Tagged: diane ravitch

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Recommended Reading: “The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio”

favicon The battle is heating up, especially in New York City, between populism and liberalism, and what’s the best way to reform education. That’s how I characterize (maybe incorrectly: the populists would call the liberals “corporatists”) the debate between Mayor Bill de Blasio (conventional public schools) and Eva Moskowitz (charter schools).

If you read today’s article in the New York Times, “The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio,” it looks like charter schools are winning.

But if you read Diane Ravitch’s response, author Daniel Bergner didn’t tell the whole story. Lately I’ve found Ms. Ravitch’s writing strident, but she makes excellent points, emphasizing that Ms. Moskowitz’s schools—and really, all charter schools—aren’t truly “public.”

The problem right now with Ms. Ravitch’s camp—and why the liberal, data-driven, no-excuses school reformers are winning the battle—is that decades of traditional public schooling have not done a good job addressing issues of equity. Unfortunately, right now, populism doesn’t quite “sell.”

Please let me know what you think!

“One afternoon this summer, Eva Moskowitz, who runs Success Academy Charter Schools, showed me her senior yearbook. “I was the editor,” she said. We sat in a half-furnished office at the construction site of her charter network’s first high school. A buzz saw shrieked in the background.”

Source: http://j.mp/1AnJ1XC (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Paul Tough’s “Who Gets to Graduate?” offers hope that we can make a difference

220px-Paul_tough_2012favicon Paul Tough knows how to write. He writes so well, if he wrote about marmalade, I’d read it, no problem. Barnacles, too. Give Mr. Tough a topic, any topic, and he’ll churn out a must-read.

His latest piece, “Who Gets to Graduate?” in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, is an article that every urban educator should read. Thanks to loyal Iserotope reader Michele for recommending it!

I don’t want to give too much of it away, or else you won’t read it, but Mr. Tough makes three major claims: (1) Poor students are less likely to graduate from college than rich students, (2) One key reason for this is that poor students don’t feel like they belong and then freak out in college when they experience setback, (3) There are easy ways for schools to intervene so that poor students feel like they belong and remain resilient through challenge.

All right, now just a little bit more on a couple points. First up, the college graduation gap. Please take a look:


My eye goes to two numbers: the 52% on the top quartile line and the 44% on the bottom quartile line. If I’m reading this graph correctly, if you score really high on the SAT but are poor, your likelihood of graduating is less than someone who scores really low on the SAT but is rich. In other words: Your class background matters more for college graduation than your reading and Math skills.

This looks overwhelming, right? It makes you want to act like Diane Ravitch and say that poverty trumps all, that nothing can happen to close the achievement gap until our country solves poverty, right?

But wait. Mr. Tough offers tons of hope. The answer is what David Yeager and his colleagues are doing at the University of Texas at Austin. Mr. Yeager comes from a long line of Stanford professors, including Carol Dweck and Claude Steele, who believe that the mindsets of young adults matter. When students feel they belong, and when they feel like obstacles do not compromise their academic ability, they persist and succeed.

Here’s what Prof. Yeager believes:

Ultimately a person has within themselves some kind of capital, some kind of asset, like knowledge or confidence. And if we can help bring that out, they then carry that asset with them to the next difficulty in life.

To test those beliefs, Prof. Yeager conducted a large-scale experiment on incoming freshmen at UT Austin. Students in the experimental group completed a 25- to 45-minute online module that involved a short reading and writing exercise. The results were stunning. More poor students than ever before did well in school their first semester, passing more classes, completing more units, and starting off strong toward graduation.

Getting these excellent results after a fairly quick intervention is bringing out doubt from Prof. Yeager’s colleagues. Is this really possible? It seems so easy! Apparently, according to several similar studies, it is.

And that’s what makes me hopeful. The most crucial step, Mr. Tough suggests, is to message loud and clear to students that they belong and that they are valued. Too often, teachers — grizzled and jaded from too many years of struggle — present a deficit model to their students. If that occurs, then the gap will continue.

But if we send a positive message, and interrupt deficit mindsets, change is possible. There’s no simple answer, of course, but not everything has to be difficult.

Now, your homework: Please go read this article (it’s also on Iserotope Extras!) and let me know what you think. For example: Do you believe that it’s OK to tell students the truth, or do you agree with “the first rule of the Dashboard?” Thank you! favicon

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I’m not pro-testing. But this is silly.

favicon Protests against standardized testing are heating up this year as we head into assessment season. Some parents are opting their children out of the mandatory tests, and educational leaders like Diane Ravitch are calling for more boycotts.

