Friday, January 28, 2005
The Throwdown In Motown: Watkins Letter
The other day Eduwonk bemoaned that this letter from Tom Watkins was not online. Now it is. Thanks to Eduwonk tipster TE for the link.
Also, see this editorial for one take on this whole dust-up...via School News Monitor.
Only in education could a local group, in this case the teachers' union, be rebuffed multiple times in their efforts to do in a superintendent and tirelessly stick with it long enough to prevail. At least in the short run, concentrated and focused power will usually prevail over a general interest only loosely organized and represented. Last night the Board of Education in San Diego came to an agreement with schools sup't Alan Bersin to buyout the remainder of his contract, he leaves in June. Ignore the shallow coverage from the local paper, the real backstory on all this is here (pdf).
Here's an excerpt from Bersin's note to school district staff, it's really useful that they're running guys like this out (and at taxpayer expense no less...):
The revised data issued this week in Sacramento shows that 107 of our schools (60 percent) now score at or above 700 on the statewide API compared to 75 schools in 1999. In 1999, 53 schools (fully 37 percent) of our schools placed under 600 on the API; today only 16 schools (less than 9 percent) of our schools operate at that unsatisfactory level. We have narrowed the academic achievement gap dividing our students based on factors of race, ethnicity and class. We are one of only two districts in California (the other is Long Beach) to meet all 46 Adequate Yearly Progress performance indicators for two years running under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). San Diego City Schools tests more than 98 percent of its students and ranks second among urban districts in the state (slightly behind San Francisco) in the number of students performing at proficient or advanced levels on the California Standards Test in English Language Arts and third in mathematics (tied with Sacramento).
Yet it was this sort of nonsense that won out in the end.
Senator Kerry returned to the spotlight yesterday with an important speech on health care for children. Vitally important issue, but very passé, doesn't he know that these days the preeminent children's issue is tolerant rabbits?
On Monday at 10AM at the National Press Club the Charter School Leadership Council will launch an important national campaign to address the dual goals of charter school growth and charter school quality. National charter leaders and charter school operators from around the country will be on hand. New analysis on charter performance from national expert - and all around good guy - Bryan Hassel coming, too.
The event is open to all.
When not taking down subversive bunny rabbits or paying off commentators, the Department of Education actually does commendable things. For instance, they're holding fast on enforcement of No Child Left Behind's teacher quality provisions which although far from perfect are a step in the right direction.
Poignant Freedman column from the NYT. And, from CA, some observers think that the Governator is about to get a lesson on schools...not sure about that.
Broad Foundation hiring for several positions. Good place to work. Important issues, sharp people, and that coveted LA cool...
Buster Unmasked! Spellings Gets Her Priorities 'Straight'!
Here is the dangerous and subversive rabbit that the new Secretary of Education is protecting us from. Yes, today's subversive radical wears an orange shirt, carries a red backpack, and has floppy ears. Forget the achievement gap, keep your eyes peeled for this fellow:
By the way, per the post below, according to a few emailers the people that Buster the rabbit visits are real people not other bunnies engaged in people-like work. Whatever. Eduwonk has no idea having (a) not seen the show and (b) frankly not caring because it's ridiculous that United States Secretary of Education is spending time castigating or censoring animated bunnies, and worse still in an intolerant way that looks transparently calculated to score political points. Besides, this whole business of psuedo-outing cartoon characters is ludicrous.
Andrew Sullivan has more.
Moderate Margaret no more?
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Department of Education, Margaret Spellings throws a big bone -- a rabbit bone to be precise -- to the Republican base. PBS is preparing to distribute an animated show about maple sugaring in Vermont that apparently involves a farm run by two "mommy" bunnies. Spellings has pushed back and PBS has pulled the show. Thank goodness she's on the case! Children were at risk of becoming lesbians, or worse still maple farmers, or even, God forbid, bunnies!
Yes, with everything going on in education the United States Secretary of Education is focusing on animated lesbian bunnies in her first days on the job. They could have just brought Bill Bennett back if this was the game plan.
Backstory: Spellings caught a lot of flack from the right wing "family" groups a few years ago for suggesting that single parents were OK. This looks like flank covering. Even if it's just furry little bunny flanks.
Blackboard Jungle…Stand And Deliver…Dangerous Minds…Lean on Me...the list of Hollywood takes on urban education is long. Now, add to that list, Coach Carter, the new Samuel Jackson movie about California high school basketball coach Ken Carter who benched his entire team because of the failing grades of some players.
It's a good story, and a good sports movie, but what's really Eduwonky is that it might be the first post-NCLB movie. For instance, in one scene the principal and Coach Carter get into a debate about graduation rates. The abysmal graduation rates for urban students and even worse college-going rates become a theme in the movie. It's a data-driven movie! And of course, low expectations for minority kids in the cities is a recurring theme as well.
And, in a scene the teachers' unions will simply hate, the teachers' contract comes in for a beating. During a community meeting about whether to overrule the coach and resume basketball even though some players are not making grades a teacher stands up and announces that working with the basketball coach to improve student grades is not something he's required to do under the collective bargaining contract. He's not portrayed sympathetically. It's a rough hit and the audience at the theater where Eduwonk saw the movie (in a county that went heavy for Kerry in November) vocally reacted negatively (interestingly, especially the kids in the audience). Might be time to call Kamber again!
