education reform and the monsters it fights

Friday Ed Bites on the Edge of Glory

January 27th, 2012 | Posted by KC in friday ed bites - (0 Comments)

I’d like to start off this week’s edition of Friday Ed Bites with a song.

[via This Week in Education] [Via Best Week Ever]

Did you know that President Obama’s State of the Union was Tuesday night? He talked about education, and now reformers everywhere are abuzz. Citing the Chetty et al. study, asking states to require attendance until the age of 18, and a call for more school autonomy. . . no wonder people are reacting! The Quick & the Ed put together 7 responses to the SOTU. I’d like to call particular attention to Rick Hess’s response — his points are sadly true.

One last thing about the SOTU: apparently it was written at an eighth grade reading level. The break-down of his sentence structure was particularly fascinating. (Honestly, I wasn’t that taken with his speech. Though, I experienced the disillusionment of Obama when I first began to understand RttT.)

Speaking of middle schoolers, here is a selection of podcasts from eighth graders at Kempsville Middle School in Virginia Beach, Va. A heartbreaking reminder of the struggles of middle school.

In case you haven’t noticed, charter schools are (and will continue to be) a hot-button issue. Two recent pieces debate whether charter schools exacerbate neighborhood segregation. Bloomberg News published their piece in December, aptly titled “Segregated Charter Schools Evoke Separate but Equal Era in U.S.“. The second piece is a follow-up response from Joe Nathan, one of the first proponents of charter schools. His early ’90s book entitled Charter Schools is among the first cheerleader pieces for the movement. A word of caution: charter school proponents quickly rely on the underlying theory of charter schools in their rhetoric. Don’t take theory as action — many of the theoretical assumptions are never actualized.

If you have any interest in the role of technology in the classroom, you should read this Andy Rotherham piece. Yes, technology can help a student expand upon her learning, but should it ever replace the teacher? He even mentions the historical roots of supplanting teachers through new technology. Thank you, Andy. Thank you for referencing the history that Brill-style reformers love to forget. I could go on, but this isn’t meant to be a history lesson. Instead, I’ll just recommend David Tyack’s The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education. You’ll feel your preconceived notions shattering to the ground in front of you.

On the flip side, technology is a game-changer. Here are two pieces on Sebastian Thrun’s new online university, Udacity. (In case you don’t know, Thrun is the Stanford professor who, with Google’s Peter Norvig, offered a free online artificial intelligence class to 160,000+ students.) Choice quote from the NPR article: “Thrun says Stanford’s mission is to attract the top 1 percent of students from all over the world and bring them to campus, but Udacity’s mission is different. He’s striving for free, quality education for all, anywhere.” Nice work, Thrun.


That’s it. A few rambles, some contrasting opinions, and a little Lady Gaga. Now go forth and educate.

Friday Ed Bites and Snow

January 22nd, 2012 | Posted by KC in friday ed bites - (0 Comments)

Friday Ed Bites on Saturday? I just couldn’t focus on education news when I knew that snow was in the forecast! Now it’s Saturday night and the roads are icy and Pennsylvania’s liquor laws have upset my cosmos. Ed Bites it is!


The Answer Sheet’s guest blogger Brendan Wolfe critiques the newest edition of a Virginia textbook, Our Virginia. I think my favorite is the factual statement that many thought colonist John Smith was obnoxious. I’m so impressed with their historical sleuthing — such detail! I wonder if the authors of this textbook would pass this 1912 eighth-grade exam from Kentucky (also from The Answer Sheet). Jury says no.

Things related to health and wellness: Buffalo, NY teachers take advantage of a sneaky rider in their contracts that allows them to charge the district for their plastic surgery. Hot teacher win! Well-used money fail. Contract negotiation fail. Also great news: a new study found that about a third of teenage moms (who didn’t use birth control) didn’t think that they could get pregnant on the first time. Fantastic. (/sarcasm)

This last one may not be health related, but it does seem to belong in the same category. Remember when Virginia tried to ban low-rise clothing? Caddo Parish in northwest Louisiana is catching up to the trend. The local commissioner wants to prohibit residents from wearing pajamas in public. I can hear every university professor cheering (as am I). But really — that’s taking big government a bit far, is it not? I find these stories as amusing as Steven Brill’s quote about Arne Duncan’s incredible value in the President’s cabinet. Next up: Brill applauds Brill?

