A New Year's Treat: Secret Ways to Read EdWeek & Teacher Magazine

Online editor Jeanne McCann over at Editorial Projects in Education just made my week (it's not hard, let me tell you) by filling me in on the existence of "secret" (unpublicized) RSS feeds for Teacher Magazine and EdWeek. These are easy ways to track the arrival of new articles on Yahoo, Firefox, or Bloglines among others -- without having to remember to check the EdWeek site all the time. For a full explanation of how RSS makes life easier, see my previous post on this, All the Education Links You Could Ever Want. You still have to go to the site to read any articles in full, and subscribe if you want to read lots of them -- which I finally did last month after much complaining.

NCLB's Impact on Special Education (& Vice Versa) vs. The Chronic of Narnia SNL Spoof: The Cupcakes Win

Only in a very, very slow education news week could a rather predictable Washington Post opinion piece about how NCLB hurts gifted education generate responses from The Washington Monthly's Paul Glastris and a series of blogosphere rebuttals and add-ons.

What to do -- slog through it all, or find something, er, else to do -- like watch a funny video?


Maybe I'm missing the point (or just too lazy to read every last word), but my take is that stories about the negative impact of NCLB on _____ (fill in the blank) are usually just stalking horses for the anti-NCLB crowd.

To be sure, NCLB and all of its forefathers haven't been focused on gifted kids. Theoretically, such concerns from the top could damage support for the law.

But thus far, at least, they seem to be pretty ineffective -- in large part because NCLB hasn't done any damage so great or apparent that the public has risen up against the law. Wake me up when it does.

Thankfully, Slate summarizes the back-and-forth here so you can keep thinking about what you're going to do/wear for New Year's, or -- better yet -- watch the Beastie Boys-style Chronic of Narnia cupcake video from Saturday Night Live instead (may be NSFW).

UPDATE: Students With Disabilities Improve Test PerformanceEdWeek

Taking Ownership of Low-Performing Schools, Part 2

Focusing in on the particular needs of a district's most troubled schools by taking responsibility for them at the district level isn't a perfect solution, and it certainly isn't easy -- as highlighted in today's piece from the Phil Inquirer (Official's abrupt resignation roils schools plan). But the approach -- modelled after the Chancellor's District in NYC under Rudy Crew and since adopted in Philadelphia and Miami, among other places -- does seem to create more accountability and attention on these schools than they would otherwise receive.

Past Posts: Taking Ownership of Low-Peforming Schools

Media Coverage: How Education News Affects Public Perceptions and Policymaking

If you're interested in a more academic take on how education issues get reported in the news -- and how the coverage affects policymaking -- take a look at this (PDF) 1999 University of Chicago study passed along recently by my friend David Mayrowetz, federal policy guru at the UIC School of Education.

It's not new, it's not national, and I'm sure my journalistic betters will take issue (as they have in the past -- unfortunately most of the time on a private listserve), but the study makes some interesting and relevant points about (a) the predominance of news coverage focused on the actions of the central administration, (b) the convergence of opinions and coverage even in a two-newspaper town like Chicago, and (c) the possible impact on policymaking decisions in education by education reporters who choose which issues to report and how to report them.

Most recent post on media coverage: Is Daily Education Coverage a "Closed Conversation"?

The Year In Review: 2005 (Updated w/ Comments)

While I'm sure that USAT's Greg Toppo will do a better job than I will when his year in review piece comes out later this week (see below), I still thought that I'd join the end of year fray with some of my own nominees for biggest education stories. Feel free to agree, disagree, and -- especially encouraged -- suggest your own ideas.


Without further ado, here are my top education stories of 2005:

-- Intelligent Design Vs. the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In terms of public attention, this is probably the story of the year. I just wish I could get myself to care.

-- The Gates Turnaround on Small Schools. After five years of pushing hard for small schools, the biggest and most active education foundation quietly -- and then loudly -- changed horses, pursuing a state and district reform strategy that they had previously avoided.

-- USDE's Strategic Retreat on NCLB. In ways small and not so small, the USDE steadily retreated on enforcing NCLB in 2005. The result? A mishmash of a law, with results that vary from year to year based on a rolling set of changes. But no major move to repeal the law.

-- Hurricane Vouchers. Katrina gave America an up-close look at pervasive urban poverty. The Congressional response gave voucher advocates an opening to push for more options for public school children.

-- Kozol and the PovRacers. The Kozol book, Shame of a Nation, rises to the top of the NYT bestseller lists and rains all over the notion that segregation is gone -- and that schools can be improved without reintegrating them.

-- Laptops, Blogs, Podcasts, Online Bullying, and Other High Tech Hype and Horrors. Last year, it was freak dancing and jelly bracelets. This year, it's all things Internet that are making some educators drool -- and freaking out others.

What did I miss?


Move Over, Coaching Models and Performance-Based Pay/Evaluation: Peer Review Makes a Comeback

Just when I was lamenting the fact that peer review and evaluation of teachers seemed to have gone the way of the dodo bird, it seems to be coming back -- in Chicago, of all places, modeled on the Toledo and Rochester programs. Teachers to grade peers (Tribune)

To be sure, peer review isn't perfect, but I'd argue it's not only better than what we have now but also better than relying solely on non-evaluative coaching and induction models or waiting for years until the performance-based teacher evaluation systems everyone's talking about are in place. Like most principals who evaluate teachers, I give this TQ approach a rating of "excellent."


Chicago's OMSI Perpares for the ACT

The tough breaks just keep coming for Marty Gartzman et al in the CPS math and science office (many of whom I finally met just before the holidays -- hi, Marty!).

First, math and science scores don't respond as quickly as some wanted to the office's curriculum and PD initiatives. Then, not overyone everyone responds enthusiastically to the high school transformation plan put out this fall by OMSI and the literacy and planning folks.

Now -- thankfully at a time when no one's really paying attention -- OMSI hands out 100 CDs to HS math chairs that has an embarassing mis-spelling: Good Thing They Weren't English Teachers (WBBM via Chicagoist). The explanation? It was an intern's mistake.

No Progress on Daily Attendance -- Or Overall Enrollment -- in Chicago

A recent Tribune piece (School attendance flat in city) describes the recent (and largely ineffective) push by Chicago Public Schools to coax more children to attend class every day -- but leaves out an even more important trend: flat overall enrollment trends.


Overall ttendance in CPS has remained fairly flat at about 435K students -- despite the influx of new residents to the city over the past 10 years.Two out of three white families with school-age children choose to send them to nonpublic schools. Uncounted thousands more move away as kindergarten approaches.

This raises tough questions about what it will take to convincen parents to choose Chicago public schools, and hints at the possibility of overall enrollment declines (and lost jobs and funding that results) in the future. Think Cleveland.


The Year In Review: Chicago Public Schools 2005

Clearly, I've got "year in review" -itis (see below), and so must present what I think are the biggest education stories of the year in CPS. As always, feel free to agree, disagree, or give your own list.


My list includes:

-- Urban NAEP Scores Dump on the Daley Miracle. This year's urban NAEP scores for Chicago tell a much different story than the one you hear about from state and local test scores touted in the papers. While better than LA, Chicago falls far behind New York City and other smaller districts on many measures. Oops.

-- Another Year, Another Plan. This fall's big announcement, the High School Transformation Plan, is a brave and well-considered plan that three months after its announcement still lacks a leader or any news on the high schools that are supposed to volunteer for the experimental curriculum and PD initiative.

-- Last-Minute Reprieve on NCLB Tutoring. The Board won an unexpected and last-minute reprieve from the USDE that allowed it to tutor children attending low-performing schools for one more year. A minor crisis averted. Vindication? I'm not so sure.

-- Ren10 Rolls On. After some initial stumbles, the Ren10 small schools creation process seems to have rolled into its second year fairly smoothly. Where they're going to get the money the need, and how they're going to get around the charter cap, I don't know.

-- Magnet Mess. In part due to the abundance of school choice options the city has developed over the years, the current system has seemed more than ever like a mess in desperate need of rethinking. There are just too many different processes in place, between magnets, cluster magnets, selective elementary and high schools, charters, and NCLB transfers, and too little parent outreach and information.


Is Daily Education Coverage a "Closed Conversation"?

A new report from a pro-choice Virginia watchdog group suggests that there are some serious weaknesses in mainstream education reporting, especially when it comes to daily newspapers. Claiming that newspaper reporters are basically too close to bureaucratic sources and those with vested interests, the report suggests that "readers would have to look long and hard to find the larger education story in their daily newspapers."

Are these problems as serious as the report suggests, and what can be done about them?


The study is based on telephone surveys of education print reporters and analysis of 403 education-related articles published over eight months by four daily news publishers in Virginia -- not the most comprehensive sample, but still worth looking at.

Its main findings (via EducationNews.org) are that newspapers rely on the public school industry to set the education news agenda, with nearly two of three stories being triggered by a press release from state, federal, or local officials. This is the "closed conversation" that leaves out key stakeholders and nontraditional approaches (charters, tax credits, and vouchers among them).

Nearly two thirds of the pieces reviewed related to topics of foremost interest to the public school industry, namely public school funding, public school staffing, and public school wage and benefit proposals. Almost all of the sources cited in all articles were government/public school-affiliated sources, prompting the report authors to compare education journalists to "embedded" reporters seeing things through the eyes of their immediate sources.

To be sure, it's possible that these findings are exaggerated. Some of the language is over the top, and I don't know the group that put this report out. I haven't talked to the reporters who were interviewed.

But you don't have to like the organization to pay attention to the report. Indeed, some of the basic points made have a general ring of truth to them. As I have noted before, finding good sources outside the education bureaucracy (and on deadline) is difficult and perhaps foreign to many reporters. Interested and informed outside sources are hard to find, compared to individuals and organizations with an organized media/outreach capacity (or with a vested interest).

What can daily reporters do? For a start, be sure to talk to outsiders for their perspective -- watchdogs, researchers, budget folks, citizens' groups, parents at the Little League game. Just as important, don't rely on education insiders for their views on innovations that would affect them negatively (or at least identify the vested interests).


What the Times' Decision Reveals About Not Reporting the News

I can't help but wonder, amid all the understandable hullabaloo surrounding the Times' decision to hold back over a year on revealing that the National Security Agency was spying domestically, how often education writers and editors face the same type of dilemma -- and how they deal with it.


I have no idea how much this happens on the education beat, though I'm guessing it happens more than we realize, in mostly small but occasionally large ways.

In my short time as a writer, I have very occasionally been asked to not report things and, on my own, decided to hold some things back. Not, obviously, for national security reasons, but rather because the information would endanger someone's job unnecessarily or seems...I can't think of a better word than "prejudicial," by which I mean damaging without particular use.

The education beat is full of people you don't want to beat up on if you don't have to: teachers, parents, kids, advocacy groups. School boards and faceless administrators? Not a problem.

Until now, at least, I haven't reflected very much on those few decisions, each of which were made quickly and usually without the benefit of a discussion with an editor.

To some extent, that's due to the fact that I'm a freelancer working for a handful of different editors at any given time, and -- just as important -- unlikely to find a home for many of the things that I pick up along the way. I don't have a regular outlet for everything I find.

But I'm not sure if it would be much different if I was a staff writer. What if an editor told me to report something that I felt shouldn't be put into print? What if an editor wanted me to hold back on something that I thought needed to be reported?

While the situation is almost irreplicably extreme, the Times' decision makes me think that education writers might ought to at least take a moment to think about what they hold back -- consciously or without thought -- whether they do so on their own or with consultation, and whether it's the right thing to do.

For me, at least, I think that there may have been times I should have talked to someone -- directly involved or not -- and where I may have held back without enough deliberation. How do I know? In part because I can't think of anytime I've crossed the line the other way.

I'm sure this is covered in Journalism 101 -- a class I unfortunately never took. And I'm guessing that there are many other education writers who have dealt with this situation in the past with great wisdom. Any experience or advice would be much appreciated.


Chicago Roundup: Magnet Mess, Charter Converts, and More

As has been reported over the past couple of weeks, it seems clear that the process for applying to and getting into magnet and selective enrollment schools in Chicago is somewhat of a mess. What will it take to make things better?


