Over the Transom

Though she’s rocking a sabbatical, Adriana Tapanes-Inojosa hasn’t forgotten about the rest of us. This week she sent along a bunch of stuff to check out:

~This about Digital Scholarship and the Humanities


~This research on school reform from the CPS Teacher’s Union called, “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve”

PLUS, I received this link featuring AACU published research on VALUE rubrics (for Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) from Rock’in Tha Shoe, who writes, “Sadly, you can see that all research references are done by the Lumina foundation (mmmh??- here we go again with the business trying to dictate educational parameters).”

PLUS, Matt Usner sent this link awhile back on the power of nudges toward environmentally responsible behavior.

PLUS, while getting ready for the archiving, I found this email from Michal Eskayo from last November which had a link to this great article about students from China.

Enjoy, and h/t’s to all for the pointers.

The Single Best Idea for Reforming Education

This one was sent along by our newest Doctor, John Hader, who called it “a good read,” and rightly so. It’s from Forbes Magazines’ “Radical Leadership” columnist. What is that single best idea? This:

Given this context, I believe that the single most important idea for reform in K-12 education concerns a change in goal. The goal needs to shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.

It’s not exactly new, but it’s too rarely heard, for sure. Check out the rest HERE.

h/t to John H. for the pointer.


Teacher Reform Proposals Leaking Out

Here they come…

Sweeping education reforms that would make it tougher for teachers to strike and easier for districts to fire poor teachers and lengthen the school day are emerging today after months of negotiations. Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said legislation is being written and she hopes to bring the proposal up for a Senate committee vote as early as Thursday.

The biggest issue before the working group of unions, legislators and school advocate groups centered on strikes.

Lightford said they reached two separate sets of regulations regarding school strikes, one for Chicago and another for the suburbs and Downstate. Both would require several steps, including airing out their sides before an arbitrator, before moving forward with a strike, she said.

One key change for Chicago is a requirement that 75 percent of Chicago Teachers Union would have to vote to go on strike, a higher standard necessary because Chicago has so many more children and teachers impacted by a strike, Lightford said.

Suburban and downstate teacher unions would be able to strike with a simple majority vote, the current standard for unions.

Illinois Education Reform Package

A link to this page arrived in my email yesterday, via my State Senator, Illinois Democratic Majority Leader John Cullerton, featuring news about ongoing work to build Illinois’ Education Reform Package.

Since January, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Kim Lightford has led a series of intense negotiations meetings aimed at crafting a substantial education reform bill for Illinois.  Throughout the process, education stakeholder groups have worked through the finer details on a number of issues that will ultimately affect teacher performance and school accountability.

Lightford, who will be conducting another meeting on Thursday, April 7, provided the media with a briefing of the progress that has been made and the disagreements that she hopes to resolve quickly.

So far, the group has agreed on reforms affecting teacher tenure, giving school leaders more flexibility in filling teaching vacancies and making sure that every class is taught by good teachers.  In addition, Lightford says, other reforms to increase accountabilty for school administrators and potentially school board members are part of the discussions.

What was the topic of that “meeting on April 7th”? The right to strike…

Weekend Reading

I don’t know what’s in it (yet), but I’ll be reading pieces of this promising looking report over the weekend when I get tired of reading student essays on Categorical Syllogisms, Pornography, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In response to these issues, MDRC launched the Opening Doors Demonstration in 2003 — the first large-scale random assignment study in a community college setting. The demonstration pursued promising strategies that emerged from focus groups with low-income students, discussions with college administrators, and an extensive literature review. Partnering with six community colleges across the country, MDRC helped develop and evaluated four distinct programs based on the following approaches: financial incentives, reforms in instructional practices, and enhancements in student services. Colleges were encouraged to focus on one strategy but to think creatively about combining elements of the other strategies to design programs that would help students perform better academically and persist toward degree completion.

Opening Doors provides some of the first rigorous evidence that a range of interventions can, indeed, improve educational outcomes for community college students.

Click HERE to read the Policy Brief inspired by the research (it has descriptions of the programs and their effects).

Schools and Journalism

This article is an interesting look at the way the educational reform movement leverages the mass media into doing their work for them and the temptations (and misgivings) of the journalists reporting the stories.

From the article:

It may seem odd that a geeky algorithm has become such a hot topic in education, but it is another indication of how a group of well-connected newcomers to the contentious world of education policy has influenced the national conversation on the subject. As a group—mostly Wall Street financiers, political lobbyists, and venture philanthropists—they are drawn to the tools and terms of business economics. In this case, that means something called “value-added metrics,” which estimate the worth of a teacher by analyzing her students’ test scores over time.

