Sharon Otterman wrote over the weekend in the New York Times about the complications of value-added scores for teachers, including teacher-of-record issues and a confidence interval that may give observers more pause than confidence. A commenter to my previous post on teacher-of-record noted the confidence interval issue, which is clearly demarcated in the Times story: A city teacher ranked in the 63rd percentile could actually stand anywhere from 46th to 80th.
Or should we say for $184,203 (so far!), for my friend Tom Nissley, who had his sixth win on “Jeopardy!” last night and is already one of the top regular-season winners ever. Humanities PhDs certainly get their share of “What are you going to do with that degree?” and “Well, that will come in handy at trivia night.” It comes in handy for Tom’s day job too, though in a way that is not so instantly lucrative.
I totally do not get the appeal of Ryan Reynolds, or for that matter the majority of People magazine’s sexiest men alive, but I always appreciate a good pop culture reference and applaud Ben Miller for a totally appropriate “Van Wilder” lede. It comes in an Education Sector brief on how little difference measuring graduation rates over eight years makes, compared to the now-used six.
The same day I read this Trip Gabriel piece on student mental health in the New York Times, I learned that someone I am close with is taking a semester off college because of depression. My young friends who have been in this situation—and there is a surprising number—have not abused Adderall, binged, cut themselves or engaged in other sorts of behaviors that capture the attention of RAs and journalists.
Check here for details on attending EWA’s higher ed conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., February 4-5. It is a great program, a great facility (the Poynter Institute), and an average February high temperature of 71.
Did you know that 13 percent of all students in kindergarten through eighth grade change schools four or more times? That is a lot of kids, and a lot of moves. (And we’re not talking about progressing from elementary to middle school.)
… since stimulus funds has allowed the governor to keep more of them in prison. Education stimulus funds, that is. On a per-person basis, Alabama prisoners got three times as many education stimulus dollars than students in, say, Mobile schools. Reva Havner Phillips at the Mobile Press-Register analyzed the state’s stimulus disbursements with the help of the EWA research and statistics bootcamp.
If you go into a typical fourth-grade class—especially a high-poverty one—on test day in March, you might find a kid who arrived at the school in January, one who arrived in February, and one who arrived three days before. You’ll find several kids who receive most of their reading instruction from a pullout teacher, and others who do so in math. There will be students who spend large part of their day in a special ed room, and some in ESL. The class might have spent a large chunk of the fall with a student teacher.
If comments to your news articles become flooded by a new, probably articulate commenter who really, really loves charters and vouchers, the new managing editor of the Center for Education Reform’s “Media Bullpen” is probably doing his or her job.
I don’t know if the National School Boards Association gives an award for awesomeness, but if they do they should probably move Bay District Schools board member Ginger Littleton to the top of the list. She is the woman who reentered the meeting room to whack the Panama City, Fla., school board shooter, Clay Duke, with her purse. Our character is defined by what we do in the most difficult situations. So here we have ill-thought-out (“stupid” is her assessment) but so admirably brave!
I could not sleep last night, so I stayed up downloading apps for my iPhone. I love the app store. It’s like Taco Bell—you order about seven different things, and it comes to, like, $4.89. Because, as Michael Aggers says in Slate, denying my 2-year-old access to the amusing technology of the day would be like taking away my Simon in 1979, I am happy to let Milo play games on my phone, and I browsed the kids section delightedly.
For a project we are working on at EWA, a colleague and I have been digging into a lot of research on teacher effectiveness. Tracking soundbites back to their source can be pretty easy in some cases: Sanders 1996! Hanushek 2005! But while collectively we think about this topic a massive amount, neither of us know what research, specifically, birthed the assertion that teachers are the biggest school factor in student achievement. Obviously we could get the answer in one phone call to the right person, but we would rather turn it into a contest.
Principals and superintendents and PR folks have been getting more zealous in their quest to “control the message” by making sure their employees do not talk to the press and keeping journalists out of schools. But one reporter’s distressed query to me recently took the cake: Her superintendent wanted to ban the media from entering schools when children are present.
