Friday, March 23, 2012

In Defense of Optimism in Education

Kudos to Wendy Kopp for publicly rebutting Ravitch's lies about TFA:

Last year I published A Chance To Make History to share my reflections on what I've learned from our teachers, alumni, and colleagues in urban and rural communities since launching Teach For America twenty years ago. My determination to end educational inequality and optimism that it can be done has only grown stronger over the years as we've seen more examples of what is possible. But my experiences have also deepened my appreciation of the magnitude of the problem and led to a nuanced vision for change. It was disappointing to see the views expressed in the book flagrantly misrepresented in a recent article in the New York Review of Books by Diane Ravitch. I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight and clarify what I believe and don't believe.

…I believe that we should do everything we can to reduce poverty, just as Ravitch does. At the same time, as I explain in A Chance To Make History, over the last twenty years we in the United States have discovered that we don't have to wait to fix poverty to dramatically improve educational outcomes for underprivileged students. In fact, there's strong evidence that one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty is to expand the mission of public schools in low-income communities and put enormous energy into providing children with the extra time and support they need to reach their potential.

Throughout her article, Ravitch accuses Teach For America of having a superiority complex. She writes that we believe our "young recruits are better than other teachers, presumably because they are carefully selected and therefore smarter than the average teacher" and that we "claim that these young people, because they are smart, can fix American schools and end the inequities in American society by teaching for a few years."

If Ravitch had carefully read my book, she would know that one of the central messages is how difficult it is for individual teachers -- even exceptional ones -- to achieve great results working within schools that aren't set up to support them. While we applaud the example of a few exceptional teachers who overcome every obstacle to put their students on a different trajectory, if we're relying on classroom heroes alone, we're setting ourselves up to fail.

What is encouraging is that hundreds of schools around the country are proving that it is possible for talented, committed teachers -- but not absolute superheroes -- to put whole buildings of children on different life trajectories. From many pioneering public charter schools, and from growing numbers of traditional public schools, we've learned how to build schools with the mission, teams, cultures, teacher professional development, and student supports that foster sustainable results for young people.

…Ravitch is also wrong to suggest that Teach For America corps members aren't effective. A significant body of rigorous research shows that they are more effective than other beginning teachers and, on average, equally or more effective than veteran teachers. Still, I am the first to admit -- as I do in my book -- that "the bell curve of effectiveness within our corps is still too wide" and "our teachers are still not, on average, changing the trajectory of their students."

I'm not arrogant enough to think, as Ravitch claims, that Teach For America corps members are going to fix this problem during two years of teaching. Ending educational inequality is going to require systemic change and a long-term, sustained effort. There are no shortcuts and no silver bullets. At the core of the solution will be leadership -- people who will pursue bold change as teachers, principals, and district leaders, and who will work to shape a supportive policy and community environment as political leaders, policy makers, and advocates. More often than not, the most effective leaders have been shaped by teaching successfully in high needs classrooms. Because of their experience, they know that it is possible for low-income children to achieve on an absolute scale and understand what we need to do to allow them to fulfill their potential.

Teach For America is working hard to be one significant source of the leadership we need. More than two-thirds of our 24,000 alumni are working full-time in education. Although few of them intended to enter the field at all before their involvement with Teach For America, today a third of them are teaching, 600 are serving as principals, and many others are working as district leaders. Of the remaining third of our alumni, half have jobs related to low-income communities or schools, and only three percent are working in the private sector -- hardly the "corporate" stereotype Ravitch is so fond of perpetuating. This growing alumni force is working, together with many other dedicated teachers and leaders across the country, to fundamentally change things for the better.

We know we don't have all the answers. Far from "scorning seniority and experience," we seek it out and know we have much to learn from veteran teachers and education leaders. Indeed, we yearn for a more collaborative effort and a more open public discussion about how to ensure that the children growing up facing the immense challenges of poverty gain the opportunities they deserve.

As you read Wendy's rebuttal, keep my friend's comments in mind:


The reason the ed reform movement is getting hammered so effectively by Ravitch is that 99% of us are never on offense, and Ravitch is always on offense.  She's running a negative campaign and we're hanging onto the hope that we can win an election without going negative.


Wendy Kopp

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Teach For All, USA

In Defense of Optimism in Education

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Seattle Teachers Union Seeks to Ban Teach For America

Seattle has a mere 6 TFA corps members – but that's six too many for the union, which is trying to oust them, regardless of what's best for kids:


Last year, the Washington Education Association "invested" $11,500 in two candidates who were successfully elected to the Seattle school board.

     It appears that investment is already paying dividends for the state's largest teachers union.

     According to the state's Public Disclosure Commission website, WEA's political action committee gave $9,000 and $2,500 to the respective campaigns of Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee.

     Now, McLaren and Peaslee are spearheading efforts to oust Teach for America from Seattle Public Schools, just four months after being sworn in as board members. At last week's school board meeting, McLaren introduced a motion to terminate the district's contract with six TFA educators, who have been on the job since last fall.

