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Posted at 5:30 AM ET, 12/24/2010

Why Jay's classroom focus is wrong

By Jay Mathews

I often read "Dropout Nation," a blog covering education reform written and edited by a very experienced journalist and former editorial writer, RiShawn Biddle. Recently in discussing one of my pieces, he said I was wrong to put the emphasis on what happens in the classroom.

Readers of this blog know I have been punched out from every possible direction. This was a gentle blow, no more than a friendly critique. But I could not remember anyone ever saying that my preference for the micro (teachers, students, schools and parents) over the macro (school districts, state and federal education departments, teacher unions and national politicians) was a weakness.

Intrigued, I asked Biddle if we could exchange some emails on this question, and whatever other issues it led to, and publish it on my blog. He kindly agreed. Here is our conversation:

Mathews: I was intrigued by your argument that what happens in the classroom is NOT the most important part of improving schools. What do you think is more important, and why?

Biddle: Certainly you can't improve schools without improving what happens in classrooms. All that said, you can’t fix what happens in classrooms until you deal with the systemic problems plaguing American public education today: Low teacher quality; abysmal curricula; the failure to inform parents and let them be lead players in education decision-making; and a culture of low expectations set by teachers, administrators, parents and community leaders alike.

Take teacher quality: As both Arthur Levine and Martin Haberman have noted (and as Teach For America’s own work has shown), our ed schools fail to recruit aspiring teachers with strong subject competency, who are entrepreneurial, and who care for children. The fact that ed schools then fail to adequately train teachers on such basics as reading instruction is also a problem. State laws, teachers’ union contracts and bureaucratic incompetence within districts result in too many poor-performing teachers remaining in classrooms.

Mathews: Sure, but we have known for a long time that the ed schools have that problem. Have they even TRIED to fix it in any significant way? No. I don't think begging for reform at those institutions is going to work. I am far more encouraged by the efforts of school organizations, like the High Tech High group, to set up their own teacher training programs, in effect going around the ed schools. A similar program, Teacher U, has been set up at the education school at Hunter College in NYC. By whom? People who run successful charter schools. The promotion of the teaching methods book "Teach Like a Champion" is also helpful powerful, and again is being done on the school level. I think we have to forget about people above that level doing much. They will only get themselves together if they see the schools stealing their assignments.

Biddle: Happily, alternatives such as Teach For America and Teach Like a Champion are starting to gain traction. But these alternatives still produce a smidgen of the 200,000 new teachers sent into classrooms every year. Ed schools still produce more than 90 percent of all teachers and consume most of the $7 billion a year spent on recruiting and training. They can’t be ignored.

But, as I have said, it isn’t just a teacher training problem. It is also a matter of how we manage teacher performance and reward them for great work. The traditional system of teacher compensation, for example, does little to inspire high-performing teachers to continually improve their performance or even pursue new ways of improving student achievement. This, in turn, discourages the talented, entrepreneurial people our kids need.

The great thing about charter schools is that they encourage teachers to become entrepreneurial, to start their own schools. We need to create career routes that bring more talents into teaching.

Mathews: It seems like you are getting too far from the source of the solution again, but maybe not. You haven't quite said how to fix the performance and reward system. I think we should also leave this to individual schools, that is, individual principals who are picked VERY carefully. Let them decide how to compensate and motivate, so they can create the team spirit that works best for their group. If the Edmonton reform model became more popular in regular school districts, with principals being allowed to make most of the budget decisions, then nearly every school could be run like a charter. Am I wrong?

Biddle: Let me unpack this: The problem starts with the fact that American public education doesn't adequately evaluate teacher performance. State laws and union contracts banning the use of student performance data in performance evaluations leaves schools with almost no objective way to assess teacher performance. This, in turn, makes it difficult for schools to sort out high-performing teachers from laggards who shouldn't be in the classrooms.

The traditional system of teacher compensation -- near-lifetime employment in the form of tenure, degree- and seniority-based pay scales, reverse seniority rules governing layoffs, and defined-benefit pensions -- does little to either reward highly-effective teaching or foster what I call "a culture of genius in education" in which all children get a high-quality education. Because traditional teacher compensation fosters a career path in which teachers only stay in the classroom, it also discourages talented, entrepreneurial, caring people from the profession.

