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Washington area's top education bloggers

[This is my Local Living section column for April 15, 2010.]

Several weeks ago, my blogging colleague Valerie Strauss (The Answer Sheet) and I announced our picks for best education blogs of this year. Our favorites were a diverse bunch, with many witty teachers, incisive journalists and droll experts of other kinds providing unusual perspectives.

But Washington area education bloggers were severely under(represented. I found only two, one in Fairfax County and one in the District, who had the acidity and depth I craved.

Since then, the more I read those two blogs, www.assortedstuff.com by Tim Stahmer and GFBrandenburg's Blog by Guy Brandenburg, the more impressed I am by their erudition, energy and skill at undermining my most cherished ideas. So I feel obliged to introduce them to readers who see my stuff only here in the newspaper, not online. At the same time, I beg Web surfers to tell me when they find a similarly worthy Maryland education blog, so I have at least one to follow in each of our three major jurisdictions.

Stahmer says on his blog that he is "an Instructional Technology Specialist working in the Office of Instructional Technology Integration" of what is clearly the Fairfax County public schools. Nonetheless, he never identifies his employer in any way but "an overly large school district on the Virginia side of Washington DC." He knows classrooms, having taught math, computer literacy, computer science and even a bit of American history in middle and high schools for 17 years. His wife taught music in public schools and a D.C. charter school. His sister home-schools her four kids.

My favorite Stahmer posts are his attacks on me. For instance: "In his discussion of Diane Ravitch's new book, Jay Mathews inserts several declarative statements of what he believes to be truth, including the assertion that I must be nuts. And by his definition, I am." I had said that America, since it is a democracy, has to bumble along without expecting quick and radical school improvement, even though "there are some crazies out there who disagree with this and say an education revolution is possible."

Stahmer responded: "When I take a good look around, it's not difficult to understand that not only is an education revolution possible, it's happening. Just not in schools." His posts are smart about the technology. He is clear and often funny. I long for more on how the revolution he is talking about can be brought to public schools, given the change-resistant nature of school administrations and school boards.

Brandenburg is much more critical, not of me but of my favorite urban school superintendent, Michelle A. Rhee, and also of the Post's pro-Rhee editorial cartoonist, Tom Toles. A better title for this blog might be Everything You Need to Know to Hate Rhee, and More. Don't take that to mean the blog is repetitive and boring. It's not. Brandenburg is a great reporter. I am betting there is some journalistic experience on his résumé, although I can't find any personal information on his blog.

He goes deeper into the Rhee phenomenon than anyone I have read. He somehow unearthed a couple of newspaper stories from the 1990s that shed light on what Rhee did as a schoolteacher in Baltimore. They did not prove Brandenburg's thesis that she lied about her success there, but at least he tried harder to get at this than anyone else. Lately he has been digging into the Capital Gains program in the District, a bizarre experiment in paying students for good grades and good behavior that even Rhee fans such as myself thought was not a good use of teacher time.

Reading these blogs is a good way to spice your lunch break. Find me a Maryland schools blog as exciting, and I will give you full credit in large, boldface Web type.

For more Jay, go to washingtonpost.com/class-struggle. For more on schools go to washingtonpost.com/education.

By Jay Mathews  | April 14, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Local Living  | Tags:  GFBrandenburg's, Guy Brandenburg, Tim Stahmer, assortedstuff.com, top Washington area education bloggers  
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Comments

my favorite urban school superintendent, Michelle A. Rhee,


I mean this seriously, would you please explain why she is your favorite. Is it her leadership qualities, being so skilled getting others to work with her towards a common goal, is it her keen grasp of the many details necessary to run a midsized urban district, is it her communication skills ? I just don't get it.

Posted by: mamoore1 | April 15, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

thanks for the links. I just checked out the GFBrandenburg blog and scrolled down to find a trascription of a Bill Maher monologue. Quite humorous, my favorite line about the current "fire the teachers" mentality that seems to have swept our nation is,

"It’s so simple: fire the bad teachers and hire good ones from some undisclosed location,"

Thanks again for the links.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 15, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
Michelle Rhee wrote on her resume that she received "acclaim" from the Hartford Courant. If you search the internet archive for the New Teacher Project website and her resume, you would see this.
In the articles Guy reposted, it would be impossible to say those articles show her receiving "acclaim."
Why did she lie (or exaggerate)?

Jay, you're smarter than this.
Don't play games with us.

Posted by: edlharris | April 15, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I am glad celestun100 likes Brandenburg's anti-Rhee tilt. We welcome all views of Rhee on this blog. As for mine, queried by Mamoore1, I don't know of any urban superintendent in the country who has expressed a clearer view of the essential problems of urban education--low expectations for low-income kids, too little attention paid to recruiting and supporting the best possible principals, too little attention paid to recruiting and supporting the best possible teachers, and two much focus on adult issues like how much control the school board should have over the superintendent. She has done more to focus on those things than any urban superintendent I know and the results so far look promising. She has pissed off a lot of people, but in my experience covering the best school administrators I know, that is a typical reaction to their efforts to change things.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | April 15, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

In MASSACHUSETTS schools that other than 8th grade language arts testing, there are not huge discrepancies between national measures of student progress and what local testing shows. Within about a 8-10 point spread the state’s testing system is mostly telling the truth.
In WASHINGTON DC schools (which has modeled its standards and assessment system after Massachusetts) there is a consistent 30 point GAP between DC-CAS scores and the NAEP. Hmm that’s strange. How could that be in the midst our favorite urban school leader minor miracle maker Michelle Rhee?. As DC parents like me know all too well, the children are being taught test taking skills and precious little else. To quote Richard Pryor : Who are you going to believe (Rhee, Fenty, The Washington Post) or your own eyes?