And, before I watch the snow melt without a glass of red wine, here are a few final bites:
Bruce Baker of School Finance 101 examines data on NJ charter schools.
Matt DiCarlo of Shanker Blog debunks Michelle Rhee’s interpretation of DC student test scores. Choice quote: “She does herself, her supporters, and the public a disservice by continuing to abuse evidence in an attempt to make it.”
Diane Ravitch responds to the Chetty et al. study that made quite a wake.


Newt Gingrich just won the Republican primary in South Carolina and I can’t get red wine after dark in Philly without risking my life. How can I handle the former without a mechanism to remedy the latter? Stay warm, interpret statistics with more accuracy than Michelle Rhee, and goodnight.

Friday Ed Bites in a New Semester

January 13th, 2012 | Posted by KC in friday ed bites - (0 Comments)

Let’s start the journey through this week’s education news with an amazing tumblr: My Hipster Teacher. While I often mock the small handlebars and tight jeans, I do appreciate a teacher whose students think he’s so cool that they started a tumblr for him.

Virginia’s governor, Bob McDonnell, is making waves with his new education reform proposals. Of particular interest to me is the repeal of the King’s Dominion law, which requires schools to begin after Labor Day. Ok, so that’s not really the most juicy reform proposal. It also includes bits on charter schools, online classes, and merit pay. Here is the Virginia Schools Insider’s post on the proposals, and here is the governor’s news release.

Here are two NYTimes articles that relate directly to the recently proposed reforms in Virginia: one examines the Idaho requirement that all students take online classes, and the other looks at how a bad charter got its approval — from the federal government. Say whaa? While reading the piece on online classes, it’s important to know that studies of innovation in schools repeatedly find that even among “innovative” charter schools, classroom practices rarely change.

(True story: I’m a Virginian at heart. True story: here’s another Virginia education blog.)


Here are some education failures. You think college is expensive now? This study puts the price tag in 2034 at a steep $422,000. Teachers in Georgia tried to incorporate history class into math class. The results were math word problems that reference slavery. Score one for a national curriculum? Staffers at a school in the Bronx are calling for the removal of their principal after he made comments about having sex with a computer and a photocopier. Nice work, principal! There’s also this morsel of a failure — a library sent the police to collect a five-year-old’s overdue books! Let’s not stop there. A student in Texas was shot and killed by police when he pointed a gun at them in his school’s hallway. If you were curious, it was a pellet gun. Dicey.


It would appear that the education reform world rang in the new year with a heavy focus on value-added (VA) estimates and the impact of financial incentives. A new study was just published that attempts to measure the impact of a teacher on adult outcomes. (I had the opportunity to listen to a talk that Rockoff, one of the authors, gave on this study. It’s truly fascinating and incredibly complex; no wonder the study has made such a splash.) And, the interblag has exploded. Shanker Blog has two recent guest posts from Ellie Fulbeck, a Penn GSE professor who wrote her dissertation on ProComp, the Denver VA program. These two posts are a great way to get a handle on the history of VA programs and the resulting evaluations.

Then, there are the other billion responses to the Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff study. The tone of this response highlights the tension that exists between those who study education reform academically and those whose opinions are formed based on anecdotal evidence. Dismissing either side in its entirety is foolhardy, and (to me) makes it that much more important that social science academics learn to better disseminate their findings.
This post on School Finance 101 examines the Chetty et al. study from an academic perspective, but uses very little jargon. Three cheers for Bruce! (Read this post — it summarizes the findings then analyzes them.)
Gary Rubenstein took the study’s release as an opportunity to critique (and try to dispel) the oft-cited “three great teacher” rule. His piece is long, but worth reading if you’re interested in learning the origin of that pesky phrase.


And with that, we ring in the spring semester of 2012. Here’s to 16 weeks of charter school research!