NYC’s best education reporter, Elizabeth Green of the NY Sun, has a big piece this morning about anonymous blogger Eduwonkette, whose blog has become “a thorn in the side” of the New York City Department of Education.
DOE communications chief David Cantor and Eduwonk Andy Rotherham are among those who take shots at EW, alleging that her anonymity keeps readers from evaluating her bias. Having spent decades in the news business before becoming a teacher, I should be predisposed to agree. So why doesn’t her anonymity bug me? Perhaps it’s the nature of her blog. By focusing on research, EW on her best days functions as a first-rate BS detector, saying in essence “here’s the data. You decide.” The fact that she’s got deep pocketed institutions and major players in the edusphere taking shots at her is a testament to her impact. Indeed, you can probably divide edubloggers into two camps: those who admit they are envious of EW’s impact…and liars.
But that’s her second most significant accomplishment. Her first is that she makes education research entertaining. Her anonymity may be frustrating to her critics, but her blog is indispensible.
I have been a supporter of Core Knowledge from its beginning. Indeed, as Don Hirsch will testify, I urged him to write the book that eventually became Cultural Literacy, after I heard him speak iat a conference in 1983. Like Don, I believe that children need a firm command of not just vocabulary and skills, but background knowledge that will help them understand new words and new ideas.
Over the years, I have come to understand that children need a strong, rich, coherent curriculum, filled with the amazing ideas, experiences, discoveries and people that awaken children’s passion to learn and keep on learning.
Will America’s achievement gap really be eliminated by testing kids more?
But I have discovered something else. It is very difficult for children to become deeply engaged in learning when they come to school hungry; when their eyesight is so poor that they can’t read; when their hearing is impaired but no one knows it; when their family moves from place to place because they don’t have a decent home; and when their family income is so uncertain that their home is filled with anxiety about meeting basic needs.
Quick! Call the Guinness Book of World Records and find out the record for the most people insulted in a single paragraph! Courtesy of the cartoonishly lefty Village Voice a reminder of why the rest of the U.S. hates New York City:
“Say ‘homeschooling’ and what tends to come to mind are the whitest people you know, holding Sunday school every day of the week in their basements, producing kids who can declaim against Charles Darwin for hours on end, but who are so screwed up socially that you can’t imagine them getting a date, except years later as part of a group outing to Christian Day at Disney World.”
I didn’t write that, but on behalf of my fellow Manhattanites allow me to apologize for this paragraph from a story about black families in New York City who are homeschooling their kids (The horror!). The late Spalding Gray once noted that he didn’t live in America, but an island off the coast of America called New York City. Only here would anyone find it odd that parents of any color who don’t have $30K a year to spend on private school might consider homeschooling over a violent, underperforming neighborhood school.
So I apologize. Please know that not everyone who lives here is a moron. But we do have a Village idiot.
The New York Sun once again shows why it’s a must-read for anyone who cares about education in New York City. In an editorial on this week’s test-for-tenure flap, they have a different take on how to hold schools accountable:
“The schools chancellor, Joel Klein, and the president of the teachers’ union, Randi Weingarten, are locked in a bitter debate over whether test scores should be used to evaluate teachers. Mr. Klein thinks they should and Ms. Weingarten thinks they shouldn’t. The legislature and the governor have sided with Ms. Weingarten, and it looks like New York is going to be the only state in the union that will forbid using test scores to evaluate teachers. As it happens, we’re not terribly excited about this fight one way or another, because we don’t think test scores should be the device for evaluating teachers. We have another contraption we favor for evaluating teachers. It’s called parents.”
A New York University study followed students entering the New York City public school system in the 1995-1996 school year and finds that about 40% of them had exited the system by 8th grade.
Student mobility is an underutilized, dead-bang argument for national content standards and curriculum. One out of four kids change schools three or more times over the course of their public school career. A GAO study showed one out of six children had attended three or more schools by the end of the 3rd grade. This high level of mobility has long been associated with lower student achievement and a higher likelihood of dropping out of school. While moving is disruptive for children in any scenario, continuity in curriculum would provide one less moving part, as it were.
Not surprisingly, it’s low-income and minority children whose education is disrupted by mobility the most. This is not news and the new NYU study reinforces it. The authors of the study are most concerned with continuous progression, grade-by-grade, associating “standard academic progress with higher performance on standardized tests.” (Huh? Do they mean to suggest that being held back caused lower performance? Isn’t low performance why they were held back?) Ignoring mobility is tantamount to writing off the academic outcomes of millions of kids.
Update: ASCD’s Educational Leadership has a story about student mobility online today (Thanks, Alexander Russo). It’s all about the emotional toll on teachers “I also thought of myself and the frustrations and heartbreak I had faced each year as students I cared about vanished,” writes Laura Hoeing, a 1st grade teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. ”At what point would their frequent mobility discourage me from investing in relationships with my students and trying hard to teach them?”
“If NYC wants to get serious about value-added, tests need to be given in September and June, and these tests need to be designed to measure growth, which NY state’s tests are not,” says EW.