Despite an ever-increasing (and substantial) amount of choice, the demand still far exceeds the supply. The application process has gotten overly complicated, despite recommendations from a blue ribbon panel to simplify things and beef up outreach and support functions beyond publishing a big book and answering the phone.

In addition, there are simply too many different types of programs to apply for (charters, magnets, selective enrollment, and NCLB transfers, to name a few), instead of one integrated process. And the attempt to expand magnet-like academic themes to neighborhood schools, called the magnet cluster program, seems to have done little to stem the parental interest in non-neighborhood schools.

The solutions? A streamlined application process, an integrated choice program, parent resource centers in each area or region. A more transparent process.

Deadline extended for magnet school applications CST
Magnet-school enrollment deadline extended 1 week Tribune
Getting in to magnet schools Tribune
Kids vie for coveted preschools Tribune

Best of the Rest:
Teacher aides fail to make the grade Tribune
Schools hit on student arrests Tribune
Proposed junk-food ban 'goes too far'
A convert to charter schools Tribune
Child Care Workers Strike Labor Deal in Illinois
Illiterate Chicago?Gapersblock
Illinois High School Summit White Paper


S&P Levels the Playing Field -- And Lowers Expectations

I'm not sure that I like what many states will do with S&P's new poverty-adjusted version of the 2005 NAEP results, which I fear will be to say some version of "Our kids are doing well relative to other poor kids," or "We're doing as well as can be expected, given our student demographics." The Stateline overview of the report (with links to the actual thing) is here. Yuk.

While I don't think it's really happened, lowering expectations for poor and minority kids is exactly what some educators feared would result from the disaggregation requirements of NCLB. But NCLB makes clear that the expectations are the same for all subgroups.

The S&P analysis doesn't, and as a result could be used for expectations-lowering in the 11 states (Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas) that "do better" on S&P's poverty-adjusted ratings.

Media Coverage: WJW Cleveland's "School Bus Bloat" Wins -- Again

Congrats to Tom Merriman and the folks at WJW, CLEVELAND for winning one of Columbia University's awards for investigative journalism.

The series, entititle School Bus Bloat, revealed Cleveland's inflated roster of substitute school bus drivers and bogus ridership figures. Over a nine-month period, Merriman documented how the Cleveland school district retained more than 200 substitute bus drivers who did little more than shoot pool and play games while on the payroll. Merriman confronted school officials and the mayor and interviewed a whistle-blower who had been ordered to inflate statistics on school bus ridership in state funding reports.

This isn't the first recognition for the series, which was also highlighted by the folks at IRE.

Read all about it here (via Romenesko).

Leave No Blog Behind

Much as I've enjoyed blogging the last couple of years, I have to say that most education blogs -- including this one -- continue to disappoint me greatly.

Once again, I wonder, where are -- or when will we get -- great education blogs that add value to the debate and -- as has happened long ago in other parts of the sphere -- have a real world impact on education policy, politics, or coverage?

It's going to be a while.


For example, mine isn't updated daily, is all over the place in terms of content, and doesn't contain as many new ideas or as much original reporting or research as I'd like. Plus, my profile picture is bad and I'm a spammer. There's no excuse.

Too many other education blogs are simply a chronological series of "hey, look at this" posts about the day's articles from the mainstream media. If you're reading more than a couple of blogs, or tracking the news yourself, there's not much value added there. Often times, the articles linked to are the same from blog to blog. Yawn.

Another problem for many education blogs is the mind-numbingly repetitive and predictable rants -- usually against NCLB, or for charter schools, or against the contract, or whatever. That gets tiring after a while. (I should talk, having ranted about this before several times.)

Meanwhile, established education journalism organization that should have great blogs -- Education Week, EWA, the Hechinger Institute, Catalyst -- don't have them, or don't have good ones (Ginny Let Those Dogs Run! Eduwonk), and -- this is especially galling -- don't want to give mine the good home it deserves. Really, it's a shame.

There are some exceptions, of course.

EIA's Intercepts is honed in on one key set of issues (teacher unions) and provides content and analysis you don't get everywhere else. (He's also up for a Weblog award, which you can vote for here).

Once in a very long while, bloggers actually engage with each other, rather than spouting simultaneously on separate corners (an issue raised in the BlogPulse analysis of liberal bloggers earlier this year). This week, for example, Jenny D and Eduwonk are going back and forth on growth models. That's the type of collaboration and cooperation that we need. (Andy, you need to add a comments feature to your site, too.)

The Education Wonks are providing a pretty valuable service with their "Carnival of Education," a roundup of "best" posts submitted by bloggers so you don't have to go to each site. Check it out: Week 45.

They're not really blogs, but sites like the weekly PEN Newsblast and Jimmy K's Education News.org and the Stateline education feed are a valuable source of links and stories without all the "look here" crap you get in many blogs. But you already know that. EdWeek's Daily News is now subscription-only, but it still deserves a mention in this category.

The classroom/teacher blogs at least have some detail and immediacy to them, even if their view of the world is narrow. And, though I wouldn't have any way to know, apparently instructional blogs are a useful classroom activity that can promote literacy. ‘Blogs’ Catching On as Tool for Instruction (Education Week). See also: Blog Basics

At least, they're useful when they're not being used to plan keggers or harass other students (Blog bullies busted Sun Times) or for advertisers to beam messages into kids' eyes (The MySpace generationBusinessWeek).

Over all, my take is that the education blogs still are way behind other parts of the blogosphere, notably politics and technology. There's no real reason for this. The level of public interest in education issues is high. At $500B a year in K12 alone, it's a giant market/industry/whatever full of people who have a professioanl interest. The "next" NCLB is just around the corner.

Perhaps -- probably -- it will be a new blog, one not yet in existence yet, that will take education blogs to the next level. I'll be jealous, but I'm looking forward to that.

Previous Posts

What Makes A Good Education Blog-- And Why Aren't There Any?
Faux Blogs: Cheesy Ways of Getting Attention
Education Sites Win Online Journalism Recognition
The Sad State of Education Blogs
The Best Education Blogs


Foundation Fix: New America Foundation Tries to Find Its Way in the Education Debate

Education has never been the strong suit of the New America Foundation, started in 1999 as an effort to find the ever-elusive "radical middle" on key policy issues. Can they upgrade their efforts through a new early childhood initiative? It's not so easy.


