the PovRace arguments that are regularly tossed in their paths.

What to do? For starters, it would help to understand that the real competition is not between various school reform approachs (choice, small schools, study groups) but rather between SchoolRefs and PovRacers.

My Chicago Journal column on how these arguments play out in Chicago is here: Schools can excel without diversity.

Making Teaching Better: It's Not About Japan, Or Even "Lesson Study"

The headline of today's column by Brent Staples in the NYT misleadingly indicates that Staples is merely suggesting -- as many have in the past -- that the US adopt "Japanese" educational methods in order to improve our schools: Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools.

Forget the distracting comparisons to Japan's education system, and even Staples' recommendation that more teachers participate in "lesson study"(where teachers work together, examining lessons and student work in order to improve their practice). They're not really the point.

The real core of the piece is his observations that NCLB has not really proven sufficient to get educators and elected officials to improve teacher preparation and training as well as it was hoped, and that too few ed schools and districts are trying innovative strategies to improve classroom instruction.

Indeed, many are stuck in their academic ways, determined to ride out the standards wave and the effort to raise expectations -- and performance.

"No Child Left Behind was based on the premise that embarrassing test scores and government sanctions would simply force schools to improve educational outcomes for all students," writes Staples. "What has become clear, however, is that school systems and colleges of education have no idea how to generate changes in teaching that would allow students to learn more effectively."

How to get from here to there is a question Staples doesn't answer. Some states and ed schools are making progress on their own, and the USDE is giving out grants to help ease the path. But my guess is that it's going to take more than that to make real changes happen:

-- Districts taking a much stronger role in teacher preparation (which they essentially purchase from universities) is one approach being tried in Boston and some other places with some success.

-- Expanding the use of alt cert training programs to supply classroom teachers is another interesting route that some districts have already half-embraced. Roughly a third of the new teachers in Chicago come from alt cert programs. What if the district allowed TFA to credential and certify teachers, not just train them?

-- States allowing districts and even outside providers to take over all or part of teacher prep is another possible avenue that we may soon see, a la charter schools of education and NCBL-style teacher preparation "vendors."

Background Reading:
Lesson Study Research Group Home Page Teachers College

Recent Posts:
Ed School Innovations: School of NCLB
Does District-Run Teacher Prep Make a Difference?
Focusing On Teacher Quality Should Follow NAEP Results
Don't Leave the Teachers Out


Community Organizing and School Reform -- It's Not Just About Protests and PTA Meetings

Community organizing around education issues is no easy feat, but it's an important and often overlooked part of making school systems better and more responsive.

This month's Cleveland Catalyst has an eye-opening series of articles about that city's struggles to grow and maintain successful community efforts around school reform.

In particular, there is an analysis of how community groups can help support district schools, and a couple of mini- profiles I wrote about three potential models in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago.

For a more academic/conceptual background on community organizating around education, look here: Civic community, organization and education (Infed), or here: Communities and Schools: A New View of Urban Education Reform (Harvard University).

There's also an interesting look at community organizating around education from the AYPF: Community Organizing for School Reform.


Will States Boost Preschool Like They Did Last Year?

Early childcare advocates are certainly hoping they will. Last year (Preschool boost in '05 Stateline.org) was a boon year:

"At least 180,000 more children have access to preschool this year after lawmakers in 26 states boosted pre-K funding by $600 million during 2005 legislative sessions, the largest single-year increase for preschools in five years, according to a report issued Nov. 16 by Pre-K Now, a national advocacy group that supports universal access to preschool."

"Only three states -- Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma -- have statewide preschool programs, but another 36 states offer preschool for some the state’s neediest children...Nine states -- Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming -- do not fund preschool."

Read the report: Voters Choose PreK Now PDF

More Reading:
The Influence of Preschool Centers on Development PACE
Funding for Early Care and Education NCIC
Preschool initiative nears ballot San Jose Mercury News

School Life: Evolutionary Beer, Laptop Distractions, Hot Professors, and High-Paid Educators

You gotta love it when beermakers -- and school board blogs -- have a sense of humor: This beer's for you ... or maybe not (BoardBuzz).

What college kids do with their laptops while sitting in class:
The Rules of Distraction (Slate).

How many hot 'red peppers' would you give your prof?
The Hottest Professor on Campus (Slate).

