Washington Monthly hits it out of the park.
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. Everyone on campus genuinely seemed to be her friend, despite a look that would have belonged only to outcasts in my high school: chubby, awkward, ringlets, which turned out to be an East Coast hallmark unknown to me and my Jewish, Midwestern peers; all of us still brushed our curls into frizz.
That the ease of a nerdy tour guide sold me on what now is my alma mater supports what we basically all know: Teenagers with the means to actually have a choice tend to pick colleges more on a vibe than anything else. What we didn’t know, but now do, thanks to Eric Hoover’s piece
in the new college issue
of Washington Monthly: Colleges these days are taking a page from marketers in order to manufacture that vibe.
This Washington Monthly is a can’t-miss issue. Check out Erin Carlyle
on a trade school that trains students for trades that haven’t been invented yet, Kevin Carey
on a new public college that has created an innovative—and cheap!—way to educate future doctors, Daniel Luzier
on the pursuit of trophy educations and especially (if you can stand a depressive funk clouding your next hour) Ben Miller and Phuong Ly
on the travesty of schools that utterly fail to graduate their students.
Best education book of the decade?
In the four minutes since I saw that my book Tested
was on Education Next’s list of contenders
for best education book of the decade, my inner Tracy Flick
has bubbled up a bit. I mean, is it tacky to ask you to vote for me? Should I bake cupcakes? Look, I thought my other book
was better. But still: VOTE FOR ME!
This is why teachers tell students to check their work.
Wow—what a week to be away! I’m still sweeping up vacation detritus, so I can’t talk long, and I know I am late on this. But allow me to just pop in to say that it puzzles me that a state otherwise deemed deserving of $400 million in grants would not get it
because they filled in one answer wrong. Rules are rules, but, um, wow.
Counsel for America.
Okay, that last post REALLY felt like pre-vacation closure, but I had to pop in and call attention to this piece
, by Melissa Ludwig of the San Antonio Express-News. University of Texas at Austin is creating a branch of the National College Advising Corps
, young college graduates who help high school students move on to higher education. They help students navigate paperwork, choose a college and the like, and have seeded advisers in 13 states. Never knew! I hope training for the corps members is solid—that FAFSA is no joke. Nor is choosing a school. Great counselors tend to get that way with years of experience, but I would take an enthusiastic shepherd over none at all.
Tomorrow I leave with my little family for ten days in the Pacific Northwest, to see friends
and kick around
. See you on the 30th. In the meantime, in lieu of reading about education journalism, I invite you to waste time at the same places I do:
, which forces tough choices (Little Mermaid vs. Trainspotting?) in an attempt to rank your favorite movies. Results are sometimes questionable: Boogie Nights at #5 sounds about right, but Talledega Nights at #7 is definitely overstating things.
—My friend Hank Stuever’s blog
, particularly the One-Man Book Club, which lets me know what to put on my library hold list, and what to strike from it.
—Go Fug Yourself
and Us Weekly
, even though I don’t know who two-thirds of these “celebrities” are. My husband says Us would be more appropriately named “Them.”
—Washington Post online chats
, particularly those involving food and manners.
, where everything is pretty.
—When I want some funny, The Oatmeal
fills me up.
—Speaking of sustenance, a huge portion of my brain is taken up with thoughts of what I might cook next (and after that, and after that, weeks on out). So, Epicurious
—The New York Times crossword
, but only on Sundays.
—Ticket to Ride
, one of my favorite German-style board games. If the phrase “German board game” means nothing to you, a whole world of wonder
awaits, my friend.
—This computer lands not infrequently on Sesame Street
, where Milo likes to play Big Bird’s Letters
when I am not making him watch vintage clips
Or, you know, you could do some real work. Several reporters
are writing “could it happen here?” pieces off the Los Angeles Times teacher effectiveness project; that’s something you might consider. If you need help with anything while I’m away, call EWA
. One of my colleagues can probably lend a hand.
Looking closely at differentiation.
What is differentiation?
A. The way to avoid pullout interventions for struggling students.
B. The way to enrich gifted students when they are not in special programs.
C. The way, in the 21st century, to make sure each student is taught at his or her level and to his or her greatest potential.
D. All of the above.
E. None of the above.
The answer is D, except when it’s E. How often have you seen differentiation done really well in a classroom? More often than not, the classrooms I visit are led by teachers who know they are supposed
to be teaching each child where they’re at, but also know they are not. Sometimes it is a lack of time and resources. Often it is a lack of training. It might be the strictures of a scripted curriculum. Sometimes people don’t do it well because they have never been taught how, and sometimes it’s just because it is hard.
This is a topic that is immensely important and potentially engaging to readers. If a principal tells you, don’t worry, your special child will get exactly what she needs because her teacher individualizes classroom instruction for each student, wouldn’t you want to know exactly what that looks like? How a good idea on paper plays out in reality?
