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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

No Child Left Behind Is A Civil Rights Issue

Last month, I cited an editorial by Brent Staples chastising the civil rights establishment for losing "its independence, becoming so allied with the Democratic Party that it is disinclined to embrace even beneficial policies that happen to have Republican face, such as Pres Bush's No Child Left Behind law"

In School Law Spurs Efforts to End the Minority Gap, Sam Dillon clearly makes the point:

BOSTON - Spurred by President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, educators across the nation are putting extraordinary effort into improving the achievement of minority students, who lag so sharply that by 12th grade, the average black or Hispanic student can read and do arithmetic only as well as the average eighth-grade white student.

Here in Boston, low-achieving students, most of them blacks and Hispanics, are seeing tutors during lunch hours for help with math. In a Sacramento junior high, low-achieving students are barred from orchestra and chorus to free up time for remedial English and math. And in Minnesota, where American Indian students, on average, score lower than whites on standardized tests, educators rearranged schedules so that Chippewa teenagers who once sewed beads onto native costumes during school now work on grammar and algebra.

"People all over the country are suddenly scrambling around trying to find ways to close this gap," said Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard professor who for more than a decade has been researching school practices that could help improve minority achievement. He said he recently has received many requests for advice. "Superintendents are calling and saying, 'Can you help us?' "

No Child Left Behind requires schools to bring all students to grade level over the next decade. The law has aroused a backlash from teachers' unions and state lawmakers, who call some of its provisions unreasonable, like one that punishes schools where test scores of disabled students remain lower than other students'. But even critics acknowledge that the requirement that schools release scores categorized by students' race and ethnic group has obliged educators to work harder to narrow the achievement gap.

Again, all sides have issues with certain provisions of this legislation, but how can people who claim to care about poor kids and urban education not only deny the positive effects of NCLB, but work to undermine it rather than improve upon it?

I know the answer. I'd just like to hear the other side say it--or rationalize their position.

[ Continued... ]

It's Raining Good News For Charter Schools...

Esmonde writes in, Charters paying off for city kids:

The recent numbers are in, and they are good for Enterprise and the city's charter schools. The seven charters with at least a two-year track record had, on average, 51 percent of their kids reading at grade level. Traditional public schools had a school-by-school average of 37 percent - 14 points less than the charters.

In its second year, Enterprise - with one of the toughest populations in the city - doubled its number of kids at reading level. With another year of the Enterprise way, Stillman thinks more than half of his kids will jump the bar - even though one of every four is in special ed, and nine of every 10 are from poor families.

These kids are up against the wall before they walk through the school door. Some live in neighborhoods most of us wouldn't drive through. They carry the baggage of broken homes and bad streets, where role models are rarer than summer snowflakes. They need help, and they need it fast.

The battle isn't best fought by the district's bureaucratic standing army, where seniority rules, schools rarely stay open after hours, tenure protects poor teachers and rigid rules handcuff good ones.

The battle for these kids' futures is better fought with the guerrilla tactics charter schools bring. They are quick on their feet, have a variety of weapons and can change tactics without trudging through a bureaucratic sludge.

"If something isn't working, we can turn on a dime," said Stillman. "The only bureaucracy is ourselves."

And I suspect more good news from the testing front is about to break. So why is the BTF and my colleagues on the Board who Phil Rumore supports against charter schools again?

[ Continued... ]

Bloomberg's Numbers...

For the past week I've been thinking about the numbers Mayor Bloomberg threw down last week. And while I'm an educator and not a political pundit, I suspect that we're about to see more politicians buck organized labor's attempts to undermine charter schools and embrace the school choice and charter school movements.

The number of New York City's fourth-graders scoring at grade level on the state's English Language Arts exam this year rose 9.9 percentage points, while the percentage of the city's eighth-graders meeting state standards dropped 2.8 percentage points. Bloomberg astutely, and I think correctly, spun the 8th grade scores as victims of a bad early education.

Not only is this great news for Bloomberg, it puts die-hard opponents of charter schools in a seemingly untenable position. Very few people get elected betting on bad news (just ask John Kerry) especially when the good news coming in is that we've figured out a way to increase student achievement.

[ Continued... ]

NYC: Charter students tops in test scores

Charter schools are beating the averages. And I suspect that's going to have significant political implications, specifically, The Cap.

