PSAT for 10-12-10: Educate yourself/educate a friend

Thinking capMaybe we can put the blue tights
back into the drawer for a while (Hallowe’en isn’t for a couple of
weeks, anyway) and put on our thinking caps for Public Schools Action
Tuesday (PSAT).

I have been so caught up during the
past few weeks trying to deflect WFS hype and propaganda (where did I put those magic bracelets?) that I haven’t attended to some very useful information about important school reform issues.

Many
others have done a better job of staying on top of things, but maybe you can use a recap all in one place to share with friends and political leaders in
your networks.

1. Federal education priorities are not
supported by research

I KNEW it!!! Last spring, the Department of
Education published a series of reports on the research base for
President Obama’s Blueprint for America. Now the National Education
Policy Center has reviewed these reports and concluded that their
overall quality is far below that required for a national policy
discussion of critical issues. The main points about the Dept. of Ed’s “research,” from PEN Newsblast:

  • Overly simplified, biased, and
    too-brief explanations of complex issues are provided, with many
    critical omissions.
  • The Blueprint has no mention of an
    accountability system to determine how schools will be evaluated.
  • So-called intervention models for
    low-scoring schools are not developed or supported with research. 
  • No data are given to demonstrate
    how competitive grants can leverage improvement for both winners and
    losers of competitions, and proposed policy solutions in general do
    not logically or effectively match or resolve stated problems.
  • Reviewers found an overall neglect
    of peer-reviewed research, and an over-reliance on information from
    special interest groups, think tanks, government documents, and the
    media, as well as an over-reliance on the reliability of test
    scores.

See the report here

2. First merit pay study shows paying teachers for test scores
doesn’t work

From Google News: The effectiveness of
merit pay has come into question after a study from Vanderbilt
University’s National Center on Performance Incentives showed that
offering bonuses to teachers didn’t improve test scores. The study,
released earlier this week, is billed as the nation’s first ever
scientific look at merit pay for educators.

3. More lack of accountability in
charter schools: none of our business?

Back in 2008, PURE sent Freedom of
Information requests to Chicago’s charter and other privatized
schools under Renaissance 2010 for minutes of their board meetings.
Less than one-third of the schools responded, even after intervention
by the state Attorney General. Here’s our full report.

Now most New Orleans charter schools
have slammed that same public access door on a local newspaper, the
Lens. In a story headlined “It’s None of Your Business,”the paper wrote: “In response to
three months of requests from The Lens, a surprisingly large number
of New Orleans charter school boards failed to comply with even basic
requests for information. Many didn’t respond at all. Of the
officials who did answer, some provided only partial information –
and still others claimed they aren’t public officials or required
to do their work in public, even though state law says otherwise.”

4. Teach for America hires not
qualified

From PEN Newsblast: A federal
appeals court in San Francisco has struck down a federal regulation
that permits teachers working towards alternative certification to be
considered “highly qualified” under the No Child Left
Behind Act even if they are merely making “satisfactory
progress” towards
certification. Education Week article here

5. Drastic school turnarounds don’t
work

What’s the Idea? What’s the Reality?
What’s the Research? What’s One to Do? It’s all here in a great
two-page summary from ASCD.

6. Finally, what DOES work?

What
a real turnaround looks like
from PEN Newsblast:
After
years of high drop-out rates and dismal test scores, a group of
teachers at the high school in Brockton, Mass. organized a
school-wide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons in
every class in all subjects, including gym. The results have been
excellent, reports The New York Times. In 2001 testing, more students
passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any
other school in the state. This year and last, Brockton outperformed
90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. At 4,100 students, the
school contravenes the received wisdom that small is better. In
engineering the turnaround, the self-appointed group determined that
reading, writing, speaking, and reasoning were the most important
skills, and recruited nearly every educator in the building — not
just English, but math, science, and guidance counselors — to teach
those skills. The committee devised a rubric to help teachers
understand what good writing looks like, and devoted faculty meetings
to instructing department heads on its use. Then, the school’s 300
teachers were trained in small groups. The committee offered help to
reluctant teachers, and since all committee members were in the
union, scrupulously hewed to union rules. “In schools, no matter
the size — and Brockton is one of the biggest — what matters is
uniting people behind a common purpose, setting high expectations,
and sticking with it,”
explained David P. Driscoll,
Massachusetts education commissioner at the time (emphasis added).

Read more.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.
@pureparents