A mini-crisis in higher ed this week makes me wonder what the salary figures are for school supts:
College Leaders' Earnings Top $1 Million (NYT).

Best Of The Rest:

Sex Ed for the Stroller Set NYT
Goodnight Moon,' Smokeless Version NYT
Many Kids Taking Sleeping Pills Jointogether.org
As teens embrace blogs, schools sound an alarm CNET.com
Everything You Don't Want to Know About Your Kid's Sex Life New York

Tutors on A-list, even for A kids Seattle Times

Laptops = Learning Goes Worldwide

Here it is -- the little green laptop that's going to take over the world (Annan presented with $100 laptop prototype). Negroponte says that he's going to give out more than 200 million of these little green wireless crank jobs over the next two years (Laptop for every kid Wired News).

This seems like either a wildly visionary thing to do -- or just a feel-good exercise that's going to run into the same or even worse problems that laptop initiatves have run into in the states (Making one-to-one initiatives work Scholastic Administrator). These include theft, technical problems, and precious little evidence of increased learning.

Indeed, the warnings and cautions have already begun: Don't get carried away (ZDNet).

UPDATE: An Up-Close Look Andy Carvin


USDE Allows "Progress" Pilot -- But Few States Ready

The AP's Ben Feller reports that the USDE is ready to let 10 states measure student progress instead of the current AYP method next year: (Student progress trials OK'd).

Already, some are raising the alarm:

“We had so-called growth models before NCLB," said the Ed Trust's Kati Haycock, "and they did little to drive reform or improvements for students. The question we can answer with a good pilot is whether a new generation of growth-based accountability systems will do more to drive the necessary changes in teaching and learning than the current model.”

However, only 4 states are ready to track student test scores ove time, according to a new report from NCEA (State Data Systems).


Kentucky Seen as Not Reporting Test Scores of Student Subgroups EdWeek
Ed. Dept. Grants N.Y.C., Boston Waivers on NCLB Tutoring EdWeek
More Pr. George's Students Transfer Under U.S. Law WashPost


14 States Win Grants for Longitudinal Data Systems
States Test Limits of Federal AYP Flexibility PDF CEP
"States are continuing to find new ways to calculate adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act in order to raise the number of schools and districts that meet the law’s student achievement targets...the report calls on the U.S. Department of Education to more systematically and promptly publicize its decisions," states the press release accompanying the report.


Will Do Homework For Food

There's a hilarious (upsetting?) AP story out today about a mom who, unable to get her daughter to do her homework or stop acting up in class, put her out on the street.

The sign reads, " I don't do my homework and I act up in school, so my parents are preparing me for my future."

Wayward student stuck on corner (AP)

Of course, shaming doesn't always work:
Pa. principal resigns after shaming girl (Boston Globe)

UPDATE: Your Parents Aren't That Into You The Onion

Why Congress Is Not That Into National Standards

Those looking ahead to the reauthorization of NCLB or hoping for momentum towards national standards would do well to read Kevin Kosar's new book, Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards.

Kosar's book provides a vivid and detailed retelling of the standards wars in Washington that includes among other things elite politics, crazy-sounding politicians, and an unholy alliance of left and right.

More than anything, however, the book is a cautionary tale for those who would move towards national tests and a reminder of just how weak and watered-down laws like NCLB are once they get through the process. (Yes, weak and watered down in fundamental ways.)


Kosar's book focuses on the late 80s and 90s during which several standards-related bills were enacted or debated (America 2000, Goals 2000, proposals for voluntary national tests, and the No Child Left Behind Act).

In essence, Kosar argues that Congressional politics have had a negative effect on the creation of federal education standards, blunting the effort to create a rigorous, national curriculum. In this light, NCLB, for all its requirements, is fundamentally weak in that it leaves it up to states to set their own standards and assessments.

The following is a Q&A with Kosar, who works at the Congressional Research Service:

Q: What is the basic thesis of your findings about federal policymaking?

KK: That politics almost inevitably botches sound policy. Many of the problems with current federal standards policy are the result of politics. Hard-line leftists and rightists forced advocates of federal standards-raising policies to water down their policy proposals to get them enacted into law. Thus, to take a glaring example, we have the No Child Left Behind Act and its predecessor, Goals 2000. Both of these laws were intended to raise standards; neither, though, gave the federal government any power to review state standards to ensure that they are rigorous.

