Sunday, December 30, 2007

On the Streets and in the Police Stations, the Mayor of Newark Is on Patrol

A great article about Cory Booker, who has one of the hardest jobs in America (perhaps second only to the mayor of New Orleans).  Hopefully crime will start to really fall and he can get control of Newark's schools so he can focus his energies on fixing this disaster area...

On the Streets and in the Police Stations, the Mayor of Newark Is on Patrol

Published: December 29, 2007

NEWARK — Mayor Cory A. Booker bounded through the back door of a police station in the early-morning hours of Christmas Eve. He did not come bearing holiday gifts.

A desk sergeant stage-shouted “Good evening, Mayor,” and the half dozen officers who were preparing gear for the lobster shift looked up with a start. After a round of greetings, Mr. Booker got down to work. He grilled commanding officers about a string of car thefts and armed robberies, asked why drug dealers were brazenly hawking their wares at a nearby housing project, and then flipped through a ream of log sheets to see which patrol units were lagging in arrests and summonses.

As the officers lined up for roll call, Mr. Booker, dressed in a gray hooded sweat shirt, stood behind the front desk and delivered a pep talk subtly laced with admonition. He praised them for their hard work and bravery — and gave thanks for an 11 percent drop in overall crime — but suggested that some officers were less than industrious. “We are on the foothills of greatness, but there is still a big mountain to climb,” he said, his voice filled with urgency. “We need to show the country what Newark can do. When you are between service calls, I need you to challenge the bad guys and show them that they don’t own the streets. Be aggressive, be hungry, make me proud.”

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Georgia School as a Laboratory for Getting Along

Whether one celebrates Christmas or not, this beautiful story captures the spirit of the season -- and what makes this great country such a beacon of hope.  By the way, one shouldn't have to read more than halfway through the article to realize that this is a charter school!

And some new arrivals to the school had to overcome intense trauma before they could begin learning.

Teachers noticed that two sisters from Afghanistan seemed terrified as they arrived each day. As refugees in Pakistan, the children had worked making carpets. Exhausted, they regularly dozed at school, which drew beatings. The sisters had assumed such beatings were standard at every school.

Despite these challenges, the school grew. A new grade was added each year. A second campus was opened in space rented from another church a few miles away. Volunteers poured in, mostly retired teachers and students from nearby Emory University and Agnes Scott College.

All the while, administrators and teachers said, the school took its energy from the optimism many of its students had toward their new lives in the United States. Sometimes that optimism was hard to miss. One second grader from Congo is named Bill Clinton.

A Draw for Americans

The diversity at the community school extends to American families. Twenty percent of the students are African-American, and roughly 10 percent are white. About two-thirds of the students come from families that qualify for reduced-price or free lunches, while some of the other students are the children of doctors, lawyers and bankers.

Parents from low-income families tend to choose the school over other nearby public schools because it is safe and has small classes. More affluent parents seek it for the potential benefits of exposure to so many cultures. Most of the middle- and upper-middle-class parents are social progressives from Decatur, a liberal enclave. But not all.

This is good to see too:
Academically, the school seems to be on track. It has met the annual requirement under the No Child Left Behind education law each of the past four years. And this year the school was one of two for disadvantaged children that were commended by the Georgia Board of Education. It was cited for closing the performance gap between low- and high-scoring students, a feat that the school accomplished without lowering its higher scores.

Georgia School as a Laboratory for Getting Along

Published: December 25, 2007

DECATUR, Ga. — Parents at an elementary school here gathered last Thursday afternoon with a holiday mission: to prepare boxes of food for needy families fleeing some of the world’s horrific civil wars.

The community effort to help refugees resembled countless others at this time of year, with an exception. The recipients were not many thousands of miles away. They were students in the school and their families.

More than half the 380 students at this unusual school outside Atlanta are refugees from some 40 countries, many torn by war. The other students come from low-income families in Decatur, and from middle- and upper-middle-class families in the area who want to expose their children to other cultures. Together they form an eclectic community of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, well-off and poor, of established local families and new arrivals who collectively speak about 50 languages.

“The fact that we don’t have anything in common is what we all have in common,” said Shell Ramirez, an American parent with two children at the school.

The International Community School, which goes from kindergarten through sixth grade, began five years ago to address a pressing local problem: how to educate a flood of young refugees. It has evolved into a laboratory for the art of getting along, a place that embraces the idea that people from different cultures and classes can benefit one other, even as administrators, teachers and parents acknowledge the many practical difficulties.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Follow-up on Sen. Obama

I've heard from and talked to a number of people after my last email rant about Linda Darling-Hammond, Sen. Obama and education reform. A little time and being on the other side of the world (greetings from sunny and scenic Cape Town!) have mellowed me -- a little bit anyway. A few thoughts:
1) I continue to support Sen. Obama's candidacy and want to see him become President for all of the reasons I outlined in an email earlier this year (see, in which I wrote:
I'm convinced that he is the real deal. Why? I think he:

1) Is highly intelligent;

2) Is a good listener and thinker and makes good decisions (which is not the same as being smart; see below);

3) Has a fundamental decency and empathy;

4) Has high integrity and is honest (with others and, more importantly, with himself);

5) Quickly admits his mistakes and fixes them;

6) Is not beholden to anyone;

7) Has the courage to say and do what he thinks is right;

8) Is, at his core, a moderate;

9) Tries his best to bring people together and appeal to common interests (and is very good at this);

10) Understands the enormous challenges facing our nation; and

11) Has a sound approach to thinking about these problems (although admittedly he's been light on the specifics).

