Odds & Ends: Postcards From The Edge, Plus Edujunkets and Hess V. Biddle

Yoo hoo…When you’re attacking Pedro Nogeura for being too pro-charter school you’ve lost the argument.

Washington Redskins play the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, perfect time to link this TIME interview with Rams defensive coach and former teacher Brandon Daly.

Check out the Administration’s new teacher prep reform package here (pdf). In a deviation from the norm, NEA apparently on board but fairly critical statement from AFT this morning complaining about holding schools of education accountable using student test scores of graduates and also chiding the Administration for ignoring their 2000 report on this issue. Stay tuned.

I’m late to this issue of paid trips for public officials and others in our field but here are a few thoughts.  First, this is a place where transparency can play a big role.  I actually think it’s OK for vendors to sponsor trips but it’s important to disclose that where relevant (eg in an article) and in the case of public officials to do so in a real-time way.  Don’t feel comfortable disclosing? Don’t go.  Second, not everyone thinks this way. Wireless Generation*, for instance, has a strict no entertainment policy, no gifts, no meals, no nothing except sponsoring open events, like a reception.  I think that’s too extreme though because, third, these sorts of trips can be a good way to learn about issues, spend time with colleagues, etc…insofar as it’s transparent.  When  you stop and think about it the idea that people are for sale for a lunch or a trip is pretty stupid.  As in politics, it’s the overall industry structure, not the small gives and trips, that create the problem.  In our case it’s bad  or non-existent signals for quality, a small market of very large vendors, and problematic state and local procurement policies.

I’ve been asked by more than a few folks what I think about the Rishawn BiddleRick Hess smackdown about the achievement gap.  Here’s a (relatively) short answer.  I don’t know how anyone can look at the data on college completion released this week, data on high school graduation, or frankly pretty much any outcome data from our educational system and not come to the conclusion that we have a serious problem of inequitable outcomes.  Forget the Chinese, I think that tears at our social fabric in some troubling ways and does violence to any semblance of equality of opportunity.

But, I think Rick is right that the trade-offs in addressing it are too often not acknowledged.  I don’t buy the idea that we have to give up music, arts, and so forth.  Plenty of schools disprove that every day. Rather, we should acknowledge that focusing on one group of students diminishes attention on another.  I for one, however, think that (within reason of course) it’s worth it on both social equity and economic grounds (also check out this report (pdf)) and found the recent Fordham report interesting but hardly earth-shattering (especially absent more trend data about what this looked like historically).  And of course it’s not an entirely zero-sum game although resource/emphasis choices do have to be made and despite all the happy talk about growth models and similar ideas they don’t eliminate those choices.  In the past, Rick and I have written about the trade-off issue ourselves even though we disagree about the best direction for policy.

I also think RiShawn has a point about professional contrarians in the chattering class.  You do sometimes get the sense that people are looking for a clever argument and headlines absent any underlying coherent theory of action or recognition that their words have consequences and that this debate affects peoples lives in terms of how it influences public policy.  And because those indulging themselves this way tend to be among the more comfortable in our society and the least directly affected by the data I discuss above, it’s disquieting.

*BW has consulted for Wireless.

3 Replies to “Odds & Ends: Postcards From The Edge, Plus Edujunkets and Hess V. Biddle”

  1. Isn’t it interesting how Tim Daly is driving the wisdom of Brandon Daly out of the education game? The reason, I believe, is that Tim Daly jumped into a field that he didn’t know anything about, and seemed to assume that history began when he entered the arena. ”

    We” did not “create” a ethic where feedback is shunned. It evolved. In contrast to teaching. coaching has been an essential and core characteristic of team sports for over a century. Coaching evolved long before data-driven coaching was ever dreamed of, so there was a foundation to build on.

    Yes, teaching needs to develop the coaching ethic, but that is impossible when you can’t trust your coach. And as long as Daly is pushing his teacher-bashing agenda, that trust is impossible.

    As Atul Gawande just observed, few coaches are directly responsible for cutting players. As Gawande explained, coaches need to owe their allegience to the person they are coaching. By the time you get to those rare situations where the person who is doing the coaching is also making potentionally career-ending decisions, coaches and players have had years of interactions, creating a completely different culture than that of IMPACT, (to use the most disgusting example of policies promoted by Tim Daly.)

    Football, like teaching, is a team process, but Tim Daly wants to turn it into a self-destructive series of non-stop conflicts. Brandon Daly, the coach, wants his players to play smart and build on their intangibles. Tim Daly wants to turn teachers into mindless “widgets,” being rewarded and punished by mindless standardized testing. If the Tim Daly’s of the education world ran football, would they force coaches to pre-file their timeouts, not allowing for professional judgments, and reward and punish players not on their effectiveness but on how well they comply with top down mandates?

  2. Andy, out of fairness, I think we should acknowledge that all kinds of folks have been addressing the trade-offs for years, if not for decades, through their learning, teaching, writing, speaking, and experience of the ever-narrowing mission of public education.

    We should also acknowledge that the folks involved in shaping federal education policy make choices in whom they listen to; that is a different notion than the one that holds that no one has been acknowledging the trade-offs in test-driven schooling.

    I’m surprised there’s more interest in the Hess v. Biddle debate than there is outrage over the NCLB relief waivers which will make years of sacrifice and denying kids access to the arts and electives into a series of so many diminished gestures.


  3. Andy,

    I have some serious disagreements with some of Hess’s assumptions and arguments (he falls into a shorthand that suggests poor and minority students are automatically non-gifted, for instance; and he’s too quick to assume that an emphasis on one subset of students necessarily comes at the expense of another subset; and he should take more seriously the implications of his own observation about the ability of the most talented 20% of teachers to handle differentiated instruction in the classroom) but I do think Hess’s admonitions toward the end of the essay, and what they imply about successful, sustainable advocacy need to be heeded. 6-7% of voting public having a self-interest in your agenda ain’t gonna cut it, unless that 6-7% adopts much more radical and aggressive Civil Rights-era-like approaches to advocacy. I think education reform sometimes suffers from a lack of understanding of the mechanics of social change — perhaps because of a failure to recognize that THAT is what education reform proposes at its essence, a profound SOCIAL change.

    In Rhode Island, our Mayoral Academies (2/3 low-income, 1/2 minority students, hence about 1/3 white, middle class students, all broadly meeting proficiency and readiness goals) both challenge some of Hess’s assumptions and speak to several of his concerns and recommendations.

    Mayor McKee discussed some of the political upshot in the Providence Journal here:


    Though criticism of high-poverty “segregated” schools in sprawling poverty-dense areas is, to my mind, pure foolishness, I’m also reminded every day here in RI that there remains great power — educational, social and political — in public school integration.

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