"There's 10,000 kids on wait lists," said Bill Phillips, of the New York State Charter School Association. "Enough of the excuses. Lift the cap."

The state is expected to reach the 100-school cap by the end of the year. The teachers union opposes the push to remove the cap, something Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Bloomberg support.

[ Continued... ]

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Useful National Charter School Roundup

A PDF from the Charter School Leadership Council. It's a State of The Union for Charter Schools.
[ Continued... ]

Monday, May 09, 2005

Instead Of Throwing Buffalo Charter Schools Under The Bus...

we should be asking why in Buffalo we can't reproduce the success of charter schools in New York and throughout the country. The Post writes:

A study last year by Harvard education economist Caroline Hoxby, who gathered data on 99 percent of kids in charter schools nationally, found that charter-school kids were 5 percent more likely to be proficient in reading than their counterparts at the closest public school of a similar racial composition — and they were 3 percent more likely to be proficient in math.

Here in New York, a report on charters' first five years (mandated under the charter law) concluded that the schools "have proven themselves to be educational havens, particularly in urban areas across the state, offering new educational opportunities to children and families who could not afford to opt out of their local public schools."
The article mentions the obstuctive efforts of teacher's unions and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's having to beg the Legislature to let him open up more successful schools in New York City. The 100-charter cap the state imposed on NYC may be reached by the end of the year as there are already 80.

This is going to be interesting.
[ Continued... ]

Saturday, May 07, 2005

One of My Biggest Regrets

...last week was not having the time to respond to Rod Watson's indictment of charter schools .

But someone else took up the challenge--and did a very fine job. A taste:

He says, "we shouldn't let educational gamblers play with any more of the house's money - or its kids - until we find out what works." Gamblers? No, they're reformers looking beyond the status quo. Gambling would be perpetuating the same failed public school system that has plagued Buffalo and like cities for too long.
Nickel City Journal, the blog of a Buffalonian in spirit if not location is the most recent entry in Buffalo's blogosphere as well as the most recent entry on my "Favorite Bookmarks" bar.
[ Continued... ]

Friday, May 06, 2005

An Object Lesson In The Importance of Contract Provisions

Too often, we think union contracts are just about wages and benefits. What isn't widely understood is how important other provisions are and how they impact student achievement by restricting the efforts of teachers and administrators who really want to make a difference.

Put simply, certain union contract provisions make it difficult for kids to learn.

This article in the Amsterdam News illustrates the point.

But in New York—unlike some other school districts—Weston doesn’t ultimately have complete autonomy over his school. He, like other New York City administrators, is restricted by a stringent union contract that enables tenured teachers who have been in the system for years to fill a vacancy in a school even if the principal has another candidate in mind.

“It pisses me off that I can’t pick my team,” said Weston, who has hired a crop of young teachers over the past few years who are idealistic but have little teaching experience working in challenging urban settings.

“I can’t say, ‘Let me go out. Let me hire. Let me recruit,’” he said.
School reform advocates have long argued that at schools like Robeson, which has had a long history of underperformance, students could benefit from having more seasoned educators in the classroom...But under the current union contract negotiated by the United Federation of Teachers, once a teacher reaches tenure, he or she has the option of transferring to a high-performing school, leaving many underperforming schools in largely poor, Black and Latino communities—staffed with a batch of first- and second-year teachers.

Another provision of the union contract—a massive document that most city parents don’t know exists nor can fully comprehend—does not require that teachers monitor students in the hallway as they pass to and from classes or that they supervise students on the recess playground.

“You think the union is protecting the interest of the students, but in reality, they are protecting the interests of teachers,” said Courtney Harris, a Harlem resident who recently took her daughter out of public schools and enrolled her in a charter school.

Harris isn’t alone. Each year, dozens of parents crowd into city schools urging principals to provide services for their students that the union contract explicitly prohibits teachers from performing. One teacher at a Manhattan school said that she did not volunteer for certain jobs (such as staying after school to sponsor an art and drama club) because it was frowned upon by other teachers active in the union.
“I feel torn,” said the teacher, who asked that her name not be identified. “When we signed up to be teachers, we pledged to give it our all. But some of my colleagues are in this thing for a paycheck."