There's hope that the (recent?) arrival of Michael Dannenberg as their education policy director will change things. But Dannenberg is mostly a budget and higher ed guy, and Shelley Waters Boots, director of the early childhood initiative, seems like more of a child care and welfare guru than anything else.

From where I sit, NAF has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the debate -- much less win their own turf and create momentum around new ideas.

Thus far, at least, nobody seems to be paying much attention to their first major proposal -- early childhood education (PDF) -- or to a pretty random-seeming list (PDF) of "new" education ideas. (If there's something new or interesting in there, let me know.)

While I'm probably ruining my chances of ever getting work from them (or that NAF fellowship I dream about) by saying this, they're going to have to do better than that.

I certainly hope they will.

In the meantime, here's something via Education Week for all of us who thought that all EC advocates had to do to get more money these days was ask for it: Early-Childhood-Education Advocates Turn to Ballot Measures for Impact

School Life: A Brief Respite for We Who Can't Bear More on NCLB, NAEP, or the Achievement Gap

First it was jobs, then it was tutoring. Now the NYT tells us you can get someone else to play your video game for you ( Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese). The WashPost alludes to Shakespear and dishes on just how honest to be in your college essay (To Thine Self Be True, but Not Overly So).

Leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise -- it's the latest craze (Bookcrossing via Jimmy K.). Media watchdogs catch another Fox falsehood -- this one about Chrismahanakuanza ( School lawyer scolds O'Reilly for airing false dress code story).

Slate wants you to know just in case one of your students (or kids) want to know (How Do You Start a Gang?). If the USDE can do it, so can Santa. Via The Onion (Santa Signs Legislation To Help Special-Wants Children).

More Onion foolery: New Video Game Designed To Have No Influence On Kids' Behavior. On a more serious note, the New Yorker tells the sad story of what happens when your book is turned into a big Disney movie (Becoming Mary Poppins).

Most Popular Toys Of The Last 100 Years. Forbes can say what it wants, but my vote is for Lincoln Logs. According to the Boston Globe, these punk/Goth kids are into something else -- and grownups don't like it:
Minn. high school bans 'bondage' pants.


Mayoral Control -- A Decade of Distraction

On one hand, it might seem that the latest round of urban NAEP scores would bolster the argument for mayoral control over the school system in Los Angeles. The sprawling, under-financed, highly challenged LAUSD fared poorly compared to its other big-city counterparts on many measures of achievement.

And at least some school reform advocates -- not just the business types you'd expect -- are all for it. This weekend's CSM piece on the issue (LA's mayor is latest to tackle school reform) quotes Russlyn Ali of The Education Trust-West as praising the mayor's proposal, which might require changes to both municipal and state law. [Many others predictably are opposed: Antonio’s case for control of L.A. Unified merits a C+ (LA Weekly).]

However, Chicago, the city that has had mayoral control the longest, fared little better than LA on the NAEP report. And, as I have written and others have researched, mayoral control is hardly a guarantee of success. Over the past decade, mayors of many cities (Boston, Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Detroit) gained control (complete or partial) over the school system.

In some cases -- Chicago and New York being key examples -- it is not so much mayoral control over the system but rather the system's ability and authority to monitor and intervene in the schools that really matters. In Chicago, the 1995 law gave the Board enhanced powers over low-performing schools. In New York, the shift to City Hall was accompanied with the elimination of the independent elected community school districts.

Whatever happens at the top in LA, let's hope that elected officials and advocates will keep their eyes on the prize: an accountable, responsive leadership focused on key classroom capacity issues that has the organization and the authority to monitor, implement, and intervene where necessary. There's still time to focus on these things, and perhaps some good ideas in here: Rand report proposes fixes for school district LA Daily News. [UPDATE: Governance options from Rand and others can be found here).


Chicago Roundup: Banning Milk, Dropping Test Scores, Violence at Wells High School, and CCT News

Magnet school applicants face new hurdles Sun Times
Getting in to magnet schools Sun Times
State makes draw on what is `junk' for pupils' diet Tribune
State school board may ban whole milk, allow chips Sun-Times
State tests show drop at the top Sun Times
Rise in violence at Wells High Chicago Journal
Community Trust nears $1 billion markTribune
KIPP Folds, Another Blow to Renaissance 2010 Small Talk
What Is TFA's Problem? Teaching In The 408

UPDATE: Oprah Takes On Education. According to her website (via EducationNews.org), Oprah producers are looking for parents, teachers, and students dissatisfied with the public schools for an upcoming show. Apply to be on the show here: Grade your school. Is it first-rate or failing?


Can Teacher Quality Really Improve If Districts -- And Reformers -- Keep Ignoring Evaluation and Tenure Issues? Probably Not.

For years, administrators and school reformers alike have shied away from dealing with the issue of weeding out ineffective teachers, choosing instead to work on other, seemingly more important and less intractable issues. Recruiting. Induction. Mentoring.

I don't blame them. Compared to tenure and review issues, other problems like recruiting and keeping new teachers seem much less daunting -- and notably don't require taking on teacher unions or collective bargaining agreements.

But this week a series of articles from downstate Illinois shed some new light on the problem (Study: Tenure means job security PJ Star). And on Friday a Tribune editorial weighed in on the need for action (Protecting mediocre teachers). Notably, the IEA responded, but nothing so far from Marilyn Stewart of the CTU -- or any of the folks working on teaching quality issues.


Now, many will take this as an attack on teachers, or as making a mountain out of a molehill. And certainly, there are lots of folks out there who -- the NTP, RNT, the designers of the Board's Human Capital Initiave, etc. -- who seem to think that they can make serious progress on education issues without stepping on this particular third rail. The silence is understandable. It's a remarkably tough issue. There's a long and frustrating history of efforts to make more effective evaluation and review.

From where I sit, however (safely on the sidelines), making the review and evaluation of teachers is a key part of the rest of the teacher quality puzzle. How do you get and keep good teachers if they see poor ones skating by all around them? How do you pay teachers more while there's so much worry about the deadwood in the teaching corps? How do you revamp urban education without addressing the collective bargaining agreement, which has in Chicago gone pretty much untouched for nearly a decade?

