Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Education in the News

These are some recent article that are worth knowing about and or reading. As usual, please follow the title link to see the whole article. We have everything from charter schools to the most successful classrooms, and even why the GOP should pay attention to the Dems on education.

Waiting for “Superman”

a film directed by Davis Guggenheim

ravitch_1-111110.jpgAnthony, a fifth-grade student hoping to win a spot at the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D.C.; from Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’

Ordinarily, documentaries about education attract little attention, and seldom, if ever, reach neighborhood movie theaters. Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” is different. It arrived in late September with the biggest publicity splash I have ever seen for a documentary. Not only was it the subject of major stories in Time and New York, but it was featured twice on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was the centerpiece of several days of programming by NBC, including an interview with President Obama.

Two other films expounding the same arguments—The Lottery and The Cartel—were released in the late spring, but they received far less attention than Guggenheim’s film. His reputation as the director of the Academy Award–winning An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming, contributed to the anticipation surrounding Waiting for “Superman,” but the media frenzy suggested something more. Guggenheim presents the popularized version of an account of American public education that is promoted by some of the nation’s most powerful figures and institutions.

The message of these films has become alarmingly familiar: American public education is a failed enterprise. The problem is not money. Public schools already spend too much. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers. They would get higher test scores if schools could fire more bad teachers and pay more to good ones. The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools, especially to charter schools, which are mostly funded by the government but controlled by private organizations, many of them operating to make a profit.

* * * * *

A smiling man holds a firecracker.
Erica Minton/Flickr

Teaching can be a lot like lighting a firecracker, if you know what you're doing.

One of my high school English teachers was macho and abusive. He said he was a poet; and he certainly could read beautifully, in both English and Spanish. But he was cruel. He reduced me to tears twice. And I witnessed him frighten and humiliate others. I haven’t hated many people, but I’m pretty sure I hated him. I think I still do.

But the remarkable thing is that he was, without any doubt, a terrific teacher. Not that I’d wish him on my worst enemies, let alone my children, or that I excuse his sadism. I’d have fired him in a heartbeat. But the fact is, he was remarkable, and what made him such a powerful teacher was not what he said, or even what he did. What made him special was what he was: a passionate, committed, lover of literature and good writing.

He showed us that that was a possible way to be. And so he offered each of us a challenge: to make up our own minds about literature; to take a stand where he had taken a stand.

* * * * *

Why Republicans Should Embrace Obama's Education Agenda

Nikhil Swaminathan: writer/education blogger

    November 2, 2010 • 6:30 pm PDT

As Liz Dwyer mentioned in her post earlier today, tonight's election results are likely to include a Republican surge that, at the very least, carries the GOP back to power in the House. And she rightly asserts that federal education reforms instituted in the first two years of the Obama administration could be threatened by "new political agendas that are focused on local control."

Two right-leaning education experts are warning Republican lawmakers not to rely on their education playbook of the past. In an Op-Ed that demonstrates how nonpartisan education reform has become, Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli, the top men at The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, suggest that Republicans "should sieze much of" the Obama administration's blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known as No Child Left Behind in its current incarnation).

Finn and Petrilli write that should the predicted GOP landslide materialize, the new crop of legislators shouldn't rush to dump federal oversight for conservative hallmarks, like states’ rights, local control, and parental choice. No Child Left Behind basically obliterated the states' rights argument (with states like Massachusetts holding their students to world class, whereas states like Tennessee expect far less). Local control has also led to uneven results, and parental choice, the pair write, isn't really ready for prime time since there aren't enough good options to choose among.

* * * * *

Brilliance in a Box: What do the best classrooms in the world look like?

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

Imagine if we designed the 21st-century American classroom to be a place where our kids could learn to think, calculate, and invent as well as the students in the top-performing countries around the world.

What would those spaces look like? Would students plug into mini-MRI machines to record the real-time development of their brains' executive functions? Would teachers be Nobel Prize winners, broadcasting through screens installed in the foreheads of robots that don't have tenure?

To find out, we don't have to travel through time. We could just travel through space. At the moment, there are thousands of schools around the world that work better than our own. They don't have many things in common. But they do seem to share a surprising aesthetic.

Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones—circa 1989 or 1959. Children sit at rows of desks, staring up at a teacher who stands in front of a well-worn chalkboard.

"In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms," says Andreas Schleicher, a veteran education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who spends much of his time visiting schools around the world to find out what they are doing right (or wrong). "I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets."

No comments: