Monthly Archives: July 2010

Using Rewards in the Classroom: Short-Term Crutch or Long-Term Strategy?

Today is the last day of Center for Inspired Teaching’s two-week Institute, and as the rest of the country talks about the merits and shortcomings of the Obama administration’s education plan – particularly its belief that external systems of accountability and extrinsic motivators like performance pay are an essential ingredient in reforming public education – I’m watching the same debate unfold here, on the ground, as a small group of DC teachers prepares for the coming school year.

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Building Democratic Learning Communities

On July 28, I participated in a live web discussion about democratic learning communities with Classroom 2.0′s Steve Hargadon. It was an interesting and sometimes chaotic discussion. While Steve was asking me questions, participants from all over the globe were also typing questions and comments in a dialogue box. So please excuse my occasional flightiness […]

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A Sinking Ship?

During a week in which both Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama will publicly defend their education reform priorities – in response to severe criticism from the country’s leading civil rights organizations – I’m trying to figure out how a set of ideas that was so close to mobilizing a quiet revolution in public education has instead led the soldiers of that revolution to passionately (and loudly) take up arms against each other.

All I can come up with is they’ve gotten some lousy advice. And I think I see where they’ve gone wrong.

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Judicial Activism & the Yelp-ification of Voting?

As someone who never travels without his pocket U.S. Constitution, I loved that yesterday’s New York Times forced me to revisit the two sections that deal with Judicial and Executive power — Articles III and II, respectively.

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Here Comes the Judgment

On the fourth day of a two-week summer institute, in the haze of post-lunch hour fatigue, I watched something magical and uncomfortable transpire. And I don’t think I’ll ever see the role of the teacher the same way again.

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It’s the Relationships, Stupid . . .

I’m spending my days observing the two-week summer session of the Inspired Teaching Institute, a yearlong professional development program from Center for Inspired Teaching, a remarkable organization that prepares and supports DC teachers. The institute, described as “a 100% physical, intellectual, and emotional process through which teachers explore the art of teaching in an energetic and safe environment,” is taking place each day in the wrestling room of a DC high school in a leafy green neighborhood of Washington, DC.

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Are National Standards a Good or a Bad Idea?

Today, a Washington Post story reported that the push for common national standards in reading and math is gaining ground. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have now agreed to adopt the standards as their own.

This is notable progress when one considers how all prior efforts to promote a common set of academic standards in the United States have failed. But as the Post’s Nick Anderson reports, the Obama administration, working in concert with the National Governors Association, has been effective where others have failed by “encouraging the movement and dangling potential financial incentives for states to join.” The administration has also opted not to fund the actual work of the groups that drafted the standards, relying instead on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private donors.

As with many other major issues, the question of standards has become a polarizing issue with starkly divided camps. On one side are advocates like Massachusetts state education commissioner Mitch Chester, who believe the proposed standards would provide “clearer signals to K-12 students about their readiness for success at the next level, including readiness for college or careers.” On the other side are folks like the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey, who worry that the push for common standards “is opening the door to federal control. It is the most alarming centralization of power in education you can come up with.”

Who’s right?

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All Systems Go!

Increasingly, I hear people talking about the need for “systems change” and “systems thinking,” and when I do I always wonder what people mean when they say it.

My own interest in systems thinking began a few years ago when I read Peter Senge’s classic The 5th Discipline. It influenced me so much that I dedicated a full chapter to the subject in my new book American Schools. Overall, though, I haven’t seen a lot of work in education based on systems thinking. But that seems to be changing.

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How to Start a Movement, Part II

Last week, I shared a video from TED about how to start a movement. This Tuesday, my wife and I went to see the new movie Cyrus, and I watched the exact same principle unfold again. See for yourself (the clip is less than two minutes long, and it’s funny): As with the TED video, […]

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What No One Else Will Say About Teach for America

There’s an interesting debate unfolding on the New York Times web site today around this question: Does Teach for America Improve the Teaching Profession?

Unfortunately, too many of the featured contributors — who have sparked hundreds of readers to offer their own feedback — chose to cast TFA in one of two terms: as either the White Knight of education reform (e.g., Donna Foote’s “A Corps of True Reformers”) or as the down-n-dirty Devil himself (e.g., Margaret Crocco’s “A Threat to Public Schools”).

As I wrote last week, in a piece titled “What Gandhi would think of The Lottery”, this sort of polarized rhetoric is the latest iteration of the “I/It” way of seeing public education, and it will get us nowhere. So as someone who neither loves nor hates TFA, let me offer a succinct summary of how I see them, since no one seems to want to acknowledge the fuller picture of what they represent:

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