I don’t mind the protesters. They have a good point — that maybe there’s too much testing, that it reduces the humanity of their children to a zombie-like state. It’s an important debate. Even though the new Common Core State Standards will likely reduce the overall amount of testing, I can see why parents and their children might feel frustration.

But pictures like this make me crazy.

Antitesting Pic

Here are a few reasons this protest is silly:

  • Sign made by the parent, not by the child.
  • No, one test cannot ruin your life.
  • Doesn’t help that the child is smiling.

It just doesn’t make sense to argue that your 9-year-old boy is a robot of standardized testing and then force him to a protest with a sign that you made yourself.

Of course it’s normal that things get heated when people become impassioned. Unfortunately, the education debate is now strongly either-or. Either you are for public school or you’re for corporate privatization. Either you’re for creativity and humanity or you’re for standardized testing. Either poverty is the reason for everything bad in education, or teachers are.

Some say that a real conversation wouldn’t get us anywhere. A false compromise is what the corporate reformers want. A revolution is necessary.

That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with revolution, but please, while you’re at it, have your students reading a book of their choice instead of standing behind a sign they didn’t make. favicon

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Why David Coleman is the most powerful educator in the country right now

david colemanfavicon Everyone says Arne Duncan is powerful, but if you really want to know who calls the shots about education in this country, it’s David Coleman.

Mr. Coleman is the guy responsible for the Common Core State Standards. He’s now the president of the College Board, which administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests.

Today, Mr. Coleman announced that the College Board is changing the format and content of the SAT. This is big. The intent, he said, is to align the test with what is taught in high school and to level the playing field for lower-income students.

A few of the changes include: (1) Obscure vocabulary will go away, to be replaced with more common words students will face in college, (2) Readings will include a range of informational texts, including founding documents of the United States, (3) There will no longer be a penalty for incorrect answers, (4) The essay will be optional.

Do you see what’s happening here?

Yes, Mr. Coleman is aligning the SAT with the Common Core standards. Instead of testing students generally on their reading and math skills, the SAT will reflect the skills that students are supposed to learn in school.

This is great if you believe in the Common Core. And it’s horrible if you don’t like the Common Core. It’s as simple as that.

What’s crazy to me is how in just a few years, Mr. Coleman — a very smart guy who has never been a classroom teacher — has shifted a very decentralized American education system into an extremely consolidated one.

What’s also crazy to me is that few people know about Mr. Coleman. Except for a few radical Common Core detractors (like Diane Ravitch), Mr. Coleman is still pretty much a stranger.

Yet it’s pretty clear that he runs the show. It’s time that teachers and other folks interested in education find out more about Mr. Coleman. (I’m still a little leery about him, but maybe now it’s too late?)

Update: This week’s New York Times Magazine has an in-depth article about David Coleman and the changes to the SAT. Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins asks, “Are we in a place to let Dave Coleman control the entire K-to-12 curriculum?”  favicon

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Literary fiction, empathy, and reading reality

Researchers Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh, NY Times.
Researchers Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh, NY Times.

favicon I’m a bit late to this party, but I figured I would share some of my thoughts.

Last week, the New York Times published “For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov,” in which reporter Pam Belluck summarized a new study that concludes that reading literary fiction, as opposed to nonfiction or popular fiction, results in greater empathy.

The article set off a bit of a brouhaha, particularly among English teachers who like fiction.

There’s nothing too new about this research. Psychologists Emanuele Castano and doctoral candidate David Comer Kidd have studied the connection between reading and empathy for years and have published at least five studies. Others are investigating this field, too.

And it’s sort of a no-brainer that reading gets us to construct new worlds, to live in another person’s shoes, and to build empathy by practicing with fictional characters.

So what’s the big fuss? Why is my Twitter all a-twitter with tweets like this?

The answer, of course, is simple: English teachers are going crazy about Common Core.

In short, many English teachers — especially those who love to teach literature and independent reading — are worried that the Common Core’s emphasis on informational texts means the end of all fiction. Pretty soon, they worry, there won’t be To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet and Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby.

Even though David Coleman, the architect of the English Language Arts standards, has said repeatedly that the increase in nonfiction should come in social studies, Science, and Math classes, many English teachers do not believe him.

I can see why. Mr. Coleman sometimes comes across as smarmy.

