Paging Dick Morris

by Robert Pondiscio
February 15th, 2008

Both DFER’s Joe Williams and Michele McNeil of Edweek seem to think it’s a Very Big Deal that Barack Obama made comments yesterday that, while not exactly endorsing vouchers, didn’t slam the door on them either.   Speaking to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Obama said that he is skeptical of private school voucher programs, such as Milwaukee’s, but added if studies prove the programs are successful, “you do what’s best for kids.”

First, I need to get over the idea that a candidate proposing to do what’s best for kids is a revelation.  Williams characterizes Obama’s comments as what Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee called “a Holy S— Moment.”  That would be nice.  But it sounds more like a Dick Morris triangulation moment to me. 

There’s No “A” In Whole Child

by Robert Pondiscio
February 15th, 2008

New York TimesWriter and parent Maura J. Casey complains in the New York Times (So Is That Like An A?) about report cards in Hartford, Connecticut. The reports—clearly not cards—are up to seven pages long and grade a child on how he or she “establishes and maintains a healthy lifestyle by avoiding risk-taking behavior” and 57 other academic, social and behavioral criteria. In music class, for example, students are being graded on how they make “connections between music and other disciplines through evaluation and analysis of compositions and performances.”

It’s no mere rant. Casey points out that the academic measurements, which are designed to grade areas of student performance that are also measured on state standardized tests, seem more likely to confuse than illuminate. “I confess that as a parent, I’ve always focused on the basics. I want my children to be curious, enjoy learning, to read for pleasure, to be polite, to do their homework and to try not to hate school. If my kids got A’s or B’s, I got a pretty good sense that they were mastering the necessary skills. If they did much worse, I knew that it was time to call their teachers,” Casey writes.

In cities like Hartford, where many students come from non-English speaking homes, Casey points out that educational jargon like “uses numeracy and literacy skills to describe, analyze and present scientific content, data and ideas” seems destined to confuse, not clarify. “If report cards are weighed down with educational jargon that even native English speakers have to struggle to understand, ” she concludes, “it is fair to ask who the administrators are really reporting to: students and their families or the educational bureaucracy?”