Consider this: Just because someone is stellar at teaching, cares for children and enjoys the profession doesn’t mean they want to be just a teacher for life. The kind of talented and gifted people who are best at teaching -- people like Jason Kamras, Steve Evangelista and Jaime Escalante -- are also the kind of people who are interested in other challenges. Some may want to start their own schools; others may want to start programs that address aspects of our nation's educational crisis; others may want to become school leaders.

As I mentioned earlier, we need to change how we compensate teachers in order to lure and keep high-quality talents into the profession. This goes beyond simply providing performance bonuses. Another is to provide great teachers grants to start their own social entrepreneur programs — including schools, teaching fellowship programs or even the next Black Star Project.

But reforming teacher compensation isn't one you can solve at the individual school level. This is because most teachers work for school districts, whose central offices control most human resources and human capital decisions. Now, if you move to a structural reform concept I've been developing called the Hollywood Model of Education, then the issues with compensation can be dealt with at local school levels because every school would essentially be a charter school.

Mathews: What evidence do you have that that change to compensation based on student progress will attract more good people to the profession?

Biddle: At this moment, there isn’t much evidence. This is largely because we haven’t had any large-scale efforts in this direction. The Denver pay-for-performance plan largely allowed veteran teachers to stick to traditional pay scales instead and only allowed them to voluntarily opt into pay-for-performance. Until an entire group of school districts move from traditional compensation scales, we won’t have an answer.

We can look at other sectors to see how performance based and opportunity-based pay can work. Take the tech sector, where companies such as Microsoft and Google have continually attracted high-quality talent because the workers know they will be rewarded for great both – both monetarily and in future opportunities.

The reality is that we cannot improve the quality of education for our kids until we get rid of compensation systems that treat teachers like old-school factory workers. We can measure teacher performance. Our compensation systems should reflect this reality.

So here's my question: Why do you suggest leaving compensation and reward issues to individual schools?

Mathews: I have been influenced by my reporting on some of the most effective public charter schools, like KIPP. Much of their success comes from the principals being picked and trained carefully, then given the freedom to run the school, and assemble their staffs, any way they like, as long as they achieve strong growth in student achievement. Turning each school into a team, each team having a different style and emphasis, is powerful. But it doesn't work if the principal does not have the freedom to compensate and reward teacher work in a way that makes the most sense for her and her circumstances.

Our discussion ended there, but we may pick it up again someday. I will have posts on the blog next week, despite the holidays. But this Friday "Trends" column will take its traditional end of the year day off, so it will not appear again until Jan. 7, The Mathews family and the family wish the best for you in the New Year.
Keep at me. I may get it right eventually.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | December 24, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  Dropout Nation,, Jay Mathews. new ways of teacher compensation, RiShawn Biddle, power of ed schools  
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The existing compensation package in public education based on years of service and degrees/credits earned runs contrary to everything in our market based economy. Schools are one of the few instances in our culture where competition is frowned upon. Talk about being counter productive.

Under this compensation model the Marv Thronberrys of the world would receive the same contract for playing baseball as the Mickey Mantles. Preposterous! It simply should not be, but in our public schools, sadly, it's a reality.

This entrenched compensation system is the foundation of our union dominated schools and their collective bargaining agreements. Think about it. What kind of power/control would a union have over its members if the existing compensation package were replaced by a meritocracy? None, bubka, natada. Unions would become the dinosaurs of our schools.

For every teacher in a district to be on the same salary schedule bargained by their local union is anathema to production, drive and initiative. While it may encourage collaboration it sacrifices potential progress. That's a recipe for mediocrity if I've ever heard one and that's exactly what we have in our schools, "...a rising tide of mediocrity," only this tide has stalled and forgotten to go out to sea.

The only ones opposed to merit pay for teachers are the unions and the marginal/deficient teachers. The folks who can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time would love the chance to earn more money.

Don't get me wrong. Unions have served a purpose and have been responsible for some very positive changes FOR TEACHERS over the past half century. However, they may well have outlived any degree of usefulness they once represented and have now entered into a borderline harmful/destructive phase, especially as they relate to education reform, and especially the NEA.