Q: What if anything was the biggest surprise or most unexpected thing that you learned in putting together the book, or that seems most surprising to others?

KK: I was surprised at how intensely ideological Congress’s debates on were on standards policies. It was, to put it a bit simplistically, Great Society liberalism versus conservative antistatism. The left argued that lack of money is the real problem while the right was loath to give the federal government more influence over the schools.

Q: What would you say to those who are again calling for national standards and tests due to discrepancies between state and NAEP standards?

KK: Well, my reading of history is that proposal for national tests or standards will get tripped up by the hard left and right. Inevitably the question comes up- who will decide the content of the standards? Multiculturalists will caterwaul that standards that emphasize knowledge of grammar are Eurocentric, creationists will holler about any mentions of evolution, and so forth. Even mathematics, a seemingly objective discipline, isn’t immune to intense debates about what gets taught and how.

Q: State and local educators often complain that NCLB is heavy handed, yet you seem to think that it is much weaker than it could have been - why is that?

KK: On the one hand, the adequate yearly progress (AYP) provisions are burdensome. So are the penalties of failing to make AYP, such as requiring states to pay for free tutoring for children and limited school choice. On the other hand, the federal government has left states with discretion over curricula. One can imagine a much more robust standards-based system, one where participating states would have to use an official national curricula, tests, etc.

Q: Based on what you learned, what would you expect from the next version of ESEA?

KK: If I was a betting man, I’d wager that Congress will muddle through. Some provisions of NCLB that have had unforeseen or overly harsh consequences will be changed. AYP provisions, for example, may be loosened. But I’d be surprised if there were many major changes.

Q: Who are/what are some of the main legislative/political dynamics that go into education policymaking at the federal level that educators, state and local officials, and parents might not appreciate or fully understand?

KK: Federal education politics is elite politics. The wants of interest groups have a far greater effect on policy than the desires of parents and the needs of children. Some of these groups are only interested in grabbing federal dollars; others, though, are intensely ideological. They have worldviews and they pressure Congress to make policy to comport with these views. So, for example, we have liberal members of Congress fighting to bills to create experimental programs that would provide federal funds to poor children in failing schools to use as a voucher, a ticket to a school where they can learn and not get pulled into a life of drugs and crime.

Q: What would you say is the most vivid anecdote or moment in the book?

KK: Politicians are, inevitably, entertaining- so I’m not sure I can finger just one. There’s an incident involving a Jesse Helms filibuster that’s quite precious. And on a number of occasions, the book relates incidents where politicians say things which are so far out, so incredibly divorced from reality, that one’s jaw falls slack and one wonders, “Has this person gone mad? Does he/she really believe this crazy talk?”

Q: How are things different or the same now than they were ten or more years ago when goals 2000 and the rest were first being discussed in congress?

KK: One difference stands out- today, neither political party has taken the position that we should roll-back the federal role in schooling. This is very new. Since at least the 1880s, one political party or the other has taken the position that schooling is a local and state affair. First it was the Democrats, then the Republicans. This ended in 1996, when Bob Dole ran on a platform to reduce federal intervention in schooling. He got creamed by Clinton, who favored a bigger federal role. Now both parties favor a significant federal role in K-12 education.

Renaissance 2010 Rolls On

Yesterday's CPS board of education meeting included approval of all but one of the 16 new Ren-10 schools recommended earlier this fall:
Virtual Academy school plan stalls Sun-Times
Protests can't block OK for 15 new schools Tribune

More details continue to trickle out about a few of these schools:
New Skinner School could include West Loop kids Chicago Journal
Private school's public spinoff to use entry exam Sun-Times

Meanwhile, CPS found more money for capital projects, and ISBE announced that 217 schools (including 185 in Chicago) were in line for restructuring under NCLB next year -- up from 22 this year:
217 Illinois schools in trouble Tribune
Cash-short schools will build more Tribune

Recent Posts: Ren-10 Round 2: The Sweet Sixteen


That Big Fat School Choice Book Chicago Journal
CPS Magnet Deadline

How "Bumping" & Vacancy Games Affect Urban Schools

This week's big new report, The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts, from The New Teacher Project sheds some interesting light on seniority transfer rules and vacancies and its effects on where teachers end up within school districts.

