Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A majority nobody wants to be a part of

Is this a sign that government is doing more to help or that poverty is on the rise? Maybe both are true.

I'm not sure if he's my favorite Dem candidate for '08 yet or not, but John Edwards talks a lot about the problems poverty creates. One of those problems is poor educational performance. If people are serious about improving education for all children, they must also be serious about eradicating poverty.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Two tasks

Thought-provoking article in the Dallas News today. Starts out with a story of a girl who graduated with a 3.0 or thereabouts, got to college and had to take four remedial courses. She's not alone. Not by far. Estimates range from 50% to 87% for schools that don't adequately prepare students for college.

But why?

The answer lies partly in the unique history of American education, according to Michael Kirst, an education professor at Stanford University.

"We built two mass, disconnected systems. The K-12 system built up on its own, and higher education grew away from it," Dr. Kirst said. Over time, they've developed in "splendid isolation" of each other.

In England, Germany and many other developed countries, the two systems developed together. They have a long history of cooperation. For instance, together they create tests for college admission and placement, Dr. Kirst said. And here?

Many states require students to pass a test built on their state's curriculum – in Texas, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills – to graduate from high school.

But to get into many colleges, students must take the ACT or SAT, tests that were created by national companies and that don't really reflect the skills states require for graduation.


This is a problem-- and a big one. But I think the biggest problem is holding power. We need to align k-12 with college but we've got to make sure more students finish high school at all first.

One solution to the alignment problem in Texas was to require four years of math and science. That's great for colleges but could that increase our already disgustingly low graduation rates?

We've got two tasks for our public high schools -- graduate more students and help more students get ready for college -- which are often at odds with each other. We've got to make sure those tasks enforce each other, not cancel each other out. This can't be a zero sum game.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The real education gap

There's always a lot of talk about gaps in education, but one gap isn't talked about enough: the gap in teacher quality between poor and rich schools.

States have two weeks to comply with the latest requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and come up with a solution to what U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings calls teaching's “dirty little secret”:

The disparity in teacher quality between poor, largely minority schools and their more affluent, white counterparts.

...

A recent Education Trust report revealed large discrepancies in teacher qualifications in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin between poor and rich schools, and between mostly white schools and mostly minority ones.

In Ohio’s poorest elementary schools, for example, one of every eight teachers is not considered highly qualified, but in the state’s richest schools, that number falls to one in 67 teachers. In Wisconsin, schools with the highest minority student populations have more than twice as many novice teachers as schools with the lowest numbers of minority students.


Anyone who has read this blog regularly -- or did before my most recent sabbatical -- knows how much I deplore NCLB's high stakes testing. But -- and I have to pause here to think about how long it's been since there's been anything nice to say about anything even remotely related to the Bush Administration -- this emphasis on the gap in teacher quality is so unbelievably overdue and important. I'm ecstatic that NLCB is shining a light on this insidious problem.

Who'da thunk that the Bushies would be the cause for what could be an excellent discussion of race and class in our (apologies to John Edwards) two Americas.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

¿Como se dice “shameless pander” en español?

I stole the title from Think Progress. Now that that's out, check out the story: Lamar Alexander has filed a resolution that the National Anthem should be sung only in English. He blasted Bob Dole in '95 for taking a stand against bilingual education.

Whose side are you on, Senator? Dumb question. Whosever side is most expedient, of course.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tell it like it is

Congressman George Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee (OK, so it's education and the workforce, forgive me) has an excellent feature on the Committee website that allows students to share college funding horror stories that will be entered in the congressional record.

Have a story to tell, go here.

And be sure to spread this far and wide.

Pop out

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Memo to education companies

DON'T HIRE BILL BENNETT!!!

District cuts its ties with Va. companyBy Susan Snyder
Inquirer Staff Writer
The Philadelphia School District said yesterday it would sever ties with K12, the Virginia company that came under fire earlier this school year after its cofounder made controversial comments about aborting black babies.

The company's $3 million contract to provide elementary science curriculum materials expired yesterday, and the School Reform Commission will not extend it, as the administration originally had planned to do, officials said.

A majority of commission members voted in November to honor the contract - eliciting an outcry from some community members - but indicated they would review it when it came up for renewal. None of the members who supported the contract in November returned calls yesterday to explain why they opted to discontinue the relationship with K12.

"The commission considered whether to terminate the contract at that point even though it would have meant a financial penalty, and the majority said they were not willing to do that," district spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings said. "As of today, the contract is no longer in play."

Cummings declined to say why.

"I can't comment beyond that," she said.

The controversy started in September when William Bennett, cofounder of K12, said on his national radio show: "If you wanted to reduce crime... you could abort every black baby in this country."

Monday, May 01, 2006

This ain't your momma's Kindergarten

Just begging for a court case

Odessa school officials are moving forward with their plans for a Bible class. Now, I've said many times on this blog that I'm all for teaching religion in schools if it's done in an, ahem, fair and balanced kind of a way -- that is, if it is comparative religion, or religion as literature. But if it's going to be done successfully, we need some model classes that are prepared by religion professors at the highest levels, that can bring perspective and evenhandedness to the teaching approach.

So where better to kick things off? Why, Odessa, of course!

ODESSA — Dozens of students have already signed up and district administrators are testing a pilot course as a West Texas school district prepares to offer a high school class on the Bible, officials said.

The Ector County Independent School District approved the elective course in December, despite opposition from critics who condemned the course as Christian proselytizing instead of education.

About 60 students from two high schools have signed up for the course, which will be offered next fall, district spokesman Mike Adkins said. The semester's schedule includes the class for each period of the day, but that could change depending on demand, he said.

...

Ian Roark, the district's social studies coordinator, is taking the online version of the course to test out the curriculum. He described the course as "non-devotional" with a focus on history and culture related to the Bible.

The district selected a course developed by North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools that uses the King James version of the Bible.

Critics said the selection showed favoritism toward Protestant Christianity.

Roark, who will oversee the implementation of the course, said students can use any version of the Bible they're comfortable with.

"Basically you are free to use whatever version of the Bible you and your family would like for you to use as a student," he said.


I definitely would like to know what this National Council on Bible Curriculum is all about, but the use of the King James version -- even if it is optional -- raises red flags all over the place. When I took religion courses in college, no professor would ever use the King James version, except to point out its flagrant distortions.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

$2,000 for this?

Watch out, Texas teachers. The Texas Legislature has you in their crosshairs. While a $2,000 across-the-board pay raise is bandied about (that would put Texas within $5,000 of the national average-- whoopee!), there could be a steep tradeoff:

Sen. Florence Shapiro, the Plano Republican who heads the Senate's education committee, said she plans to attach a proposal that increases accountability for Texas schools to her chamber's version of a tax overhaul.

One proposal — to reconstitute campuses deemed academically unacceptable two years in a row — is tougher than what the federal law requires. Under Shapiro's plan, a campus intervention team would decide which, if any, of the existing faculty could remain.

If the school has had the same principal for the past two years, that principal must go.

The school also could be subject to management from a private, nonprofit company or face being closed.

"How can you leave a school open that's failing our children?" Shapiro said. "If a school has been low-performing for at least two years, in my view, that's a bad school."


There it is. Privatization. Privatize everything. This is the answer to all of our nation's ills, to the drown-our-government-in-a-bathtub crowd. It's worked oh so well in so many other areas, right? Yeah, right.

And further, this is a great incentive for teachers to go to the hard-to-staff schools. Hey, go here, work your but off for two years and then you, too, can be unceremoniously fired!

This is clearly the stuff of genius.
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