Vote Early, Vote Often

by Robert Pondiscio
June 1st, 2008

Parade Magazine has an online poll asking “Should parents need teaching credentials to home-school their kids?”  Given the energetic representation of homeschoolers online, it’s no surprise that “No” is winning.  The 90% to 10% margin is still surprising.

The poll accompanies an article about the California appeals court ruling that that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home-school their children.” The court will rehear the case this month.  The article also features an eyebrow-raising quote from the redoubtable Rick Kahlenberg

“If upheld, the California ruling will send shock waves nationwide,” says Richard Kahlenberg, the author of a number of books on education. He says the case “pits those who believe parental rights are paramount against those who place a premium on well-educated citizens.”

Homeschoolers don’t place a premium on well-educated citizens?  It’s all about parental rights?  Surely this is a nuance-averse interpretation of whatever Rick actually said. 

The Limits of Good Intentions

by Robert Pondiscio
June 1st, 2008

Another example of the limits of good intentions, and the very real hurdles new teachers face in driving student achievement in our toughest schools. Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks writes about Ed Morman, a mid-career switcher who entered the Baltimore City Teaching Residency, but is now admitting defeat and quitting the field.

“The [teaching] job was the hardest I’ve had, by far,” Morman wrote, “but the potential for job satisfaction was far greater than I’d ever felt before. I told the kids that I quit teaching because I needed to make more money. This isn’t true. … I quit because of the stress I felt. The main cause of the stress was the kids themselves. I could never rise above the feeling of humiliation that I felt each day when I tried to address 20 or 25 kids and might find none of them paying attention to me. I seethed when I asked a student to stop talking and heard the response, ‘Get out of my face.’ So often I stood in the classroom wishing I could be anywhere else.

“I try to get a class to come to order while one kid is jumping on a second, a third calls out my name asking me for a pencil, a fourth demands that I let her go to the bathroom and a fifth needs to go see Miss Smith, while a sixth needs a pass to the nurse’s office and a seventh starts making silly, repetitive noises. … One day a cheap calculator hit the wall just above my head. Another day, it was a Jell-O cup, whose contents dripped down the wall and stained the picture of Harriet Tubman I had hanging on a bulletin board. …I had a meltdown after seeing how poorly my kids did on a standardized test.

Typically Morman shoulders the blame himself for his failure. “One thing I absorbed from my otherwise inadequate training is that it was up to me to make a difference,” he notes. “And I did make a difference, but not enough to sustain me through the nonsense.”

A sad, achingly familiar tale.

I, Robot

by Robert Pondiscio
June 1st, 2008

Children will learn by downloading information directly into their brains within 30 years, predicts the head of Britain’s top private schools organization. Chris Parry, the new chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, tells the Times Educational Supplement: “It’s a very short route from wireless technology to actually getting the electrical connections in your brain to absorb that knowledge,” says Parry. “Within 30 years, sitting down and learning something will be a thing of the past.”

Cool. You first.

Resegregated Schools

by Robert Pondiscio
June 1st, 2008

Nearly 30 years after Seattle’s schools were integrated through busing, the city’s schools have long since resegrated, writes Linda Shaw, the Seattle Times education reporter. Today, about one-third of the district’s schools have nonwhite populations that far exceed the district’s average of 58 percent. In 20 of them, nonwhite enrollment is 90 percent or more. There are fewer nearly all-white schools today than when Seattle began districtwide busing in 1978. But Seattle Public Schools, like many districts across the nation, has slowly, steadily resegregated, Shaw writes.

The Seattle School Board is weighing what, if anything, to do about the situation. As the board plans a major overhaul of how it assigns students to schools, its members face conflicting desires. Do they assign more students to schools close to their homes? That’s what many parents say they want, and it’s what the board (before last year’s elections) voted to pursue. Do they try to ensure racial diversity at every school? Many parents say they want that, too. But if a neighborhood is segregated, a neighborhood school will be, too.

But the school board is more limited than ever in what it can do, the paper notes, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court’s closely watched desegregation decision a year ago. The court ruled that Seattle and Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky could no longer use a student’s race in deciding where some students attend school.

The paper’s long, thorough report notes that busing “as the numbers might appear to show” with white enrollment dropping as many students left the system. Diversity also did not raise academic achievement, After the district reduced busing in 1989, then ended it entirely eight years later, the racial balance at many schools continued to unravel. “The hard truth,” says School Board member Steve Sundquist, “is that the school district is hard-pressed to single-handedly overturn segregated housing patterns in the city.”