I’m compiling my second annual list of my favorite education journalism of the year. This has nothing to do with the EWA awards, which I have no role in judging, and which you should enter. If there’s something you want to call to my attention, by you or others, please e-mail me a link at the address at right, or post it in the comments.
In general, I am of the belief that we elect people to make decisions for us, and that is democracy enough. So I find California’s reliance on referenda pretty maddening (Hey! Which class of citizens do we feel like discriminating against this year?!), and the new parent-trigger law that basically allows a community to overthrow its school strikes me as odd, even if there are appealing aspects of the spirit behind it.
I am not quite sure how far $100,000 goes in an urban school district, but it’s good to see somebody—in this case, the Gates Foundation—doing something about the chasm between charter and traditional schools. The foundation has gotten nine districts to agree to collaborate with their charters, and vice versa, on data, best practices and so on.
I really don’t like to beg, people—but I will if I have to. Again: We NEED journalists to spend time in teacher education and show us the gaps between what teaching aspirants learn and what they need to learn to be successful in the classroom. It seems to me that this could fall under your beat whether you cover K-12 or higher ed.
The big news out of the PISA report is not the mediocre showing of American students—as if we didn’t know that—but the impressive debut of the Chinese. Here’s a useful piece by Sam Dillon of the New York Times. And if you want a little background on what PISA is, especially versus TIMSS, there are many explanations online; this one is as good as any.
Michelle Rhee has created a new organization, which you can find here and which she describes in a Newsweek article here. Seems they will lobby and support candidates and … we’ll see. We continue to witness the genesis of a lot of collaborations and organizations devoted to education reform; it’s hard to discern what will distinguish them, and what they will actually do, but obviously what sets this one apart is the woman at its helm.
… when they use Facebook to curse out the teachers union. Catherine Velasco of the Herald-News in Joliet, Ill., covers a school board official who seems to be giving Chris Christie a run for his money.
The typical tenure of urban superintendents continues to increase, according to a survey by the Council of Great City Schools. Any thoughts on why? It’s not like 3.64 years is a lifetime, but it’s a considerable jump from 2.33 years in 1999.
Did you do some excellent education writing in 2010? Then enter EWA’s annual contest. Here is a little background on the contest, here are the categories, and here is where you enter. Note that we now have a category for non-journalists bloggers! Teachers, community members, wonks—have we got a prize for you!
At least once a month I hear from a journalist whose school district is moving toward standards-based grading—being measured on whether students know the content and not whether they do the work (or, for that matter, show up). Peg Tyre summed up the issue nicely in the New York Times this weekend.
I have spent so many hours with American middle schoolers that I think I can safely, and sadly, say that whatever schools are doing to prevent bullying is not working. This is especially true when it comes to homosexuality. As I wrote in my book, “fag” is still considered the greatest insult one 12-year-old can spew at another, and while kids may tell you on a survey that they think being gay is okay, their ugly actions (and words) speak far louder.
Do read this analysis by Chad Aldeman of Education Sector on why it might be that NAEP scores have improved over the long term for younger students but not older ones. It is likely the same trends hold in your own districts, and if so—or if not—this would be a great national issue to localize in a story.
I am always getting e-mails and IMs from young friends when I know they are in class. I scold them, and at the same time, I know I wouldn’t be able to resist the Internet on my laptop during lectures either. Clickers to keep tabs on student learning in colleges—and, just as important, to keep them from sleeping and surfing—is not new.
I have great respect for my colleague and friend Jay Mathews at the Washington Post, but I was disturbed to read that only this week did he learn that lack of effort had anything to do with the stagnant or worse performance of so-so students in Montgomery County, Maryland, and, by extension, America. Isn’t this obvious to those who spend time with teenagers who aren’t super-strivers?