The answer? You don't.
My feeble-minded solution: Bring back the peer review and evaluation programs of the 90s that Al Shanker promoted. Whatever happened to them, anyway?

Paraprofessional Aides: Teaching's Underclass

There are two different takes out this week on what's going to happen this spring in re: the HQ para requirement in NCLB. Over at the Post, the mood is ominous: Deadline Looms for School Aides. EdWeek is more upbeat: States, Districts Express Optimism in Meeting NCLB Deadline on Aides.

Not surprisingly, paras -- underpaid, uncertified aides, many of them minorities -- were left out of the sweetheart deal that gave states and teachers an extra year to become highly qualified. (USDE Back Off -- Further -- on HQT).

In the meantime, Recruiting New Teachers has a report out giving a broader overview of the whole para issue: Beyond Compliance: Preparing Highly Qualified Paras (PDF via PEN). According to the RNT report, there are roughly 750K paras nationwide, making on average $14,000 a year.

I haven't seen a classroom aide in a long time, except in preschool settings. Are there any out there left? They used to be how lots of schools spent their Title I funds, ans I thought Mary Jean LeTendre and NCLB put an end to them.

EdWeek Covers the Business of Education

Just moments after I finished ranting about how there's too little coverage of the business of education (So Much Business In Education -- And So Little Coverage), EdWeek shows up with a trio of articles on just that:

Educate Inc. Puts Division Up for Sale
And you thought that SES meant great business for the for-profits.

Management Writer Applies Principles to K-12 Education

What your principal or superintendent has on his/her nightstand.

Table: Rating Municipal Bonds

A key determinant for how much money is left over for teaching.

And, if you want an insider's view of how the school improvement industry is stalled out (and why), read Dean Millot's article: Recognizing, Internalizing and Reducing the Industry’s Political Risk (SIIW). It's a fascinating look at how the other half thinks.

Alcoholic Kindergarten Teacher Stretches Naptime To Three Hours

IRVING, TX—Following a tiring weekend, kindergarten teacher and self-described "party girl" Jeanie Rigby, 29, extended the naptime at Irving KinderKare to three hours Monday. "Let's get those nap pads out, kids," Rigby said in what her students described as "an extra-hushy indoor voice." "Quiet time now, so you get your rest and Ms. Rigby gets her juice." Kindergarteners who only pretended to sleep later said they were pretty sure that Rigby was not faking her own nap.

Alcoholic Kindergarten Teacher Stretches Naptime To Three Hours The Onion


Benchmark Assessments: Are They What Assessment Was Always Supposed To Be, Or Just More Testing?

In what is either (as) a brilliant move to bring assessment back into the classroom and make it actually useful to teachers and instruction, or (b) a misguided effort to add yet another layer of testing on kids and teachers who already have too much information coming at them, several districts including Chicago are now trying to implement systemwide "benchmark" assessments.

My Catalyst article on this topic won't be out until next month, but in the meantime there are a couple of worthwile-seeming articles and blog postings on this.


Reclaiming Testing "Is it possible to reclaim assessment as a way to adjust teaching and learning? Authors in this month's Educational Leadership say yes. They show how educators can focus on learning through using formative assessment in the classroom." (ASCD).

Benchmark Assessments Offer Regular Checkups On Student Achievement "School districts worried about how students will perform on end-of-the-year state tests are increasingly administering “benchmark assessments” throughout the year to measure students’ progress and provide teachers with data about how to adjust instruction." (EdWeek)

Not All Teachers Keen on Periodic Tests "Across the country, school districts are adopting benchmark assessments to help teachers modify instruction over the course of a school year. Yet many teachers remain wary." (EdWeek)

Kick-Ass Math Benchmark Assessments "Our new benchmark assessment system in mathematics is getting pretty good reviews from teachers and students...It's much more than just a testing system, but a full professional development and leadership tool to improve instruction." (Teach and Learn). When he's not hyping the math benchmarks, Mike's got some other good thoughts and links on the topic here.

Not explicitly about benchmarks, recent news from Philadelphia that education administrators there were going to introduce a CompStat-style intervention system would seem to require the use of regular assessments rather than just year-end accountability measures. But this is where accountability and diagnostic assessment get blurred -- and where most educators go crazy. In Phila., stats are just a start (Inquirer).

Me, I just want another excuse to use cool (but probably not very useful) Google Map school mashups like this one.

The First Ever "This Week In Education" Reader Contest: Name the "Next" NCLB

Even before anyone has a chance to try out the new "growth" model pilot, a handful of organizations have already put together their recommendations for the next NCLB. How fun.

Not that I've read them or anything, but here they are, courtesy of NCLB Insights:

National Association of Secondary School Principals PDF
National School Boards Association PDF
National Conference of State Legislators

At this point, however, I think the most important thing we should be figuring out is what to call the next version of the law. I mean, "No Child Left Behind" was certainly better than the Clinton-era "Improving America's Schools Act." And the original law's name, the "Elementary and Secondary Education Act," seems as outdated as high-waisted pants. (Or are those in again?)

Anyone got any ideas? Post any you have. In the spirit of the Washington Post's Style Invitational, I'll give a worthless prize and some measure of notoriety to the smartypants (you) who comes the closest to getting it right, and honorable mentions to those who are particularly funny.

Media Coverage: E-Mail Interviews, Wikipedia Use, Online Pulitzers, and Rumors

While none of it's specific to education reporting, the trio of Romenesko posts earlier this week proves too difficult to resist.

First, a link to the CJR discusses journalists' increasing reliance on email interviews, and their potential (though not catastrophic) perils -- each of which I eagerly await rather than play interminable games of phone tag or be forced to surf the Internet to keep awake during interviews with blowhards or talking point-trons: Some say reporters rely too much on e-mail interviews.

Next, an Onion-worthy headline in which a Times editor has to tell his staff not to use Wikipedia, the amazing but highly questionable interactive/collective "open source" encyclopedia: NYT biz editor tells staff not to use Wikipedia to check info. Some Wiki-philes may disagree, but to me having to do that is akin to telling reporters not to get their information off bathroom walls.

