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.