While submersed in years of middle school research, I kept hearing how girls had gained so much power. If that was true, why was I watching them abase themselves to impress boys every day? Yes, they spoke up more. They were sassy. But an awfully large number let boys grind into them at dances even when it made them uncomfortable and cared more than anything what boys thought of them. To me, that wasn’t power at all.
Latino children in Illinois are far less likely to go to preschool than their peers are, according to a new report by Bruce Fuller that’s being discussed today at a meeting EWA is cosponsoring in Chicago. Rosalind Rossi wrote about the research in today’s Sun-Times.
I have finally consumed every word of this massive Education Week package on professional development, most of it by Stephen Sawchuk, along with Bess Keller and Mary Ann Zehr (and others I have probably missed). Thank goodness for it. The topic is all but ignored in the policy conversation and journalism, yet so important, as PD swallows so much money and time.
The Chronicle of Higher Ed has published a doozy of a first-person account from a guy who writes students’ papers for him. I dare you to read it without feeling a little ill. I am surprised he makes only $66,000, frankly. Less surprised that education students are among his most frequent clients, unfortunately.
Linda Lutton of WBEZ and Sarah Karp of Catalyst Chicago collaborated on a project about the student attrition rate at the city’s charter schools, which is higher than at traditional schools. It is a worthwhile listen and read, given how often people talk about charters “pushing out” or “counseling out” students but rarely have substantive reporting behind those comments.
Given that the Race to the Top grants were doled out according to such a specific rubric, and states sometimes won or lost by a hair, it is quite a story that in states with new leaders, we really have no idea which pieces of the promises will endure, and what the Department of Education will do about that.
While everyone debates what Joel Klein’s resignation means for education, I’d love to talk about what it means for journalism: The leader of the country’s most prominent school system quits and A REPLACEMENT IS PICKED and nobody heard a word?!
While everyone debates what Joel Klein’s resignation means for education, I’d love to talk about what it means for journalism: The leader of the country’s most prominent school system quits and A REPLACEMENT IS PICKED and nobody heard a word?!
I really wanted one of the kids’ entries to rise to the level of finalist in the Slate Hive project I have been leading to design a better classroom for the 21st century. Alas, that didn’t happen. I was rooting for the school-bus classroom too. Still, there are very cool finalists at the top. Most of them took the classroom outdoors, in full or in part, and/or divided classrooms into a variety of learning spaces.
Amanda Ripley, who has embarked on interesting work on international education as a New America Foundation fellow, has a new piece out in the Atlantic. She discusses research by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson and Ludger Woessmann that slices PISA results compellingly, and disturbingly, thinly: state-by-state, the smartest white kids in America still don’t fare well compared to peers in other countries.
Whenever I’ve spent a significant amount of time observing a school, the teachers seem to be figuring out a new curriculum in some subject or another. This post, by teacher blogger Jennifer Scoggin, reminded me of that. This is a great, simple story idea as far as I’m concerned: go into any school and find out how long the curriculum in each subject has been around, and what came before that, and what came before that.
Helping a reporter on a foreign language story reminded me of a piece I’d always wanted to do, which I will now suggest you do. Look at how many years of foreign language instruction students in your districts received in elementary and middle school, and whether they wound up placed in Spanish I in high school anyway. This is nothing against studying langauges—pienso que es muy importante—but I know way too many kids who were in this boat.
Eric Hoover of the Chronicle of Higher Education did a terrific job in the New York Times this weekend—as part of a new collaboration between the two publications—exploring the aggressive recruiting top colleges conduct even among students they don’t have any intention of admitting.
A follow to my post yesterday on budgets: No matter what your superintendent says, a no-growth budget may be a bummer, but it is not a “cut.” Trimming to his or her proposed increases is not a cut either, if the total budget is not reduced from what it was the year before. Just because the politicians and PR folk play with semantics doesn’t mean you should too.