But the strong (and sometimes vitriolic) response is not helpful for three reasons:

1. There’s nothing wrong with English teachers adding a little nonfiction to their syllabi.
I’d like my students to be able to read a nonfiction piece on their own. So would most college professors and employers. AP English Language, a popular 11th grade course, is all about nonfiction. Why not start earlier?

2. Teaching literary fiction is not the same as students reading literary fiction.
Too many teachers, in the name of rigor and literary fiction, assign texts that overmatch their students. Rather than The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, they teach A Separate Peace. Midway through, those same teachers lament that students aren’t completing the reading homework, but because the text is so rich and intricate, teachers stick with the dance of fake teaching the book and complain that their students are fake reading it.  

2. Educational either-or debates are not moving the discourse.
Why must we always discuss issues like we’re participating in a debate? Maybe we like winning, or maybe we get the yes-or-no tendency from our politicians. Whatever the reason, railing against the Common Core because it devalues fiction — even if that assertion is true — is not an argument with enough heft to counteract the 46 states that have adopted the standards.

The debate does not have to be this stark. Despite what Diane Ravitch may suggest, you don’t have to choose between raising academic achievement and building empathy, one or the other. Good teaching can and should fulfill both goals.

The teaching of literary fiction will continue in the Common Core era, and even if nonfiction gets more attention for a while, that does not mean that students across the country will all of a sudden not be able to relate to others and do nice things for each other and be kind. favicon

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Problem: American schools. Scapegoat: Charter schools.

Education Conceptfavicon The school year has just begun, and already, things are getting hot.

Since Motoko Rich’s excellent article, “At Charter Schools, Short Careers By Choice,” appeared last week in The New York Times, the backlash against charter schools has intensified.

According to these traditional public school-only proponents, everything bad in education — flat test scores, the existence of standardized testing, the new Common Core State Standards, the short careers of beginning teachers — is the result of charter schools.

Diane Ravitch, the respected historian and professor, is leading the charge. She has long championed public schools, teachers unions, and public school teachers. I read and enjoyed The Death and Life of the Great American School SystemHow Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. Prof. Ravitch knows what she’s talking about; she doesn’t simplify the situation into tidy soundbites.

Unfortunately, others do. For example, here are a couple articles I’ve read this week:

An Unexpected Charter School Effect: Fewer Experienced Teachers
By Stan Alcorn, Fast Company

Mr. Alcorn refers to Ms. Rich’s article, excoriates a young teacher who may seek a leadership position after just a few years teaching, and argues that the rise of charter schools has led directly to the trend of inexperienced teachers. To be sure, many charter schools do, in fact, employ young teachers who don’t spend their entire careers in the classroom. His statistic — that a charter school teacher averages just four years in the classroom vs. a traditional public school teacher’s 14 — is accurate. But just because two things exist (charter schools, short teacher careers), that doesn’t mean the first causes the second. For many years, teachers in urban schools have faced challenging conditions, and most lifers spend the majority of their careers in suburban schools. By no means am I a diehard proponent of charter schools. But I don’t appreciate it when non-educators dismiss, in four scornful paragraphs, the hard work of teachers trying to make things right among kids of color in urban schools.

American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids
By Elizabeth Weil, New Republic

On the flipside is this long, well-researched, well-written article that unfortunately also places blame in the wrong place. Ms. Weil tells the story of her nonconformist second-grade daughter who does not like to sit still in class. Instead of praising her creativity, her teacher suggests occupational therapy, and Ms. Weil and her partner are not pleased. That’s fine, but instead of finding fault at the classroom or school level, the author challenges several current trends in education, including socio-emotional learning and character development. Both, she argues, restrain children who don’t easily stay in their seats and raise their hands. Both limit students’ natural curiosity. And both, she points out, are taught in charter schools.

The problem with Ms. Weil’s piece is that it’s written well. It’s compelling. Even though charter schools are as diverse as public schools, she can make a universal claim and get away with it. She can casually mention KIPP in just one sentence and gain nods of approval by charter opponents. Just in case you might not think Ms. Weil is blaming charter schools, she quotes Prof. Ravitch and writes, “The motto of the so-called school-reform movement is: No Excuses.” “No Excuses,” of course, is code for charter schools.

Both of these articles — and much of the discourse this week — have been difficult to read. On the one hand, I agree with the authors that something is wrong with American education. It’s problematic, for example, that high-stakes standardized testing, ever since No Child Left Behind, has resulted in teacher bashing, drill-and-kill curriculum, and the demise of project-based learning. And certainly, I do not argue for privatizing education.

