Some very interesting education-related news this week:
There were also some great blog posts/news articles about how the late Steve Jobs created technology that has really benefited children with disabilities, particularly the iPad. This one, by Tim Carmody in Wired, is the best.
Finally, hot off the presses, Governor Brown came through and signed SB 946 (Steinberg), which introduces a limited mandate for health insurers to pay for autism treatment — at least until the Federal health care bill is fully implemented in 2014. This is great for families who have been struggling to pay for autism treatment, or fighting with their insurance companies because autism treatment should already have been covered by California health insurance policies under AB 88, the state’s mental health parity law. It’s a big step forward and should provide the state budget with some relief, because schools and regional centers will no longer be the payers of last resort for autism treatment.
Today’s Examiner article on disproportionality in SFUSD special education classrooms is worth reading. This is not a new issue but the problem persists and it’s important to keep attention focused on making sure we assess all kids impartially, in all areas of suspected disability, rather than succumbing to preconceptions.
The New York Times Magazine has a whole issue focused on education – there’s a great article by Clifford J. Levy on his children’s “full immersion” experience in a progressive Russian school; the excellent Paul Tough cover piece examines characteristics that breed success in school — and whether they can be taught to children who aren’t fortunate enough to be born into homes where those characteristics are absorbed naturalistically.
The Times also has a lovely article about an autistic adult’s transition to a “real” adult job, with the help of a community transition program at his local high school. In SFUSD, our Community Access/Transition (CAT) classrooms fulfill this function for students who don’t have the abilities necessary to be successful in college. (This week I had the honor of serving on an Arts Education panel with CAT teacher Heidi Hubrich and general education teacher Keith Carames (“Mr. C”), talking about the great inclusive work Ms. Hubrich and Mr. Carames are doing at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts).
A week or so ago I had a pleasant coffee with Kristina Rizga, a reporter for Mother Jones who is embedded at Mission High for the year. She’s been writing regular dispatches from the ground, and doing a great job capturing life at an inner-city high school. I’m particularly interested in her upcoming post about watching “Waiting for Superman” with a Mission teacher and his students, and the discussion about the movie.
Here’s Part I of the “Waiting for Superman” dispatch >>>
I was kind of amazed to tune in recently to a controversy that has apparently been going on for quite a while in Atlanta Public Schools. The city’s nine-member school board has been wracked with infighting and factionalism that culimnated in a kind of a coup late last fall — the Board quietly changed its internal rules that had previously required a two-thirds majority to elect a chair, instituting instead a simple majority requirement.
You might guess what happened next: A five member faction quickly voted in new leadership, and the four members in the minority cried foul. The case went all the way to the state attorney general, with board members asking for a definitive ruling on who actually had the power to chair the board. In the meantime, the district was rocked by a cheating scandal and the long-serving and highly-regarded Superintendent, Beverly Hall, announced plans to retire.
Last week, one of the nation’s largest accreditation agencies threatened to pull the district’s accreditation if the school board could not get its act together and govern the district appropriately. (Read the agency’s highly critical report here).
What is most interesting to me is that board elections have long been influenced by an organization called “EduPAC,” which was begun by the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce almost two decades ago. Indeed, eight of the nine current board members were endorsed by EduPAC, which boasts a wide membership of business leaders, civil rights leaders, parents and other active community leaders. In Atlanta, EduPAC is the biggest endorsement there is when it comes to school board races.
But in interviews with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, EduPAC leaders seem floored by the current state of the school board they elected. “We thought we had a great slate of folks,” William “Sonny” Walker, EduPAC’s chairman, told the newspaper. “We thought we had found the answer. But apparently we didn’t have the answer we thought we had.”
There have been times where I have thought our own school board was dysfunctional, but when I read stories like these, I realize that we are lucky here in San Francisco to have missed out on what true dysfunction looks like.
Apparently there was some sort of announcement today about a plan to merge Buena Vista Elementary (a full Spanish immersion K-5 school) with Horace Mann Academic Middle School. I am not quite sure what has been publicly announced, but I have been aware of these discussions and have told the Superintendent that I am supportive of the outlines of the plan.