2) I've done some checking and the answers to the two questions I posed in my last email are very clear: Sen. Obama is a very strong supporter of Teach for America and of charter schools.
3) No, Sen. Obama is not as bold and courageous as I wish he would be on education reform (and certain other issues), but the truth is that if he were, he'd be 50 points behind in the polls. My views are far from the mainstream on many issues, especially within the Democratic Party on school reform.
The fact that very few Democratic politicians are willing to champion a bold education reform agenda simply underscores how much work we reformers have to do -- and it's going to be a long struggle. As a quick example, check out the article in today's NYT (below) about how Democrats are rushing to bash NCLB, esp. this part:

Alan Young, president of the National Education Association affiliate in Des Moines, got some television exposure about a year ago when he addressed Mrs. Clinton during a town-hall-style meeting. Pointing out that she was on the Senate education committee, Mr. Young urged her "not to be too quick to reauthorize the law as is," but rather to rework its basic assumptions.

In the months since, Mr. Young said he has spoken about the law personally at campaign events with Mr. Richardson, John Edwards and Senators Barack Obama and Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Is is any surprise that Democratic candidates bash NCLB when there are teacher union members like Mr. Young at virtually every one of their campaign events, keeping up the drumbeat of criticism of NCLB, however self-serving and ill-founded?
Sen. Obama has shown real courage on a lot of issues, most importantly Iraq, when it was most assuredly not the popular thing to do in 2003. Here's another story recounted to me by a friend: earlier this year, Sen. Obama was meeting with a group of hedge fund managers and investment bankers in a Wall Street firm's conference room and was asked, "If elected, will you raise our taxes?" He looked around and replied, "Yes." Nothing more, no rationalizing, explaining, sucking up, etc. Just "Yes". Kudos!
4) Regarding the article I included in my last email, in which Krugman called Sen. Obama naive and an anti-change candidate, Jonathan Alter wrote a rebuttal in Newsweek that I think is compelling, which concludes:
To call Obama "anti-change," as Paul Krugman does, is anti-common sense. Leadership requires a mixture of confrontation and compromise, with room for the losers to save face. "They have to feel the heat to see the light," LBJ liked to say. That heat is best applied up close. In public. Across the big table.
5) Finally, here's a great article by Frank Rich in today's NYT:

For Mrs. Clinton, the failure of "experience" as a selling point was becoming apparent even as her husband continued to push it on Charlie Rose. Last week's ABC News-Washington Post poll in Iowa found that she clobbers Mr. Obama on the question of who has the most experience — 49 percent to 8 percent. But to little end. That same survey had Mr. Obama ahead by 4 points over all because, as this year's pervasive polling matchup has it, the electorate values change over experience.

The rabid hunger for change, it turns out, has made the very idea of experience as toxic as every other attribute of the Bush White House. The once-heralded notion of a C.E.O. presidency, overstocked with "tested" Washington and Fortune 500 executives like Cheney and Rumsfeld, is now in the toilet with Larry Craig. You couldn't push the pendulum further in the other direction than by supporting a candidate like Mr. Huckabee, who is blatantly unprepared to be president and whose most impressive battle has been with his weight. In a Rasmussen poll in Florida, Mr. Huckabee even did well among foreign-policy-minded Republicans whose most important issue is Iraq.

But for Mrs. Clinton, the problem isn't just that the Bush years have tarnished the notion that experience is a positive indicator of future performance. She has further devalued that sales pitch with her own inflated claims of what her experience has been. Ted Sorensen, the J.F.K. speechwriter now in the Obama camp, saw the backlash coming in a recent conversation I had with him after Mrs. Clinton had mocked Mr. Obama for counting his elementary-school years in Indonesia as an asset.

"Hillary should be careful about scoffing at other people's experience," Mr. Sorensen said. "It's not as if the process of osmosis gives her presidential qualities by physical proximity."

Whatever Mrs. Clinton's experience as first lady or senator, what matters most in any case is not its sheer volume, that 35 years she keeps citing. It's what she did or did not learn along the way that counts.


Democrats Make Bush School Act an Election Issue

Published: December 23, 2007

WASHINGTON — Teachers cheered Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton when she stepped before them last month at an elementary school in Waterloo, Iowa, and said she would "end" the No Child Left Behind Act because it was "just not working."

Mrs. Clinton is not the only presidential candidate who has found attacking the act, President Bush's signature education law, to be a crowd pleaser — all the Democrats have taken pokes. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has said he wants to "scrap" the law. Senator Barack Obama has called for a "fundamental" overhaul. And John Edwards criticizes the law as emphasizing testing over teaching. "You don't make a hog fatter by weighing it," he said recently while campaigning in Iowa.


Confrontation Doesn't Work

Why Obama's approach to healthcare isn't naive.

By Jonathan Alter

Newsweek Web Exclusive

Updated: 10:41 AM ET Dec 19, 2007

Paul Krugman is a brilliant Princeton economist and fine columnist for The New York Times who was far ahead of the pack in asserting that George W. Bush is a total disaster as president. His clarity in explaining what academics call "political economy" is without peer. But his attack on Barack Obama on December 17 was wrong on history, wrong on politics and wrong on what the future holds for Obama's "big table" idea.

Krugman calls Obama "naïve" and an "anti-change candidate" because he favors bringing all of the players in the health care debate around a "big table" and rejects the populist message of John Edwards, who is apparently Krugman's choice for president. "Anyone who thinks the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world," Krugman writes, endorsing Edwards's view that the insurance and drug industries should be excluded from any talks on health care reform because they stand to lose profits.

The columnist and his candidate both believe that Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded by being a polarizing figure. I studied FDR for four years while writing a book about him, and this is simply untrue. It's also untrue of other successful Democratic presidents and for a simple reason: "Bitter confrontation" simply doesn't work in policy-making.


December 23, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

A Résumé Can't Buy You Love

WE can only imagine what is going on inside John McCain's head when he contemplates Mike Huckabee. It can't be pretty. No presidential candidate in either party has more experience in matters of war than the Arizona senator, and yet in a wartime election he is being outpaced by a guy who has zero experience and is proud of it.