[ Continued... ]

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Seniority v. Merit

Currently under arbitration in NYC is a very interesting case that pits seniority against merit. It's a dispute about summer school hiring. The Klein Administration wants to hire based on merit. The teacher's union wants summer school hiring done on seniority.

The fact that there's a dispute is a disgrace as program quality is demonstrably better under a merit-based arrangement. But if Klein loses the case, the district will incur HUGE costs from back pay.

From the NY Daily News, this is a story worth following.

[ Continued... ]

Where Does All The Money Go?

Landing a superintendent and other board issues have kept me from blogging as regularly as I'd like, but this letter I received late last night has made me find the time for an entry.

Here's the letter:

I just got finished watching the evening news and was enraged to see the headline "Buffalo School System short 16 Million $$"

They received more money from the state than they where expecting and the population is allegedly in decline. So with more money and less kids why is the cost going up by millions every year?

Our teachers are paid on average or better than there peers. The system spends a comparable amount of money per student. Yet here we are again at the bottom of the barrel with the same lame excuses. If I see another one of those "board members" on TV talking about Buffalo's schools "unique" problems I think I'm going to break the TV. The only thing "unique" about our school system is how much of a money hole it has become. My child is no dumber than a child in orchard park nor is any of my nieghbors. Board members portraying residents as some type of under class is not only insulting it is self defeating. Do you think by them making those comments you will get more people to enroll in our school system? Im sure those comments where good for another 50 parents to start looking for a charter to put there kids in. Wake these people up.

Its time for tough questions and hard answers and an end to business as usual. Stop the excuse we are all tired of them.
Let me begin by saying I share the writers' frustration. Our district needs to begin demonstrating more value for the money we spend on education. I sincerely believe that a solid first step will be hiring a progressive Superintendent with a track record of improving schools and school districts and who has the highest regard for student achievement and teacer accountability.

Now about the money. I too wondered how we can be spending more money when fewer kids are enrolled in schools. Here's what I found. I offer them not as excuses, but as bare economic facts that explain the financial position we find ourselves in.
  • Buffalo is one of two districts in Western New York with the highest number of senior teachers. That doesn't mean that we have lots of effective teachers. It means we have a lot of older teachers making, comparatively, a lot of money. Entry level teachers start with an average salary of $35K. Veteran teacers base pay ranges from $65K to $85K.

  • Largely because of those senior teachers and the BTF's refusal to subscribe to a single-carrier health coverage, health insurance costs for the district have increased nearly 10% in three years (or $14.8M).

  • While I support school choice and charter schools, they cost money. In three years, there has been more than a 22% increase in the amount of money we spend on charters or $24.3M.
In other words, while enrollment has declined, so have the number of the district's full time employees (from 6,308 in 2001-02 to 5,340 in 2005-06). But the cost of those employees, the single largest line item oin our budget constituting 59% ($313.8M) has increased. And while some of our enrollment has shifted to charter schools, we still fund those students' education.

But there's good news. Though we have little room to move, we've decreased the projected deficit for next year. While there is still a projected increase in our major costs moving forward, we've trimmed that increase from FY 05 to FY 06 by $12.1M, possibly more if BTF will agree to single-carrier health insurance.

I hope this helps explain the budget landscape. And again, I am committed to doing much more with what we have--to start to show value and be more accountable. But it's complicated and the Board can't do it alone. All players sitting at the table need to deliberate and negotiate with our children's interests as our top priority.
[ Continued... ]

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Teacher Union's Obstruction Backfires in Boston

A portent? Is this the beginning of the backlash--another Boston revolt? From The Boston Globe:

The Boston Teachers Union, through its obstruction, may just succeed in doing something the charter schools haven't done with their successes: Make a charter supporter of Mayor Thomas Menino.
Despite their impressive record, Menino has opposed charters, preferring to nudge the existing system toward reform rather than to let dozens of experimental academies bloom. But last week, efforts to resolve an impasse over pilot schools -- the Boston public school system's answer to charters -- broke down because of the teachers union's refusal to honor a previous deal giving pilots the flexibility to decide for themselves on overtime pay.

''It is outrageous," Menino said of the union stand. ''We have put in place a pilot school system that works, that the teachers union agreed to in negotiations with us in 1994."