    Nobody has accused the TFA instructors of doing a bad job. It's just that they take jobs that might otherwise go to overpaid, less motivated union members, and the union won't stand for that.


Seattle Teachers Union Seeks to Ban Teach For America

By Larry Sand, on March 13th, 2012

Teachers unions, known for fighting to keep pedophiles in the classroom, try to get rid of good teachers in Seattle.

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Larry Sand weighs in


Larry Sand also weighs in on this:

On its website, SEA does its best to "inform" the public by posting nine reasons to oppose Teach for America's intrusion into Seattle Public Schools.

For example, they say that TFA grads are not qualified and should be made to undergo traditional educational school training. But anyone who has set foot in an ed school knows that is ridiculous. I wrote about the problems with ed schools here, and Walter Williams, in a follow up to my piece, referred to ed schools in America as "the academic slums of most any college. American education can benefit from slum removal." (He's right. I became a better teacher after I forgot everything I learned in two wasted years getting my required teaching credential at Cal State Los Angeles.)

Another stated reason for the union's desire to get rid of TFA is that its teachers "do not stay in the classroom." But according to a recent Harvard study,

43.6 percent of TFA corps members voluntarily remained in their initial low-income placement schools for more than two years and 14.8 percent stayed in those placements for more than four years.

• 60.5 percent voluntarily remained in the teaching profession for more than two years and 35.5 percent stayed in teaching for more than four years.

The union then goes on to say that TFA does not improve student achievement. However, Liv Finne, Educational Director of Washington Policy Center, in testimony before the Seattle School Board on March 7, made the point that studies have consistently shown that TFA teachers are indeed highly successful. A few examples:

"The Effects of Teach for America on Students" (Mathematica Policy Research, 2004). Using random assignment of students to teachers, the gold standard for research methodology, this national study found that students of Teach for America teachers made more progress in a year in both reading and math than would typically be expected, and attained significantly greater gains in math compared with students of other teachers, including veteran and certified teachers. (Bold added.) This study also found that Teach for America teachers were working in the highest-need classrooms in the country, with students beginning the year on average at the 14% percentile against the national norm.

Tennessee: "Teacher State Report Card on Teacher Effectiveness" (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, 2011). The study found that Teach for America is the top teacher preparation program in the state of Tennessee: the average Teach for America teacher had greater impact on student achievement than the average new 4th – 8th grade teacher in Tennessee. (Bold added.)

North Carolina: "Impacts of Teacher Preparation on Student Test Scores in North Carolina: Teacher Portals" (Gary Henry and Charles Thompson 2010). Teach for America teachers did as well as or better than traditionally prepared UNC graduates. (Bold added.)

• Louisiana: "Louisiana Value-Added Teacher Preparation Assessment Study (Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Project, 2009) Teach for America teachers perform like veteran certified teachers, better than new traditionally trained teachers. (Bold added.)

(For more TFA myth busting, read Andrew Rotherham's excellent "Teach for America: 5 Myths That Persist 20 years On")

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Changed by the bell

An inspiring story about a KIPP alum now at Yale:

The day I was told I was attending KIPP was the first time I ever felt like I had a chance at making my own path to my future. After signing the Commitment to Excellence Form, which every KIPP student, faculty member, and parent has to sign, I immediately knew that I was part of something different. "I will work, think, and behave in the best way I know how, and I will do whatever it takes for me and my fellow students to learn": I read and signed on the dotted line. These are the words that told me that I was in control of my destiny. 

I got lucky to be selected among the few 10-year olds applying to go to KIPP Academy in New York City. Until I got to KIPP, I don't think there was anything to set me apart from the many immigrants in the South Bronx.  I moved to the U.S. from Ecuador when I was five.  When I got here I was placed into a public elementary school down the street, where I attempted to learn English in a bilingual classroom, got into a few fights, and was constantly surrounded by adults who directly and indirectly told me and my classmates I was getting nowhere. "Why do I even bother trying?" I remember hearing my second grade teacher yelling over my rowdy class. "It's not like you'll actually make anything of yourselves." 

In a way, anything that got me out of my public school would have felt like a miracle. So in some sense, KIPP started out just as an escape. It wasn't until much later that I realized that KIPP saved my life.

Middle school at KIPP was not easy. I never had to do any work at my public school, because it doesn't take a lot of work to fail. Homework was never assigned, and when it was, no one ever checked it. I was shocked on my first day of classes at KIPP when I was told to stand in the back of my classroom for rolling my eyes at my math teacher, and even more surprised when I was actually assigned homework that would be checked thoroughly the next day. 

My days were long, getting to school at 7:25 a.m. and staying until five or sometimes six in the evening. I arrived home to hours of homework and went to school on Saturdays and for a couple of weeks over the summer. I got used to being asked to to stand in the hallways for several minutes between classes, being preached to by my teachers. 

These "sermons" were filled with the distinctive vocabulary of KIPP: Teachers told us to focus on "assigning ourselves" and "following directions," and above all to perfect our "self-control." I learned to appreciate this tough love. The teachers I had at KIPP were truly inspirational: not because they were preaching at us, but because they were challenging us to become better people.