Last and probably least in the Romenesko troika: apparently now you can get extra credit for your Pulitzer submissions for online material: Online material can now be used to bolster Pulitzer entries. But, just in case, you probably better submit to EWA as well.

Over at NPR, there's an interesting piece about whatever happened to all the reports of shootings and mayhem in New Orleans that turned out to be untrue, or at least unverifiable. I'm still waiting for the education version of that, but I'm sure it's out there. Anatomy of a Rumor NPR


Christian Science Monitor Drinks the EdTrust Kool-Aid

I'm happy to see that the Monitor is back covering real education issues after what seemed like an interminable absence, but I'm a little confused about their choices for their education comeback, and their seeming over-reliance on a popular but only-one-opinion source: the media-friendly Education Trust.


First in a pair of pieces by staff writer Stacy A. Teicher comes a piece based on the EdTrust's profiles of four ostensibly high-performing high poverty high schools, called Schools build 'cultures of excellence'.

The second a belated -- and suprisingly upbeat -- take on the urban NAEP scores we were all swamped with last week, pointing out that some districts are at or above national averages on the NAEP, and that -- hi again, Kati -- districts have widely varying success rates with similar student populations: City schools bring home better report cards.

Er, welcome back. Much as I admire the EdTrust, however, that's a little much, isn't it?

Previous Posts on Sourcing Issues:

Media Coverage: Unbalanced Sourcing, 101
School Reform As Conflict or Complement
A Lazy Look at High School NAEP Scores
Education Reporting -- The Good, the Lousy, the Lousy
How “Fringe” is FairTest? Very.
The NYT Misses Badly on Education Funding Story


Ren-10 Rumblings: When Nothing But Real Charter Status Will Do

Two years ago, Chicago got its first KIPP schools, featuring a national middle school model that includes extended days and a highly ordered curriculum. A 2003 Catalyst article chronicled the arrival of the KIPP model to Chicago (National middle school model launches two ...).

But the experiment wouldn't last for long, at least for one of the schools. Today, a brief item in the Tribune reports what many insiders knew was coming for a long time --
-- That one of the two schools is closing. Chicago Youth Village Academy -- one of the schools in the Williams building that was so famously closed at the start of the whole Renaissance experiment -- is closing its doors (Contract school closing its doors).

Why couldn't this model, which has apparently flourished elsewhere in the nation, work here? The obvious reason is that this school didn't have charter status, but was instead pressured into becoming a "contract" school -- a local term of art that, unfortunate mob associations aside, basically means "school that wants to be a charter but there aren't enough charter slots under the cap."

This is an issue that I have covered before (Renaissance 2010, Round 2: The Sweet Sixteen, Charter School Shakeup), but its impact has never before been clearer.

And it's not a problem that is going to go away. Left unchanged, it could threaten the whole new school creation process in which the Board of Education has put so many of its eggs. Rather than push for an increase in the charter school cap (currently 30), the Board has been very reluctant to give out any of its remaining charters, even though they are popular, or perhaps even necessary, to some of the national models (KIPP, Big Picture, etc.).

Instead, the Board has encouraged schools to become contract or performance schools. And some are willing -- especially homegrown models. But others, often more experienced national models, are not willing to work without charter flexibility, and without them Chicago loses access to some of the nation's most interesting educational models.

Making Schools More Effective for (Black) Boys

There's a small but growing move among some educators to recognize and focus on the persistently lower achievement and school completion rates of boys: WASL scores show wide gender gap Seattle News Tribune, Where are the boys? Detroit News, Disappearing Act Washington Post, The Trouble with Black Boys (Pedro Noguera).

Are schools hostile or at least poortly designed for boys -- black boys in particular?

While controversial in some quarters, especially among those concerned about stigmatizing or separating out minority males, these efforts include introducing literature that's more appealing to boys and even bringing in black fraternaties to help support the efforts of younger students: Black Fraternity Looks to Boost Graduation Rates (NPR). Saving Black Boys. Rosa A. Smith TAP.


Chicago Roundup: New Report Cards, Bad News from NAEP, and More

While the Board was trying to focus attention on its new high school report cards (Parents can get the skinny on high schools' ups, downs Chicago Tribune), another kind of report card came out -- and the news wasn't good.


The new report comparing urban district performance on the National Assessment of Education Progresss showed that CPS students don't perform nearly as well on the NAEP as they appear to do on the ISAT or ITBS, and generally lag far behind other urban districts (City students lag in reading, math Sun Times, Chicago pupils trail among big cities Tribune).

School officials tried to explain the results away, but the results certainly take the air out of the notion that Chicago is one of the top urban school systems in the nation. For more on this: What to Make of the New Urban NAEP Results?

The bad news for CPS continues today: Ren-10 Rumblings: When Only A Real Charter Will Do.

In the meantime, the USDOJ and the Federal courts took CPS to task -- again -- for failing to live up to its promises in regards to school segregation: School fight brewing Tribune.

Not to be left out of the "oops!" news, ISBE was forced to reveal that more than 4,000 5th graders who flunked the state reading test in the spring may pass after all, thanks to a fluke in scoring: Math miscue flunks 4,000 5th graders Tribune.

And Governor Rod renewed his star-crossed effort to ban junk food in schools, even though he lost badly last year on the issue and just got spanked by the courts for his efforts to ban violent video games: Blagojevich flunks junk foodSun Times, Governor again takes on school junk food Tribune, Columnist Neil Steinberg: Taking candy from babies Sun Times.

Speaking of star-crossed efforts, Teach and Learn's Michael Lach takes on one of science teachers' favorite things: on hands-on science. Hands-on hater Lach writes "hands-on does not equal inquiry, and that real cognitive engagement of all kids is what we're after." I guess that means my plans to do the seeds-on-wet-Kleenex activity is out. What's next -- no more rainforest units, or units on dinosaurs?

Lach also takes a swipe at this year's edition of Crain's 40 under 40, calling it out for lacking enough public sector types, and CPS stars in particular. "How come Janice Jackson didn't make the list? Jim O'Conner? Linda Erlinger? Beth Swanson? Angus Mairs? Amanda Knight? Hosanna Mahaley Johnson?" (Sour Grapes ).

