Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Green is the New Black but May Push School Systems Into the Red

An AP story about greening schools--Schools going green to save on electric bills, teach studentsmarks continued interest in sustainable development. Green, the new black, is apparently spreading to school buildings as 300 schools wait to get certified by the U.S. Green Building Council's school certification program. The AP story cites a study by school officials in Washington State who found green schools have better student performance and fewer absences. And while we might not need a scientific study to tell us that clean buildings with lots of natural light promote the greater good, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the budgetary strife associated with just keeping some buildings from falling down, let alone construct a building with living roofs, ice-cooled air conditioning, and solar paneled exteriors.

I know. I know. We keep getting the quote that “greening” a building costs 2 percent more. But that could be the toughest 2 percent an urban superintendent ever fought for. Don’t get me wrong I’m not against green enhancements and architecture in schools or otherwise. Like many other halfway idealistic 20-somethings, I love the idea. I just haven’t seen anyone write up the angle that schools are expensive and green schools are even more expensive.

Also, I’m all for reintroducing native species when invasive species have choked out cleared areas due to construction, but the anecdote about teacher Rod Shroufe at Clackamas High School in Clackamas, Oregon who helped to eradicate an acre of blackberries (delicious blackberries) saddens the mud-stomping, stick-swinging, rock-skipping, sticky-fingered berry-eating inner child in me.

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In Keeping With the Administration's Swagger: Undermining Teacher Education

File this one under Bush Admin conspiracy theories. Alongside other more prominent and insidious theories of dismantling public education, the surreptitious undermining of teacher education seems to be on the agenda. Check out the Education Department’s “Becoming a Teacher” page.

Notice the first recommended link, an Editor’s Pick no less, is a link for information about alternative certification. No less than four of seven! Of the "Editor’s Picks" on this page direct the user to information about alternative certification. Surprising? Not really. Brazen as hell? Totally! And in line with the Bush Admin’s general swagger.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ring and Index Fingers Predict SAT Scores

Index finger lengths compared to ring finger lengths may predict SAT scores. Who knew!? Yahoo news picked this story up set for publication in the British Journal of Psychology. Crazy stuff. I keep wondering what happens when you have nearly identically sized ring finger and index finger.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Democratic Candidates Speak with the AFT

Last week I attended the AFT Executive Council meeting. It was interesting to watch local union presidents jockey to submit amendments to various rules and adopt positions. Not to mention interest generated by some fairly shallow banter on charter schools (yes there are plenty of union folks who abhor charters, but to be fair there are plenty that have come around), and a rather contentious but short-lived "yea" vote to add an influential NED member to the AFT council. The highlights of the day came with several visits from Democratic Presidential Contenders (R’s were invited, but shockingly didn’t attend).

I caught former Senator John Edwards, Governor Bill Richardson, and Senator Barack Obama’s speeches and Q&A with the crowd. I missed Senator Clinton’s speech. The candidates’ talks were substantial in length—around 45 minutes or longer including questions from the crowd. Each came with a different approach and salved the crowd in their own way. All claimed to support labor without condition. All claimed to support NCLB, with numerous caveats.

John Edwards appeared to strike a chord with the crowd. He hammered home his commitment to labor. It may have been the most pro-labor statement a serious presidential candidate has made in years. He was funny and appeared committed to expanding the reaches of organized labor through federal law.

Governor Richardson highlighted his strong commitment to education, standards, and the successes he’s governed over in New Mexico. He relied heavily on the competition argument that’s been so popular since Friedman discovered the world is flat. He appeared strongest on education of the three with the most nuanced understanding of the landscape, but weakest on organized labor.

Senator Obama hopped into that third little bed and found it just right (Goldilocks and the Three Bears reference). The senator found a nice balance between supporting labor and improving the life chances of children long ignored by our educational system. He advanced his credibility with the group with his stories of his first job walking the streets of Chicago as an organizer. When pressed by a union president on charter schools, the Senator did not retreat, citing the need for more oversight and accountability, but also the need for alternatives where the traditional school systems have failed.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Landrieu Intervenes. Bobb Doesn't Want to Upset the Apple Cart. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, Fenty Fumes.

The pot thickens in DC. Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb has gone behind Mayor Adrian Fenty's back and set events in motion with Sen. Mary Landrieu. According to the Washington Post, Landrieu, who anonymously put a hold on Fenty's DC Public Schools takeover bid last week, has identified herself as the person responsible for wanting more time to examine Fenty's all-but-sealed-deal bid.

In an interview with the Post Bobb remained cagey about any back door shenanigans, saying he was not about to upset "the apple cart in anyway."

This is classic local politics with a Senatorial Twist. Good stuff people.

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Winkelman is for Victory?

Today the Supreme Court decided Winkelman v. Parma City School District which on paper removes the burden of parents having to hire a lawyer in order to sue schools over IDEA related incidents. The Associated Press suggests that untold numbers of parents don’t take legal action when it comes to their children’s free appropriate public education. Of course the Supreme Court did not rule that parents are entitled to free legal representation, the Court only decided that not having a lawyer would not bar parents from taking legal action. It appears that this is only a minor victory for parents of children with disabilities.