At KIPP, I learned how to play the violin, to sing my multiplication tables (yes, sing!), and, in the course of it all, to believe in the power of an education. One of the best teachers I've ever had was my eighth grade history teacher, Mr. Mitch Brenner. I can remember his first lesson during a hot summer day, while most kids were just heading off to play basketball or swim in the local pool. "What is good? What is bad? How can we be sure of this?" he asked us. I was used to classes where the point was to get the right answer. Now, I was just supposed to be thinking critically about the right questions. 

Mr. Brenner has been there for every high and low since KIPP, and he's even helped me with all my history papers I've written since his class, including the one I'm working right now. He is only one of KIPP's many teachers that are willing to do whatever it takes to help their students succeed. Teachers at KIPP teach you for as long as you need them, not just as long as the class period lasts.


Changed by the bell

By George Ramirez 17 February 2012 12 Comments

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State to Target Cheating by Teachers

It's imperative that, concurrent with greater accountability, steps are taken to ensure that cheating doesn't occur, so this is good news from NYS:

As the stakes grow higher for standardized tests in New York, state education officials said Thursday they will create an investigative unit to combat cheating by aiding local districts and probing the most egregious cases.

The announcement came the day after state lawmakers approved a measure under which student scores on state tests will count for up to 40% of teachers' annual evaluations. Officials said faith in the tests is crucial for the new policy to work.


State to Target Cheating by Teachers

Education Officials Will Mount Investigation Unit to Police Standardized Testing


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Test security measures nixed from 2012-2013 state budget

However, it makes no sense that the NYS legislature isn't funding the anti-cheating unit properly:

Funding for statewide erasure analysis and other test security measures was omitted from early drafts of the 2012-2013 budget, meaning a major initiative by the state education department could be shelved indefinitely.

Back in October, the Board of Regents signed off on a plan to request $2.1 million in the 2012-2013 budget for erasure analysis as part of changes to address concerns that state tests were not secure. State education officials lobbied the Governor's office for the funding, but when Cuomo released his $132.5 billion preliminary budget in January, the line item was not included.

Funding for the initiatives was also left out of budget proposals submitted this week by the Assembly and Senate.

"The legislature said it's obviously not a priority for them," SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said of the test security proposals.


Test security measures nixed from 2012-2013 state budget

by Geoff Decker, at 4:47 pm

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Charters hot ticket in W’burg and UWS

Parents are once again speaking loudly – too bad so many gutless weasel politicians have let the union put earplugs in their ears:

Thousands of students are jockeying to get admitted into three new Success Academy charter schools in Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Cobble Hill neighborhoods as well as Manhattan's Upper West Side, according to new figures released yesterday.

The great demand for charters in the city's middle-income neighborhoods rebukes critics who have filed lawsuits to block them from opening.

"A huge majority of parents couldn't care less about the politics of education — they care about making sure their children have a world-class school to attend," said Success Academy network founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz.

KID POWER: Tyshon Davis stands proudly in front of Harlem Success Academy, whose founders are now expanding into Brooklyn and the Upper West Side.

"The overwhelming demand confirms that parents want school options."

Success Academy reports that more than 3,300 students applied to the three new charters for 450 coveted seats. The Williamsburg and Cobble Hill charters are scheduled to open in the fall.


Charters hot ticket in W'burg and UWS


Last Updated: 1:53 AM, March 13, 2012 

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Archdiocese Alters Course on Schools

A big strategic shift by the NY Archdiocese – let's hope it's successful, as Catholic schools are a critical element of much-needed school choice especially in poor neighborhoods:

After closing dozens of schools last year, the Archdiocese of New York now is embarking on the most ambitious phase of a multipronged plan to reshape its Catholic education system.

In September, three boards will be given broad authority to determine policy for all schools in their regions, shifting control of elementary schools away from parishes and the central superintendent's office.

If the experiment works, the archdiocese—which stretches north from the city into Dutchess and Ulster counties and west into Sullivan County—will create a total of 10 regional boards that officials say will save on costs and improve efficiency. When combined with new revenue sources, the plan is intended to shore up the system's faltering finances.

"It's uncharted waters for us," said the Rev. Thomas Madden, who will head the Rockland County board. "We're going to learn as we do it. In a way, it's exhilarating."

New York has not been immune to the struggles of Catholic schools across the country. Last year, the archdiocese closed 27 elementary schools, citing shrinking student bodies: Since 2006, enrollment has plunged by 14,550 students, officials said.

"We didn't close academically failing schools. We closed schools because we haven't figured out a model to keep them financially viable," said Dr. Timothy McNiff, who was appointed superintendent of schools for the archdiocese four years ago.


Archdiocese Alters Course on Schools


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Teach For America alumnus, Jason Kloth named Deputy Mayor of Education in Indianapolis

Great news from Indianapolis from Patrick O'Donnell:


I wanted to put on your radar that Teach For America alumnus, Jason Kloth, was named the first ever Deputy Mayor of Education in Indianapolis. Jason was the founding executive director of Teach For America – Indianapolis and later went on to serve as Teach For America's Senior Vice President of Public Affairs where he managed TFA's government affairs, communications, research and evaluation, federal policy, and community relations teams.