I like the macro/micro discussion. Could I use that in something I'm writing?

Posted by: phoss1 | December 24, 2010 6:52 AM | Report abuse


What are your thoughts of this report?

If you've written about it already, could you post the link?


Posted by: limnetic792 | December 24, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Biddle makes a leap that I can't understand or reconcile. Our "traditional system of teacher compensation," he writes, "does little to inspire high-performing teachers." Fair enough. But he also criticizes ed schools [accurately to my mind] for failing to adequately train teachers.

How precisely does it make sense to acknowledge that the system that produces "90 percent" of our teachers is flawed and then suggest that the answer is to "manage teacher performance and reward them for great work."

How much "great work," one has to wonder, can we reasonable expect from a system that "fail[s] to adequately train teachers on such basics as reading instruction." Are we to rely on dumb luck to produce great teachers?

In the popular imagination, struggling schools are filled with union-protected, tenured layabouts, counting the days until retirement and refusing to teach. In my experience, you are much more likely to decent people trying hard and failing despite (or more likely because of) doing exactly what they were trained to do.

Establishing a high-performance culture is critical. But how do incentives and better management turn poorly trained teachers into great ones?

Posted by: rpondiscio | December 24, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

The problem starts with not enough talented people wanting to be teachers or to remain teachers. That's the basic problem and one that is not often addressed.

I do agree that encouraging teachers to start their own charter schools is a good solution. This will lead to autonomy and full professional status. It will also afford teachers the opportunity to make some of the larger salaries that now goes ONLY to people outside the classroom. When talented people view teaching as a challenging and rewarding career, many will consider it as a profession.

We'd better do something fast because once the baby boomers have all retired I suspect we'll be even more desperate than ever for K-12 teachers. This state of affairs is now predicted for California in the very near future.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | December 24, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I have a few quibbles with Mr. Biddle. He jumps from criticizing the education schools to union bashing too quickly. The ed school problem is huge and much more pertinent than union issues. Also he assumes too much about the motivation of master teachers. Why assume they are "entrepreneurial"? Here is my suggestion for improving teacher quality: first pay more; second recruit better students; third now start weeding out the deadwood. I know--everyone wants to get rid of the bad teachers before upping the pay, but come September every classroom has to have someone teaching in it. Change will be slow and expensive and sometimes unfair--in overpaying bad teachers for awhile.

Posted by: pittypatt | December 24, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

"our ed schools fail to recruit aspiring teachers with strong subject competency, who are entrepreneurial, and who care for children"

Oh, please. Yes, all teachers hate kids.

The middle trait? Find the slightest bit of evidence that "entrepreneurial" is going to be positively associated with teacher success. Of course teachers aren't entrepreneurial. The job is the very essence of NON-entrepreneurial. So what? I'm a teacher who has been self-employed for her entire career up to now, so I feel pretty qualified to assert that entrepreneurialism is merely a trait, not an essential quality in *any* profession. (Few lawyers or doctors, for example, are entrepreneurial).

The notions that ed schools should have been looking for entrepreneurial personalities, that their "failure" is some sort of indictment, and that this trait has anything to do with good teaching are all utterly risible.

As for the last--Is California the only state that has fairly rigorous competency tests? Because if it isn't, all this nattering about ed school recruitment is moronic--and flatly untrue.

In California, a teacher has to have passed at least one of the competency tests required in order to start ed school. I have taken and passed the tests in three subjects, and I am certain that requiring these tests counts as recruiting "aspiring teachers with subject matter competency".

So if the other states do the same, then what idiocy is this? If the other states don't require competency, then that's the problem.

But in all cases, note that it is a STATE responsibility, not an ed school requirement. Most state universities are not competetitive, and it would be against their charter to mandate requirements higher than the state minimum.

Biddle's talk is generally recycled pap, nothing terrible interesting, and utterly uninformed.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | December 24, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

So which is it? Do Ed schools do a terrible job and all the public schools are filled with mediocre and worse teachers as a result and are TFA teachers the new wave, or are Ed schools about the same as other professional schools of journalism, law, medicine or film, grinding out graduates who "don't know anything" but learn on the job like anyone else?

I am a highly decorated teacher with local state and national honors who is paid based on my years on the job and education like everyone else. I would not teach any better if I was paid more, in fact my pay was recently cut due to furlough days and rising health costs. if I win the lottery tomorrow I would still like to teach. Not to be trite, but it is fun and rewarding. I am Mickey Mantle who would play/teach for the love of the game.

But Rishawn Biddle is correct. I would like a grant or a teaching fellowship to help struggling young teachers or start a school within our school or Black Star project. It is both idiotic and insulting that teachers who do half as much are paid at twice the rate. my District is stifling and lacks creativity. The Union does perpetuate the myth that we are all the same. It is discouraging when I think about it. So I try not to think about it. I'll bet many who read your blog feel the same way.

Posted by: Hrod1 | December 24, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I follow both Class Struggle and Dropout Nation. It was good to see this exchange.
My personal view leans with Jay's focus in the classroom. It just makes more sense that the greatest impact on achievement can be made there. Five critical factors drive achievement. A motivated student, supportive parents, high quality teaching, high quality principal leadership and a rigorous curriculum. It is these five factors that should receive the greater emphasis. Improved grad rates and academic performance will not primarily come from external sources. For more on my thoughts see

Posted by: begirt5754 | December 24, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Both Mr. Mathews and Mr. Biddle have excellent points and this is the continued concern I have as a public school educator. We all have the same goal: We want to improve student achievement among all students. Yet, we debate on how to achieve this goal. We have been a nation at risk. We strive to leave no child behind and have created a new blueprint for achievement. All external initiatives. As an educator, and school administrator, I have control over my program. Constantly reading research, articles, blogs, and connecting with fellow change agents across the country, I have taken it upon myself to revamp curriculum. I am not waiting for superman to swoop down and save me. I am not waiting for another policy to be initiated. I have provided my staff with the tools needed to build a better curriculum. They revamped 5 courses that are more dynamic and skills-driven. They are constantly discussing ways to improve upon the curriculum they created.
Final thought:
It took 21 years in education to realize that I can be an edupreneur. I do not need to stay within the walls of my school. I can make connections and learn from others and improve myself as an educator. As Walter McKenzie wrote in a recent blog post: "Mavericks, Martyrs, and Canaries", we do not need to make big waves individually, just if each one of us create a small ripple, the collective ripples can improve student achievement. I am a ripple. Who will join me?

Posted by: core4all | December 24, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Ed schools try to teach students to be entertainers and administrators look for those entertaining qualities. Why does it surprise anyone that kids don't learn much?

Posted by: physicsteacher | December 24, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Sadly, it is differences in students attitudes towards school that makes a bigger difference than the teacher, the school, or the curriculum.

Still, the macro direction towards standards is a wonderful addition to our haphazard approach. Having students make it to the third or fourth grade without being able to read means that being in the third or fourth grade isn't a meaningful designation. If we simply addressed education to students at the level were they are, we would have a lot more success. Instead, we give kids two years ahead the same teacher as kids two years behind, in a misguided approach to pretend all students have the same potential. This makes the job hard for the student and the teacher.

Posted by: staticvars | December 24, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

@Cal_Lanier: glad I wasn't the only one to notice Biddle's overuse of "entrepreneurial." I suspect it's a classic case of someone superimposing their own limited life experience on some huge social problem... Biddle views himself as an entrepreneur and thus thinks that if teachers acted like him it would save education. Jay noted, of course, that many of Biddle's ideas are substantiated, which is not surprising since Biddle has no experience in education.

In fact, I find a lot about Biddle troubling. His masthead on his site trumpets his name in what is hard to see as anything other than self-promotion. (Is this really about the kids or about him selling himself as an education pundit?) His work resume is awash in scandal, whether it be his dismissal from Forbes over unsubstantiated work or his firing from the Indy Star after a series of racially-charged incidents.

Some would argue that Biddle's own issues are separate from the substance of his arguments. I have to wonder if the substance of his arguments are based entirely on his experiences and nothing else.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | December 24, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse


Have you read "Someone has to Fail" by Dr. David F. Labaree? Very interesting and enlightening.

Posted by: demathis | December 24, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Hummm...Biddle sounds a whole lot like Arne Duncan and his advisor, Joe Anderson, to me...just more caca.

Posted by: lacy41 | December 25, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Is California the only state that has fairly rigorous competency tests?

I can assure you that many (most?) states don't.

I recently took my competency tests in New York State, where the standards for obtaining a teaching certification are considered more stringent than many other states.

They were anything but rigorous.

Posted by: hainish | December 26, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

The micro (teachers, students, schools and parents) vs macro (school districts, state and federal education departments, teacher unions and national politicians) debate in school reform is missing one active participant, students! Yes, they are listed in the micro by Jay, but how is their involvement accepted and used in decision making? Their involvement in the education system design must go well beyond being passive, test-taking consumers.

We need a system that encourages students to be active and critical consumers of educational services. They must be listened to. Their feedback must be constantly observed and captured.

I suggest a system, such as we started here at our Dallas middle school, of a 10-year time-capsule and 10-year class reunions and mentoring experiences. At those 10-year reunions we will ask these former students to give their "Recommendations for Success" talks to the then current students in the middle school. These talks will obviously also have feedback that will be priceless for teachers and school district management. How can they do a better job? What did the students face in the years after middle school that they can better prepare current students for?

Once school systems and the large majority of teachers are finally open to such critically important feedback, the system will have changed, and will continue to change.

The work of the macro is to change and manage the micro. Until the macro allows itself to be constantly changed by input from the micro, there will be no effective change.

Posted by: bbetzen | December 26, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

At some point, writing this disingenuous becomes outright falsehood. Jay, you know you work for one of the for-profit power players who represent the only "macro" point of view which you voice. By pretending the epic struggle to privatize public education for your employers benefit doesn't even exist, you violate the public trust you carry as a journalist.

bbetzen worries, "The micro (teachers, students, schools and parents) vs macro (school districts, state and federal education departments, teacher unions and national politicians) debate in school reform is missing one active participant, students!" The most active participant is money.

As Jonathan Kozol observed in an article in Harper's:

"Some years ago, a friend who works on Wall Street handed me a stock-market prospectus in which a group of analysts at an investment-banking firm known as Montgomery Securities~described the financial benefits to be derived from privatizing our public schools.

"The education industry", according to these analysts, "represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control" that "have either voluntarily opened" or, they note in pointed terms, have "been forced" to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, "the education industry represents the largest market opportunity" since health-care services were privatized during the 1970s. Referring to private education companies as "EMOs" ("Education Management Organizations"), they note that college education also offers some "attractive investment returns" for corporations, but then come back to what they see as the much greater profits to be gained by moving into public elementary and secondary schools.

"The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers", which, they emphasize, "are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers". From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, "the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada".

If your opinion of Wapo's activities in compliance monitoring is different from mine, by all means stand up and defend them. But disclose who and what you work for, so people can decide for themselves if you have been unduly influenced by them.

You said you needed your editors' permission to publish my guest blog demanding disclosure of WaPo's K12 businesses. You don't need any such thing, of course. We are a free people.

Posted by: mport84 | December 26, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Unless I am misreading the test data, math scores did not improve while Jason Kamras taught at Sousa Middle School.
Claims for his greatness seem to be based on his activity with groups such as National Council of Teacher Quality.

Posted by: edlharris | December 27, 2010 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Biddle is yet another of the self-appointed experts who use their position in the media to throw around wild statements with no substantial data to back it up.

Pay-for-performance is merit pay. Look no further than Fairfax County. They tried it and it was a huge failure, as it will be anywhere else.

As for entrepreneurial opportunities for newbies in "teaching", that's just turning schools over to profiteers who could care less about children's well-being and comprehensive education. All they want is numbers for test scores by any means necessary and then run off with whatever profit can be had. Kill the profession of teaching and turn it over to the ignorant.

The excellent research cited by Diane Ravitch and many, many others will not deter Biddle and his ilk into acknowledging the facts and realities of education in America.