Supporters of this technique argue that teacher evaluations require objective rigor, calculated with statistics. Weak teachers, they argue, should not hide behind a subjective, protective system that undermines children’s futures. Critics counter that the calculations are incomplete, misleading, and often wrong. Teachers wonder how a number built on test questions can capture what it takes to help a student wrestle with ideas, say, or learn to write with voice. Wouldn’t it make more sense, they ask, to use student work, peer mentoring, and rigorous classroom observations for a more meaningful evaluation? Economists on all sides of the debate agree that these stats cannot paint a whole picture of effective teaching. So, the critics say, why print them indelibly next to teachers’ names?

But numbers have an allure. Governors and mayors facing huge budget cuts are demanding easier ways (read: rankings) to fire the worst teachers and reward the best. Washington likes numbers too. In the past year, eleven states including New York, Florida, and North Carolina have agreed to use student scores to evaluate teachers in exchange for federal Race to the Top grants.

Read the rest HERE.

What if the Transition to College Looked Like This?

From the New York Times:

I recently followed a group of eight public high school students, aged 15 to 17, in western Massachusetts as they designed and ran their own school within a school. They represented the usual range: two were close to dropping out before they started the project, while others were honors students. They named their school the Independent Project.

Their guidance counselor was their adviser, consulting with them when the group flagged in energy or encountered an obstacle. Though they sought advice from English, math and science teachers, they were responsible for monitoring one another’s work and giving one another feedback. There were no grades, but at the end of the semester, the students wrote evaluations of their classmates.

The students also designed their own curriculum, deciding to split their September-to-January term into two halves.

During the first half, they formulated and then answered questions about the natural and social world, including “Are the plant cells at the bottom of a nearby mountain different than those at the top of the mountain?” and “Why we do we cry?” They not only critiqued one another’s queries, but also the answers they came up with. Along the way, they acquired essential tools of inquiry, like how to devise good methods for gathering various kinds of data.

During the second half, the group practiced what they called “the literary and mathematical arts.” They chose eight novels — including works by Kurt Vonnegut, William Faulkner and Oscar Wilde — to read in eight weeks. That is more than the school’s A.P. English class reads in an entire year.

Meanwhile, each of them focused on specific mathematical topics, from quadratic equations to the numbers behind poker. They sought the help of full-time math teachers, consulted books and online sources and, whenever possible, taught one another.

They also each undertook an “individual endeavor,” learning to play the piano or to cook, writing a novel or making a podcast about domestic violence. At the end of the term, they performed these new skills in front of the entire student body and faculty.

Finally, they embarked on a collective endeavor, which they agreed had to have social significance. Because they felt the whole experience had been so life-changing, they ended up making a film showing how other students could start and run their own schools.

The results of their experiment have been transformative.

Read the rest here.

Bunkum Awards

Michael Heathfield sent along a link to the National Education Policy Center’s “Bunkum Awards,” which “highlight nonsensical, confusing, and disingenuous education reports produced by think tanks. They are given each year by the Think Twice think tank review project to think tank reports judged to have most egregiously undermined informed discussion and sound policy making.”

The NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado, and their editorial board and fellows are a veritable Who’s Who of Education Academics. The big winner of this round of Bunkum Awards was Arne Duncan and the Department of Education who take it on the nose in reviews like this one of their documents purported to support the renewal of the Education act.

In March 2010, the Obama administration released a Blueprint outlining its proposals for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).1 In May 2010 the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) followed with a set of six documents offered as ―research summaries‖ supporting the administration’s plans.

The second of these six reports is titled ―Great Teachers and Great Leaders‖ (GTGL). It is divided into three sections: ―Effective Teachers and Leaders,‖ ―Teacher and Leader Pathways,‖ and ―Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund.‖ The summary includes bibliographic references to approximately 80 sources and has five sidebars to illustrate case studies and examples.

The content and form of the research summary departs from the usual standards for social science research syntheses. It distorts evidence by showcasing articles from the popular press, government publications, and advocacy think tank reports while ignoring a great deal of relevant peer-reviewed scholarship.

It goes downhill from there.

And even if you don’t read any of them, at least check out the titles: “The ‘If I Say It Enough, Will It Still Be Untrue?’ and “The Plural of Anecdote is Not Data” are my two favorites, so far, but I haven’t looked in the archives yet, either.

h/t to Michael for the link!

