Today’s K-W-H-L Chart

by Robert Pondiscio
January 6th, 2009

What We Know

The Washington Post reports D.C.’s Council head will seek an independent evaluator to assess the progress of Michelle Rhee’s reforms.  But careful readers saw WashPost columnist Colbert King let that cat out of the bag in his column about Rhee over the weekend…..With his Chicago roots, Alexander Russo at This Week in Education seems to be on a mission to own incoming Ed Secy Arne Duncan in the blogosphere.  He’s off to a good start, breaking more Duncan news again today.

What We Want to Find Out

Is it possible to get your kids into Sidwell Friends or another top-shelf private school in the middle of the school year if you’re not the President-elect?  Where are the progeny of other high-ranking Obama appointees and their staff sending their children?….Will history judge George W. Bush favorably for NCLB?  Outgoing Ed Secy Margaret Spellings thinks so, telling USA Today it’s “the most significant thing to happen in the history of this department.”… If teachers in Fayette County, Georgia will go along with the school board’s request to voluntarily return pay raises they received last spring to close the schools’ budget gap. 

What We Learned

Michigan requires students “take an online class or have an online educational experience in order to graduate.”….For the first time in history, the national Parent Teacher Association will be a Dad. 

How We Can Learn More

The NCEE’s What Works Clearinghouse released a new report on “Curiosity Corner,” an early childhood curriculum emphasizing children’s language and literacy skills….Research from the University of Wisconsin indicates the risk of autism increases for firstborn children and children of older parents…..A U.K. researcher claims playground taunts improve social skills and help children develop a sense of humor.  “Teasing and nicknames are an essential part of life and should not automatically be confused with bullying,” he claims.

Whitmire’s Swan Song

by Robert Pondiscio
January 6th, 2009

One of the real good guys education journalism is saying farewell, for now at least, from ink-stained wretchdom.  Richard Whitmire, USA Today editorial writer and Why Boys Fail edublogger, has taken a buyout and bows out with a piece in today’s paper “How to turn Obama’s success into gains for black boys.”

There’s no question Obama was elected by Americans of all races and ethnicities to be president of all America. But many hope that his presidency will have a profound impact on one group most in need, African-American boys.

Whitmire notes that the American Dream “remains a more distant hope for black boys than it does for any other group.”  And while there’s potency in the symbolic value of an Obama presidency, that’s not enough. 

What matters today is determining how to leverage Obama’s historic achievement into a fresh beginning for black boys. Confidence is important, but it’s not sufficient. As Obama often says, success begins with parents willing to take responsibility, set limits and turn off the TV. But successful education reforms have shown that the right academic atmosphere can help overcome dysfunctional family situations.

He specifically touts a focus on literacy, modeling the practices of successful schools like Washington’s Key Academy, and creating college mentoring programs for young black males.  ”These are all reforms worthy of support,” Whitmire concludes.  “Obama’s symbolism is undeniably powerful, but it will take more than symbolism to go beyond yes-we-can sloganeering.”

Quo vadis, Whitmire?

Reclaiming the Value of Knowledge in Public Life

by Robert Pondiscio
January 6th, 2009

It’s time to reclaim the value of knowledge in our political and civic life, argues UCLA professor Mike Rose.  Not merely academic knowledge, but broad, practical know-how that enables people to solve problems.  Rose’s 2004 book, The Mind at Work, argued that cognitive ability, including perception, judgment, memory and knowledge, is employed daily in blue-collar trades.  He posts a rumination on America’s “complicated relationship with knowledge gained through formal education” at Education Week, noting long-standing suspicions about advanced education among the working class, and vice-versa. 

Related to this cultural conflict is the age-old tension between practical life, experience, and common sense, on the one side, and schooling, book learning, and intellectual pursuits, on the other. The historian Richard Hofstadter’s classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life chronicles this antagonism, and the gradual ascendance of school-based expertise in the nation’s culture. But the contrary position still holds strong. My cousin is fond of repeating an old saying, “It took a guy with a college degree to screw this up and a guy with a high school degree to fix it.”  

But according to Rose, “school knowledge” is respected and desired by working people. “The problem is more in the bearing of the person who embodies that knowledge. Did formal education bring with it condescension, arrogance, aloofness?“  He holds out hope that we can move past a politics that exploited such condescension and ends ”the substitution of political loyalty for expertise, feeling for rationality, and the cherry-picking of facts for analysis of evidence.”

It’s time to reclaim for politics the value of knowledge, to step into our cultural tangles and find common cognitive ground. Think of what it would mean for our civic life to affirm the bedrock value of knowledge—many kinds of knowledge, machinist’s to pediatrician’s—to affirm the wide range of ways people gain and apply knowledge, solve problems, think their way through their daily lives.

Grades 1, Gridiron 0

by Robert Pondiscio
January 6th, 2009

Florida State University junior Myron Rolle may soon face the same choice once offered future Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White over 70 years ago — play professional football, or accept a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford.   In a quote that will quicken the heart of teachers everywhere, Rolle, a safety for the Seminoles, says his parents always prized his academic accomplishments over his athletic achievements.

“When I was younger, I’d get straight A’s in school and my parents would get me two pizza pies from my favorite Italian restaurant in New Jersey. If I scored a touchdown or scored 20 points in a basketball game, hit two runs in baseball, they’d give me a pat on the back and say, ‘Good job.’ The reward was different. At that point, I realized how significant it was for me to do well in school and how much it meant to them.”

There’s another prominent college football player who won a Rhodes and is now widely celebrated in ed reform circles: Newark mayor and Stanford alum Cory Booker.  Rolle meanwhile, plans to eventually attend med school, become a neurosurgeon, and open a clinic in the Bahamas.