However, the report seems limited in its power to generate helpful progress by the fact that it doesn't name the districts that it uses for case studies (I'm sure some folks could figure it out) and did not apparently include input or expertise from teachers unions. The angry response doesn't take long to appear:
Study Falsely Links Low Teacher Quality to Union Contracts (AFT)

Early Coverage:
Teacher Transfer Rules Hurt Schools, Study Says WashPost
Urban teachers often not welcome WashTimes

Tough choices on teacher quality Gadfly


Bringing Choice Advocates Into the School Finance Debate

Today's Eduwonk has an interesting proposition for bringing the left and right together over the property-tax problem -- written in the form of a singles want ad: ISO: National Commission To Tackle Current Property Tax Policies And Propose Reforms. Eduwonk must miss his days as a single guy.


This somewhat novel idea is that pro-choice folks who have generally stayed out of school finance cases might join forces with those on the left in order to address the current limits of district-based property taxes for schools:
"..both sides of the political spectrum have something to gain by tackling this problem and there is something of a grand bargain out there. Conservative choice schemes (and centrist charter school schemes) will never be serious solutions as long as school finance remains a district by district affair...Resources will come with reform."

I'm not sure that I see it happening, but it's certainly a fresh take on a very old and often intractable problem. Like Eduwonk says, candidates for the job of leading this effort "must be fit and active, nationally recognizable, and enjoy cooking, in particular a witch’s brew that will offend the political right and left."


How the Gates Foundation Got So Hard

For many progressive educators, especially those long involved with the small schools movement, the Gates Foundation has long seemed wrong-headed, prescriptive, and top-down in its efforts.

They, along with NCLB and standardized testing in general, are seen by critics as being the big bullies on the education block.

How fascinating then to learn that, according to Education Next, at least, the Gates effort started out as a much more starry-eyed (and progressive) effort that only slowly turned into something more hard-boiled later.

Whether this is a good thing or not is another question.

That's the basic premise of the Education Next piece, A Foundation Goes to School, which chronicles the evolution of the foundation's grant-giving "from utopian to pragmatic, from progressive to agnostic, and from person-focused to system-focused."

"Those early grant recipients included [Ted] Sizer; Larry Rosenstock, creator of San Diego’s High Tech High, which emphasized project-based internships in local businesses; Dennis Littky, founder of The Big Picture Company, which was dedicated to reproducing the progressive Met High School in Providence, Rhode Island, throughout the country; and Doug Thomas, who had developed a Minnesota-based teacher cooperative."

However, the foundation found out that "the project-based schools sponsored by the foundation were proving difficult to reproduce and hard to make work for young people who had not connected to school." (Coincidentally, there's a piece in Education Week about the evaluation results here: Gates High Schools Get Mixed Review in Study).

And so the foundation's grant-making changed from its initial focus on bringing computers to schools and progressive ideas about school reform espoused by Tony Wagner and others to its more recent interests in charter schools, "traditional forms of instruction [like KIPP and Early College] that would horrify the progressive educators who received most of the early small-schools grants," and even private school models like Cristo Rey.

Now, none of this will satisfy the foundation's many critics in education circles, or change the foundation's modest successes. And, to be sure, the Education Next piece is perhaps too kind to the foundation in its effort to make sense of what has seemed from the outside to be a series of hard-to-follow course corrections. (The article's author has been funded at various times with Gates money, as have I.)

However, it is a fascinating peek inside the workings of the field's most prominent foundation and the difficult decisions that foundation staff have to make -- as well as at least a partial explanation of the recent gyrations that the foundation seems to have been going through.

Read More:
17 States Get $5.2M in Private Funds from NGA to to Improve High Schools (EdWeek)

Previous Posts:
Dear Tom: What Is Going On at the Gates Foundation?
Gates Foundation: Not Just About Small Schools Anymore
The End of Small Schools--Or The Beginning?
Small Schools Ups & Downs.

Bill (flood) Gates open - millions for schools NYDaily
Mayor Plans New Education Measures, Including Reshaping 8 Troubled ... NYT

Gates' point on smaller high schools is far from proven SJMercury


School Life: Stuffed Animals Lashed To Cars & More

School Restructuring Probably Works More Than You Think It Does

In almost every district around the country, there are a handful of low-performing schools that are supposed to be undergoing "restructuring" under NCLB.

In some places, it hasn't meant much.
In others, it's too soon to tell.