Speaking of Hosanna,Ms. Johnson responded with good humor to my speculation about her next job (All Hail Queen Hosanna -- The Next Head of Chicago Public Schools?, and was even kind enough to send in a new picture of herself, as requested. Thanks, Hosanna!

Best of the Rest
Matching donors with schools takes cake Tribune
Chicago schools seek council candidates Sun Times
Tutoring firm in probe can stay in some schools Tribune
Tutoring off to slow start Tribune
Metro Briefs: Tutoring firm vows reforms Sun Times
ISU's leadership valuable for better schools Bloomington Pantagraph
Column: The squeakiest wheel Daily Illini
Teachers can walk a creative middle road Tribune
Latinos look to exert influence Daily Herald
Students from Cooper Dual Language Academy Throw One-Year Birthday
Student-Athletes Edge Out Peers Academically Heartland Institute
Do the math and reform school fundingSun Times
Millionaire backs out of charter school plan Sun Times
Chicago Public Radio Chicago Matters
Young homeless adults survive, succeed with shelter's help
School fights to be heard
Millionaire backs out of charter school plan


So Much Business In Education -- And So Little Coverage

Marc Dean Millot, the pro-business, anti-voucher editor of the School Improvement Industry Weekly, wrote me this week with some worthwhile observations about what gets covered -- and missed -- in the MSM and the education blogs alike: examination and understand of the surprisingly large role of private providers and entrepreneurs in the public education enterprise.

He's not just talking about SES and charters, but rather the growing wave of private entrepreneurship and the often unseen and un-noted billions spent on private services.

Yes, there is a school improvement industry (not necessarily a bad word). Yes, it earns billions -- $23 billion of them a year, according to a recent article in Education Week (CEOs, Schools Chiefs Trade Notes on K-12 Business Trends).

According to Millot, formerly at NAS and a researcher at RAND, we are all way behind on this. And I think even a cursory look at the evidence suggests he's right. Why -- and what to do about it -- are harder to figure out. But there are some obvious places to start.


"I wonder when you and other bloggers are going to start treating private sector providers as a part of the k-12 system worthy of attention and analysis," writes Millot. "Whether or not one favors vouchers, charters or contract schools, private firms are steadily becoming deeply embedded in all public schools' core teaching and learning functions."

As a result of this vacuum, says Millot, "the field has been occupied by crazy know-nothing "free marketeers" - who hurt the industry more than help it, and reasonably good researchers on the left-wing who cherry-pick the evidence to make their points. The responsible middle is nowhere to be seen."

I have written occasionally about this little-examined area under the title "The Business of Education," including Between Pencil Purchases and Privatization ... , Tutor-Ama: Vendor Ethics, USDE Bias, Outsourcing, & More, and More than SES providers to consider.

I've also linked to others' posts and articles about the business of education, including Mike Lach's brilliant (and hilarious) Advice For Vendors (Teach And Learn), Contracting out: 10 contracts to know about (Philly Notebook), and to articles about problems in how private efforts are covered in the education press: School Reform As Conflict or Complement (Hechinger Institute). There's a recent NPR story on the struggles the educational software industry is experiencing here: Demand for Educational Software Drops.

Still, I agree that the world of private companies in education doesn't get enough attention outside of the occasional scandal (inside dealing in Baltimore, etc.) and I would love to do more writing about the business of education. Not because it's necessarily good or bad, but because it's real and there and important.

There are a couple of obvious reasons for the lack of balanced, ongoing coverage -- academic and otherwise.

First off, few education reporters know much about the world of commerce; talking to industry analysts about publicly traded companies is foreign to many. It's a whole different language, and sometimes a bit creepy for soft-hearted educators.

Second, the most obvious and immediate aspects of private involvement in education are the car wrecks -- scandals, ethical problems, waste, etc. that take what little attention is given -- but give little understanding of the underlying world of education business.

Last but not least, many journalists share an instinctive and usually unexamined suspiciousness with educators and academics about business -- associating it negatively with privatization of schools, charters, vouchers, and other hot-button issues.

A mitigating factor is that, unfortunately, much of the content that's out there on the issue -- Eduventures, and SIIW -- are on subscription-only sites. (A weekly free SIIW letter from the editor is available on the site, as is a free podcast.) The National Center on the Study of Privatization in Education is an infrequent presence and an academically-oriented outfit. District Administrator covers some of this stuff, but it's not particularly analytic.

Excellent MSM coverage is out there, but not that frequent. Alec MacGillis wrote a great investigative piece for the Baltimore Sun last year (Poor Schools, Rich Targets). The NYT's Jacques Steinberg wrote a great series about the testing industry (Right Answer, Wrong Score: Test Flaws Take Toll ). But that was almost five years ago, and it's not just about testmakers and publishers anymore.

To my mind, there are some obvious ways in which the education business is a compelling topic for coverage, beyond the occasional flareups over charter schools, vouchers, and SES. And there are some good places to start looking for story ideas.

Millot has some of his own ideas: "The real questions for analysts of reform are 1) whether the for profits will be eaten up by publishers or get the capital required to maintain their change-oriented cultures, and 2) whether - if revealed - the new philanthropy's business plans for scale in the nonprofit sector would hold up to serious scrutiny."

Other issues of interest include the conflicts within the industry, which is represented by four different trade groups (NEKIA, EIA, National Council of Education Providers, and CCSI). "Our trade groups are nonentities in the political policy process around Adequate Yearly Progress that literally make the school improvement market," writes Millot. "They lack action plans to cultivate sympathetic journalism, let alone to shelter industry interests in NCLB from the 2006 and 2008 elections."

To get started, check out the contracts approved in nearly every state and local board meeting. That's where lots of the action is.

To get up to speed, consider reading Education Week's Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, who does a decent job of covering the beat, including this recent overview: Business Outlook for Publishers Turns a Page. Another good EW story is this one: Education Entrepreneurs Seen as Facing Uphill Climb in U.S. Schools. It covers a conference that AEI recently held, Educational Entrepreneurship:Why It Matters, What Risks It Poses, and How to Make the Most of It, which includes lots of interesting perspectives.


What to Make of the New Urban NAEP Results?