This guy is the truth. We've been been friends and colleagues since we both worked on Teach For America's recruitment team. He's actually a major reason why I moved to Indianapolis when he recruited me to take over as the TFA ED in Indy. In your words, he is an education warrior. He has an absolute conviction about what's possible in education, which is rooted in his personal experience as a corps member in the Rio Grande Valley where he was named Teacher of the Year by his colleagues. He has an incredible ability to set a clear and compelling vision for success-- he launched the Indianapolis Principal Fellowship in Indy which is a principal recruitment and pipeline program that has since enabled us to recruit more than a dozen phenomenal TFA alums to move to Indy to become school leaders. His skill at managing teams to achieve ambitious outcomes in unparalleled. And he has an uncanny ability to recruit talent from across the country. He recruited me, Dale Chu who is the Assistant Superintendent at the Indiana Department of Education, and Emily Pelino who is the ED of KIPP here (both of these folks are also ed warriors who should be on your radar). No doubt he'll continue to recruit many more great leaders to Indy now that he's Deputy Mayor.

Not sure how much you know about what's happening in Indy, but this city can seriously be the proof point. And what we've needed is a central figure who can set a city-wide strategy for transformation. Jason is the guy.

Here's the official
press release as well as J.K. Wall's article that ran in the IBJ and Scott Elliott's article in the IndyStar.


PS-- Jason was the KIPP: Indy board chair a few years back who reconstituted the entire board and staff, brought in Emily Pelino and Aleesia Johnson as the school leaders, and brought in 2/3 of the teachers (over 80% of staff is now TFA CMs/alums actually). The school has since had some of the most significant student achievement growth in the state and is poised to expand with a great executive director. All of this wouldn't have happened without Jason. Great stuff!


PS—My email about my visit to KIPP Indianapolis in Dec. 2009 is here:

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Democrats see defections on education reform

A great article about DFER's Lisa McFarlane and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer are shaking up the Democratic Party and its blind obedience to the teachers' union in Washington state:


Lisa MacFarlane used to be a reliable ally for Washington's Democratic Party leaders.

Now she's part of a growing band of rebels — including one of the Democrats' biggest donors from the business world — questioning the party line on education reform.

These critics say 2012 could be the year that public opinion has shifted enough to change course on schools. They argue Democratic lawmakers have deprived Washington children of needed innovations such as charter schools and teacher promotions tied to performance.

"Most Democrats get their education marching orders from the teachers' union," said MacFarlane, head of the new Washington chapter of Democrats for Education Reform."You see not a lot of reform conversations coming out of the party."

…MacFarlane, head of the new Washington chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, partly blames her own party for Washington state's resistance to change.

"It's been obvious for a long time that we don't have a very robust conversation going on in the Democratic Party in this state on education reform," MacFarlane said. "We're pretty behind in terms of the rest of the country. There's a lot of ways to measure that, but (one is) certainly our performance in the Race to the Top education competition."

…Hanauer, the technology investor, has become an unofficial spokesman for Democratic voters fed up with what they see as the party's resistance to reform.

"I'm not doing polling, but I'm talking to my friends, and I can tell you that they're pissed and fed up and they're tired of no progress," said Hanauer. "These are people who are sending their kids to public schools, and they see the weaknesses and the problems. And they see their party standing in the way of that progress."

… "Education is my No. 1 issue," he said. "In the state, I think it's the most important issue and on balance, I'm going to support politicians who support the policies that I believe in, irrespective of party."

…MacFarlane typifies someone who once would have been an automatic Inslee vote. As director of the lobbying group League of Education Voters, she fought charter schools measures in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

Then she decided to visit charter schools in other states. And something unusual happened: MacFarlane changed her mind about one of the state's most polarizing education issues.

"The first time I set foot in a charter school — it is transformative when you see the population of kids they are serving," said MacFarlane. "It's all poor kids, and they're Hispanic or African American, and it's amazing."


Democrats see defections on education reform

Premium content from Puget Sound Business Journal by Valerie Bauman, Staff Writer

Date: Friday, March 16, 2012, 3:00am PDT




Nick Hanauer, entrepreneur and high-profile Democratic donor, says he'll consider supporting Republican candidates this fall over education issues.

Valerie Bauman

Staff Writer - Puget Sound Business Journal

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Parent trigger founder: What happened in Florida ‘only a temporary setback’

Gloria Romero, head of DFER-CA and author of that state's pioneering Parent Trigger bill, comments on the defeat of a similar bill in FL:

If we believe that strong families, parents and neighborhoods are at the heart of American society, Florida just lost a precious opportunity to empower revitalization. No neighborhood is truly successful if its schools don't work. The traditional education model strips away the authority of parents to do much about these schools when it simply assigns children to schools according to zip code. But because education is such a fundamental part of life, stripping away this power and authority has implications far beyond just education. It robs parents and families of a feeling that they have influence more broadly on their community.

That's why parent trigger legislation is so important.

