A Visit to Cherokee Elementary School

by Guest Blogger
March 28th, 2008

by Gerald Terrell

My visit to Cherokee Elementary School, a Core Knowledge school in Americus, Georgia last week provided an interesting and inspiring experience. Here in this small, rural community (population 17,000) I found a delightful and well-maintained mid-sized school, under the leadership of Dr. Wanda Jackson. Cherokee is clearly committed to excellence and fairness in early education and has fully embraced the ideas set forth by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. and the Core Knowledge Foundation.

Cherokee Elementary School

I first met Dr. Jackson at our Leadership Institute a couple of years ago. She was so excited about implementing Core Knowledge and invited me to please pay them a visit. If you recall, Americus was hit with a terrible hurricane last year. I spoke to Dr. Jackson in the aftermath of the hurricane and she indicated that no matter what had occurred with respect to the hurricane, Cherokee Elementary was dedicated to Core Knowledge now more than ever. She indicated that they were planning a Core Knowledge Day for the community and that someone from the Foundation had to come. When I considered all that had happened to this community and their commitment to Core Knowledge, I had to go.

Cherokee’s commitment to Core Knowledge is further evidenced in how the school has engaged its entire community. My visit included a breakfast meeting with the Superintendent of Schools, various principals, central office staff, school board members, city councilors, and other interested citizens. Never before have I had the opportunity to speak to such an array of interested individuals who were so receptive to the work of the Foundation, in general, and the progress of a school in particular. Prior to my presentation, we were all entertained by a choral group and students from the art club who, under the direction of the art and music teachers demonstrated how music and art can be integrated into Core Knowledge history and geography. It was an exciting and educational experience.

After a day of classroom visits, came the grand finale of my visit. That evening I was treated to a spaghetti dinner along with over 200 parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who saw the sign welcoming me to Cherokee Elementary. Again the students entertained the audience with songs and recitals. The teachers, who I really enjoyed meeting and visiting their classrooms, served dinner to the parents and students. I made a short presentation and spent the rest of the time talking to parents.

In 12 years of traveling the country to visit Core Knowledge schools, this visit stands out as one of my best.

Gerald Terrell is the Executive Vice President, K-8 Schools, of the Core Knowledge Foundation

A Solution in Search of a Problem

by Robert Pondiscio
March 28th, 2008

Some of my favorite ed bloggers, fresh from the AERA conference are chatting up the media and its limited use of (or for) ed research.  Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education observes that ed research “isn’t much of a player” and bemoans how “journalism still avoids dealing with education research as much as possible and struggles to deal with it when there’s just no other escape.” 

Having spent far more of my life in news than education, I wish I could be more sanguine about the potential for education reporters having a better grasp of education research.  Every practical fact in contemporary journalism argues against it.  Face it, ink-stained wretches are in wretched shape. Advertising revenues have fallen off a cliff, readers are defecting to the Web in boxcar numbers and the beat system, which allowed reporters to become truly informed experts, has ceased to exist even at elite publications (I’m old enough to remember when TIME, where I worked for several years, had reporters who covered education, religion, and law full-time).

The other factor that weighs against education research making more of a splash in the news is, frankly, interest.  Sure research studies might be a gripping read for wonks, but the lay reader will expect what they’ve always expected–for some neutral arbiter to keep a finger to the wind and alert them when there’s a change in direction.  Thus the bar for what’s considered newsworthy for the general reader when it comes to research is still set pretty high. Nothing new there.

A commenter on Russo’s blog hit the nail squarely on the head earlier this week when he wrote “Education writers have not the time or the inclination to report education research because it is most often irrelevant and removed from their daily reporting duties and impossible to sell to an editor who, in the newspaper industry these days, wants local, local, local. The education writers I work with are way too busy covering their districts and feeding the daily news beast to bother reading (much less report on) on the the latest “study” out of, say, Think Tank X.”

That’s not going to change anytime soon, but more to the point it’s not a problem.  As Russo points out, there are a bevy of blogs that regularly post on research.  It’s a remarkable flowering of mainstream access to data that simply didn’t exist even a few years ago.  So to bloggers who bemoan the media’s lack of attention to ed research I can only suggest it’s not their role any more.  It’s ours. 

You are present at and a participating in an increasingly flat marketplace of ideas.  If traditional media have less manpower, time, training and interest to wrestle with education research and policy that’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity.  Take advantage of it.

Under Pressure

by Robert Pondiscio
March 28th, 2008

San Antonio Express NewsA Texas middle-school principal is accused of threatening to kill his science teachers and himself if their test scores didn’t improve. New Braunfels Middle School Principal John Burks allegedly made the threat in a Jan. 21 meeting with eighth-grade science teachers, according to the San Antonio Express News.

Science teacher Anita White, an 18-year veteran, said Burks was angry that scores on benchmark tests were not better, and the scores on the upcoming Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests must show improvement. “He said if the TAKS scores were not as expected he would kill the teachers,” White told the paper. “He said ‘I will kill you all and kill myself.’ He finished the meeting that way and we were in shock. Obviously, we talked about it among ourselves. He just threatened our lives. After he threatened to kill us, he said, ‘You don’t know how ruthless I can be.’ We walked out of the meeting just totally dumbfounded because it was not a joke,” White said.

Never happened, said Burks. Police are investigating the incident as “a terroristic threat.”

Quote of the Day

by Robert Pondiscio
March 28th, 2008

“What do you call a Massachusetts public school student struggling to read at the 10th grade level? A graduate!”

Radio talk show host Michael Graham in his op-ed “Who You Calling Failure” in the Boston Herald.  Massachusetts is considering changing its designation of “underperforming” schools to “Commonwealth priority” to avoid stigmatizing teachers and students.