"I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy," Mr. Huckabee joked to Don Imus, "but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night." So much for the gravitas points earned during a five-and-a-half year stay at the Hanoi Hilton.

But if Mr. McCain has so far resisted slapping down the upstart in his party, Bill Clinton has shown no such self-restraint about Barack Obama. Early this month the former president criticized the press for not sufficiently covering the candidates' "record in public life" and thereby making "people think experience is irrelevant." His pique boiled over on Charlie Rose's show on Dec. 14, when he made his now-famous claim that the 2008 election will be a referendum on whether "no experience matters." He insinuated that Mr. Obama was tantamount to "a gifted television commentator" and likened a potential Obama presidency to a roll of the dice.

Attention Bill Clinton: If that's what this election is about, it's already over. No matter how much Hillary Clinton, Mr. McCain or Rudy Giuliani brag about being tested and vetted, it's not experience that will be decisive in determining the next president.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Charter Schools Outshine Others as They Receive Their First Report Cards

A couple of nice articles about the outstanding scores by the first 14 charter schools in NYC to get letter grades -- including three A's from the three KIPPs that were rated (KIPP STAR has a different authorizer and hence hasn't been rated yet).
Most of the remaining 14 earned A's or B's, including two - Williamsburg Collegiate in Brooklyn and KIPP Infinity in Harlem - that earned the highest total scores in the city.
December 20, 2007

Charter Schools Outshine Others as They Receive Their First Report Cards

Education officials, acting under the city’s new system of accountability, released report cards on Wednesday for several charter schools, with the majority receiving A’s and B’s, but one school in Queens getting an F.

The grades came more than a month after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein released grades for the rest of the city’s public schools. Officials said that they had always intended to release grades for charter schools, but that it had taken longer to make sure the data was complete and accurate because the schools are privately run, though publicly financed.

Just 14 of the 60 charter schools in the city received report cards, but school officials and supporters of charter school said that the grades showed that the schools were outperforming their traditional counterparts.

“As a group, they skew higher,” said Michael Duffy, who oversees charter schools for the city’s Education Department. “I think that charter schools are all about accountability. It’s baked into their DNA. They are data driven and focused on how their students are doing, so it’s not surprising to see them do well.”

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D.C. Bill On School Firings Advances

Some awesome news from DC as well .
D.C. Bill On School Firings Advances

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; B01

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee won an initial victory yesterday in her effort to shake up the school district's central office as the D.C. Council voted 10 to 3 to give her the power to fire nonunion workers without cause, an action supporters say could remove a major barrier to education reform.

The council also unanimously approved supplemental budget legislation providing $81 million to fill a gap in the schools' budget.

"Today is a momentous day for District of Columbia public schools," Rhee said at a news briefing after the vote on the personnel bill. "It marks truly an amazing first step that we are finally going to put the best interest of students above everything else."

Council members also called it a day in which they put the needs of the 50,000 children in the troubled school system first.

"This is not the time to be timid," said Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).

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Hidden Violations

A very interesting report from Illinois (I have no doubt it's much different elsewhere):

Key findings from the Hidden Violations investigation:

Small Newspaper Group

* Of the 50 states, only Virginia revokes or suspends fewer teaching certificates than Illinois.

* No investigators are employed by the Illinois State Board of Education so reports of teacher misconduct are often not investigated or acted upon.

* The Department of Children and Family Services has found 323 cases providing credible evidence of abuse by teachers, but none have had their licenses suspended or revoked.

* Teachers hired before 2004 have not had to undergo a state-mandated national criminal background check.

* Physicians are 43 times more likely than the state's teachers to have their license suspended or revoked. Lawyers are 25 times more likely than teachers to have their license suspended or revoked.

* None of the tenured teachers fired in the last decade have also lost their teaching certificate and certification officials are not notified when a school district disciplines an educator.

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Smaller classes: the wrong investment for city schools

A great article by Robert Gordon on what a low-impact use of money it is to reduce class sizes:

McKinsey & Company, the consulting giant, concludes its study of achievement around the world with a harsher assessment: "The available evidence suggests that, except at the very early grades, class size reduction does not have much impact on student outcomes." And that's also the finding of an international review published by the nonpartisan Brookings Institution: "Class size is not a major determinant of student performance in lower secondary education." It's for good reason that, according to the Parthenon Group, only three of 33 states with class size reduction programs extend them up to high school.

These results make some sense. Young children with shorter attention spans need personal attention to connect with their teachers and focus on the work. Teenagers most need teachers who know their stuff and make it exciting. That can work even in a larger group.

With all the money in the world, of course we'd want to give small classes to everyone. But class size reduction costs a boatload. If our goal is to help more children to graduate high school, go to college and achieve their dreams, then placing a big bet on smaller classes for older students is the wrong way to go.

There's a better approach. In a new paper on North Carolina high schools, three Duke University researchers found that having a class with five fewer students had a "very small" effect on student performance. Having a class with a strong teacher, rather than a weak one, had an impact 14 times bigger.


Smaller classes: the wrong investment for city schools

Thursday, December 13th 2007, 4:00 AM

Be Our Guest

The New York City Department of Education recently agreed to reduce class sizes at 75 middle and high schools under the state's "contract for excellence." Now, advocates at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity are pushing the department to shrink classes even more at all grade levels.

It's time for advocates of student achievement to push back against the growing class size obsession.

Solid research out of Tennessee links careful class size reduction to higher achievement. But that's only up to third grade. The evidence for older kids is much weaker. In a paper featured by class size reduction advocates, Profs. Bruce Biddle and David Berliner say that "evidence for the possible advantages of small classes in the upper grades and high school is so far inconclusive."

