Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mayoral Takeover and $150 Laptops

Two quick ones of note today.

The first: Adrian Fenty, Mayor Elect of Washington, DC, is heading down to Miami (lucky) to meet with Miami-Dade County school Superintendent Rudolph F. Crew. Fenty is very publicly doing his homework to help build a case that he is a studied student of mayoral takeover or whatever hybrid he and the school board decide upon. Not be outdone in a show of studiousness DC Schools Chairman Vincent C. Gray will also visit Miami Dade, albeit separately. Next week Fenty will meet with Joel Klein, Chancellor, in New York City. Leaders are getting their ducks are in a row for some changes in DC.

The second: The New York Times published a piece on $150 laptops for the students of developing nations. Apparently, and with good cause, this initiative has stirred debate. Even Bill Gates weighed in suggesting laptops might not square culturally or pragmatically with a developing nation's educational needs. The key here is access to the internet. Information is fast becoming a necessity the world over, not a luxury. These laptops would be equipped with connectivity. The problem the Times fails to play up is the associated costs with getting telecom, satellite, and wireless network infrastructures up and operating to scale with the millions of new users who would come online when the laptops are distributed. Still waiting on our own Wi-Fi clouds to bring information equity to our own citizens.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Inconvenience is 50,000 Must See Movies Sitting in a Warehouse: Or Big Energy and the Soapboxes they Buy

"Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future," read a memo leaked to the media in 1998 from the American Petroleum Institute.

I earlier criticized AESA's grievance(s) with NCLB for needing any examples of how NCLB fails to live up to its promises. AESA's beef with market capitalism in the schools could use this story, "Science a la Joe Camel" published in the Washington Post as ammunition.

Laurie David, one of the producers of An Inconvenient Truth, responsibly reveals more inconvenient truths. This time the truths are about education and some of the corporate funding that influences education. 50,000 donated DVDs of David's and Al Gore's movie sit in LA because the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) insists that they will not benefit and wish to remain free from political association. The NSTA wishes to keep corporate interests and funding in tact and sees the film as disruptive to those goals. NSTA has accepted $6 million from Exxon Mobil since 1996. Laurie insists that energy sector profits are buying classroom soapboxes.

I don't doubt that she is right. Anyhow, it's a good read and could make a movie of its own.

A Petition Calling For the Dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act

I came across this guy today: sent to me by a good friend. The Education Roundtable and AESA excoriate NCLB (Ed Roundtable authored the petition, thanks "philip") and remind me that our worldviews are not all the same. Something as simple as trying to do well by our children becomes the fulcrum on which our vision of a nation tips. I agree and disagree with Education Roundtable's misgivings with NCLB. Some comments on a few of Ed Roundtable and AESA's grievances below.

Grievance number 12: [NCLB] Applies standards to discrete subjects rather than to larger goals such as insightful children, vibrant communities, and a healthy democracy. Yes it is true that standards involve subject matter. If insightful children and vibrant communities were standardized we'd have an awful mess--a mess Ed Roundtable would no doubt consider far more deleterious to democracy. The hope of NCLB's standards is that students will master subject matter at the arm's length of skilled professionals. In mastering basic skills students will have the minimum faculty to reach the competencies Ed Roundtable and the rest of like minded people want for them.

Grievance number 1: [NCLB] Misdiagnoses the causes of poor educational development, blaming teachers and students for problems over which they have no control.
Structural deficits and cultural incongruities are diagnoses. Tests are not. Tests reveal problems. Teachers and students should not be blamed, but they can be part of a solution. More can be done to diagnose our struggling schools and communities. At the very least, NCLB exposes serious gaps and gives benchmarks for some kinds of improvements.

Which brings me to Grievance number 2: [NCLB] Assumes that competition is the primary motivator of human behavior and that market forces can cure all educational ills.
Last time I checked NCLB was not a privatization scheme. Many view it as a short path down that long road, but as of today public education exists in tact. As for providing benchmarks for improvement, who among us can publish an essay, hand in an "A" paper, or disseminate a report without some meetable standards of quality and attainment? Where do we go if we don't have a goal? As for competition, there really isn't any competition within NCLB save for competition with a benchmark. Sure there are incentives and disincentives surrounding AYP, imperfect ones at that, but couldn't we just as easily call what Ed Roundtable has dubbed "competition," transparency? Last time I checked transparency was the bedrock of democratic ideals.

