Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ed News Round-Up

Interesting (and lengthly) essay from a student teacher that carefully outlines her concerns with TFA.  The ones about the link between TFA and charter schools is especially timely for Washington State.  (Also a good story here on that link from the National Journal.)

From Education Week, a very good comparison of what Romney and Obama have in mind for public education.

From Education Week, a review of a new book about the most selective public high schools in the country.

For each of the 11 schools that Finn or Hockett personally visited, the book describes the climate for learning. Here's how they summed it up:
By and large, all the schools we visited were serious, purposeful places: competitive but supportive, energized yet calm. Behavior problems (save for cheating and plagiarism) were minimal, and students attended regularly. The kids wanted to be there, and were motivated to succeed.
Most classrooms they observed were "alive, engaged places," and teachers had high expectations, as might be imagined.
One distinguishing feature of many exam schools is a more flexible schedule than is usual in public high schools, the book says, to facilitate opportunities for more in-depth learning and to prepare students for the college experience.
"We found an awful lot of these schools organize their weekly calendar like colleges do, with two-hour blocks and three-hour seminars, so the course doesn't meet every day for 47 minutes," Finn told me. The book notes that there is typically ample time in the schedule for collaborative and independent research project.
Former SPS principal, Justin Baeder, now writes at Education Week's 'On Performance' column.  He had this interesting column back in May (and he mentions our blog with something of a backhanded swipe).  It was entitled, "On Holding "the District" Accountable":

I'm all for holding "the district" accountable to the public, but I have to ask: Who is the district? And how do you hold accountable a large, loosely coupled organization full of people who, for the most part, are doing excellent work?

In practical terms, "the district" is no more specific an entity than "the public." The Seattle Times comments section (not to mention Save Seattle Schools) is consistently filled with accusations that "the district" is riddled with incompetence, corruption, wastefulness, thickheadedness, and all manner of other surprisingly detailed and sweeping generalizations.

That's an interesting question but as taxpayers and parents, yes, we do get to hold "the district" accountable or at least the leaders who run it.  And while I do believe most people in the district care deeply and work hard, we are not the best run district so I'm not sure I'd give the district an overall grade of A for excellent work.

His answer?

Everyone wants to be involved—deeply involved—in improving Seattle Public Schools. But perhaps the best way to do that is calm down, hire good people, and let them do their jobs. Performance comes from stability over time, not the number of cooks in the kitchen.
As I walk out the door, I have to look back on the past few years and pose the question: Is our approach to holding "the district" accountable really working? As organizational scholar Peter Senge is fond of saying, "Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are getting." Perhaps "the public" should consider a different approach to relating to "the district."

Good column from Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post about the three things parents SHOULD worry the most about in ed reform: excessive testing, use of test scores for purposes which are not student-centered and amassing of individual student scores in national and state databases.  That latter one deserves investigating in SPS because:

State and national databases are being created in order to analyze and house students’ test scores. No parental permission is required. I wonder why not. Students who take the SAT must sign off before we send their scores to colleges.

Schools are no longer reporting collective data; we are now sending individual student data. Although the name remains in the district, what assurances do parents truly have that future databases will not be connected and used for other purposes? The more data that is sent, the easier it will be to identify the individual student.
Eleven states have agreed to give confidential teacher and student data for free to a shared learning collaborative funded by Bill Gates and run by Murdoch’s Wireless Corp. Wireless received $44 million for the project. With Common Core State Standards testing, such databases are expected to expand. Funding for data warehousing siphons taxpayer dollars from the classroom to corporations like Wireless and Pearson.  
Although all of the above is in motion, it can be modified or stopped. Parents should speak to their local PTAs and School Boards, as well as their legislators. They should ask questions regarding what data is being collected and to whom it is sent.
Let’s make sure that every test a student takes is used to measure and enhance her learning, not for adult, high-stakes purposes. Basic common sense tells us that student test results belong to families, not databases. 


Anonymous said...

My freshman attended orientation at Garfield yesterday - and when looking at the Bell schedule that was included in the first day packet I noticed that on Wednesdays and Thursdays they do block their classes for 1 hour 50 minute sessions: 1/3/5 on Wednesdays and 2/4/6 on Thursdays.

I kind of like the idea, thinking that once a week they can really spend some significant time on each subject and do more intensive labs, writing projects etc.

My question is - does this truly happen during these blocks and is every high school doing this?

-New HS Mom

Catherine said...

Note that with the collective databases... the data analysis, reports, and or access are then SOLD BACK to the districts. It's called Education Informatics and it's not all good news and insights.

Jan said...

New HS Mom: yes, block periods at GHS (which have existed for years) DO get put to good use, at least in many classes. One thought, if you are interested -- talk to your child's teachers (either at curriculum night, when they are all pretty accessible, or earlier, if you want) and ask them to describe how they make use of the block periods, and how that varies from what they use regular 50 minute periods for. Especially the teachers who have been there for several years of this schedule. That is not nearly the degree of scheduling flexibility discussed in the article Melissa cites, but I guess it is better than nothing!

Anonymous said...

"...and all manner of other surprisingly detailed and sweeping generalizations."

I'm confused. If a generalization is "surprisingly detailed" how can it be "sweeping"? Wait. Is it even a generalization?