UIC Forum on School Reform

Since 80% of our students come from CPS, and CPS is likely to go through (or at least be pressured to continue/indulge in) more reform, if you’re not doing anything tonight, you might want to go to this:
A Public Forum on Chicago School Reform
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
7:00-9:00 p.m.

UIC Forum (725 W. Roosevelt St., Chicago)

Speakers Include:
  • Kevin Kumashiro, University of Illinois at Chicago (moderator)
  • Leslie Rebecca Bloom, Roosevelt University
  • Sumi Cho, DePaul University
  • Gregory Michie, Concordia University Chicago
  • Isabel Nunez, Concordia University Chicago
  • Brian Schultz, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Therese Quinn, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • William Watkins, University of Illinois at Chicago
With Responses By:
  • Jitu Brown, KOCO (Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization)
  • Jackson Potter, CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators), Chicago Teachers Union
  • And More

It’s free and open to the public. Click HERE for the details.

Educators Leading Reform

Naptaker sent me an email with the following:

I saw this article on the New York Times – don’t remember if I first saw it on the Lounge and couldn’t find it when I went back to look – forgive me if it’s a repeat.

In any case, it’s a neat success story. Administration let faculty drive the change. The faculty buckled down. Simple ideas went a long way. The students rose to the challenge.

Check it out HERE.

(h/t to Naptaker for the link (and permission to include your eloquent, understated presentation).

Thoughts on School Reform from John Goodlad

This is a fairly long read for a newspaper link, but whether you agree with the position John Goodlad is sketching out here or not, I think it would be hard to say it isn’t thought provoking.

He writes:

But, as 2009 merged into 2010, the expectations for a new dawning in schooling were slipping away. The good news was that the No Child Left Behind Act soon would be history. But the proposals for “reform” were déjà vu all over again—been there, done that.

I suddenly awakened to the realization that we were tinkering, one more time, toward an ill-defined utopia.

I was dumbfounded. How could we so ignore the lessons of 50 years of failed school reform and the learning and strategies of those hundreds of innovative boutique projects, funded over these years by billions of dollars from philanthropic foundations, that excited and changed thousands of teachers nationwide?

How could we simply set aside the conclusions and recommendations of those many behavioral and social scientists in the fields of economics, history, psychology, sociology, child development, psychometrics, philosophy, education, and more, who have from their inquiries provided so much of the knowledge necessary for those whose work it is to guide the becoming of a wise people? And what about the knowledge of those experienced practitioners, thoughtful parents, and others? Is there any major field of endeavor other than schooling that has so little agency for its own mission, conduct, and well-being?

Given this reality, it is not surprising that the schooling enterprise is so rife with evidence-free ideology regarding its functioning. We will never have the schools we need until local communities, educators and their organizations, and policymakers share a common mission for them. And we will never have the world-class schools we seek until the people closest to them and best prepared for their agency are their designated stewards.

Now that the state is getting seriously into another era of school reform, it makes sense for us to study and learn from those of the past half-century. There are peculiarities that require considerable thinking if one tries to connect them with both reality and major patterns of human behavior. Significant change in most organizations, corporations included, comes from inside.

The article is filled with links to/about other interesting works and policy papers on education, schooling, and reform that are going to get read by me, at least, in a couple of weeks. Still, I’m eager, after reading this one, to see what he is going to say in the next two installments.

Reform of Schooling: Diane Ravitch and President Obama

It’s education reform Sunday for some reason.

Hot on the heels of the National Standards announcement, here, for your enjoyment, is an interesting review from Slate.com of Diane Ravitch’s new book which is giving NCLB supporters everything from headaches to apoplexies.

Much has already been made of Ravitch’s book, in which she has renounced her long-standing support of charter schools and NCLB. Her change of heart is notable because she is one of the nation’s most serious and credible education scholars. In a career spanning four decades, she’s written multiple histories and been an influential voice in policy debates, challenging both the reflexive right and left at different points over the years. But like a general who can no longer ignore the mounting casualties of a war she helped to propagate, she now argues the battle cannot be won under the current terms of engagement. In this sense, her book arrives with the force of the Pentagon Papers. Ravitch, of course, isn’t revealing state secrets—but it sometimes seems as if she is, given how counter much of the evidence she presents runs to prevailing wisdom about education reform.

Then, President Obama used his Saturday address to look ahead beyond the health care debate toward the next site of political mayhem, the expiring NCLB legislation. You can see his speech on the White House’s Blog site.

I’m sure the political shows are full of jibber jabber on all of this, too.