I’ve resisted weighing in on this because as a former NYC teacher, I’m deeply ambivalent about it. Which is worse, no or phony accountability, or the nuance-averse, blunt instrument accountability of standardized tests? Frankly, neither one is remotely acceptable. I’m a strong supporter of muscular teacher accountability, but over my dead body would I accept being evaluated by a reading test administered short of the halfway mark in the school year. Neither would I want my efficacy gauged six months after my kids left my classroom.
A case could be made that under Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, New York City has lived and died by standardized test scores. I can’t help but feel that this defeat is at some level the inevitable price they had to pay for their singular focus on testing.
If you watched the CBS Evening News tonight in New York City, you witnessed the debut of a new ad campaign from the United Federation of Teachers. The New York Sun and the Daily News took note of the campaign this morning, with the News characterizing the ad as UFT head Randi Weingarten’s payback for the NYC Department of Ed’s plan to evaluate teachers based on standardized test scores.
There’s no fiery rhetoric in the ad itself, however. It’s all warm fuzzy images of a child tending and drawing a small green plant under teacher’s watchful eye. “A child’s mind is a precious thing that’s growing every day,”says a voiceover. “Standardized school tests can measure her progress in certain subjects… but New York City teachers believe it takes a well-rounded curriculum — including science, civics, language, arts and sports — to help young imaginations thrive.”
No complaints about the message. Indeed, the UFT sought and received an endorsement of its message from Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch for the press release announcing the campaign. I just wish it didn’t remind me so much of the UNorth ad in Michael Clayton.
The New York Sun (Feb 13) reported that I resigned from the editorial board of Education Next because that magazine has just published an article implicitly endorsing Mayor Michael Bloomberg for President. That is not entirely right. I was not thrilled about the endorsement, inasmuch as the editorial board had not been consulted. But my reason for resigning was that the article was a puff piece for reforms that thus far are not working.
NYC is hardly a paragon of education reform. Annual spending has increased from $12.5 billion to nearly $20 billion under Mayor Bloomberg. Yet NAEP scores showed no gains in 4th grade reading, 8th grade reading, or 8th grade mathematics.
The school system devotes inordinate resources to testing and preparing for tests, to constant measurement and evaluation, while paying negligible attention to curriculum and instruction. This strategy has not worked, has not even produced impressive test score gains. Saddest of all, even if it did produce large test score gains, the students would still not be getting a good education.
Update: You read it here first, but Diane Ravitch has more to say in an op-ed in this morning’s (Feb 15) NY Sun –rp.
Mike Antonucci, blogging at Intercepts points to a January 31 story by UFT staff writer Michael Hirsch, detailing a phone call from Hillary Clinton to the Delegate Assembly of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers right after the New Hampshire primary. The eyebrow raising quote: “‘Education and children are the causes of my life,’ [Clinton] said and promised that ‘we’re going to get rid of No Child Left Behind,’ a promise that brought delegates to their feet roaring approval.”
Antonucci points out that “get rid of No Child Left Behind” doesn’t exactly square with her campaign’s stated position, which promises to “use the pending reauthorization to expand support early childhood education, improve teacher training, lower class size, enhance parental involvement, eliminate environmental hazards in schools, and protect the programs that work for all of New York’s children” among other things.
I have avoided wandering into the crossfire about New York City’s plan to study the effectiveness of individual teachers based on test scores. Since I taught in a struggling South Bronx elementary school, I’m afraid that my reaction would be driven by my personal experience to an unhelpful degree. I prefer to bring light not heat to a discussion when possible.
But in reading the coverage and the ensuing debate, I’m left hoping there will be as much focus on effective curriculum and pedagogy in New York City as individual teachers. If the product is flawed, it’s hard to see why attention would focus exclusively on the person delivering it. The waiter is rarely blamed for the undercooked meal; the car salesman for the lemon. Before you say those are not comparable analogies to teaching, consider: As a teacher, I was required to use Everyday Math and the Teachers College Writer’s Workshop pedagogy (it’s not a curriculum) in my classroom. I found neither to be particularly effective for various reasons. Left to my own devices, I’m sure I could have devised more effective ways to help my students grow as writers and as mathematicians. In my mind, my students test results had at least as much to do with what they were being taught as how I was doing as a teacher. I certainly felt my effectiveness constrained by choices I could neither make nor influence.
If it were in my power, I would gladly make the following bargain: tell me what to teach, but let me decide how to teach it. If I don’t deliver the expected results, fire me. But if you insist on telling me what to teach and how to teach it, then the results are beyond my control.
Core Knowledge board member Diane Ravitch recently wondered how American education fell under the control of “Know Nothings from the world of business, law, and politics.” Here’s what I wonder: why they didn’t bring with them one of the business world’s most effective and powerful management practices: hire good people, give them the goal and get out of the way.
There were only two times in my 25-year professional life when I was explicitly told both what to do and how to do it. The first was when I was a 16-year old Taco Bell employee. The second was when I became a New York City school teacher.