That flexibility didn't come free. ''We paid for it with the teachers contract," Menino noted. As the mayor sees it, the only real change since then is that, with 14 Boston charters slated for the fall, charters are bumping up against the cap in state law, thus removing the threat that more can open in Boston. But if the union doesn't change its stance, Menino said he may support lifting the charter cap.

''If they want to go to extremes, I will have to go to extremes," he said in an interview.

[ Continued... ]

Charter Schools Make Strange Bedfellows: School Choice In Milwaukee

I thought this piece in the Post was quite interesting...and heartening. It mentions the seemingly odd partnership forged between conservative Gov. Tommy Thompson and liberal Democrat Rep. Polly Williams for the cause of school choice in Milwaukee. It affirms what I've held for some time: When it comes to public education, there is no right or left.

There's no room for political ideology. The polarities are not left and right, conservative and liberal. The polarities are simply, progress and the status quo. They understand that in Miluakee. And I think we are, slowly but surely, beginning to understand that here.
[ Continued... ]

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Downtown Schools: The New Urban Frontier

This isn't about Buffalo, but it should be. Here's an excerpt, but I highly reccomend reading the whole thing.

In recent years, downtown districts have been experiencing a comeback hardly imagined a generation ago. Cities of various sizes are scrapping downtown agendas dating from the days when the only attainable goals were adding parking decks, resuscitating ailing department stores and constructing corporate office towers. A bevy of diverse functions are being implemented—specialty shops and galleries, farmers’ markets, civic buildings, streetscape enhancements, even mass transit and housing, are coming to life again.
One such function is the downtown public school, once
a casualty of the wrecking ball in the days of urban renewal. This new generation of public schools is dubbed by a host of enthusiastic observers as a “new-building type”, characterized by an integrated, even global mix of students, creative and discerning architectural forms, updated curricula, and partnerships with community institutions and services. What follows are capsule descriptions of three successful ventures: San Francisco, Minneapolis and Raleigh, North Carolina. Each school project demonstrates how creativity, vision and long-term commitment can overcome the status quo.

[ Continued... ]

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

No Child Left Behind: The Times Weighs In...And How!

For NYT, last week started with an editorial by Brent Staples chastising the civil rights establishment for losing "its independence, becoming so allied with the Democratic Party that it is disinclined to embrace even beneficial policies that happen to have Republican face, such as Pres Bush's No Child Left Behind law".

Then they capped the week with this one:

Right now, when the law is under attack from all sides, it's important to divide the critics who want to make it work better from those who simply want to see it go away. It can't be a coincidence that the states most actively opposed to No Child Left Behind have poor records when it comes to the very issues the federal law is supposed to address.

The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, made headlines this week when it engineered a lawsuit asserting that No Child Left Behind illegally requires states to spend their own money on enforcing new federal requirements. The N.E.A. has misrepresented the law to the public from the start, and the primary aim of its suit is to throw out the baby with the bath water. The union doesn't want a better No Child Left Behind Act; it wants to make the law disappear entirely.
Brilliant. Bravo.
[ Continued... ]

If we can't stand up for kids, maybe it's time the kids had a chance...

I read this article about fifth graders grilling state Indiana lawmakers about why state lawmakers did not evenly distribute money to Indiana's public schools…and it got me thinking:

We’re running up crushing deficits that will fall on the shoulders of our children. Would deficits be so high if those children were allowed to vote?

I know the arguments against lowering the voting age. One is that kids need special protection against coercion and mistreatment by adults and those vulnerabilities make them unable to vote independently. However, that argument was the same one used to prevent blacks and women from voting.

Another argument is that 18 is the common age of graduation and military conscription. However, children as young as 12 who have committed crimes can be tried as adults. So if kids are mature enough to face full sentencing as full citizens, shouldn’t they be allowed to vote? Certainly there’s a difference between committing a crime and voting. One can be pretty stupid and commit a crime, but adults don’t have to prove a level of reasoning or cognitive ability to vote.

Here’s what got me on this line of thought. Kids are required to attend under-funded schools but can't vote to improve them. As evidenced by this article, all kids can do is voice complaint to public officials when and if the public official thinks it will make a good press op.