Any school system official would probably tell you their teachers are differentiating. In reality the differentiation is often ad hoc and ineffective. This is particularly important insofar as differentiation is presented as an alternative to tracking, which has fallen out of favor among many. For parents whose children are on the lower end, this often is appealing: keeping students with peers who may teach and motivate them, and out of classrooms where their opportunities may be given a ceiling. Parents of high-performing students are often more skeptical; does the value of being able to motivate and help their peers, they wonder, exceed the risk of being “held back” by lower students?
These are questions that can be answered only by seeing what actually happens day to day in classrooms. As the school year starts, I urge you to spend some time looking at how teachers individualize instruction, how they don’t, and why.
Charging for public preschool.
We have known that universal preschool is often not actually universal. Now we are finding that free isn’t free. Interesting story
by Staci Hupp of the Des Moines Register about districts that are charging tuition for preschool even though the state provided money for it to be offered for free. And by the way: “Nobody tracks which districts charge tuition.” It would be a good idea to see if the districts you cover are doing this as well.
Is John Smith the worst teacher in Los Angeles?
I feel really bad for John Smith. Smith was the subject of an extraordinary Los Angeles Times article
Saturday, the first piece of a big database project that uses student test score data to rate teacher effectiveness. Smith, according to the Times, was one of the least effective elementary school teachers in LAUSD.
“Who cares about John Smith?” I can hear a lot of you saying. “I feel bad for his students
.” I get that. I do too. And I am thrilled that the Times is devoting so many resources to the issue of teacher effectiveness. Value-added measures are coming to a school near you, if they have not already, and deep journalistic study of the issues involved at the classroom level is rare if not nonexistent. On a policy level, it has always seemed the height of crazy, as the piece puts it, that districts “act as though one teacher is as good as another.” Challenging the primacy of collegiality over quality—yes, this is a dichotomy in school culture, though it shouldn’t be—is overdue. The reporters on this piece are talented, and I am looking forward to their future stories on the database, as I am confident they will be telling, provocative and important.
So why do I feel bad for John Smith, and relieved that his anonymous name* probably spares him from a fair bit of e-hate to his inbox? Most of all, because this may well be the first time he has gotten information saying his skills are lacking. Your students perform poorly under you for years, and the first indication you get is accompanied by your photo on the front page of the Los Angeles Times? Ouch.
My other concern is more practical. The article sums up criticisms of value-added measures of teacher effectiveness as follows: the tests are flawed, they cannot measure intangibles of teaching, what do statisticians know about teaching? This felt, to me, too dismissive of the nuances of value-added and standardized testing, the logistical complications, the legitimate shortcomings. The strengths, of course, were made plain.
You can read a summary of the study done for the Times, by Richard Buddin
of Rand Corp., here
. I left my undergraduate math major once my classes stopped containing actual numbers, so I do not understand all the formulas. I do know that the report does not seem to address student mobility, student absences, co-teaching, pullout interventions and other workaday factors that potentially complicate value-added. It suggests that the effectiveness of a given teacher is best studied over several years, but the Times article seems to be based on one-year measures. These considerations don’t negate the value of the measure, but they make for important context.
I assume—I hope—these nuances will be addressed in later stories. Teachers are given the chance to comment
on their value-added scores in the Times database, but that is not the same as reporters using their skills and authority to explain what these numbers (the students’ scores, the teachers’ scores) do and do not show us. We need transparency all along the pipeline, not just at the end.
*A few people have asked me why I thought John Smith was a pseudonym. I didn’t mean that. I meant that such a name is so common people might have a hard time tracking him down online.
Eating one's way through the fair.
I am conflicted about all the amazed look-at-the-fried-food travelogues that come out of the state fairs, and the one-upmanship of the carts themselves (fried butter! they have that!) for reasons both of both culinary interest and public health. I do love fairs, and I do love junk food, and I do love quite a number of fried things. But the idea that deep-frying can improve anything is a myth. Deep-frying improves eggplant sticks to an unimaginable degree, but frying ruins Oreos, Twinkies and just about every other sweet food.
And then there is the fact that journalists hop into this sort of scene as a pop culture digression (I HATED David Foster Wallace's fair story), but to many fairgoers this is an extension of the way they already eat. I first thought of this at a pow-wow in Montana a decade ago as I ate fry bread. It truly is awful for you, and no wonder nearly everyone around me (in their breathtakingly beaded costumes) was obese.
Do they have a booth at the state fair that says, "Chain smoke five cigarettes!" next to one that says, "Chain smoke six unfiltered cigarettes!" next to one that says, "Chain smoke seven unfiltered cigarettes and then huff three spray paint cans!"? Because that's basically what these food carts are.
