Monthly Archives: August 2010

Gone Fishin’

Back September 2 . . .

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The Science of School Renewal

There’s a revolution underway in the scientific community, and it’s changing the way we understand both the structure and the inner workings of the universe. These insights have far-reaching implications for all of us – and none of them are being heeded by the leading voices of our current efforts of transform America’s antediluvian public education system.

This is a serious problem. Here are three examples of what I mean:

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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Value-Added Analysis

I’m on the road all week — from DC to Oregon to Philadelphia to Oklahoma City — and everywhere I go people seem to be talking about the L.A. Times’ recent expose into the city’s school teachers, and the extent to which individual teachers are either helping students learn — or holding them back.

The conversations are based on the Times’ decision to use value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Thickening the plot, the Times produced this report using seven years of data the school district had — but had never analyzed. As the paper explains: “Value-added analysis offers a rigorous approach. In essence, a student’s past performance on tests is used to project his or her future results. The difference between the prediction and the student’s actual performance after a year is the ‘value’ that the teacher has added or subtracted.”

Because the idea of value-added analysis, or VAA, seems to be everywhere in K-12 education discussions (it has been embraced by the Obama administration, and many of the field’s leading philanthropic entities, from Gates to Walton to Broad, are intrigued by the approach), I want to offer what I see as the good, the bad and the ugly of VAA — and of the Times’ decision to use VAA as the foundation of its landmark report:

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Should She Stay or Should She Go? Michelle Rhee and the Upcoming DC Election

It’s almost election season in DC, which means I need to decide once and for all if Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee – and, by extension, Mayor Adrian Fenty – deserve another four years at the helm.

Here are the arguments as I see them:

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How ‘Bout A Little Respect?

I realize the only work-related issue in K-12 education that anyone wants to talk about today is the rumored jobs bill making its way through the U./S. Congress — a bill that could, depending on whom you ask, either save thousands of essential teacher jobs or simply delay the need to trim excess positions out of a bloated bunch of state budgets — but I can’t stop thinking about a conversation I had last night with my brother-in-law, a recent graduate of the NYC Teaching Fellows program and a prospective Special Education teacher in a city that sorely needs them.

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The Art of Choosing (or, Mad Men redux)

As some of you know, I’m in a bit of an ongoing conversation/debate about the uneasy marriage of democracy and capitalism (while still trying to clarify my own position on the issue). It began during a live audio interview with the Future of Education’s Steve Hargadon, and continued in the comments section of an Op-Ed I wrote about the popular AMC show Mad Men, which I describe as “a quintessentially American show about disembodied desire and emotion,” featuring a set of characters who “desire only the freedom to pursue whatever it is they cannot have.”

Today, as if on cue, my friend Steve Moore sent me a link to a recent TED talk by Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar, who was discussing the core ideas in her new book, The Art of Choosing.

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We Need a New Set of “Words, Words, Words”

On the radio this morning, I heard three different stories about public education reform. In each story, I heard the same three words — data, testing, and accountability.

Before I get any more depressed about how uninspiring this language makes me feel, I have a proposal to make: let’s stop the madness and start identifying some new words that can more accurately describe the changes we seek for children.

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Why I Like Mad Men

It’s a recent Monday afternoon and I’m stuck in the dreaded middle seat on a cross-country flight. The woman next to me is a sixty-something Arizonan who seems determined to hold on to her youth. Her hair is in a ponytail, her skin is leathery and brown, her top is uncomfortably revealing, and she is wearing oversized Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and Monster Beat headphones. When the stewardess comes to take our drink order, I ask for a cup of coffee. She asks for two chardonnays.

There are four and a half hours remaining in the flight.

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