If you have ever had to cut your household spending, you know it makes you rethink each of your expenditures, your priorities, your life even. When school systems and universities face big budget cuts, likewise, it’s a chance for some soul-searching—and for journalists, it should be a chance to ask some tough questions. How big is the district’s work force compared to its student enrollment, and how have those numbers been moving over the last decade? How much do employees contribute to health care premiums and what are their copays?
Yesterday I mentioned that if a college you cover doesn’t offer any online coursework, that is a story in its own right. There are a lot of potential “why not” stories floating around in the K-12 universe too. Why do reforms with so much national momentum pass by certain jurisdictions completely? It is an interesting and important question to ask, regardless of what people think of the reforms.
When I titled my last blog post “Hybrid U.” I was really just aiming for a teachable moment. And I couldn’t think of anything better. College culture has handed us two of the easiest, most obvious headline/title cliches in the universe, “Blank U” and “Blank 101.” (The cousins of “Blank 2.0” in technology stories.) I sort of want us all to resolve to ban them. But then I won’t have them to fall back on.
As I have said before, if you cover higher ed, you have to write about online learning. If your beat is narrowly drawn to cover only schools that don’t offer it, then that’s a story too: why not? All the better if you show what the actual course-taking or -teaching experience is like, which given the nature of the endeavor is no small feat. It is difficult to achieve a compelling and illuminating level of descriptiveness about someone typing on a computer.
The first time I wrote a book based on a year of observation, I moved out of D.C. and into a bare-bones apartment a three-minute bike ride from the school I was writing about. It was 2001. It was a miserable year for me, personally. My father was in a motorcycle accident (he recovered), my grandmother died, I got dumped by a guy I loved and one I just sort of liked, and September 11 layered onto all of that to leave me utterly disconsolate.
My last chunk of unearthed files I want to share, from a manila folder I had titled “EXCELLENT ARTICLES.” Is it the best journalism ever? Well, it is the stuff I decided to tear out and hold onto for a decade or more—high praise from someone so ruthless about culling files.
I suddenly realized that I don’t need to bring all my files with me across the country—that there is this wacky new way to keep track of valuable reading material, and that the actual paper can go to Milo so that he can draw car carriers and house-faces on the backsides.
Sorting through everything, I’ve found a lot I want to share with you, which can be sorted into three categories: the sociology of middle schoolers, journalism I love and teacher quality.
My friend Hank Stuever at the Washington Post offers an engaging review of the latest batch of DIY reality television, including NBC’s education-renovation show “School Pride.” I weighed in on this program a few months ago, and I am involved in a Slate project on innovative classroom design too—though the “School Pride” classrooms aren’t so much reimagine
Today Slate launched its third “Hive” crowdsourcing project. This one aims to build a better classroom. Think about it: Over the last century, nearly all our institutions have changed in form to match an evolution in function. Yet our children still learn in rectangles filled with desks.
On November 1, The Educated Reporter is picking up stakes and moving to Seattle. My husband—a “tech guy,” in proper English—has taken a new job there. No need to worry—I will still be public-editoring full-time for EWA. You can reach me in all of the same ways, at all of the same times, except probably that first hour you are at work on the East Coast.
If you can think of anyone in Washington state I should get to know (or anywhere I should eat!), please let me know.
Just last week I was wondering why I have not read more about how students who received K-12 special education services are faring in college. Yesterday the U.S. Department of Education announced $11 million in grants to help with this transition: a peg!
Michelle Rhee is most likely leaving now that Mayor Adrian Fenty was voted out. Depending on whom you read, Ron Huberman may or may not leave Chicago Public Schools now that Mayor Richard Daley is stepping down.
I have been disappointed in how the charter debate—the next great thing! the worst thing ever!—obscures what to me is the most important question: What makes successful charter schools successful, and how can those pieces be incorporated in regular public schools that need to improve?
I met Macke Raymond of Stanford at a conference last week. When the conversation turned to Gail Collins’s exasperation over charter school lotteries in a recent New York Times column, Raymond said something interesting. According to the data she has gathered, students who are not accepted into charter schools almost never go back to the bad neighborhood school they were seeking to leave.