The preachiness of Michael Pollan and Alice Waters and the like tends to grate on me, and I am generally no stick in the mud when it comes to a good fair or a good bout of junk food, but this summer's fair dispatches have started to appall me. Is that what happens when a gal gets old?
Now THIS is a cool job.
EWA has a bunch of great ideas in the pipeline that, eventually, will help not just journalists but anyone interested in the conversation about education. To move them forward, we are looking for a multimedia producer to join the staff—someone with writing skills, online experience, energy and a steady stream of ideas. Are you interested? Know anyone who might be? Encourage them to apply.
According to a new NCES survey
, private school teachers with one to three years’ experience have an attrition rate more than double their public school peers. Who knew? And why?
Gets me thinking that in all this discussion about teaching quality, nobody ever addresses private schools. How are their teachers hired, evaluated, measured? Obviously reporting on privates is hard, because they are, well, not public,
but they do educate more than one in ten American children, and might hold some important lessons.
“Edujobs”—what an awful name. Have you tried to say it?
The measure itself, $10 billion to save teacher jobs, has been controversial for many reasons, including its funding source
. (Take the money from Race to the Top? Why do you hate school reform so much? Take the money from food stamps? Why do you hate poor people?) The details are being hashed out in Washington this week; in the meantime, it’s a good opportunity to fix your lens on what these teacher pink slips really mean. Were the teachers in your district really laid off, with the unemployment benefits and COBRA payments that come with that? Or are they still on the payroll but just had to clean out their classrooms and hope for reassignment? (No small thing, by the way. Seeing a teacher pull all those boxes out of his or her room at the end of the year is like watching a clown car unload. All those supplies! The classroom library! The folders
. So many folders.)
I am interested, as always, in the practicalities of all this. What does it mean for schools, for teachers and most importantly for students for jobs to be in this limbo? Anything? Nothing? Are districts who didn’t wind up having to fire anyone going to get Edujobs money anyway, and if so, what will they do with it?
“Wow—this is the story I was trying to write.”
This was possibly the nicest thing ever said to me, by a reporter whose piece I edited last month. According to a friend, being edited by me is sort of like getting the body scrub at the Korean spa
: There will likely be moments of what-did-I-get-myself-into discomfort, but your skin feels great afterward. I had that body scrub recently. Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, the lady WASHED MY HAIR! It was awesome.
I won’t wash your hair, but I am happy to scrub the dead skin right out of your copy. Lots of writers send me their work before they ship it off to their editor, their book agent, the op-ed editor. I can do the same for you, if you’d like. It might be more challenge than you get from your regular editor, but you want that, right?
Reporting on what might change in a Common Core world.
James Vaznis of the Boston Globe laid out
—as much as one can at these early, speculative stages, and in less than 500 words—how the Common Core differs from Massachusetts standards and what might change, topic by topic. I am glad he did, I hope he goes deeper, and I implore all beat reporters to do the same.
The most successful gurus you never heard of.
. Robert Marzano
. Richard duFour
. Douglas Reeves
. Harry and Rosemary Wong
. If you haven’t heard these names, you are not a teacher or a principal. You probably aren’t a school board member. But you might be an education journalist.
School districts spend millions on consultants like these, who specialize in everything from formative assessment to understanding poor kids to how to greet your students on the first day of class. Some educators find their speeches and books and numerous other products inspiring and helpful; some think they are wastes of time and money. So much journalistic focus right now is on funds the U.S. Department of Education is giving out, but if you want to follow dollars, you should look, too, at the money your school districts pour into educational consultants and related professional development, and how—if!—officials determine whether it’s worth it.
Waiting for Supertween.
Word is that after “Waiting for Superman” comes out, Davis Guggenheim will continue to shine his spotlight on the youth of America by directing a biopic
of Justin Bieber. In 3-D.
Hey, the Educated Reporter is all for high/low. A Ligne Roset light over an Ikea table. Sigerson Morrison stilettos with a Target purse. As for the 16-year-old pop idol himself, I find him spellbindingly catchy and I love his hair. Milo, who just turned 2, still talks about the three minutes of him he saw on TV months ago, and calls the rodent who builds dams “Justin Bieber.” So let me be the only person to not snark about this.
What you need is only 17 clicks away.
Ever tried to get useful information off a university website? THIS IS SO TRUE
The $250,000 barber.
I love GAO reports! I always have. I used to want to work there. (I also, at various points, used to want to be an interior decorator, a teacher, an actress and a designer of confidence-building measures between the Pakistani and Indian armies.) Anyway, the latest education release
from the GAO (which, yay, includes voicemails), details questionable practices that for-profit college representatives used on undercover “applicants”—among them telling a purported candidate for a barber certificate that one could earn $250,000 in the field. Yeah, if you worked as an anesthesiologist on the side!
You should totally sign up
to get GAO reports delivered to your e-mail. You never know when those government detectives will turn up something fishy in your district.