But in more places than you might think, it's actually worked...

[Click below to read the full post]

85% of failing schools improved under restructurings
Lansing State Journal

What does 'F' mean? (Southtown via Stateline).

Scores improve; some left behind
Tenn. Commercial Appeal

Hope but No Miracle Cures: Michigan’s Early Restructuring Lessons (PDF CEP). This look at school restructuring efforts in Michigan suggests that some schools do need a substantial revamp -- and that it can, with difficulty, be done.

Restructuring Schools in Baltimore (PDF ECS). This case study and policy brief describes state and district efforts at turning around troubled Baltimore schools.

A State Policymaker's Guide to Alternative Charter School Authorizers (PDF ECS). In this recent report, ECS charts the pros and cons of giving state boards, universities, and even school districts the ability to "authorize" charter schools. In Ohio, at least, nonprofit organizations can (and do) charter schools.


What Makes A Good Education Blog -- And Why Aren't There Any?

The Washington Monthly's Political Animal asks some good questions in this post (A Good Education Blog via the Howler) about wanting a really good education blog -- and not having found one yet.

Drum's basic position is that the blogs he reads are either (like Eduwonk and JoanneJacobs) "mostly just links with a little bit of connective tissue" or (like the Howler), "offering commentary so detailed that it's all too easy to get lost in the weeds."

Now I'm not sure if those descriptions are entirely fair to Jacobs, Somerby, or Rotherham, but they do have some truth to them -- and I agree with Drum's overall criteria...

[Click below to read the full post]

...It may have been different five years ago, but few who are already interested in education really need to have repackaged articles pointed out to them, one by one, every day. We can usually get those on our own, thanks to EducationNews, Education Week, Stateline, GoogleNews Alerts, or RSS readers like Bloglines.

And no one wants to read overwhelmingly lengthy, highly predictable, unthinking (or ill-researched), or unedited posts. The Howler's stuff is fascinating but really narrow-cast and just too much for me sometimes. Much as I like it, I struggle to make it through the Carnival every week since it's gotten so long and is seemingly all-inclusive. Smart and hard-working as he is, Doug over at Education At The Brink just doesn't know enough of the history behind what he's talking about to be very helpful to me.

What I think we all want from an education blog is useful context for what's going on, fresh, sharply edited, and unconventional commentary that challenges what we think, what is being said in the MSM, and what is being written in other blogs, and -- perhaps most important of all -- maybe a little more balance and a little less one-sided advocacy. A little bit of humor doesn't hurt, either.

Effective or not, what I'm trying to do with my blog these days is to provide context and commentary only when I feel like I have something worthwhile to say, and gather and organize the week's best links by topic or theme when I don't. (That's one of the nice things about being a weekly roundup rather than a daily blog. I may post things during the week, but I can update them and get a feel for the entire week before I send anything out.)

I'm also trying to find ways to help people find out what else is out there -- either through the BlogMap or through sharing my list of Bloglines subscriptions -- to serve as some sort of a clearinghouse.

Let me know if you think I'm doing it right or need to shape up. In the meantime, check out the comments that follow Drum's post, which include some blogs I hadn't know about and some thoughtful points as well.

Previous Posts:
Best Education Blogs, The Sad State of Education Blogs, Faux Blogs: Cheesy Ways of Getting Attention, The Rise of the BlogMap, Making Big Money With Education Blogs and Websites

All Hail Queen Hosanna -- The Next Head of Chicago Public Schools?

For several months now, there have been whispers about whether Hosanna Mahaley Johnson, the current chief of staff at the Board of Education and former Daley point person on education issues, might be the next head of the Chicago Public Schools.

Today's puff piece about her -- there's just no other way to describe it -- will only fuel that speculation to even greater heights, even though taking over the job is never mentioned in the piece (Ex-teacher gets schools on track Sun-Times)...

[Click below to read the full post]

...To be sure, this is only the latest of the profiles that have been published about Board figures on the rise. Remember the profile of Greg Richmond that came out just as Ren10 was launched (Gutsy leader in the 'hot seat' with schools plan)?