Pretty much everyone has the same headline for today's release of urban NAEP scores -- relatively new data that -- thank god, finally -- allows comparisons among 10 urban districts, the states where they are located, and the nation.

The chart at left shows how the districts compare to each other and the nation on 4th grade reading at or above basic. Down arrows next to your district's name are bad.

But what use to make of the results? The answer: Not too much, but not too little either.


Not surprisingly, the folks at FairTest see the results as a confirmationg that NCLB, and test-driven accountability, are failures.

To my mind, that's going a bit far. The biggest usefuleness of the results to me is to allow educators and advocates in various cities an independent, comparable look at how much children are learning, rather than relying on district or state scores that aren't comparable and are sometimes set much too low. Your superintendent or mayor says things are going great? Now you can verify that.

Or, as the Education Trust puts it, "some urban school districts clearly do a much better job educating children than other districts – powerful evidence that schools and districts make a big difference in student achievement and that low achievement for some groups of students is not inevitable."

For example, the Trust points out that African-American fourth-graders in New York scored 19 points higher in reading than African-American students in Los Angeles. In eighth-grade math, low-income students in Boston scored 24 points higher than low-income students in Atlanta. That's something to talk about.

The results also highlight the need for more of this type of comparable, independent data, which makes state and local test scores look random and weak. (Bring on the national testing debate.)

There is some good news. Eight out of 10 city school districts showed improvement on fourth grade math scores between 2003 and 2005. (Which two didn't?) Six out of 10 city school districts showed significant gains in the share of students who are proficient in reading and math. (Which four didn't?)

In many cases, city school districts are approaching or surpassing the national average on reading and math scores -- wow -- an encouraging sign that the achievement gap between white and minority students is starting to shrink. And, according to the Education Trust, these cities made more progress in the last two years than the country as a whole and the states in which they sit. Not bad.

However, the news is not all good: For 4th graders, there were no changes in the score gaps between White students and their Black or Hispanic counterparts in either subject, according to NAEP. For 8th graders, the average reading score increased in just 1 district, and there were no significant differences in the percentages performing at or above Basic or at or above Proficient in any district.

And there are some caveats, of course. The results are based on samples not the universe of students in each district. (Bring on the sampling debate.) Like other tests, NAEP has set cut scores and descriptors (basic, proficient) that some argue are arbitrary or misleading, and are not always comparable to state cut scores and descriptors. The list of cities included is not complete: Philadelphia, Broward County, and Miami Dade among other big districts do not participate (yet). Last but not least, the arrows showing who does better than who (above) don't always show that the differences can be relatively small, though statistically significant.

Cities show gains in math, less in reading AP
City schools show gains in math CNN
Cities show math gains, less reading progress USAT
Austin and Charlotte Top Federal Test Scores for Urban Districts NYT<
New York Outpaces 10 Other Cities in Gains at Schools NYT
Poor Report Card for 'No Child Left Behind'NPR

Forget Iraq: We Need a Plan for Victory for NCLB

Last night's Presidential speech on the plans for the next steps on the war in Iraq has me wondering -- where's the "plan for victory" when it comes to No Child Left Behind?

I'm not sure there is one.


For the past three years, a diverse group of opponents (insurgents?) have waged a war of words, lawsuits, and bureaucratic chicanery against the federal law, slowing its implementation and undercutting its legitimacy in the public mind, despite a record infusion of billions in additional federal funding.

The civilian damage caused by the war over NCLB has been extensive. Thousands of schools have been wounded and maimed by not making AYP, or by having an embarassing achievement gap revealed, forcing curriculuar and instructional changes that not every agrees are correct. Tens of thousands of teachers have had to explain to their principals and parents why they aren't highly qualified. Millions of parents have been confused and frustrated by letters sent home telling that they have the theoretical right to transfer option and free after school tutoring -- but it's just not available.

And, perhaps most unfortunately, the idea of standards-based accountability and high expectations for poor minority children has been attacked and in some circles discredited as unrealistic.

In response to the opposition, the USDE has continually proclaimed its steadfastness and rolled out a series of compromises, large and small, including most recently a year's extension on the already-weak requirement that all teachers be highly qualified and a planned change in the way AYP is calculated.

The law is clearly slowing down, and the federal government is running out of money -- and will -- to increase funding further or hold the line in the face of additional bloodshed. To some, the time seems right to abandon NCLB entirely and return education policy to its rightful owners -- states and districts and teachers, be they inclined towards progressivism or direct instruction.

However, not everyone agrees that would work. Without the law as a common enemy, it's clear that those opposed to the law -- states rights folks, administrators, progressives, marketistas -- would quickly turn on each other, or at least revert back to where they were before.

Call it an exit strategy, or a plan for victory -- the question is: what comes next?

None of the obvious options are particularly compelling or realistic. A full-on rollback of the law seems highly unlikely, and would plunge the nation's educators into a void. The reality is that there is no clear alternative to the standards-based law, unless you count school finance lawsuits in the states or calls for resegregation and universal health care. The time when the public and policymakers trusted educators and local communities to figure it out on their own has come and gone.

Later this week: Some novel ideas for what comes next.

Media Coverage: Unbalanced Sourcing, 101

Take note, education writers out there. The bloggers are watching you - closely.

In this recent post (NY Times Mistakes Front Page for Editorial Section?), blogger Jim Horn takes the New York Times to task for unbalanced sourcing.

Overheated rhetoric aside, does he have a point?


In particular, Horn cites a recent Sam Dillon cover story as "a prime example of how opinion can be masked by simply choosing sources who offer information that presents the preferred facts, such as they are."

To be sure, the rhetoric is way over the top and the anti-NCLB agenda is pretty explicit. I'm not at all sure this is the worst example of selective sourcing I've ever seen. (And Horn is elsewhere jumping the shark -- again? -- by joining Jerry Bracey in calling for Brent Staples to be removed from the paper as a columnist: Join Bracey in Calling for Staples to Stand Down).

But, as I've detailed before, journalists and editors often make sloppy, lazy, and even biased decisions when it comes to who they call for comments, and who they include: How Fringe Is FairTest? Very.

And the NYT is sometimes remarkably sloppy when it comes to its education reporting: The NYT Misses Badly on Education Funding Story (Media Coverage)