K-W-H-L Chart

by Robert Pondiscio
January 12th, 2009

What We Know

Twenty-one states still allow corporal punishment in school.  Illinois is not one of them, but the Chicago Tribune reports paddling is an accepted part of the culture of some school basketball programs.  Even Arne Duncan was paddled….Black and Hispanic third-graders in Florida are more likely to be held back than white students with similar scores.  But Jay Greene’s research shows the retained students are soon scoring higher on the FCAT than those promoted through exemptions….A major breakthrough in pest control could come from a California 6th grader’s science project.

What We Want to Find Out

Why is it so hard to make sure the school bus is empty at the end of the day?  The National Association for Pupil Transportation estimates there are 75 school bus strandings every year nationwide….Would concerns about the sheer number of standardized tests children take in some states diminish if formal test prep, not testing itself, was discouraged?

What We Learned

Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow, was homeschooled by his missionary parents in the Phillipines….Over one dozen states now have laws on the books against “cyber bullying.”  California is the latest…Children in Germany will required to visit concentration camp sites as part of their school curriculum–a response to concerns over neo-Nazi extremism….Utah may ban school bus drivers from talking on cell phones.  Hopefully while they’re checking to make sure the bus is empty after a run. 

How We Can Learn More

We’re seeing a big increase in myopia (short-sightedness) among children world wide.  Researchers in Australia say playing outdoors dramatically cuts the risk….University of Missouri researchers found links among students’ weak academic performance in the first grade, self-perceptions in the sixth grade, and depression symptoms in the seventh grade….The first three blogs in my Google RSS reader are Joanne Jacobs, Flypaper and This Week in Education.  All three are up for Best Education Blog in the 2008 Weblog Award.  Voting ends tomorrow.

Advice for the Obama Administration

by Robert Pondiscio
January 12th, 2009

Education’s oddest couple–Joel Klein and Al Sharpton–take to the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal to make a pitch for charters, choice and performance pay in an open letter to President-elect Obama.

Klein and Sharpton co-chair the Education Equality Project (EEP), whose signatories include future Ed Secretary Arne Duncan and a panoply of big city mayors and urban school superintendents.  Their policy pitch argues in support of NCLB’s “core concept that schools should be held accountable for boosting student performance.”  They also call for “expanding parental choice,” citing charter schools like KIPP (but no mention of vouchers). “Beyond expanding federal support for charter schools, as you have proposed,” say Klein and Sharpton, “we would urge you to press forward with two other, far-reaching policy reforms.”

First, the federal government, working with the governors, should develop national standards and assessments for student achievement. Our current state-by-state approach has spawned a race to the bottom, with many states dumbing down standards to make it easier for students to pass achievement tests. Even when students manage to graduate from today’s inner-city high schools, they all too frequently are still wholly unprepared for college or gainful employment.

Second, the federal government should take most of the more than $30 billion it now spends on K-12 education and reposition the funding to support the recruitment and retention of the best teachers in underserved urban schools. High-poverty urban schools have many teachers who make heroic efforts to educate their students. But there is no reward for excellence in inner-city schools when an outstanding science teacher earns the same salary as a mediocre phys-ed instructor.

Meanwhile the Washington Post runs advice for Arne Duncan today from Diane Ravitch, who writes that NCLB “has turned our schools into testing factories, narrowed the curriculum to the detriment of everything other than reading and math, and prompted states to claim phony test score gains. The law’s remedies don’t work. The law’s sanctions don’t work.”  Ravitch also flatly calls the goal of universal proficiency by 2014 “ludicrous.”  No nation or state has ever reached it,” sayseducations preeminent historian.

Mr. Secretary, use your bully pulpit to scrap this ineffective set of mandates. And when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is reauthorized, as it must be, insist that schools are accountable not only for educating their students in history, science, literature, civics, and the arts, but for safeguarding their health and development.


Turnaround Without Turmoil, Part II

by Robert Pondiscio
January 12th, 2009

Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher set tongues in motion last week with his piece about Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, a high-poverty school, which has reversed its performance in the last few years by raising expectations and cooperating with its teachers union.  In a promised follow up column, Fisher looks in on Truesdell Educational Center, a Washington, DC school demographically similar to Broad Acres.  “Could a similar turnaround happen in a D.C. school,” Fisher asks, “and does Rhee’s more confrontational approach make that kind of change more or less likely?”

As at Broad Acres, Truesdell principal Brearn Wright believes half the battle is persuading teachers that kids from dysfunctional backgrounds must be held to high standards, Fisher notes.  “He screened inspirational scenes from the movie ‘Miracle,’ about the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team.  But when Wright asked teachers to mark down what percentage of Truesdell kids should be making the proficient grade in reading, only a few dared to write 100. Most wrote numbers such as 55, 65, 68 or 69,” Fisher reports.

In the classrooms, in stark contrast to many D.C. schools, students seem engaged and eager to progress. The atmosphere is still colder and more militaristic than in more successful schools; a teacher wins quiet by announcing, “Work harder,” to which the children respond, in Pavlovian fashion, “Get smarter.” But there are creative projects in nearly every room. In the third-floor hallway, two fifth-grade boys take notes on a clipboard; they are finding fractions — a door half-open, a coffee cup four-fifths empty, and so on.

“Test scores aren’t in yet, and no one expects miracles,” Fisher concludes. ”‘We’re not there,’ Wright says, ‘but we’re getting there. Kids are learning.’ At Truesdell, in part because of the chancellor’s confrontational ways and in part in spite of them, it feels like a revolution is brewing.”

Fisher’s original column drew both praise and scorn around the blogs, and started an interesting thread of discussion on the optimal unit of currency — the school or the district — in reversing low achievement. “Single schools like Broad Acres really can be saved,” commented 30-year veteran teacher-blogger Nancy Flanagan, “because tools like professional development, better curriculum, more time and community-building commitment actually can work at that level, where people area not anonymous cogs and individual kids’ progress can be carefully tracked.”

My own sense is that enthusiasm for change (which equals fidelity of implementation) is enormously important.  Lack of staff buy-in for any program, curriculum or flavor of reform is almost certainly its death knell, which is why leadership is so important.  I hope Fisher revisits these schools and reports back from time to time.

Prez Dispenser

by Robert Pondiscio
January 12th, 2009

“J.F.K. took us to the moon. Let B.H.O. take America back to school,” says New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.  His column “Tax Cuts for Teachers” is a bit of a sausage–a melange of gee-whiz ideas on how to stimulate the economy by getting “as much money injected as quickly as possible” into the economy while favoring investments in knowledge over infrastructure. ”Our stimulus needs to be both big and smart, both financially and educationally stimulating,” Friedman argues.  In a single giddy paragraph, he encourages Obama to reach into the trough with both hands, throwing dollars at education.

One of the smartest stimulus moves we could make would be to eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers. I’d also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science — instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home — and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years.

A bridge is just a bridge, Friedman notes. Once it’s up, it stops stimulating. While investing in education could get us “the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. They create good jobs for years.”