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Comments on Harvard

A friend commented on Harvard's plan (see below), concluding:
In a few years, all top schools will be essentially free for low income students. It’s then up to KIPP, TFA, Green Dot and everyone else who cares about America to then supply these universities with the best kids we possibly can, no matter how rich or poor their parents are.
I agree -- and think these schools should be throwing major support behind these programs and genuine education reform in general, which they're not doing. 
 I think you’re making a mistake in your assessment of Harvard’s financial aid initiatives. Sure, Harvard’s initiatives do nothing to compensate for failing urban school districts. But they do make Harvard more accessible, something that’s already happening, just three years into the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative. Since the HFAI was put in place three years ago, the number students from families earning under $60,000 per year has increased 33%, representing a quarter of the entering class of 2011. That makes Harvard much more economically diverse than when I was there (I graduated in 2002). I suspect Harvard is now much more economically diverse than in your days too.

Harvard is now in the midst of the third great push towards greater diversity that the university has undertaken in the last fifty years. First, they relaxed then eliminated quotas on Jewish applicants. Then the school integrated minorities and women in the sixties and seventies. But Harvard was still predominately a school for wealthy families, no matter the race. The recent financial aid initiatives will go a long way to extending Harvard’s diversity into economic diversity as well.

Beyond admissions, the no debt policy and the new reduced fees and eliminated loans for middle income families will profoundly affect career choice. Students will be much more likely to apply to TFA or to pursue other service oriented careers if they don’t have tens of thousands of dollars of debt hanging over their heads.

And the movement towards the elimination of loans for low income students is picking up steam at other universities – and fast. Princeton made the first move in this direction in 2001, and Harvard followed a few years after. Now, every month another college or university is announcing plans to eliminated debt for students from poor families. Since I’m on the board of a college scholarship fund for inner city kids, I track this issue very closely. A few months ago, I posted my list of no loan schools to Wikipedia, where other users have filled in the list with new schools. Here’s the page:

This is a real trend, and it’s accelerating. In a few years, all top schools will be essentially free for low income students. It’s then up to KIPP, TFA, Green Dot and everyone else who cares about America to then supply these universities with the best kids we possibly can, no matter how rich or poor their parents are.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Harvard to Aid Students High in Middle Class

I applaud Harvard for doing this, but, even if all of the other top colleges do this, I think it will do very little to change the fact that today, at the 146 most selective colleges in the country, 74% of students come from top 25% income households, 17% come from 2nd quartile households, 6% from 3rd quartile households and a miniscule 3% from bottom quartile households:

Harvard  University announced on Monday that it would significantly increase the  financial aid it offered to middle-class and upper-middle-class students, seeking to allay concerns that elite colleges are becoming too expensive for  even relatively well-off families.
The move, to go into effect in the next school year, appears to make Harvard’s aid to students with household incomes from $120,000 to $180,000 the most generous of any of the country’s prestigious private universities.  Harvard will generally charge such students 10 percent of their family household income per year, substantially subsidizing the annual cost of more than $45,600.

Here's why: the main reason for the under-representation noted above is NOT that poor kids can't afford Harvard and therefore end up at a community college (though I'm sure there are a few exceptions).  Rather, it's that so few poor kids are academically prepared for Harvard and like schools.  Why?  Because in addition to all of the other obstacles associated with being poor, the key factor is that most poor kids are forced to attend mediocre to catastrophically bad schools and are taught by way too many mediocre-to-catastrophically bad teachers.  That's the main problem we face as a nation.
My most fervent hope is that some day Harvard and other rich, powerful, influential schools, will wake up to this fact and start using their clout to call for genuine education reform.  To date, they have been totally absent in this struggle.  Shame, shame!


December 11, 2007
Harvard to Aid Students High in Middle Class

BOSTON, Dec. 10 — Harvard University announced on Monday that it would significantly increase the financial aid it offered to middle-class and upper-middle-class students, seeking to allay concerns that elite colleges are becoming too expensive for even relatively well-off families.

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In Gaps at School, Weighing Family Life

I heard that this NYT reporter, Michael Winerip, is among the worst education reporters out there and, based on this article, I believe it.  He cluelessly repeats the tired "woe-is-us, demography-is-destiny" argument put forward by apologists for lousy schools:

THE federal No  Child Left Behind  law of 2002 rates schools based on how students perform  on state standardized tests, and if too many children score poorly, the school  is judged as failing.
But how much is really the school’s fault?
A new study by the Educational  Testing Service  — which develops and administers more than 50 million standardized tests annually, including the SAT — concludes that an awful lot of those low scores can be explained by factors that have nothing to do with schools. The study, “The Family: America’s Smallest School,” suggests that a lot of the failure has to do with what takes place in the home, the level of  poverty and government’s inadequate support for programs that could make a difference, like high-quality day care and paid maternity leave.
The E.T.S. researchers took four variables that are beyond the control of schools: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of  eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.
“Together, these four factors account for about two-thirds of the large  differences among states,” the report said. In other words, the states that had the lowest test scores tended to be those that had the highest percentages of children from single-parent families, eighth graders watching lots of TV and eighth graders absent a lot, and the lowest percentages of young children being read to regularly, regardless of what was going on in their schools.
Which gets to the heart of the report: by the time these children start school at age 5, they are far behind, and tend to stay behind all through high  school. There is no evidence that the gap is being closed.

No kidding, poor kids from single parent households enter school behind and are more of a challenge to educate.  But superficial studies like this make it seem like it's impossible to educate them and that schools therefore shouldn't be held accountable when, for example, the majority of 4th graders can't read "See Spot Run".  What rubbish!
I've rebutted this borderline-racist nonsense before, when it was espoused by James Heckman in a WSJ Op Ed in 1/06 (  Here's an excerpt from what I wrote:

Here's what's really going on:  
A) There are way too many incompetent and/or unmotivated teachers (it's amazing how such an obvious, factual statement is construed as an attack on teachers; I LOVE  skilled, motivated teachers; it's the incompetent and/or unmotivated ones I have a problem with because of the lifelong damage that they do to the  children in their care);

B)  Because of the way teachers are recruited and assigned (or choose their  assignments), a hugely disproportionate number of the worst teachers end up in schools serving the neediest (read: low-income, minority) students. (See  pages 9-19 of my slides at>  to see the harsh reality.)