My take is that it's not going to happen --not anytime soon, at least. Rumored successors for the current CPS head, Arne Duncan, have come and gone several times since 2001 among Board-watchers. (Vitale, Bertani, etc.) There's no immediate or apparent threat to Duncan's reign, despite the oft-repeated but ill-articulated concern that he isn't a strong enough leader. As Ren-10 point person, Mahaley-Johnson is gong to have some tough moments ahead of her. And the Mayor is less likely than ever to make changes at the Board of Education given all the turnover in other departments and the upcoming election.

One thing is clear: we're gonna need a better picture than this one (from Catalyst) if she's going to be the new "it" girl. Anyone got one?

How About National Tests for Teachers -- Not Students?

For the last couple of weeks, the dynamic duo of Checker Finn and Diane Ravitch have been pushing a return to the idea of national tests for students -- noting that state tests are misleading and in many cases not sufficient. (See Ravitch & Finn: Separated At Birth?).

To my mind, it's a worthwhile but highly unlikely idea for all sorts of practical and political reasons. National standards for new teachers, however -- there's something that actually might happen. And could, arguably, make as much or more of a difference for school improvement...

[Click below to read the full post]

...So it's worth noting that last week NCATE, one of the governing bodies for teacher ed programs, announced that it was going to set a voluntary national cut score for teacher tests and encourage states -- mildly -- to consider adopting it: NCATE Approves Single Cutoff Score on Teacher Tests (Education Week).

As most people know, states have since forever set their own minimum Praxis scores for teaching candidates -- some of them quite low. For a long time, the rationale for keeping the minimum scores low was to ensure that there were enough warm bodies to fill classrooms each year, and to prevent any arguments about whether the tests are biased against minority teachers, who tend to score lower on the tests.

Since then, things have only gotten worse. The 1997 Higher Education Act unintentionally created a new disincentive to raising cutoff scores in that it requires states to publicize ed school pass rates on the tests. Of course, everyone wants a high percentage there. And most get one.

NCLB requirements for highly qualified teachers -- with no real limits on how low states could set standards -- have only exacerbated the problem (‘Qualified’ Teachers: A Victory on Paper? EdWeek). Two weeks ago, even those lax standards were pushed back (USDE Backs Off -- Further -- On HQT).

Now, the NCATE change won't do anything immediate or transformative. This is certainly not quite the national teacher test that some including Linda Darling-Hammond have advocated in the past (The Case for National Teacher Tests NWREL). And the Praxis tests and others currently in use are certainly not super high-quality measure of the preparedness of teaching candidates that many have called for (Education Schools Use Performance Standards to Improve Graduates Ed Week).

But at very least the NCATE change will shine a light on the states with the lowest cut scores and perhaps put some pressure on them to up their standards.


Black Baby Bennett Fallout In Philly, Not Chicago

There's an interesting contrast in how Bill Bennett's infamous statements about aborting black babies are being responded to in Philadelphia and Chicago.

Just over a month ago, Bennett made comments suggesting that social problems could be solved by aborting black babies: Bennett Under Fire for Remark on Crime and Black Abortions (Washington Post).

What he said: "
...It's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

The education company he helped found, K12, Inc., asked him to resign shortly thereafter. However, at a board meeting in Philadelphia this week, community members called loudly on school officials to divest themselves of dealings with Bennett's former company:
Ire over 'black baby' remark boils over at school meeting, School firm still haunted by comments (Inquirer). The Philadelphia schools have partnered with K12, Inc. on a wide variety of projects.

Here in Chicago, there has been if any little such protest so far, even though one of the 16 newly proposed new schools to be created next year is a K12, Inc. virtual school. K12 could also be one of the companies that provides curriculum and instructional support at the schools that implement the High School Transformation pilot next year.

Mike Klonsky mentions it in his blog:

"How a "virtual school" founded by a racist politician will help drive community improvement (the stated goal of Ren 10) is anybody's guess." (
Chicago's new patronage system)

However, to my knowledge the issue hasn't been raised at Board or Ren10 meetings.


School Life: Shady Snowmen, Email Time Capsules, Banning Blogs, and Harry Potter

What's up with that snowman T-shirt? CNN
Another week, another T-shirt controversy.

Rosa Parks’ Death Onion
"Now can finally leave civil rights behind us."

Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops NYT
Store owners ask parents for some quiet and peace.

Email Time Capsule Forbes
Send a message to yourself in the future.

Taser to offer stun gun cameras CNN
Just in case you ever need to electrocute a child.