It restores the ability for parents to organize, collaborate, discuss and take meaningful and purposeful actions to improve their lives. Being able to influence directly how their children are educated and feeling responsible in a substantive way for the outcomes is transformative.

I fear what we witnessed Friday in Florida is the status quo fighting back against a reduction of their authority over families and parents. Let's be frank: To every other part of public education, children function as a debit card — directly bringing in the cold, hard cash that keeps their jobs in place. Despite all the apparent concern about privatizing Florida schools, parents are the only group in public education without a financial conflict of interest. They just want what is best for their children and what will open the greatest access to the American Dream.

I wrote the nation's first parent trigger law in California. I acted because I was frustrated with the lack of any urgency in turning around chronically underperforming and failing schools. As a Democratic senator, I was sick and tired of the status quo education interests dictating education policy — and of too many of my colleagues timidly succumbing to powerful political interests. Florida just demonstrated legislators can succumb on a bipartisan basis.

Nevertheless, I am confident this is not the final word on the parent trigger in Florida. Just look around the country at how parents are standing up, sadly in some cases even going to jail, for the right to educate their children. A Connecticut mother led the movement to pass the country's second Parent Trigger Act. Parental empowerment groups may have made their first splash in the water in California, but they are appearing across the nation at an increasing pace, demanding to reclaim the authority and responsibility for their children's education.

This is only a temporary setback.


Parent trigger founder: What happened in Florida 'only a temporary setback'

By Gloria Romero
On March 13, 2012

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California’s Endangered Charter Schools

Speaking of CA, here's Larry Sand again, on the teachers' union's attempts to kill charters in California:

But the union wolf is always at education's door in the Golden State, and in late January, the state assembly voted 45 to 28 to approve Assembly Bill 1172. Authored by state assemblyman and former teacher's union activist Tony Mendoza, and sponsored by the CTA, AB 1172 would allow local school boards to block the creation of a new charter school if it would have a "negative fiscal impact" on the school district. Trouble is, the bill doesn't clearly define what that means. California's charter law already provides several clearly defined reasons why new petitions may be denied. Mendoza's bill would only obscure the existing law. And besides, charter schools get less funding than traditional public schools. According to the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst Office, new charters received $721 less per pupil in 2010-11 than traditional public schools. The bill currently awaits a vote from the state senate's rules committee.

AB 1172 doesn't merely threaten to kill new charters. Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter School Association, argues that hostile school districts could broadly construe "negative fiscal impact" as an excuse not to renew existing charter schools after the statutory five-year period. The only other way for a charter to be granted would be for an operator to appeal to a county board or the state board of education. But these entities don't have the manpower to take on all charter-authorization duties. Thus, if AB 1172 passes, the number of charter schools in California could plummet within a few years.

Governor Jerry Brown is the great unknown here.


California's Endangered Charter Schools

The state's powerful teachers' unions want to regulate charters into submission.

13 March 2012

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‘Detachment,’ Starring Adrien Brody, Directed by Tony Kaye

This new movie, Detachment, is getting mixed reviews, but I hope to see it.  Below is the NYT review:

But even at its most ludicrous — when it is shouting into your ear — its sheer audacity grabs your attention.

The particular hell explored in "Detachment" is a public high school (every high school, the movie implies) somewhere in the New York metropolitan area, as seen through the sorrowful eyes of Henry Barthes (Adrien

Brody), a dedicated substitute teacher. Henry, who lives a loner's existence, copes with the stress of work by maintaining an attitude of compassionate detachment. In one of his best performances since "The Pianist," Mr. Brody plays him as a quietly suffering saint whose anguished gaze tilts toward heaven.

Henry regularly visits a nursing home where his ailing grandfather (Louis Zorich) suffers from worsening dementia but is still rational enough to be racked with guilt for past sins involving Henry's alcoholic mother (seen in lurid flashbacks), who committed suicide.

Ever the good Samaritan, Henry impulsively offers shelter to Erica (Sami Gayle), a 15-year-old runaway prostitute who follows him home. Under Henry's chaste ministrations, Erika metamorphoses virtually overnight from a savage, foul-mouthed viper covered with sores and bruises into a radiant surrogate daughter.

Mr. Brody heads a strong cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden as the besieged principal who is fired because the school's low test scores are blamed for the neighborhood's property values; Christina Hendricks as a fellow teacher who initiates a tentative romance with Henry; James Caan, playing a cynical, pill-popping faculty clown; and Lucy Liu as Dr. Doris Parker, a guidance counselor who cracks under the stress.

In the most implausible scene, Dr. Parker goes ballistic when a student complains that she doesn't like school and wants to be a model. Screaming hysterically that the girl is a shallow, disgusting creature, Dr. Parker brutally outlines the girl's hopeless future.

Glimpses of the home lives of faculty members and students portray miserable, loveless families and neglected children. Henry's best student is Meredith (Betty Kaye, the director's daughter), a talented amateur photographer who, when scorned by her father, sobbingly throws herself into Henry's arms for comfort. Just then, a fellow teacher enters the classroom and accuses Henry of "touching" her.