Jay, I hope those who read this rant will understand better how far off Biddle is but I regret that you even gave him more space to spread his stuff around. Oh well, it must be journalistic "fairness" instead of truth versus lies and misinformation.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | December 27, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

great comments, if somewhat mild-mannered for readers of this blog. Has the holiday spirit and overconsumption of sweets had a calming effect? It will soon pass. I agree that we still need the ed schools, but I share the view of those posters who say it will take a long time to change them, and that efforts by other non-profits to provide a different kind of teacher training will help the ed schools evolve.

Both limnetic792 and demathis mention intriguing works that I have read and reviewed. I will go find those links and post them in a comment here. They are very different. "Someone Has to Fail" is a very cynical but wise dismissal of nearly every effort to improve schools, both traditional and progressive, while the Widget Effect is a well-researched defense of the need for deeper and more critical evaluations of teachers, and comes from the shop [some of you will want to push alarm buttons] that also gave us Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 27, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I found my review of "Someone Has to Fail" but cannot find my report on The Widget Effect report, which I thought was an excellent review of the teacher evaluation situation. I will try again. If anyone else sees, it post it here. Here is my piece on David Labaree's book:

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 27, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Here is my take on the Widget report:

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 27, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Biddle states, "The fact that ed schools then fail to adequately train teachers on such basics as reading instruction is also a problem."

Supply and demand. If superitendents demand that ed schools give reading instruction on all levels, utilize appropriate means to do so, and form a uninted front, it will happen. I know of a high school prinicpal that utilized nearly every teacher in the school to provide reading troubleshooting techniques to students during a portion of their planning period (30 min. of an hour and a half planning period). A reading specialist (hired by the principal) gave training to the teachers and provided additional assistance during all student reading classes. Yes, scores improved, yes, kids learned to read on higher levels, but teachers fussed (I am NOT a reading teacher type statements, I need all of my one and a half hours for planning, etc). Central office listened to the teachers. The principal's days were numbered.

Posted by: shadwell1 | December 27, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

shadwell1, are you talking about my school, perhaps? You got it all wrong. The superintendant did indeed hire someone (his niece, actually, now employed by one of those private vendors you are pushing). The bad old teachers didn't say, "I'm not a reading instructor", though.

We said, "I am a reading instructor, and this is crap." The "training" was a mishmash of cobbled together strategies we have seen before, in the ed schools your budiness buddies are trying to "blow up", as one advocate famously said. You guys don't know beans about teaching, and don't have anything to sell but self-promotion and packaging.

I, for instance, teach a lot of mainstreamed ELL students in my content area very successfully. I have built on the excellent training and practice that began in my university education department, and has never stopped. Unfortunately, the standardized tests my students are forced to take are unable to reflect their achievement. They come to me already labeled, as score supressors.

Yes, our test scores bumped slightly due to this boondoggle program, because corrupt administrators concurrently put my former ELL girls out onto the streets against their will with less than a tenth grade education to "leverage" the scores. My girls came to me in tears, helpless against you lying cheats, and that matters to me.

Jay and Biddle are both talking out of both sides of their mouths, to the same self-serving end; they have a financial share in the looting of our public schools, and they are promoting it even though the damage they are doing is now well documented. They just avoid the distasteful evidence, and take shelter smug generalities. You could make fritters out of this "conversation", it is so mealy-mouthed and unctious:

"Sure, but we have known for a long time that the ed schools have that problem. Have they even TRIED to fix it in any significant way? No. I don't think begging for reform at those institutions is going to work."

Posted by: mport84 | December 28, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

mport84 first quoted me then argued with what I said:

"bbetzen worries, "The micro (teachers, students, schools and parents) vs macro (school districts, state and federal education departments, teacher unions and national politicians) debate in school reform is missing one active participant, students!" The most active participant is money."

Sadly, what mport84 writes about the money being the driver is too often true, BUT it is only true about short-term money, making money NOW at the cost of students. Schools are meant to be a long term investments for a community, thus the dedication for constant, long-term improvement.

Elsewhere on the blog the "slow" progress in changing schools is mentioned. What is "slow?" In the inner-city Sunset High School in Dallas the graduation rate had averaged 34% from 2000 to 2007. (Graduation rate measured as the percentage of full 9th grade enrollment reflected in the number of diplomas given out in 4 years.) Then a multitude of positive changes happened, including a dynamic, dedicated principal who encouraged and gathered community resources and dedicated staff. Also, the School Archive Project (see started at one feeder middle school in 2005 to focus students onto their own plans for the future. It is a 10-year time-capsule/class reunion/mentoring project that is popular with students and parents. It now starts with a letter by parents to their child about their dreams for their child.

The Sunset Class of 2008 achieved a graduation rate of 44.6%, the highest graduation rate in well over a decade and 9 percentage points higher than 2007! The Class of 2009 then raised the graduation rate again to 49.4%.

Sunset noticed and liked what they saw with the School Archive Project focusing students onto their own futures. The summer of 2009 they installed their own 500-pound vault/time-capsule in the hallway holding all the school trophies, an area passed by all students several times a day. The other middle school feeding into Sunset also installed an identical vault in their lobby and started their own School Archive Project. The low cost of the School Archive Project, about $1 per student, and the relatively low number of hours needed by a volunteer teacher to run it each year, about 30 hours a year, make it easy to start. It's attractive for teachers who love to motivate their students, and then would love to see them again in 10 years.

The Sunset Class of 2010 achieved a graduation rate over 60%! The Sunset “9th grade bulge” has virtually disappeared, assuring that graduation rates will continue to rise. Students are better focused on the future and prepared to pass 9th grade and go on to the 10th, a transition never made by most dropouts. A Sunset graduation rate of over 70% is anticipated within 3 years! We will have doubled the graduation rate within less than 8 years! That is not "slow!" The next schools will move faster.

Posted by: bbetzen | December 28, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

mport84, no, another school. The principal of the school that I mentioned realized that a main problem with some kids not doing well in class was that their basic reading skills were in the tank. In that respect, the principal believed that the manpower to make the change was available since the teachers had an extra 30 min. in their planning times beyond what the state required. The reading specialist was actually well regarded by the teachers and used straightforward methods, nothing bothersome. The perception among the teachers tho', I believe, was that the students should have learned this stuff back in grade school. Well, some didn't. Ditto for basic math skills. So, realistically, what else is a high school supposed to do, just let them slid by on 4th grade (?) reading skills or try to help them learn to read well and thus have greatly improved chances of passing classes, graduating, and generally being more successful in life. I believe the principal had the right idea. Central office caved.

Posted by: shadwell1 | December 28, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

bbetzen, you describe a welcome shift, which some education "entrepreneurs" seem to be somewhat making, toward student-centered policies which actually could help young people succeed (in school and life).

Consultants came to our school last month, and we had a meeting in the library where they showed power point slides (what else?) claiming to have completely turned around a crime-ridden very-low-income school, using a student-advisory program centered on individual teacher involvement in developing each student's own hopes and goals, relating them to the education endeavor, and bringing students and their parents together for student-led progress reports.

This (like the program you describe)reflects the very approach I already use, and have fought for in meetings "facilitated" by the data-driven entrepreneurial teacher-leaders duly appointed by the vendors already infesting my school. I got a reprimand saying I must not bring up irrelevant pedogigical theories that obstruct the work of implementing building-wide data-driven instruction, and the next instance would be considered insubordination. But, if somebody can make a profit from it, will we be allowed to say these things again?

Unfortunately, all the videos, pictures, and student interviews they showed were not shot at the low-income school, but at very high-income white schools (I think one of them might even have been Bainbridge), and featured video of a few minority students (6% at Bainbridge)and their parents with all kinds of attention and resources being showered on them. One of our teachers did the math on that, and asked how we could manage so many presentations, if we get 16 advisory students each. The presenter explained the parent conferences could all be run simultaneously in different parts of our rooms, while we circulated among them.

I can't know what really happened at the school they claim to have "turned around". (That's the problem with rule by lies, Jay.) I'm afraid the entrepreneurs will take all the money again, eat up all our time and strength with their control and monitoring activities (all they really have to sell),and leave us with our students and community juggling their gibberish in our broken, ill-equipped and underfunded actual classrooms.

And what if that doesn't even raise the MCAS scores, and they have to attack the children again, and drive them into faked-up for-profit online virtual charter frauds, like the Kaplan ones the Washington Post corporation sells?

Posted by: mport84 | December 29, 2010 6:01 AM | Report abuse

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