Poverty among young people exceeds all other age groups, yet the government spends 10 times more on each poor senior than each poor child.

Kids who work pay into Social Security without any say as to how the fund is managed. One way or another, Social Security will get fixed because elected officials need to keep adults happy. However, they can rob our kids’ futures without losing a single vote.

[ Continued... ]

Monday, April 25, 2005

Caring about education won't help every child...

From Bill Raspberry's brilliant editorial in WaPo:

What is hard for us to get our minds around is that school improvement is fairly easy to accomplish for children whose parents were successful in school and are enjoying some success in their lives.

But for parents who have not enjoyed success or seriously envisioned success for their children, it takes more than reorganization and parent coordinators and the like. It takes a consistent, nonjudgmental effort to reach and teach parents how to prepare their children for learning.

[ Continued... ]

More Kindergarteners Lack Basic Skills...And It's Parents Who Are Largely At Fault

I’ve been speaking about this to any group in our district who will listen. Educating kids is a group task and parents have a role to play, a role that they are increasingly abandoning.

From The Chicago Tribune

Despite a national trend that shows more children are attending preschool, it appears that fewer children are starting kindergarten with the basic skills needed to get them off to a good start.
Kindergarten teacher Susan Ginsburg laments the fact that a growing number of pupils entering her class don't know how to write their own names.
Here’s the money quote:
"We get kids with a huge range [of abilities], but in general, it has gotten worse," said Smith, a 10-year veteran. "I think everyone's lives have gotten busier and maybe they don't have as much time to work with their kids."

[ Continued... ]

The Adventures of Teacher of the Year

Betsy Rogers, a 20-year teaching veteran from Alabama, was named National Teacher of the Year in 2003. She spent her year as National Teacher traveling the country and talking with educators about her belief that the best way to close the equity gap is to put the strongest teachers in the weakest schools.

After finishing her tour, Ms. Rogers decided to practice what she preached, choosing to work at Brighton Elementary School, the “neediest school” in Jefferson County, Alabama. In this, Teacher Magazine’s inaugural blog, Ms. Rogers reflects on her year at Brighton, and how her experience there meshed with her expectations. (Views reflected herein are strictly those of Ms. Betsy Rogers.)

I hope some teachers in our district will follow her example. I think it benefits all involved in public education to read about the challenges, thoughts and successes of teachers on he front lines.

I found it particularly interesting to read Ms. Rogers' comments about merit pay and incentives for teacher's working in the neediest and most challenged schools.
In my own state, Mobile County transformed five schools last year completely changing out the faculty and staff. Teachers and administrators were offered monetary incentives to go to these five schools. The incentives are given in part at the beginning and the rest at the end if goals are met. Incentives tied to performance is a concept many of us will have to grow accustomed to, I am not sure how I feel about this yet.

[ Continued... ]

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Williams' History of Success: A REAL look at the data

If you haven't already, take a look at Simon's editorial in today's News, "Debating whether the past is prologue for Williams".

Simon's "analysis" centers around this principal claim:

When ninth-grade achievement tests were launched in Ohio in 1995-96, Dayton's scores ranked near the bottom in relation to the state's comparable urban districts.

And when Williams' contract was bought out three years later, ninth-grade achievement continued to be below the levels in other Ohio cities.
People will read what they want into the data, as obviously Simon already has. But consider this:

If you look at the 9th grade assessments that are used in Ohio, Dayton made progress in every one of the five areas tested during Dr. Williams’ tenure there. In fact the trend even continued for a couple of years after he left, which indicates that there was a system in place that resulted in continuous improvement.

I would have to say that improvement in every area, year after year, would have to be viewed as a positive indicator. If that were the case in Buffalo, we would be pretty pleased with that.

I am disappointed that some people are trying to portray this data as negative. According to the state education officials cited in the news report, Dayton is most similar to Youngstown in terms of demographics. If you compare the data between those two districts, Dayton outperformed its closed peer on every measure.
[ Continued... ]

Sunday, April 17, 2005

My "Criticism of William's Foes Blasted". Really? Or Does This Just Make My Point?

In today's Buffalo News, a letter I distributed in support of James A. Williams leads the first six paragraphs of Peter Simon's article. I'm glad the News ran most of my letter as the readership of the paper is a lot larger than my Rolodex and I'm glad folks have a chance to read why I support this candidate.