Moan Tones Are So Last Year Wired

Scented ring tones are on their way.

Educators take serious look at video gaming eSN
The Holy Grail for some educators -- learning as video game.
ALSO: What video games can teach us Harvard Ed Letter via PEN

Parents seek end to blogs at school Anchorage Daily News
High-tech party planning during school -- what's wrong with that?
ALSO: The blogosphere goes blank for N.J. students Inquirer

No Wizard Left Behind Education Week
Art Levine on what NCLB can learn from Harry Potter.

Gen Y workers Joanne Jacobs
The near-universal complaint of veteran teachers about newbies.

Books for boys Joanne Jacobs
Potty humor, scary monsters, and more.

Analyze This
How literary analysis eclipses time spent actually reading.

Bloggers On Bookshelves: Joanne Jacobs' New Book

Joanne Jacobs' new book -- Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds "(Palgrave Macmillan) -- is coming out shortly. Check it out.

It tells the story of a San Jose charter school called Downtown College Prep
that prepares students who are “failing but not in jail” for four-year colleges.

For those of you who don't know, Jacobs was at the SJ Mercury News for almost 20 years and is now one of the most well-established education bloggers out there.


PBS Schools Report: Documentary, or Infomercial?

Judy Miller's resignation from the NYT isn't the only cautionary tale for journalists that's out there this week:

Over at the Daily Howler, there's a lengthy piece about the recent PBS documentary on school reform that makes two worthwhile points for education journalists to consider: (a) that educators' (and reporters') esteem for what happened in New York City's District 2 under Tony Alvarado may be exaggerated, and (b) that the recent PBS documentary, produced by Hedrick Smith, might have failed not only to provide balanced coverage of the NYC reforms but also to identify some of its proponents properly.

I'll leave it to others to debate whether District 2 is all that it has been cracked up to be. (There's a reference to District 2 in today's NYT education column on the math wars.)

And others probably know about the Howler and the NY Sun's Andrew Wolf, whose column ($) (The Schools and Public Television) started it all. An earlier column -- this one free -- can be found here. Another one, posted on EducationNews (also free), can be found here.

However, the allegations that the PBS show was more of an "infomercial" than a balanced piece of reporting, and that it may have done a poor job of balancing views and identifying sources, are worth considered. The show doesn't identify Lauren Resnick, a UofPitt professor, as being closely linked to District 2, according to the Howler, or identify Elaine Fink as being Mrs. Alvarado.

Lazy freelancer that I am, I haven't re-viewed the documentary, but upon recollection I agree that the show had a clear point of view that school reform could work, and that poor and minority kids could learn. So enthused about someone -- anyone -- taking on the issue in a high-profile way, I don't think I really considered the issue of objectivity or balance in my original post about it: PBS and the Denver Post Do Race, Class, and Closing Achievement Gaps. You'll see in the comments that at least some smart folks, like PEN's Howie Shaffer, had a more immediate sense that this was a "feel-good" exercise.

More Conflicts Inside the Chicago Teachers Union

In case you'd been wondering what CTU President Marilyn Stewart has been up to since the start of the school year, there are some juicy tidbits over at the Education Intelligence Agency about ongoing battles between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Education Association.

According to the story ( Illinois NEA Retreats from Dealing with CTU Dissidents), "Internal politics within the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) have embroiled the leadership of the Illinois Education Association and nearly started an organizing war in Chicago."

The fight reportedly includes the current leadership (Marilyn Stewart), the Illinois Education Association, and a third group called the Chicago Educational Employees Caucus that I've never heard of but who was apparently trying to get away from the IFT and join the IEA, a move that was considered but rejected under a "no-raid" agreement between the two unions.

Not surprisingly, current CTU president Mairly Stewart opposed the proposed departure of some CTU members, and, according to the report, attacked the EIA for even considering the idea. There are both immediate financial implications (departing members) and longer-term ones (the two unions have different pension funds), as well as obvious political implications.

It's not clear if Debby Lynch's PACT was involved, though it's hard to imagine why they would be. But the report, if accurate, indicates a high level of internal strife and can't help but hinder the CTU's ability to support teachers and advocate for better schools. A press release denouncing the latest round of Ren-10 proposals doesn't really count.

"All in all, intrigue worthy of a medieval harem," writes the EIA. "And the clean-up isn't going so smoothly, either."