C) Therefore -- surprise! -- these  students don't achieve, but that's NOT because they're poor or minority:  it's because they're stuck in horrible schools with a shockingly high percentage of lousy teachers!!!!! (To see the difference good teachers make vs. bad ones, see pages 3-8 of this presentation:  )

Checker Finn also had a great piece on this entitled Fie on Fatalism (

School  reforms come and go. But educational determinism, it appears, goes on forever.  By which I mean the view that schools are essentially powerless to accomplish  much by way of learning gains, no matter what is done to or about them. That  is because -- take your pick -- they don't have enough money/time/experienced  teachers; or students face so many problems in their lives that it's folly to  expect schools to do more with them; or kids lack the innate ability to  acquire more skills or deeper knowledge, regardless of how their schools may change.


In Gaps at School, Weighing Family Life

Published: December 9, 2007

THE federal No Child Left Behind law of 2002 rates schools based on how students perform on state standardized tests, and if too many children score poorly, the school is judged as failing.
But how much is really the school’s fault?

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Report Finds Better Scores in New Crop of Teachers

This is great to see:

Teaching is attracting better-qualified people than it did just a few years  ago, according to a report released Tuesday by the Educational Testing Service
<> .
Prospective teachers who took state teacher licensing exams from 2002 to 2005 scored higher on SATs in high school and earned higher grades in college than their counterparts who took the exams in the mid-1990s, the report said.

I'm sure the unions will claim credit, but precisely the opposite is true -- their stifling contracts, which protect mediocrity and don't allow the rewarding of excellence (lockstep pay, lifetime tenure, everything driven by seniority -- the three pillars of mediocrity), are among the biggest deterrents to high-caliber people going into teaching.  Rather, the wave of reform that's starting to sweep the nation (albeit still in its very early stages) is a big driver -- this would include Teach for America, KIPP and other high-profile organizations that are making it "cool" to be a teacher.

December 12, 2007
Report Finds Better Scores in New Crop of Teachers

Teaching is attracting better-qualified people than it did just a few years ago, according to a report released Tuesday by the Educational Testing Service.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Obama's disappointing choice of Linda Darling-Hammond to be one of his education advisors

As an Obama supporter, I was very disappointed to learn that he recently picked Linda Darling-Hammond to be one of his education policy advisors.

While Sen. Obama is making many good moves and is closing (and in some places, reversing!) the gap between himself and Sen. Clinton, this selection of a wolf-in-sheeps-clothing ed advisor is troubling. This is an issue Sen. Obama could really win with by staking out positions that Sen. Clinton would be hard-pressed to follow, allowing him to speak to several vital constituencies in key states who crave genuine school reform, but instead he's making her look like the reformer! With the selection of Prof. Darling-Hammond, he continues a pattern of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this issue (for my comments on his recent education speech, see:

Prof. Darling-Hammond has every qualification imaginable (see her bio at, but she is about as bad as it gets in terms of education reform. That's a strong statement, so let me be clear what I mean: I have no doubt that she really cares about kids, closing the achievement gap and doing what's right to improve schools, so right there you'd think that she's hugely better than, say, teacher union bosses who will stop at nothing to preserve their unions' interests, even when they're totally contrary to what's best for kids.
But I actually think people like Linda Darling-Hammond (and Jonathan Kozol -- I've posted my thoughts on him here:, here: and here: are actually more dangerous to the school reform movement precisely because they tend have pure motives.
All sensible people are rightly skeptical when union bosses call for more spending and smaller class size (gee, what a shocker that they favor more money to more teachers) as the solution to all that ails education, but they drop their guard when well-credentialed, well-intentioned people like Prof. Darling-Hammond talk about education reform, even when their solutions, rooted in the Alice in Wonderland world of ed schools, are either very limited or flat-out wrong.
These prototypical ed school types have typically never worked a day in their lives in the private sector and are oblivious to (or enemies of) things that, in the real world, drive success or failure of organizations like accountability, choice, competition, incentives, the importance of not only identifying and rewarding success but -- egads! -- identifying and punishing failure, etc. Worse yet, these folks are not interested in reform unless the reformers have credentials they deem acceptable -- yet for too long, the very process of obtaining those credentials is antithetical to making the reforms.
The failure to recognize the true nature of people like Prof. Darling-Hammond (again, I don't for an instant question her good intentions) leads too often to important people like Sen. Obama, who could be real leaders on this issue, instead mouthing meaningless platitudes about toothless reforms fed to them by these so-called experts who, though certainly they would never admit it, even to themselves, are carrying water for the enemies of reform.
My primary quarrel with Prof. Darling-Hammond is not that what she says/writes is all wrong, but rather that in all of her writings, I can't find a single word about the core problem in American education: the broken, dysfunctional system, with awful bureaucracies, skewed incentives, little accountability, and powerful, entrenched interests defending it. In fact, I can't think of anything important she's said or written that wouldn't be embraced and endorsed by the teachers unions.
For example, as I discuss below, her Marshall Plan for teachers sounds great, but in the absence of reforms that address the broken system -- reforms that she either ignores or is hostile to -- it will simply end up costing a lot of money and won't change anything.
To summarize, let me be clear: I think that Linda Darling-Hammond is little more than a thinly disguised shill for the teachers unions and that her ideas, if adopted, would likely result in much higher spending and little or no improvement in our schools. I can suggest 100 far better people for Obama to listen to if he's really serious about education reform.
Having made very clear my issues with Jonathan Kozol (see the posts above), why so I have similar views of Prof. Darling-Hammond? Let me count the ways:
A) She's long been a rabid critic of Teach for America and is the author of the infamous "study" on Teach for America, which has been totally discredited -- see: Here's an excerpt:
Darling-Hammond's recently released study reflects only two grade levels in a single Teach For America site, draws conclusions from old data, and appears not even to meet the research standards for its own less rigorous design. Perhaps most concerning, the analysis and conclusions of Darling-Hammond's study were not subjected to rigorous review by other objective researchers or the subjects themselves before being released to the press.