In a letter to community opinion-makers, Johnson praised Williams' reform efforts in Dayton, Ohio, and called him "a turnaround specialist" who will "build a new culture based on performance, achievement and accountability" in Buffalo.

"He hired outside contractors for non-education related work," Johnson said. "He pushed for merit pay. He's created magnet schools. He weathered a union strike by hiring teachers from outside the district and forced the union back to the table. This kind of reform upsets the status quo, but it's exactly the kind of change we need."

Johnson said the school district is "in a crisis mode," characterized by low test scores and loss of students to charter schools.

"Anyone who cares about student achievement and teacher effectiveness and real change in the district needs to stand behind Dr. Williams," Johnson wrote. "His only opponents are people who have a vested interest in things staying the same."

The rest of the article really is an amusing study in irony. I wrote that the only people who would oppose Williams' candidacy were people with a vested interest in things staying the same. And, low and behold, the only people upset by my letter were Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teacher's Federation, and Anthony Palano, president of the union that represents Buffalo principals, both of whom I should thank for making my point.
[ Continued... ]

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Educational Regionalism: The News Comments On Our Report

Okay, after this, I'm really leaving for San Diego.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I serve on the steering committee of The Erie County Association of School Boards Project on Regional Collaboration and Shared Service. The group's report came out at the top of the month and today, Rod Watson comments. He doesn't think the report went far enough but considers it a good first step and a solid road map.

Watson writes that the report notes:

...the benefits of schools that are "locally owned." That means we'll leave in place 29 school districts and 29 bureaucracies - and 29 different funding levels.

But despite that nod to political reality in Erie County, the report does call for districts to "partner" with those that are demographically different. It notes that such efforts might "lay the groundwork for regional magnet schools."

That's a lot further than the city-county consolidation panel went in its report, which conveniently ignored education.

Watson also quotes Jim Anderson who served on the projects advisory committee.
Anderson was encouraged by the group's discussions of race and wealth and the need to educate all students, not just those in affluent districts. He recalled Sweet Home's school superintendent putting things on the right track by emphasizing that "all means all."

[ Continued... ]

National School Boards Association 65th Annual Conference

I'm off to San Diego for NSBA's Annual Conference. I won't be blogging much but you can attend virtually. Take a look at the Annual Conference Weblog. There will be online discussions and, I expect, coverage from sessions such as:

  • The Capital Gang (Mark Shields, Robert Novak, and Al Hunt) takes on Educational Policy

  • The Role of the Board of Education in Building Professional Learning Communities

  • Coming Clean About Board and Superintendent Relations Data-Driven School Improvement

[ Continued... ]

Ed. Reform Rockstar: Rudy Crew Picks Up In Miami Where He Left Off In NY

A great column by Freedman in NYT about what Rudy Crew is up to.

BY agreeing to the new system - an extra hour of class or professional development every working day in exchange for 20 percent more pay, meaning about $10,000 annually on the average - Mr. Richard (president of the Miami-area union) put a disgraced union firmly on the side of reform...

Under a new program devised with the teachers' union, Dr. Crew was offering 20 percent more pay for 20 percent more hours for all teachers willing to work in the 39 most-troubled schools in the county, the ones he had designated as the "School Improvement Zone." He liked to describe the plan as "an internal Peace Corps."


A great interview with Crew from a PBS Frontline program on school choice. Here's a taste:

I agree with charter schools. I agree with them to the extent that schools are given the opportunity to be and remain public schools. In New York City, I tried to get this point across when the governor was talking about having them work under some other aegis. I don't happen to agree with that aspect of it, but I do believe that charter schools offer an opportunity to build competitive new models. It gives us an opportunity to figure out new and different ways to allocate resources, and ways by which to strengthen and support the creation of new schools within the public school sector.

[ Continued... ]

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

BUFFALO NEWS: Endorses Board's Choice for Superintendent

The Buffalo News Editorial:

"Basically, James likes kids to learn how to read and write, and he likes them to do that at a high level," Weast said. And Williams riles against those who keep that from happening.