Friday, May 11, 2007

On a Liberal Education

"I attach great importance to general literature for the enlargement of the mind and for giving business capacity. I think I have noticed that technically educated boys do not make the most successful businessmen. The imagination needs to be cultivated and developed to assure success in life. A man will never construct anything he cannot conceive."

--Leland Stanford

Shopping Bags They Weigh Down My Arms

I'm shopping for a job. A teaching job to be precise. An instructor position to take me further away from the policy world so that I may return one day enlightened and brimming with anecdotal evidence of classroom successes and failures, of student hardship and triumph. The usual prattle.

Story: A chief of staff for a member of the house of representatives happened to be talking me up to an influential leader of an educational policy organization. He also said I had been considering teaching, which is true, but I've been keen on finding a policy job for months. She said something to the effect of don't let him go teach--it'll ruin him. Chief of staff said well are you going to give him a job?

Of course not. So you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Really, I just want to help.

It's been an adventurous job shopping experience so far. There are a lot of choices out there.

Friday, May 04, 2007

AFT Recs on Teacher Prep: Nice Square Pegs, Not So Nice Round Holes?

The AFT has just released (or rereleased) "An Urgent Call for Preparation Changes: Recommendations Made in 2000 Remain Valid but Generally Untouched." The recs follow:
  • Raise entrance grade-point average (GPA) for teacher education programs. 2.75 GPA at the end of the sophomore year and phase it up to a 3.0 GPA.
  • Institute a national entry test. It should be developed by the teaching profession and administered by the end of the sophomore year to select teacher education candidates. Proficiency in math, science, English language arts and history/geography/social studies should be tested.
  • Require an academic major.
  • Develop a core curriculum in pedagogy.
  • Strengthen induction programs for new teachers.
  • Strengthen the clinical experience. It should build on successful models, including using exemplary teachers to mentor student teachers. Also, preservice teachers should be placed in diverse teaching and learning settings and should assume non-instructional duties to understand the full range of teacher responsibilities.
  • Institute rigorous exit/licensure tests on subject matter and pedagogy. They should be taken by all prospective teachers prior to licensure. Currently, the rigor of tests is inconsistent.
  • Take a five-year view. Teacher preparation should be organized, at a minimum, as a five-year process.
  • Require high standards for alternative programs. Students in these programs should be required to take pedagogical coursework and to pass state teacher-testing exams.
Makes pretty solid sense. Of course the trouble we run into, the same trouble I mentioned in my last post is getting enough educators to go through this process. The specter of a 5-year program and numerous hoops and obstacles to race through to the end prize, a career where teacher pay stumbles along with core inflation just doesn't sound so sweet. Especially when alternative entry points into teaching careers exist. Recs like these in a vacuum mean nothing. In other words, as long as there are myriad alternative views on teaching, learning, and public education, solid recommendations based on reasonable data will remain filled with caveats.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

No Gold Stars for You Kristof! ... Well Maybe One

For inspiration, presidential candidates might look at this bold three-part plan for improving American schools:

  • End requirements for teacher certification.
  • Make tenure more difficult to get so weak teachers can be weeded out after two or three years on the job.
  • Award $15,000 annual bonuses to good teachers for as long as they teach at schools in low-income areas.

Comprehensive education reform package. Straight from AEI? Or Heritage? Nope. Try the Hamilton Project with Robert Gordon of the Center for American Progress, Thomas Kane of Harvard and Douglas Staiger of Dartmouth. Nicholas D. Kristof writes in his education column, and teachers react with the usual banal and childish argument that you can’t have an opinion about education without having taught.

Would I be as good or bad a teacher without certification? It’s tough to say, but four years out from my teacher education experience I can’t say I remember a whole lot of it. Admittedly I have a penchant for rose color reminiscences.

Would I be excited about entering a profession where tenure is hard to acquire? It depends how hard. If I had to publish or perish as I would if I were pursing a PhD to be a professor, then no. If I had to meet reasonable benchmarks that didn’t solely rely on my students’ performances on one high stakes test, then yes that is fine with me.

Would I work in a high needs district for an extra 15 large a year so long as the benchmarks I was to meet were reasonable? Sign me up!

There’s one significant problem to Kristof's thinking and a lot of little problems that I won't mention here tonight. There are too many teaching jobs that must be filled to teach the nation’s 60 million plus students. Efficient hiring of that many professionals ("efficient" because we never want to pony up for education the way we probably should) requires some kind of standardization. Ending requirements for teacher certification altogether would require a lot more resources re: hiring and firing. And at the end of the day what will we be left with left with? Think burnout, content geeks who don’t know what they've signed up for (after all if you made it through college and were successful enough to achieve highly, as I am assuming you would need to have done to be recruited to join the ranks of a non-certified teaching field, you probably have a somewhat slanted view of what education is like for most people) oh, and don't forget a bunch of tough-nosed, go-getter, type A elementary school teachers. I know sarcasm, impatience, and no nonsense are the dream team personality of every child’s favorite elementary school teacher.

Before you quip, I already know I'm not cut out for the challenges of primary school. Hats off to them though. Hats off.

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