2009 MASSACHUSETTS
NAEP % of Prof. MA-CAS Scores
4th grade
Reading LANG ARTS 47 54%
Math 57 48%
8th grade
Reading LANG ARTS 43 78%
Math 52 48%
2009 WASHINGTONDC
NAEP % Prof DC-CAS Scores*

4th Grade
Elem. Reading 17 49%
Math 17 49%
8th
Second. Reading 14 41%
Math 11 40%
*Based on DCPS and mayor’s office summary of 2009 elementary and secondary scores on DC-CAS.
See: http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/About+DCPS/Press+Releases+and+Announcements/Press+Releases/Fenty,+Rhee+and+Reinoso+Announce+DCPS+2009+DC+CAS+Scores
NAEP Data:
http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/

Posted by: janetcamillebrown | April 15, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for the Tyopo---That was other than 8th grade language arts , which is a 30+ point spread between MC-CAS and the NAEP.
Some of us Jay actually care that the reforms make a huge qualitative difference in the level of education our children in the city receive rather than a lot of noise on the local the national scene. I live in NE and have a son entering middle school, There is very little happening in DCPS that will get him to high level of secondary learning. The sluggish NAEP data makes that crystal clear for me.

Posted by: janetcamillebrown | April 15, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Just to clarify :

I didn't say I liked the blog because of the anti-Rhee tilt. I liked it because of the Bill Maher editorial/monologue thing.

I actually don't like all the test score stuff he has on there because I'm not really interested in that. Show me the drop out rate going down eight years from now and I will say Rhee is successful.

Personally, I am not involved with DC schools in any way and only write my opinions on Rhee or anyone else if they say something I happen to care about. As a teacher myself, I sympathize with teachers everywhere because I know how hard they work and I put forth opinions based on what I think, not because I am pro-Rhee or anti-Rhee. I hope she does turn the schools around, I also hope she respects teachers. She either is misquoted often or she thinks the teachers are the problem and I disagree with the "teachers are the problem" idea. She has her hands full, and I agree with you that she was not going to be able to change anything without causing controversy.


Posted by: celestun100 | April 15, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Jay, What your own paper said about the Parents' Coalition in Montgomery County.
And we have a blog...

"The coalition might be the best-known parent advocacy group in the region. Its members represent several constituencies, including parents of special education and gifted education students and fiscal watchdogs. The group's defining victory came this school year when the school system scaled back the fees charged to families for course materials.

Coalition leaders have drawn attention to the misuse of funds collected from students for activities, the broadcast of a commercial radio service on school buses and, with their "Weast Watch" blog, the travel habits of Weast and his lieutenants."

The Washington Post, June 4, 2009

http://parentscoalitionmc.blogspot.com/

Posted by: jzsartucci | April 15, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I stopped blogging because I found Post columnists not well-educated and not able to lead the discussion. I am a professor of 50 years experience and I find the discussion shallow because of marginally educated people dealing with the complex issues of education. In many but not in all aspects this is a professional field requiring education in professional fields from good schools and valuable experience. Current decline of America is because we are ignoring the high standards that were once the prerequisite of leadership.

Posted by: acpress | April 15, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I can certainly understand your confusion with GFBrandenburg's blog as it is full of research and statistical analysis. While your column relies more on your typing to prove your points. To each their own I say. I'm sure there are people who truly enjoy your column.

However, I must take umbrage at your comment that Brandenburg did not prove that Rhee lied about her success in Baltimore. I don't believe anybody ever needed proof on that. Not only did she recently revise her autobiography from natural teacher who excelled the first year to teacher who struggled and broke out in hives, then discovered the secret to great teaching and abruptly stopped teaching, but because she claims she was featured in Good Morning America and the Wall Street Journal for her success while in Baltimore. I will pay $1,000 cash to anybody who can show me either the WSJ article or the archived footage. I think it's pretty common knowledge that neither exist.

Joe Linehan
www.edumacationarchive.com

Posted by: Thatsrightnate | April 15, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I don't know of any urban superintendent in the country who has expressed a clearer view of the essential problems of urban education--low expectations for low-income kids, too little attention paid to recruiting and supporting the best possible principals, too little attention paid to recruiting and supporting the best possible teachers, and two much focus on adult issues like how much control the school board should have over the superintendent.

I think I get it now. Ms Rhee has the ability to talk about the problems. My concern is that a leader has to have the skills necessary to do something about the problems, and earn the trust of those being led. CLEARLY Ms Rhee lacks the skills necessary to do that.

Posted by: mamoore1 | April 15, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
you and Andy Rotherham at eduwonk seem to share the value that so long your heart/mind is in the right place, you say or do most anything.
That would be a good discussion to have with Dr. Daniel McMahon.

Posted by: edlharris | April 15, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

Try Sue Katz-Miller who writes a monthly column for the Takoma (Md) Voice. Quite frankly I am often disappointed in the topics of your column. The writing is often at 10,000 feet (interviews w/Jerry Weast) and has little relevance to me as an parent active in my son's education(in MoCo). There are dozens of issues I see regularly that impact many families that are invisible in the pages of the Post. As counterpoint, the piece today about "sexting" is more relevant to parents (albeit it goes way beyond a traditional "education " beat). The local Post columnist Karin Chenoweth(?) from a few years back touched on live issues for parents that have kids in public education. As an avid Post reader I'd rather see more on the ground reportage than "policy" type pieces.

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