School Superintendent Jerry Weast of Montgomery County, Md., said he did an extensive investigation of Williams' departure from Dayton before hiring him, and is glad he made the hire. Among Williams' accomplishments in Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and the 17th largest district in the country, were crafting a more collaborative relationship with unions and helping increase overall teacher retention while simultaneously increasing the departure rate of incompetent teachers. Student performance - 70 percent of the district's students are minorities - benefited, Weast said.

[ Continued... ]

The SchoolTool Project:

...a project to develop a global school administration infrastructure that is freely available under an Open Source licence. This is a possible example of real transformative technology for public education. Check it out.

SchoolTool will provide a robust and reliable means of managing their school or classroom, saving time on routine tasks like managing class rosters, tracking student attendance, assessment and demographic information, helping teachers coordinate their schedules and reserve resources like projectors and computer labs. The system will be accessible through a web interface or specialized desktop applications. SchoolTool's interface will be easily translated for use around the world and accessible to people with disabilites...

Our goal is that schools will be able to install and use SchoolTool with a minimal architecture, as little as a single pc, and without a professional system administrator. For schools that have a more complex infrastructure and staff to manage it, SchoolTool will provide an unprecedented level of interoperability with other applications throughout the school, via a comprehensive web services API.

[ Continued... ]

WAPO: When All the Fourth-Grade Teachers Quit

Two sides of the same sad story. What's really intersting, though--and distressingly rare --is the parent's perspective. We read so much about analysis and policy and strategy but shockingly little from the parent's point-of-view.

Joyner lives with her husband, an active duty Air Force technical sergeant, and their two children at Andrews Air Force Base, and Foulois is one of several schools that draw students from the base. When she put her daughter and her son in Foulois three years ago, she thought she had found the right school. She liked the school uniforms. The hallways seemed orderly. The teachers she encountered were good.

She is one of those attentive parents who visit their kids' schools often. As time went on, she began to see things she did not like. More children were violating the uniform code. Classes often seemed out of order, with teachers yelling so loudly they could be heard as Joyner walked down the hallways. When she discovered the entire fourth grade has disintegrating and the interim principal seemed powerless, she tried to sound the alarm.

[ Continued... ]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Kids in CT. Charter Schools Make Faster Gains Than Other Public School Students

Gary Miron at Western Michigan University has a new study out on charter schools in Connecticut. Here's a link to the article. I'll post a link to the actual study when it becomes available.

Children in Connecticut's charter schools generally are making faster gains on state tests than other public school students from the same cities and towns, according to a study being released today.

Although there were considerable differences in performance, including some schools where students lost ground, the overall average scores showed encouraging improvement at most of the experimental schools, a study by Western Michigan University showed.

[ Continued... ]

Monday, April 11, 2005

Romer's Plans for Troubled L.A. Schools

Today, Supt. Roy Romer unveils plans to revamp the LA Unified School District's worst campuses with moves that are already ruffling union feathers, including reassigning staff, hiring outside consultants and rearranging large schools into smaller, more personal educational programs.

What I'm most interested in is whether the school board will determine Romer's proposals progressive enough.
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A GREAT IDEA: 'The 65 Percent Solution'

Want to provide a new desktop computer for every student in America without costing taxpayers an extra cent? Or provide 300,000 new $40,000-a-year teachers without any increase in taxes?

Patrick Byrne has a way. It's called the 65 percent solution.And it's about to face it's first referendum in Arizona.

Nationally, 61.5 percent of education operational budgets reach the classrooms. Why make a fuss about 3.5 percent? Because it amounts to $13 billion. Only four states (Utah, Tennessee, New York, Maine) spend at least 65 percent of their budgets in classrooms. Fifteen states spend less than 60 percent. Washington, D.C., spends less than 50 percent.

Under the 65 percent rule, Arizona, which spends 56.8 percent in classrooms, could use its $451 million transfer to classrooms to buy 1.5 million computers or to hire 11,275 teachers. California (61.7 percent) could use its $1.5 billion transfer to buy 5 million computers or to hire 37,500 teachers.

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Friday, April 08, 2005

Comic Book Science in the Classroom

From this morning's Morning Edition. Have a listen...and have a great weekend.

A new experiment in Maryland has students and teachers using comic books as learning tools. The program illustrates an ongoing debate: do teachers give students a challenge, or offer less difficult material that is more likely to spark their interest?