October 15 is the deadline to apply for EWA’s Education Research and Statistics Bootcamp, which will be held December 2-5 at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. You bring the numbers, and the assembled gurus will help you crunch them. Journalists always come away from this seminar with great energy and—even better—tangible, project-ready work. Applicants are encouraged, though not required, to propose work related to stimulus spending.
For this month, editors at the Harvard Education Letter have kindly removed the paywall on this interview with me. In it, I give advice to school and district administrators about dealing with the press. Not surprisingly, I advocate for openness, but I think I make a good case—so pass this along to the people you cover, and maybe it will give them pause about shutting you out.
Time for another round of MacArthur Foundation grants, and another round of envy from unanointed intelligentsia. (I have at least one friend in media who wonders each year if he will be so honored; do font designers and jellyfishologists do this too?)
Perhaps the most famous Strunkian edict is “Omit needless words.” Yes! Nathan Heller of Slate, who is dedicated to “copy-editing the culture,” wishes—as do I—that more people also lived by this one: “Omit needless quote marks.” Heller wants to know why there are quotation marks around “Superman” in the movie title “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” I can’t say I know why (something copyrightish? how can that be?), but I can say that omitting them is a mistake many writers are making, myself included. So let’s not.
Just a reminder that Monday is the deadline for applications to the Campus Coverage Project, in Phoenix in early January. It’s free, and it’s fascinating, so please tell the college journalists that you know/mentor/edit/are to apply.
I am looking for an outgoing, creative, articulate fifth-grade teacher to participate in a very exciting project in October. No, s/he will not be written about. It will not take up school time and requires only virtual and perhaps telephonic involvement, so any U.S. location is fine. Interest in classroom innovation is a plus. If you or someone you know might be interested, e-mail me at the address at right.
“It does no one any good to promote a student who is unprepared for the next grade,” a New York schools spokesman said in a piece by Sharon Otterman of the Times about the huge increase in the city’s student retention rate this year. True enough. It also does no one any good to have students repeat a grade if they are going to be doing the same old ineffective thing all over again.
Jason Amos of the Alliance for Excellent Education, writing about my long-ago newsletter article on the disproportionate amount of media attention paid to high schools, revealed some surprising information about the tiny amount of federal money that goes to secondary education, compared to preschool, elementary and higher ed.
I hate name changes. Why change the name to “media specialist” instead of just acknowledging that the definition of “librarian” has expanded? The always-insightful Steve Burd at New America points out the irony of the Career Colleges Association changing their name to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities—given that they get nearly all their revenue from the government.
More thoughts from the Vanderbilt conference on teacher effectiveness.
—Presenters brought up the difficulty, in value-added systems, in determining the teacher of record for a given student; they did not, however, offer much comfort in the way of solutions. This is a fine point always worth
—Nearly all the districts you hear about that have experimented with merit pay are relatively large. Reporters should not ignore what is (and is not) being done for and by small districts in the implementation of Race to the Top and other reforms.
USA Today has published a strong investigation of how universities quietly dun students for an athletics fee that can exceed $1,000 a year. I get that activities fees go toward many things a student may not participate in, but $1,000? That’s a lot. USA Today, by the way, gets a lot of ribbing from smartypants types, but they have consistently been out there doing real investigative journalism on education.
Today, Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives released a report from a three-year controlled experiment on merit pay in the Nashville schools. Teachers in the treatment group, from fifth through eighth grades, stood to earn an extra $15,000 a year if their students improved enough on math tests. Teachers in the control group could not earn bonuses.
We are learning a lot these days about schools in turnaround cleaning house of principals and teachers and janitors and even lunch ladies, but what about security guards? It is safe (ha!) to say that the people patrolling the hallways have more of an impact on school culture than those doling out the pizza. Bringing order to a chaotic building is nearly always the first piece of the turnaround puzzle.