But on the other hand, charter schools themselves are not the cause of the problem. Whereas Mr. Alcorn and Ms. Weil — both non-educators — spend their time slamming charter schools, charter school educators are doing their best, after decades of abject inequity, to meet the needs of urban kids of color. And they do all that alongside efforts by similarly hard-working, well-intentioned people in traditional public schools.

Please, I welcome your comments, especially from those who disagree with me! favicon

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Are charter schools youth cults?

favicon We all know that charter schools tend to have younger, less experienced teachers than their traditional counterparts. And there are pros and cons to that.

But this morning, I read an article in the New York Times that left a pit in my stomach. In the piece, “At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice,” reporter Motoko Rich concludes that charter schools foster an environment whereby it’s acceptable, and even welcomed, for teachers to stay in the classroom for a very short time before moving up to become an administrator or pursuing a more lucrative, prestigious profession.

Ms. Rich calls charter schools “youth cults.” That’s a provocative statement.

I’ve worked in charter schools for 14 out of my 17 years of teaching, so I understand their demands. In my 20s, I routinely worked 70 to 80 hours a week. At my school in San Francisco, we were young, and sometimes, we were tired. But rather than encouraging teachers to leave after a couple years, our school talked about sustainability. It’s a good thing, we believed, for students to have teachers with full lives, including families and outside interests. It’s a good thing for students to have teachers from diverse backgrounds. As a result, our school made changes, including adopting a salary schedule to encourage teachers to stick around for more than five years.

Now I’m learning that my experience was a rare one. In the past few years, big and powerful charter school networks have grown stronger. As a result, they no longer have to hide the truth. Check out what Jennifer Hines, a senior administrator of a Houston-based charter network, said:

There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.

On the one hand, it’s comforting that there is truth-telling. On the other, as someone who taught for a long time and who still believes in the importance of the classroom teacher, I think it’s hugely bothersome. Also annoying: her language, which comes across across to me as too careful (e.g., “certain comfort level,” “who are perhaps,” “stay forever”). That’s a calculating sentence.

In the article, Ms. Rich goes on to profile a 24-year-old teacher, Tyler Dowdy, who is in his third year and is already looking for the next new thing. My first reaction was, That doesn’t seem to be a problem. My first school (not a charter school) made me a leader in my second month. But then came this quotation at the end:

I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing and always moving onto something bigger and better.

All I have to say is, Ugh, ugh, ugh. Like, a major ugh. There is so much wrong with that quotation. (Ms. Rich is likely very pleased to have gotten it.) There is so much pretension, so much privilege, and so much condescension in that statement.

Nonetheless, I can’t entirely blame Mr. Dowdy. He’s just a young teacher who is hard-working and smart and maybe unaware of the complexity of public schooling. That’s because he’s worked at a school with an expectation that matches his own.

(Yes, I just sounded old and curmudgeonly and jaded there! Sorry about that.)

Rather, maybe the problem is not with young people who want to teach for a few years and then become principals or doctors. As Ms. Rich suggests, perhaps the problem is with charter school networks and organizations like Teach for America, which “churn out” teachers, according to charter school detractor Diane Ravitch.

But even if that’s true, I’m not sure what the answer is. There’s too much of an either-or dialogue going on: either we stick entirely with the public school system, along with all of its faults, or we move toward more charter schools, along with their faults. I do wonder why we can’t figure out something somewhere in the middle that meets the needs of more young people.

What do you think? favicon

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The false dichotomy of the education debate

 Since the movie Waiting for Superman came out two years ago, a deep debate has emerged about how to improve public education in the United States.

As with all debates, there are two sides.

Some people — like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Bill Gates — think that the problem lies with teaching, and if we improve teaching, students will do better.

Other people — like Diane Ravitch and Stephen Krashen — think that the problem lies with poverty, and if we deal with poverty, students will do better.

With the election coming, the debate is heating up. Here’s a PBS NewsHour segment featuring Diane Ravitch from just a few days ago. In addition to poverty, Ms. Ravitch argues that growing racial isolation has also contributed to the problems of public education.

As with all debates, the problem is that there are two sides fighting it out, and instead of having an honest discussion — that actually, the problem is both things, the solution is dealing with both things — the two sides are clinging to their arguments because listening would mean weakness, yielding to the other side, losing the debate.

And losing the debate means millions and millions of dollars in funding. And it means huge ramifications for our public school system and for the lives of our young people.

I am hopeful that schools and local school districts can have more meaningful conversations, even if the national ones are strident. But maybe that’s not possible. What do you think?