Listen, in no way do my playful arguments succeed in rebuffing Ed ROundtable's list of legitimate if undocumented grievances. Ed Roundtable needs to provide an alternative more substantive than "we believe in accountability, but...." Yes, Ed Roundtable makes some appealing points. For my money Ed Roundtable has not made a case to scrap a law that at least exposes some harsh truths about who we are and who we value. Congress should read this, and should be provided evidence of Ed Roundtable and AESA's grivances. I won't be signing the petition, but I welcome the discussion it hopefully foments.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Youth Makes Big Change in Chile

Chilean students conclude a year of activism that tossed them into the fray of national educational policy. The Washington Post applies an MTV coming-of-age veneer to a national student movement that pushed for more equitable funding and a more centralized control. Organizing very large events (hundreds of thousands) and meeting with government officials, these high schoolers affected change for a country inured to funding education differently for the rich and the poor--a common ailment the world over. The high school students enjoyed a lot support. Chile's people rallied behind the students with support as high as 70 percent at times.

WAPO ponders their futures, these youths with adult experiences. Will they govern, continue activism locally or nationally, teach, or reminisce the halcyon days? Having known a grown activist who changed the politics of Mexico during their student revolution, I'd wager a bit of all of the above.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Local Licensure Worth Watching, or Half Baked?

Moving is hard. Change is hard too. The Denver Post reports on Douglas County Schools in Colorado who are currently experimenting with licensure changes. The state has allowed the local school system to license for tough-to-fill positions like special education. Another component, the "Professionals in Residence" program, will train architects, military personnel, engineers and other skilled workers for part-time instructor positions.

So maybe the county will be more efficient in preparing teachers or, more likely, will get teachers into a classroom prepared or not. But I still haven't seen a compelling argument to localize certification and licensure, especially since the curriculum is largely a function of the state vis-a-vis the Colorado Student Assessment Program. But this is what pilots are for. It just seems like this is another experiment in education without a lay to a claim for improvement or even a strong argument for improvement. We'll see.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Aftermath: Not D's and R's, but School Board Presidents and Mayors

We're in the aftermath of a sweeping election meant to represent change. In Washington, DC a newly elected mayor has an opponent against his plan for change. Robert C. Bobb, school board president elect of DC Public Schools wants to heighten the power of the school board presidency. Mainly, Bobb opposes Adrian Fenty's plan for a mayoral takeover of the DCPS, the likes of which we've seen in LA and NYC.

WAPO describes Bobb's ambitions. He doesn't want to fill the traditional role of approving policies, he wants to advance his own policies. Bobb claims that he has a plan and Fenty does not.
Some highlights from his plan include:
  • introduce a citywide early learning program aimed at preparing children from birth to age 5 for school;
  • declare a "reading emergency" to deal with the high illiteracy rate;
  • find a way for Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to reduce the 15-year timetable for repairing the schools to 7 to 10 years; and
  • restore confidence in the board by requiring that it conduct more of its business in public.
Fenty's ambitions are lofty. Bobb will have to work quickly if he wants a stake in DCPS decision making. A WAPO story is a good start, but the powers of the office for which Bobb was elected may soon collapse.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Feeling a little disconnected

It's been a week since I last posted, but I've found a great topic to help get me back into form. Inside Higher Ed regales us with the details of a symposium held earlier in the week. 'Out of Step', Inside's write-up of events at The National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success, sponsored by the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative, reports on reforming higher education. Reform should be systemic and institutional. 'Systemic' in that the changes can be applied to a variety of colleges and universities. Changes can be applied in scale. 'Institutional' in that the changes must be made university wide, not department by department or within certain programs only.

Five papers were commissioned for the symposium. Leading themes among the papers included:
  • High expectations; coherence of curriculum; integration of experiences, knowledge and skills; opportunities for active learning; assessment and frequent feedback; collaborative learning opportunities; time on task; respect for diversity; frequent contact with faculty; emphasis on the first-year student experience and the development of connections between classroom work and outside learning opportunities.
  • Coordination of policies across departments on an institutional level, and across the college and K-12 divide on a societal level, will help facilitate student success.
  • Classroom and teaching faculty play the most direct role in influencing student success.
  • Governmental institutions and colleges should engage in continuous information gathering, and policymakers and institutions should support research and theory development targeted at student success.

Student success in college often hinges on connectedness. Students who advance through college narrowly focused on conquering one class at a time miss out. Coherence and cohesion are key to a truly successful college experience.

This page has been accessed at least several times since the counter was last reset, or at an average rate of at least several hits per day.