If you have ever wanted to hear an ’80s-era sitcom star utter the phrase “professional development workshops,” then A&E sure has a show for you. “Teach: Tony Danza” debuts October 1, with the first of seven one-hour episodes about the actor teaching—for real—tenth-grade English in a Philadelphia public school.
If you know college journalists—from any medium—please encourage them to apply for the Campus Coverage Project annual seminar. It’s a three-day conference, cosponsored by EWA, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Student Press Law Center, where college students can bone up on the investigative skills and issue knowledge that will help them cover their campuses more incisively.
Phoenix in January! All expenses paid! (Thanks, Lumina Foundation.)
I know a lot of teachers who are dissatisfied with the amount and quality of information they get from their school districts’ data systems. This week, Anna Phillips of Gotham Schools writes about one who took matters into his own hands, developing a database for his Bronx high school that meshed the information the city tracks with further details—including personal anecdotes about children—that teachers felt they needed.
Read this piece by Nikita Stewart and Paul Schwartzman about how the arrogance of Washington, D.C., Mayor-for-Now Adrian Fenty pretty much cost him yesterday’s election. Ouch. Michelle Rhee’s fate is pretty clearly entwined with Fenty’s, and her own situation is analogous: It doesn’t matter how much you accomplish if you don’t play the politics.
You are interested in teacher quality, right? Check out the agenda for this conference at the Vanderbilt Center for Performance Incentives, called Evaluating and Rewarding Educator Effectiveness. I am going next week. Let’s make a deal: I’ll take copious notes for you on any of the sessions you tell me you are interested in, and I’ll eat your share of barbecue.
As if the answer to that question isn’t obvious. My ambivalence about sports has been documented; I won’t reiterate it. But no matter how much of a sports fan you are, you have to admit there is a story in the inflated salaries of many college coaches. The Boston Globe editorializes here.
Corey Jones of the Topeka Capital-Journal reports on Kansas eliminating funds for high school journalism class because it’s not a growth field. The funding has been provided through vocational streams, which is why it is at risk. But why isn’t it funded as an English class? As a profession, journalism cannot be any more endangered than humanities scholar, but students still learn Shakespeare.
I should add that while many stories about the upcoming generation of assessments talk about supplanting fill-in-the-bubble multiple-choice tests, nothing in the applications indicated that would be the case. Well, yes, insofar as you do not fill in a bubble when you take a test online; you click on the right answer, or whatever.
PolitiFact takes on the strong union state/strong student performance claim, repeated by Randi Weingarten in her ABC’s This Week appearance. They declare it half-true: Yes, strongly unionized states tend to rank above non-unionized ones in test scores, but the data suggests mere correlation rather than causation.
I met with a young woman recently who had left the education beat at a small-city newspaper to go work for AOL’s Patch.com. She got a pay increase and a pretty open-ended mandate: to cover her community in whatever way she sees fit. Not everyone thinks being a Patch local editor is a great job—there can be long hours, and you spend a good chunk of your time getting people to amass restaurant listings.
Before I started this blog, I wrote a column for the EWA newsletter, one of which suggested that you have to visit elementary schools to see how high schools got so bad—but that in the earlier grades, the dysfunction is harder to discern. Here is how I described the high school:
If you are a journalist with burning—or even smoldering—questions about the Los Angeles Times’ value-added project, join EWA for an audioconference tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 2) at 1 p.m. eastern with reporters Jason Song and Jason Felch and editor Beth Shuster. We will be talking process, ethics and whatever else you want to ask about. If you want to participate, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for dial-in instructions. Working journalists only, please.
It turns out I wound up at a good college for me, but there was nothing about my so-called “search” 23 years ago that would have ensured that. I applied early to and was rejected from a school I chose mainly because my boyfriend went there. Later, in the midst of a lengthy stretch of college visits, I was struck by how the tour guide at one school, which I knew of only because my best friend’s dad had gone there, received a never-ending stream of enthusiastic hellos.