Other NPR stories at the link:
  1. Feb. 17, 2005: Geeksta Rap Brings Education to Music
  2. Jan. 28, 2005: Mel Levine: Teaching All Kinds of Minds
  3. Jan. 4, 2005: 'Far Side' Entomology Class Has Students Abuzz

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Data-Driven School Districts: Four Different Approaches

Take a look at the article and then I urge you to visit SchoolMatters, the tool I mentioned in an earlier post--a public source for information and analysis about our nation's public schools.

“Right or wrong, external accountability is coming to everyone,” says Katherine Gemberling, an educational consultant and former deputy superintendent in Montgomery County, Md. “You can’t simply mandate educational quality and order up tests to make sure it happens. But the fact is, external accountability models exist because educators did not step up themselves and establish definable measurements of quality. … Educators feel compelled—they are compelled—to look at anything that will help them show they’re getting good results.”

In other words, like good businesspeople and well run companies, educators and school districts are being asked, if not expected, to prove their bottom line with hard, solid data. With passage of No Child Left Behind, school districts large and small have taken up the banner of data-driven decision making.

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Carlos Garcia: Challenges of a Superintendent

I thought this might be particularly relevant as we've just entered into contract negotiations with our choice for superintendent, James A. Williams.

Carlos Garcia is the superintendent of the Clark County School District, the nation's fastest growing school district. Here, he talks about the challenges of building 12 schools, hiring 2,000 teachers, and accommodating 12,000 new students a year.

A great interview. Listen to it at your computer or on your iPod. It comes from the Edutopia Radio Show Archive. Edutopia is a weekly Internet radio talk show from The George Lucas Educational Foundation. The one-hour talk show features key educators and students, as well as business, government, and community leaders, discussing educational innovation.

Check it out.

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Pupils Make More Progress in 3Rs 'Without Aid of Computers'

Clearly, I'm a big fan of technology and think it should serve a role in the education of our children. However, the study this article references makes one step back and think about how to best deploy technology in the educational theater.

Mr Brown said: "The teaching and educational revolution is no longer blackboards and chalk, it is computers and electronic whiteboards."

However, the study, published by the Royal Economic Society, said: "Despite numerous claims by politicians and software vendors to the contrary, the evidence so far suggests that computer use in schools does not seem to contribute substantially to students' learning of basic skills such as maths or reading."

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Reporters need to look inside the classroom

"Forget the ‘reformers’ and statistics that clutter today’s education beat. Reporters need to look inside the classroom."

That's the call from LynNell Hancock in the latest issue of The Columbia Journalism Review. She begins with the story of the scam behind the "Texas Miracle" and holds The Houston Chronicle's toes to the fire for missing it. More importantly, she writes in depth about why they missed the story--what's wrong with how reporters cover the education beat.

The tricks and truths were buried by the numbers, and all but ignored for years by The Houston Chronicle. The city’s only remaining daily paper should have owned the story, and years earlier, but its coverage habits were cemented in a model that kept reporters out of classrooms. Education reporters were conditioned to cover “schools” instead of “education,” to come at the beat from the top down by reporting on district policies without comparing them to real-life results or assessing their classroom relevance. So the Chronicle’s initial dropout stories simply repeated the district’s 1.5 percent rate, and gave critics the token, brush-off-for-balance treatment at a story’s end.

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Why Are Textbooks So Bad?

Confessions of a textbook editor. Great, great article.

Every time a friend with kids in school tells me textbooks are too generic, I think back to that moment. "Who writes these things?" people ask me. I have to tell them, without a hint of irony, "No one." It's symptomatic of the whole muddled mess that is the $4.3 billion textbook business.

Textbooks are a core part of the curriculum, as crucial to the teacher as a blueprint is to a carpenter, so one might assume they are conceived, researched, written, and published as unique contributions to advancing knowledge. In fact, most of these books fall far short of their important role in the educational scheme of things. They are processed into existence using the pulp of what already exists, rising like swamp things from the compost of the past. The mulch is turned and tended by many layers of editors who scrub it of anything possibly objectionable before it is fed into a government-run "adoption" system that provides mediocre material to students of all ages.

Welcome to the Machine

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