Substitute Teacher, Just Trying to Do Good by His Pupils

'Detachment,' Starring Adrien Brody, Directed by Tony Kaye

Tony Kaye/Tribeca Film

Sami Gayle and Adrien Brody in "Detachment," in which teenage angst, low test scores and a guidance counselor with a nervous breakdown all play roles.

Published: March 15, 2012

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Ready, Fire, Aim? Contemporary school reforms and our deepest educational values

This looks like a great conference in DC on the 30th:


Ready, Fire, Aim?  Contemporary school reforms and our deepest educational values


Friday, March 30th 2012, 9:30 AM - 6:00 PM

American University - Katzen Arts Center - Washington, DC


American education is in the midst of several profound and far-reaching reforms to both the ends and means of schooling, including the movements for "common core" standards, portfolio school districts, school choice, and blended/online learning, to name a few.  And both parties are in on the act, from the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" to President Obama's "Race to the Top."  How should we understand the leading strands in education reform today, and to what extent do they align - or conflict - with our fundamental values?  Please join us for a conference featuring an all-star panel of education experts, brought together from across the ideological and professional spectrum to address the challenge of reconciling theory and practice on this most urgent of issues.


Distinguished panelists include:

·         Chester Finn, Fordham Foundation and former Assistant US Secretary of Education for President Reagan

·         Andy Rotherham, Education Sector / EduWonk & former Domestic Policy Advisor to President Clinton

·         William Galston, Brookings Institution & former Domestic Policy Advisor to President Clinton

·         John Agresto, President Emeritus, St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM

·         Richard Barth, CEO, KIPP Foundation

·         Paul Hill, Univ. of Washington Center on Reinventing Public Education

·         Bob Nardo, Chief Operating Officer, Tennessee Achievement School District

·         Meira Levinson, Harvard University

·         G. Borden Flanagan, American University

For more info, see:

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Stacey Childress response:

Stacey Childress, who's done a lot of great work on ed reform, first at a professor at Harvard Business School and now at the Gates Foundation, responded to my last email:


I have an article about blended learning in the March issue of Harvard Business Review – it's special issue on US competiveness, and the short piece is an overview of some of the interesting stuff going on, which is the focus of my work at the Gates Foundation now.  Khan Academy is in my portfolio. The article is the most read/downloaded of the March issue. If you want to include it in your email blast, here's a link to a free copy of the article – the interest has been so great that HBR agreed to make free PDFs available through September at this link:


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Dallas ISD to expand computer-based math program

A couple of friends have raved about a math program called Reasoning Mind.  Here's an email from one of them:


If you haven't heard of it, you should check out Reasoning Mind.  It's a system very much like Khan Academy, with the difference that (a) it's limited to math in earlier grades (elementary up thru the start of Algebra), and (b) the RM systems as a whole is a bit ahead of Khan Academy in logistical and curriculum sophistication.   It offers a complete curriculum replacement for grades 5 & 6, and soon will for all of 2-8 (which means no more books, no more workbooks, no more centrally planned curriculum, no need for as much curriculum planning overhead), and it's really a comprehensive approach to the classroom.  I think this is where Khan is headed, but he's not quite there yet (although he's moving there awfully fast).  The RM interface tends to be far more game oriented than Khan, which the students seem to respond quite well to.  And RM requires a tremendous amount of note taking / writing, which is helping build skills outside of mathematics. 


Anyway, Dallas ISD rolled this out to all 2nd graders during this 2011-2012 school year, and is committed to adding a grade a year moving forward.  Texas actually set aside money for RM statewide, and many districts are rolling it out.  Teachers have been giving it rave reviews, for all the same reasons folks like Khan (ie, for teachers:  it helps them individualize instruction; for districts:  it demands a bit less mathematics perfection from teachers; for taxpayers:  it might get better results at higher student:teacher ratios than the traditional classroom).  Student achievement data has been going up (but it's too soon to report results for Dallas).  But Reasoning Mind hasn't gotten nearly the national press that Khan has. 


I think we'll start work soon on a random controlled trial comparing RM to traditional instruction in 5th grade.  It'll take a couple years for those results to come up, but that'll mark the first real research on the effectiveness of outcomes for this blended model.  Until then, it'll be everybody's opinion chiming in either for or against this type of instruction.  So for the next couple of years we get to look forward to the same education usual suspects decrying this as hooey and an affront to children & teachers, or championing it as the savior of America's children & teachers.  Not really looking forward to that, but Dallas is charging forward given the information we have to date (which appears to me to be sufficient to warrant immediate action), until the research "settles" it.  Many, many bumps involved in implementing something like this at scale, as we're discovering in Dallas.  Everyone else in the country will know in a couple of years whether it was really worth it.


Some articles in our local paper for you:






3) [article below]



And if you're interested in what I believe will be the next generation (post RM/Khan) of thinking in the blended model, you should check out this video:


That will need a lot of packaging in order to be made actionable by school districts (ie, some non-profit or for-profit will have to figure out how to turn it into a curriculum that can be sold to districts).  But once it's done, my guess is that's the direction you'll see education go.