While Teach For America was not given the opportunity to ask questions about the study design, or to view the study before it went to the press, our initial look since the public release has revealed significant flaws in the analysis and methodology. In fact, every researcher with whom we have spoken who has seen this study has concluded there are problems that could invalidate the conclusions. We summarize several of these problems below.
Her "study" is so shoddy that I can only conclude that she's biased and deliberately did a hatchet job. In bringing Darling-Hammond onto his team, does Sen. Obama really want to send the message that he's against Teach for America?! That's the message I'm getting...
B) According to a friend who was there, at a conference she publicly called one of the most passionate, committed education reformers I know (and a long-time Democrat) a tool of Republicans because his courageus, bold ideas conflicted with her politically correct, toothless reforms. No, Prof. Darling-Hammond, we Democrats who are real education reformers aren't tools of anyone -- it's you who are the tool of the entrenched forces of the status quo.
C) When she's not directly attacking amazing reform organizations like TFA, she's damning others with faint praise. For example, on charter schools, while she's one of the founders of a charter school in East Palo Alto ( and, I've heard she's lukewarm on charter schools in general and doesn't understand the benefits of competition and choice at all, as is made clear in this interview (

"I'm an advocate for good schools, and I think some charter schools allow us to do some things to create those schools. Some charters don't. The movement is very diverse. I don't think the issue is charter versus non-charter, it's how do we get schools to change in ways that are going to be more supportive to kids? I'd like to see regular public school districts taking charge of the issue the way charters are."

"Competition does not always breed quality. All you have to do is sit up one night and try to find a station on cable TV. The same thing is true in schools. The studies about charter schools across the country have shown that in many states the charter schools are doing less well than the regular public schools. So they're not a whole lot of competition in some ways. On the other hand I do think that creating good school models does show people that it is possible to break out of the mold. So the provision of high-quality modeling for schooling, whether charter or non-charter, is a good thing and in a sense may be what the proponents of competition have in mind."

Of course charter schools are a mixed bag, but overall the great majority of studies show they're leading to greater student gains than comparable public schools (see page 4 of my slides posted at: and, equally importantly, the top schools like KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools (see slides 5-12) are achieving unprecedented educational success with the most disadvantaged students -- yet Prof. Darling-Hammond is silent about this.
D) In this extended interview from The Nation(, she makes a few good points (we need more robust ways to test and measure students and schools), but it's clear that she's an enemy of choice, competition, accountability and anything that identifies and punishes failure.
Let's look at her Marshall Plan for teaching, which sounds wonderful, but pretty much could have been copied and pasted from the NEA's website -- a lot more money, but little that fundamentally changes the system:

A Marshall Plan for Teaching could insure that all students are taught by well-qualified teachers within the next five years through a federal policy that (1) recruits new teachers using service scholarships that underwrite their preparation for high-need fields and locations and adds incentives for expert veteran teachers to teach in high-need schools; (2) strengthens teachers' preparation through support for professional development schools, like teaching hospitals, which offer top-quality urban teacher residencies to candidates who will stay in high-need districts; and (3) improves teacher retention and effectiveness by insuring that novices have mentoring support during their early years, when 30 percent of them drop out.

For an annual cost of $3 billion, or less than one week in Iraq, the nation could underwrite the high-quality preparation of 40,000 teachers annually--enough to fill all the vacancies taken by unprepared teachers each year; seed 100 top-quality urban-teacher-education programs and improve the capacity of all programs to prepare teachers who can teach diverse learners well; insure mentors for every new teacher hired each year; and provide incentives to bring expert teachers into high-need schools by improving salaries and working conditions.

But let's look at what's missing: 1) She talk about improving teacher retention, but what about the other side of the coin: removing ineffective teachers? (oops, I forgot: at ed schools, all teachers are wonderful, committed and effective); 2) How does she plan to identify the best teachers, esp. since she appears to be no fan of testing? What about merit pay for the most effective teachers (which is separate for higher pay for math and science teachers and extra pay for teaching in the toughest schools)?; 3) What about making tenure something rigorous, only to be earned by proven effective teachers rather than something nearly automatic?
Speaking of the bizarre ed school worldview in which any accountability is cruel and counterproductive, this captures it perfectly:

Punishing the Neediest Schools and Students. At least some of the schools identified as "needing improvement" are surely dismal places where little learning occurs, or are complacent schools that have not attended to the needs of their less advantaged students. It is fair to suggest that students in such schools deserve other choices if the schools cannot change. However, there is growing evidence that the law's strategy for improving schools may, paradoxically, reduce access to education for the most vulnerable students.

NCLB's practice of labeling schools as failures makes it even harder for them to attract and keep qualified teachers. As one Florida principal asked, "Is anybody going to want to dedicate their life to a school that has already been labeled a failure?"

Again, at first glance this sounds reasonable. No doubt schools NCLB labels as failing have trouble attracting top teachers -- but this has nothing to do with NCLB! Does Darling-Hammond really think top teachers don't already know which schools suck?! And taking her concern to its logical conclusion, we should stick our heads in the sand and not label any school a failure!
As for giving students stuck in chronically failing schools some options to escape, she appears to be open to this ("It is fair to suggest that students in such schools deserve other choices if the schools cannot change."), but then retreats:
schools that have been identified as not meeting AYP standards must use their federal funds to support choice and "supplemental services," such as privately provided after-school tutoring, leaving them with even fewer resources for their core educational programs. Unfortunately, many of the private supplemental service providers have proved ineffective and unaccountable, and transfers to better schools have been impossible in communities where such schools are unavailable or uninterested in serving students with low achievement, poor attendance and other problems that might bring their own average test scores down.
I could go on, but you get the idea...