Sure, the events that inspired Coach Carter predate NCLB. But the attitudes the movie shows are pure NCLB.
Perhaps things are changing? Back when Alan Bersin was being considered for the coveted Valenti job at the Motion Picture Association of America one excited reporter emailed Eduwonk saying, "Yes! I can finally pitch my movie about teachers' union work rules and the escalating costs of health benefits in the public sector!"
Who knows, maybe not so far off the mark? Eduwonk's got a screenplay in the works about political appointees who payoff media types for favorable coverage. It's probably too unbelievable and farfetched though.
In his press conference yesterday the President again distanced himself and the White House from the decision to pay Armstrong Williams and again said it was a mistake. Note also the interesting exchange on school finance in Texas...
Meanwhile, House Democrats released a new report (pdf) showing that the Bush Administration really has taken the PR thing to extremes. They're also dropping a new bill (pdf) to curb the practice and increase transparency.
And, back at the ranch, so to speak, Wash Post's Kurtz reports on another commentator the Administration is paying.
San Diego Update
Per this episode, here is where things stand in San Diego.
Just wondering, considering the fiscal situation there, how can the board justify to taxpayers buying out the contract of an effective schools sup't?
Sara Mead lays out the concise case for investment and reform.
Per this post, it looked like Michigan Governor Granholm was trying to force out state schools chief Tom Watkins. Now Watkins is firing back in a 4-page letter that is sadly not available online. The letter rebuts specific criticisms about strategic plans and low-performing schools, but includes a host of real zingers. A few highlights:
I have read and listened with interest to the comments you and your media spokesperson have made regarding your dissatisfaction with my job performance as Michigan’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I am surprised and perplexed that you would say these things as neither you nor any of your staff have shared these concerns with me personally, and given the fact that we have met on nearly a weekly basis to discuss education issues….
…I urge you to direct members of your staff to cease bullying members of the statewide-elected State Board of Education to sell out their convictions and their support of me.
I have been told that you have asked special interest groups to discredit me and convince my supporters on the State Board to fire me, as a “personal favor.” These State Board members are highly respectable people who are following their conscience, integrity, autonomy, and Constitutional oath of office…
The Strangely Circular Politics Of Education
Liberal icon Ted Sizer doesn't like No Child Left Behind or bureaucracy and centralized control in general, and he likes vouchers. A lot of conservatives feel the same way. In addition to being an interesting read, Sizer's new book The Red Pencil illustrates why simple left-right labels fail in education debates today.
In the same vein, Ryan Sager points out why NCLB opponents shouldn't be rushing to use Frederick Hess and Chester Finn as exhibit A for their case.
Important Ed Week commentary by former Urban League president Hugh Price. Price calls for a "Gospel of Achievement":
Skeptics may question the worth of rituals like induction ceremonies and parades, or dismiss them as one-shot events. Quite the contrary. Communities cling steadfastly to rituals and rites of passage because they are powerful vehicles for celebrating accomplishments and transmitting cherished values from one generation to the next.
Like Lisa Delpit, Price challenges some widely held assumptions, and like Delpit, important reading.
Chester Finn: Thoughts On The NEA
In the Gadfly, Chester Finn wonders if the NEA is softening its stance on No Child Left Behind. It's an uncharacteristically meandering piece for the usually crisp Finn, his method seems to be closely reading one article in NEA Today, and he seems to conclude that nothing is doing anyway. Joanne Jacobs joins in the wondering.
This is more smoke than fire. For starters, NEA's leadership can't just change the organization's positions, there is a process involving the membership. And, even if the leadership did desire a change (a debatable proposition), as the pay-for-performance debacle of a few years ago shows, the membership can and often will resist it.
It's normal organizational behavior. Teachers are busy and the average one is not on local, state, or national NEA committees or active in NEA decision-making organs. Instead, the most vocal, active, and strident are. The result is that the NEA is often not a member of the reality-based community on key issues but rather indicative of the views of these members. Quasi-Straussian readings of specific articles in NEA Today won't change that.
Teachers Voices is a cooperative blog put together by a group of teachers. Lively and thoughtful dialogue worth checking out.
Eduwonk keeps hearing how increasingly standardized curriculum is taking all the creativity out of kids today, yet sees no evidence of this...
Important, longish, and Sunday NYT editorial on Creationism/Intelligent Design. Sure to spark debate. NYT's bottom line:
…in districts where evolution is a burning issue, there ought to be some place in school where the religious and cultural criticisms of evolution can be discussed, perhaps in a comparative religion class or a history or current events course. But school boards need to recognize that neither creationism nor intelligent design is an alternative to Darwinism as a scientific explanation of the evolution of life.
Also in NYT, interesting James Traub take on the Larry Summers dust-up and Slate's Saletan deviates from the party line, too.
Conservatives to Bush: You suck on school vouchers.
It's true, he does, and good for him.
Update: More here from MO.