Here's an excerpt from the third article above (full text below):

Trading flashcards for keyboards and notepads for computer screens, second-graders are learning math differently in the at Dallas Independent School District.

Starting this school year, all second-graders are using a personalized computer-based math program called Reasoning Mind to supplement their regular math lessons. Next school year, district officials may nearly triple the number of students using the program by expanding it to the third and fourth grades. The hope, district officials say, is to boost test scores and better prepare students for algebra.

"We're looking for the silver bullet that's going to help us out. And right now, Reasoning Mind seems like it's the silver bullet for math," said Lew Blackburn, president of the DISD board of trustees.

Reasoning Mind, a Houston-based nonprofit organization, was founded and developed by Russian mathematician Alexander Khachatryan. Funded largely by Texas philanthropists, many from oil and energy backgrounds, the program has been adopted by 331 schools in eight states, according to Reasoning Mind. With about 14,000 second-grade students, Dallas ISD is its largest partner.


Dallas ISD to expand computer-based math program


David Woo/Staff Photographer

Michelle Kelley, a second-grader at Kleberg Elementary School, counted with her fingers as she worked math problems on a computer.





Staff Writer

Published: 19 December 2011 11:55 PM

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Another response from Jennifer Medbery

Another response from Jennifer Medbery:


Thanks for sharing the links. I'm fascinated, yet still skeptical, of blended learning, and also watched the Khan story on 60 Minutes yesterday.

For all the pro-Khan coverage out there, there's a fair amount of questioning about how the media portrays it as revolutionary - this blog post is a great read -

As a former math teacher (pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 for three years) and now as a CEO of a software company building data analysis tools, I think often about how to build a generation of young people who are analytical and adept at problem-finding, not just problem-solving. I know that the Louisiana state standards I was required to teach would not even come close to preparing my former students for success as a business analyst, support manager, or marketing manager in my company - all of which require basic statistical analysis to determine whether our efforts at user acquisition and retention are effective. I hire people who are intellectually curious and can ask enough questions in order to find the right questions to answer. Answering them is the easiest part. Needless to say, there's much more thinking to be done around how we bridge that gap between math curriculum and "workplace readiness" - I consider Khan just a very small drop in the bucket.

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Khan link

One more:


Thanks for the 60 minutes piece, which I had not seen live. You may also be interested to see a website that provides the tools and platform for anyone to do what Sal Khan is doing, basically:

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Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds

Another area I want to learn more about is the importance of curriculum.  This is a VERY important study with impressive results in NYC (for more on this, see:

Children in New York City who learned to read using an experimental curriculum that emphasized nonfiction texts outperformed those at other schools that used methods that have been encouraged since the Bloomberg administration's early days, according to a new study to be released Monday.

For three years, a pilot program tracked the reading ability of approximately 1,000 students at 20 New York City schools, following them from kindergarten through second grade. Half of the schools adopted a curriculum designed by the education theorist E. D. Hirsch Jr.'s Core Knowledge Foundation. The other 10 used a variety of methods, but most fell under the definition of "balanced literacy," an approach that was spread citywide by former Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, beginning in 2003.

The study found that second graders who were taught to read using the Core Knowledge program scored significantly higher on reading comprehension tests than did those in the comparison schools.

It also tested children on their social studies and science knowledge, and again found that the Core Knowledge pupils came out ahead. Citywide, budget cuts and the drive to increase scores on the state reading and math exams have led many elementary and middle schools to whittle down their social studies and science instruction.

"This data shows a promising option for principals to consider," said Josh Thomases, the deputy chief academic officer for the city's Education Department.

He said the new curriculum could be useful in helping achieve the new learning targets, known as the Common Core, that New York and most other states have adopted. "As we align curricula and materials with the new Common Core Standards, we look forward to working with this group and others toward a higher standard," he said.

The pilot program and study were started in the 2008-9 school year by Mr. Klein, who worried that students suffered from what he called a "knowledge deficit." The study was conducted by the Education Department and paid for with $2.4 million in private donations raised by the Fund for Public Schools, a charity that supports department initiatives.


Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds

Published: March 11, 2012

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Unwilling to Throw Punches

A friend's take on my lament in a recent email about how Ravitch often kicks our butts:


The reason we get our butts kicked by a 73-year-old woman is that she does nothing but negative campaigning (look at her book – 100% listing the problems, 0% listing solutions), and reformers are almost universally unwilling to throw any punches.  Nobody ever won a tough campaign without significant negative campaigning.


Hear, hear!

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The Reproduction of Privilege

Some very interesting – and sobering – data in this article:

Instead of serving as a springboard to social mobility as it did for the first decades after World War II, college education today is reinforcing class stratification, with a huge majority of the 24 percent of Americans aged 25 to 29 currently holding a bachelor's degree coming from families with earnings above the median income.

Seventy-four percent of those now attending colleges that are classified as "most competitive," a group that includes schools like Harvard, Emory, Stanford and Notre Dame, come from families with earnings in the top income quartile, while only three percent come from families in the bottom quartile.

Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and co-author of "How Increasing College Access Is Increasing Inequality, and What to Do about It," puts it succinctly: "The education system is an increasingly powerful mechanism for the intergenerational reproduction of privilege."

These anti-democratic trends are driven in part by a supposedly meritocratic selection process with high school students from the upper strata of the middle class performing better on SAT and ACT tests than those from poor and working class families.

Contrary to those who say that this is the meritocracy at work, differences in scores on standardized tests do not fully explain class disparity in educational outcomes. When high-scoring students from low-income families are compared to similarly high-scoring students from upper-income families, 80 percent of the those in the top quarter of the income distribution go on to get college degrees, compared to just 44 percent of those in the bottom quarter.


March 12, 2012, 12:31 am

The Reproduction of Privilege


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Yet another article about the "crime" of desperate parents trying to get a good education for their children.  Kudos to Michelle Rhee and Gwen Samuel:


Three years ago, Yolanda Miranda spent the night in jail for grand larceny. Her crime? Stealing an education.

The mother of five turned herself in after she was busted for sending her kids to school in a city where she didn't live. Miranda, 36, says the schools in Rochester, N.Y., weren't good enough. So she sent her children to school in the nearby suburb of Greece, N.Y., instead.

"They put me in a holding cell. They accused me of grand larceny, for stealing education, and I had to laugh," Miranda told The Daily. "How can you steal an education?"

Miranda isn't the only parent to see the inside of a cell for such a crime. Education experts, investigators and school officials say the number of parents prosecuted for sending children to out-of-district schools has risen steadily in recent years, even as cash-strapped districts are becoming more aggressive about rooting out students who don't belong.

The main offenders seem to be some of the most vulnerable parents in society: poor and single mothers of color who are increasingly refusing to send their children to schools in the failing districts in which they live. They are desperate to provide their kids with a good education — and willing to go to jail to do so.

"If I had to do it again 10 times over, I would," said Miranda, whose charges were later reduced to a misdemeanor after she pleaded guilty to offering a false instrument for filing, or essentially lying on school enrollment forms. "You feel like you have to take things into your own hands. We have to do whatever we can to give our kids a chance."

…Connecticut's Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk area boasts the most unequal income distribution of any metropolitan area in the country, according to census data. In that area of the state — home to Tanya McDowell, who was sentenced to five years for grand larceny on school theft and drug-related charges last month — the top 5 percent claim a mean income of $685,000; the bottom 20 percent less than $15,000.

Those levels of inequality are worse than those in Zimbabwe, and education experts say they have helped turn Connecticut into a kind of ground zero for the fight against what activists are calling "ZIP-code education."

Last month, Michelle Rhee, one of the most controversial education reformers in the country, joined the fray.

Her StudentsFirst organization told The Daily it is partnering with the Connecticut Parents Union, a grassroots group, to advocate for school choice and fight the criminalization of parents who send children to out-of-district schools.

"This should shatter people's expectations of what they think the problem is in education," Rhee told The Daily. "People want to paint poor inner-city parents of color with the same broad brush, and say that they don't care, or they don't understand the value of an education," she said. "Well these parents are showing that they do know what's at stake, and that they're willing to take desperate measures for their children."

Gwen Samuel, who founded the Connecticut Parents Union last year to address the state's racial achievement gap, which is the worst in the nation, said criminalizing parents for sending their children to out-of-district schools is a poor deterrent.

"You cannot think arresting parents is going to change the fact that these kids need access to better schools," Samuel said. "And it won't stop mothers from doing everything they can to protect their children's futures."



More parents doing time for 'stealing education' for kids in better districts

By Mara Gay Sunday, March 11, 2012

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What About the Kids Who Behave?

A WSJ op ed by Jason Riley on the DOE's report about higher discipline rates for minority kids:

The reaction to studies like this reveals disturbing sensibilities on the left when it comes to education in general and black education in particular. The data were compiled by the Education Department's civil rights office, which probably thinks that it's doing black people a favor by highlighting these racial disparities and pressuring schools to reduce black suspension rates. No thought, it seems, was given to whether this course of action helps or harms those black kids who are in school to learn and not act up.

The Obama administration's sympathies are with the knuckleheads who are disrupting class, not with the kids who are trying to get an education. But is racial parity in disciplinary outcomes more important than school safety? Going easy on the students who behave badly—especially in inner-city schools where the problem is pronounced—is an odd way of advancing black education and closing the learning gap. Black kids already tend to be stuck in dropout factories with the most inexperienced teachers. Must they be consigned to the most violent schools as well?

This is yet another argument for offering ghetto kids alternatives to traditional public schools, and it's another reason why school choice is so popular among the poor. One of the advantages of public charter schools and private schools is that they typically provide safer learning environments. So even if voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., and high-performing charters like KIPP Academy weren't producing higher test scores and graduation rates—even if the academic results were no better than the surrounding neighborhood schools—parents can take comfort in knowing that their children are safer.


What About the Kids Who Behave?

A new Education Department study reveals disturbing sensibilities on the left when it comes to education in general and black education in particular.


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