December 7, 2007

School-Reform Expert to Be Obama Adviser

Barack Obama has picked as an education-policy adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University who for two decades has been a key figure in the nation’s school-reform debate.

Ms. Darling-Hammond volunteered to become part of Mr. Obama’s team of education-policy advisers last month, said Jen Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman. “As one of the leading thinkers on education, we are thrilled to have her on the team,” Ms. Psaki said in an interview today.

At Stanford, Ms. Darling-Hammond is co-director of the School Redesign Network and the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute. Before moving to Stanford, in 1998, she was a professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University, a researcher for the RAND Corporation, and director of the National Urban Coalition’s Excellence in Education program.

At Columbia, she also served as co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching, and as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. She is the author of The Right to Learn, which received the American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Book Award in 1998, and has been a leading critic of the federal No Child Left Behind law, arguing that it does not do enough to encourage schools to teach higher-order thinking skills.

Ms. Darling-Hammond’s involvement in higher education has consisted mainly of weighing in on debates over teacher education. She has been a prominent critic of Teach for America—a program that sends recent college graduates into rural and urban schools—telling The Chronicle that it has failed to take steps to make sure it adequately prepares its participants.

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In Major Policy Speech, Obama Announces Plan to Provide All Americans with a World-Class Education

Obama's recent speech on education ( was a mixed bag (here's the link to his comprehensive entire plan:  Here's the summary:

Barack Obama's comprehensive plan to provide a world-class education for all Americans will:

* Reform No Child Left Behind.
* Ensure access to high-quality early childhood education programs and child care opportunities so children enter kindergarten ready to learn.
* Work to place effective teachers in every classroom in America, especially those in high-poverty, high-minority areas.
* Reward effective teachers for taking on challenging assignments and helping children succeed.
* Support highly-effective principals and school leaders.
* Make science and math education a national priority.
* Reduce the high school dropout rate by focusing on proven methods to improve student achievement and enhance graduation and higher education opportunities.
* Close the achievement gap and invest in what works.
* Empower parents to raise healthy and successful children by taking a greater role in their child's education at home and at school.

My take:
On the plus side, he eloquently defines the problems -- both the national one and the achievement gap -- and the urgent need to address them:

Education is now the currency of the Information Age. It's no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success -- it's a pre-requisite. There simply aren't as many jobs today that can support a family where only a high school degree is required. And if you don't have that degree, there are even fewer jobs available that can keep you out of poverty.

In this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. Already, China is graduating eight times as many engineers as we are. By twelfth grade, our children score lower on math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And we now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation in the world.

Well I do not accept this future for America. I do not accept an America where we do nothing about six million students who are reading below their grade level -- an America where sixty percent of African-American fourth graders aren't even reading at the basic level.

I do not accept an America where only twenty percent of our students are prepared to take college-level classes in English, math, and science -- where barely one in ten low-income students will ever graduate from college.

I do not accept an America where we do nothing about the fact that half of all teenagers are unable to understand basic fractions -- where nearly nine in ten African-American and Latino eighth graders are not proficient in math. I do not accept an America where elementary school kids are only getting an average of twenty-five minutes of science each day when we know that over 80% of the fastest-growing jobs require a knowledge base in math and science.

This kind of America is morally unacceptable for our children. It's economically untenable for our future. And it's not who we are as a country.

As noted above, I like his support for merit pay for highly effective teachers, and I also agree with him on expanding early childhood programs and many of the other generalities (make math and science a national priority, reduce the dropout rate, etc.)
I thought the best part of this speech was about the importance of teachers:

We know that from the moment our children step into a classroom, the single most important factor in determining their achievement is not the color of their skin or where they come from; it's not who their parents are or how much money they have.

It's who their teacher is.
 And the critical need to get more, higher-caliber people into the profession, esp. in the hardest to staff areas:
That starts with recruiting a new generation of teachers and principals to replace the generation that's retiring and to keep up with the record number of students entering our schools. We'll create a new Service Scholarship program to recruit top talent into the profession, and begin by placing these new teachers in areas like the overcrowded districts of Nevada, or struggling rural towns here in New Hampshire, or hard-to-staff subjects like math and science in schools all across the nation.
I liked this a lot as well:

To prepare our new teachers, we'll require that all schools of education are accredited, and we'll evaluate their outcomes so that we know which ones are doing the best job at preparing the best teachers. We'll also create a voluntary national performance assessment that actually looks at how prospective teachers can plan, teach, and support student learning, so we can be sure that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom and start teaching effectively. New Hampshire is already leading the way here by having designed a performance-based educator preparation system, and the national assessment I'm proposing would help states like this one achieve their goals for state-of-the-art preparation of all teachers .

