Thursday, December 30, 2010

LYNN: Check out the ConnCAN website

One of my favorite CT-based Education Reform organizations is ConnCAN, or Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now. ConnCAN is focused primarily on the urban school districts and the needs of some of our state's worst performing school districts. Not surprisingly, ConnCAN has been an early supporter of Charter schools and accountability.

Despite ConnCAN's innercity orientation, I find much on the website and events that are relevant to the suburbs and rural areas. ConnCAN has an impressive collection of research and links that I find essential reading no matter where you are located. Interested reformers can sign up for their Education News Roundup and their Education Research Roundup email newsletters.

I've added a link to my favorite websites and will post things occasionally on this blog that I find through ConnCAN. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

ROSEMARY: Michelle Rhee says “We Aren’t Done Fighting.” Really?

I’m sorry, but Michelle Rhee has quit the field.  It would be far more impressive for her to have stayed on as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public school system without the protection of Mayor Adrian Fenty.  The whole business of "giving" the new mayor the opportunity to appoint his own Chancellor was not up to her. Mayor Vincent Gray has the power to do that, Michelle Rhee or no Michelle Rhee.  She executed a career maneuver which I have decided to blame on her youth and the political toxicity that shimmers over Washington like the preternatural light over a spent nuclear fuel pool with the Beltway as containment.  Washington needs a Charles Dickens to sort out its story … how education, a necessity for a democracy, is being denied to institutionalized children within the shadow of the halls of power. Because that is what failing schools are … jails for kids.  Michelle Rhee knew that, worked with lightening speed to fix as much as she could, made impressive inroads into restoring the mission of education to D. C. schools, closed down the schools that were functioning as holding cells, and stepped on a lot of toes in the process.  Her cause was just, and she should have stayed on the field of battle. If Gray had fired her, it would have had ramifications well beyond the moment and it would have been a natural consequence of the battles she has been waging. But … she quit the field, opened a Twitter account and went on Oprah.

I am unimpressed by StudentsFirst, Ms. Rhee’s new endeavor “… to build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform, so that America has the best education system in the world.”  StudentsFirst, in spite of lofty intentions, is one more case of abandoning local reform for a centralized movement. Bad education causes suffering that is local, politically useless and specific and it happens to urban, suburban and rural children alike.  Please read my friend Lynn’s December 12th  blogpost on the Granby Board of Education’s panel discussion, for it’s the kind of thing that happens in Bancroft, Iowa, Brooklyn, New York and Portland, Oregon and everywhere in between, up above and down below this great nation.  One does not get to call the shots in the rough and tumble politics of a city like Washington, D.C., but I think Michelle Rhee could have been the stuff of legend if she had stayed and continued to fight for the children of the city. I have just finished reading Falls the Shadow, an excellent piece of well-researched historical fiction by Sharon Kay Penman.  The book culminates with the Battle of Evesham which was fought at Evesham, England on August 4, 1265.  Evesham was the last battle in an attempt to uphold the Oxford Provisions, often considered England’s first written constitution.  Evesham should have been an inglorious, ignominious defeat for the armies of the 6th Earl of Leicester, who led forces in support of the Provisions against Henry III and the royal House of Platagenet.  Militarily, and in the moment, it was.  But history tells a much different story, the story of a man and the forces he led who did not quit the field when all was hopeless.  I wish StudentsFirst could have been the brainchild of a woman who was forced to hand over the castle keep after fighting to the last rather than the invention of a fighter who stopped fighting and abandoned the local cause with the enemy still a ways off. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

LYNN: It Isn't the Culture, Stupid

In a timely commentary written by a long time education reformer at,  the argument that the US lacks the proper "culture" to score well on international exams is given a thorough thrashing by Barry Garelick. Barry's article, "It Isn't the Culture, Stupid" is spot on and a good read.  Barry, like me, leans to the political left, which is why I feel this post goes into the lefty column of the blog. Take that, Rosemary!!

But seriously, Barry makes an excellent point (well, of course he does!! Barry has made many an excellent point in the past and I'd expect nothing less from him now. I'm going to have to dig through Barry's past articles and post them in the future.)  But I digress.

The point Barry is making now, if I may paraphrase, is that when you blame the "culture" of the US for poor international performance, you need to include more than just our societal woes of too many video games and athletics and parents that might complain about homework load, or students that are unmotivated.  I don't doubt that those things exist and make top notch performance difficult for teachers facing unmotivated students with parents that don't care and spend all of their time watching TV and playing on the XBox.

But the schools and school boards and the entire school institution is a very big part of the culture that they blame. Schools that refuse to adopt demanding curriculum materials that build skills and concepts in a logical manner (i.e., Singapore Math) and instead give water-downed programs that spiral around without expecting mastery (Everyday Math, Investigations, Trailblazers) are part of the culture of low expectations.

Homework at the middle and high school level that consists of time consuming artsy projects with little or no academic content are a part of the culture problem.

Teachers that expect the bulk of the academic work to occur at home at night, but waste the school day through poor classroom management skills are a part of the culture problem.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

LYNN: The Granby BOE Panel Discussion Blames Parents and Money For Education Woes

The title of this post says it all, unfortunately. If you were hoping for a more thoughtful or introspective analysis of the problems facing education institutions at the December 1st panel discussion, put together by the Granby Board of Education and televised by GCTV, you would be disappointed. As I was.

I had to stream the video from the GCTV website to view the panel discussion as I was out of town and unable to attend it live. In retrospect, that was probably a blessing, as I was able to fast forward through some of the more self-serving cr@p that was served up by several of the panelists.

One of the most disturbing comments made came in response to moderator Susan Regan's question about why even the very best US students lag so far behind their international peers. The almost unanimous response from the panelists? You guessed it -- "it's the parents' fault" and "we need more money."

Ignoring all of the evidence that has come out in recent years about the importance of the person standing in front of the classroom -- evidence that clearly shows that teacher quality is THE critical component -- the board panelist instead chose an easy scapegoat -- parents, culture, and money.

Never mind that they were speaking in a town that has voted budget after budget of spending increases in town, even when it has meant cutting the hours at the library and cutting services for the elderly or poor. Never mind that parents donate hours of their time and money to keep athletic and enrichment programs viable, that attendance at conferences, open houses, concerts, and fund raisers are phenomenal. Never mind that parents pay for private tutoring (sometimes with the very same teachers that failed to teach their children during the school day) or spend hours on weekends and evenings struggling to reteach content their kids missed during the day.

Apparently, we don't have the same culture or commitment to education as say, Finland, China, Korea, or Singapore, according to our Board chair. He didn't bother to mention that we actually spend much more than any of them and get far worse results.

He also didn't say how much money would be enough. Or where it would be spent. If the past years are any indication -- new money isn't going to improve teacher quality by recruiting experienced proven teachers or teachers from top schools, nor is it going to reduce class size or improve the curriculum materials. Priorities for our district have been to increase administration and increase non-teaching teacher experts. Oh, and to put SMART boards in every room imaginable. None of the priorities of recent years (more administration, more teacher trainers, and more technology) have any demonstrable impact on the quality of education.

What a shame that nobody at the panel discussion had the courage to say that we need to realign our priorities and focus on the kids, the teachers, and what goes on in the classroom.