To support our teachers, we will expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits.
And he even talks about removing bad teachers:
Now, if we do all this and find that there are teachers who are still struggling and underperforming, we should provide them with individual help and support. And if they're still underperforming after that, we should find a quick and fair way to put another teacher in that classroom.
And the point about the importance of parents is spot on:
But there is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child's education from day one. There is no substitute for a parent who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, make sure their children are in school on time, and help them with their homework after dinner. And I have no doubt that we will still be talking about these problems in the next century if we do not have parents who are willing to turn off the TV once in awhile, and put away the video games, and read to their child. Responsibility for our children's education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them, and spend time with them, and love them.
Turning to my critiques, other than his harsh mischaracterization of NCLB, my critiques are more about what he didn't say.  Most importantly, at no point does he talk about the broken system -- other than to advocate pouring more money into it in a variety of different ways.  Unless the system is changed, we're just tinkering with the deck chairs on the Titanic and all the money in the world won't make a difference.
Big picture, to fix our educational system, we need to both reform it from within (traditionally the Democratic approach) and foster competition/alternatives to it (traditionally the Republican approach) -- neither is sufficient by itself.  Regarding the former, I'd give Obama a B- and as for the latter, an F, as he's completely silent on this.  I know he'll never support vouchers -- though it does take some chutzpah to say "Empower parents to raise healthy and successful children by taking a greater role in their child's education at home and at school." yet not touch the single greatest way to empower the parents of children trapped in failing schools: giving them the right (and the resources) to move their children to a better school -- but what about charter schools!?  He's long said he supports them, yet when it's time to make his definitive statement on education, he doesn't even mention them!
My other main critique is that he attacks NCLB and testing in general, and then elsewhere talks about accountability, but never reconciles this disconnect.  How can schools and educators be held accountable for student learning if, among other things, students aren't tested regularly (at least annually) and the results made public?  It is so simplistic and wrong-headed when he says:

don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend most of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test. Don't tell us that these tests have to come at the expense of music, or art, or phys. ed., or science. These tests shouldn't come at the expense of a well-rounded education -- they should help complete that well-rounded education. The teachers I've met didn't devote their lives to testing, they devoted them to teaching, and teaching our children is what they should be allowed to do.

The fact is, No Child Left Behind has done more to stigmatize and demoralize our students and teachers in struggling schools than it has to marshal the talent and the determination and the resources to turn them around. That's what's wrong with No Child Left Behind, and that's what we must change in a fundamental way.
Did Obama copy this word from word from the NEA's website?  How can he decry "an America where sixty percent of African-American fourth graders aren't even reading at the basic level" and then question whether a test is a good measure of whether a child can read (I've never seen a study that shows that children testing below basic on any test are, in fact, capable readers) and equate the ability to read with "music, or art, or phys. ed., or science"?  To the extent that we're forced to choose, I say that everything should be put aside until children can read!  Until reading is mastered, pretty much nothing else matters.
As for stigmatizing and demoralizing, if there's a school in which, say, 60% of African-American or Latino 4th graders can't read -- that's the national average, as Obama pointed out earlier in his speech -- then that school (and the "educators" in it who are failing to educate) deserve to be stigmatized!!!  To reform this broken, dysfunctional, unaccountable system, we not only need to reward and celebrate excellence -- which Obama talks about at length -- but also identify and (egads!) punish failure -- which Obama talks about almost not at all.
As for funding, Obama also repeats the tired old canard that NCLB imposes enormous, unfunded costs on schools:

I often say that the problem with No Child Left Behind is that George Bush left the money behind...

Forcing our teachers, our principals, and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong. Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and the pay for those teachers behind is wrong. Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.

There's so much mythology about NCLB, so let's be clear: boiled down, all it says is that schools must test every student starting in 3rd grade once (once!) a year and report the results broken down by race.  Schools with a high percentage of below-grade-level students in any category don't make AYP (adequate yearly progress) and are subject to various reforms (or sanctions, depending on your point of view).  "In any category" is what really drives many people crazy because it exposes the dirty secret of far too many schools: that children who are perceived to be slow learners – disproportionately low-income, minority children – are assigned the least effective teachers and essentially given up on.  This is why Steven Adamowski, the new Superintendent of Hartford public schools, said: "I think it [NCLB] represents the greatest piece of civil rights legislation since the passage of the [1965] Voting Rights Act."
As for the total cost of the testing, according to Jay Greene, it's an insignificant $20 per student per year.  Of course, once a school is identified (oops, I mean stigmatized) as needing improvement, then there's a need for reform, which usually costs money, but you can't blame NCLB for this.  School funding is and always has been primarily a state and local obligation.  Does Obama believe the federal government should be responsible for the "support and the pay for those [high-quality] teachers"?  If so, say so.
And I don't know where Obama gets this: "Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong."  NCLB doesn't say failing schools should be abandoned -- in fact, precisely the opposite: it mandates reforms.  And more broadly speaking, nationwide, the worst-performing schools tend to have higher per-pupil spending (though there's a lot of variation).  Exhibit A is Newark, which has the highest per pupil spending -- yet among the very worst schools -- in the country.
In summary, I think Obama has many good ideas (along with a few bad ones), but doesn't really understand the systemic nature of the problem (perhaps not surprisingly, given his background) or maybe for political reasons he's choosing not to speak the truth, so I fear that under President Obama (something I'm hoping for!) we'd have more of the same: more and more spending, baby reform steps (fiddling with the deck chairs on the Titanic), but ultimately nothing that moves the needle in any meaningful way.  Worse yet, if he watered down NCLB and other meaningful accountability systems, we could actually go backward.

In Major Policy Speech, Obama Announces Plan to Provide All Americans with a World-Class Education

Manchester, NH | November 20, 2007

Manchester, NH -- Senator Barack Obama today announced his comprehensive plan to provide a world-class education for all Americans in a major policy address, "Our Kids, Our Future," at Manchester Central High School in Manchester, NH.

At a time when our schools have been shortchanged by the underfunding of "No Child Left Behind," Obama called for a new era of mutual responsibility in education where parents, teachers, leaders in Washington, and citizens all across the country come together for the sake of our children's success. Obama's plan will provide every American child the chance to receive the best education our country has to offer from the moment they are born to the day they graduate college. In addition to demanding excellence in education, the plan calls for providing the pay and resources that America's educators deserve.

Obama, who has fought for improving education his entire public life - first as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago and then through his work as a state Senator and U.S. Senator -- discussed how, as President, he will make a real commitment to education and break free from the same debates that have preoccupied Washington for decades.

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