My understanding is that current Buena Vista K-5 students will move to the Mann campus, turning the school into a full Spanish immersion program for students in grades K-8 (Buena Vista’s Pre-K program will remain at the existing site for the time being). I also believe additional Spanish Immersion seats will be opened up for 6th graders so that students from other K-5 immersion programs will be able to choose Horace Mann for middle school.
That’s about all I know. Once more information is available, I’ll post it here.
Last week I was invited to a screening of “Waiting for Superman,” a new education documentary that has attracted a lot of attention — it should be released in theaters in late September. 2010 seems to be the year of the “edumentary,” with several films documenting various problems in the U.S. educational system.
I’m torn about how I feel about “Waiting for Superman,” which is the highest-profile of the year’s documentaries. Made by Davis Guggenheim, a filmmaker who won an Oscar for the climate documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” it’s entertaining, with great characters and subject matter that I, at least, find riveting. It’s an open question whether the moviegoing public will find education reform as compelling as melting polar ice caps, but based on the early buzz and the reactions of the audience I saw, it should do well. The man sitting next to me actually cried out in disbelief at several points; as the lights came up, many people pulled out their cellphones to text the word “Possible” to an address displayed on the screen. (Some kind of pledge to recommend the movie to friends, I think).
I’ve spent the last few days not doing anything in particular, but I did cull a few items of interest from my lazy mornings with the newspapers:
District applies for School Improvement Grants (SF Chronicle)
The SF Chronicle did a tidy job Saturday morning, pulling together all the pieces of the district’s application for a School Improvement Grant (SIG) to address achievement at the 10 SFUSD schools identified by the state as “persistent underperformers.” Of course, most of this wasn’t new to readers of this blog, other than the list specifying which Federally-approved reform model (Closure is self-explanatory; Transformation means replacing the principal; Turnaround means replacing the principal and 50 percent of staff; Restart — not in the district’s plan — means closing a school and reopening it as a charter) will be applied to each school. Here’s that list:
- Willie Brown Jr. Academy –Closure
- Bryant Elementary — Turnaround
- Carver Elementary –Turnaround
- Cesar Chavez Elementary –Transformation
- Everett Middle– Turnaround
- Horace Mann Middle –Transformation
- Mission High –Transformation
- John Muir Elementary –Turnaround
- John O’Connell High — Transformation
- Paul Revere Elementary–Transformation
More schools turning to International Baccalaureate programs (NY Times)
Saturday’s Times carried an article about the growing adoption of the I.B. curriculum in public schools around the country. SFUSD has plans to expand I.B. in our own district – one Primary Years Programme (PYP) is already underway at Flynn Elementary and another is planned for John Muir Elementary. Those would feed into a new Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme at International Studies Academy in Potrero Hill (a 6-12 grade school)– more about that here.
Anyway, the I.B. program, widespread in Europe, is considered to be more rigorous than the typical college-prep curriculum in American high schools. But critics quoted in the Times article point out the program is expensive, and (somewhat bizarrely) complain it is too closely tied to radical environmentalism (is that bad?). And some advocates in our own district have noted that the current implementation at Flynn may not support the specific needs of English Learners well enough.
Slain Bayview teen was a star athlete (SF Chronicle)
In today’s paper, there’s a very sad story about Stephen Powell, Jr., the 19-year-old slain last Saturday evening at Market and Castro during Gay Pride festivities. Mr. Powell was a star basketball player at Stuart Hall High School, but seems to have had a hard time navigating the two worlds represented by his exclusive private school and the violent streets where he grew up. After a stint at Lincoln H.S. and then Ida B. Wells, Mr. Powell was reportedly trying to get his life back together when he was slain. The police have called the shooting gang-related, but Mr. Powell’s parents say he was not involved in a gang. And his history doesn’t fit the usual profile – he came from an intact, loving family and had many caring adults rooting for him to succeed. . All in, Mr. Powell’s death was a horrible tragedy that seems to happen all too often here in San Francisco.
Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius announced today that he’s moved back to San Francisco (District Six) after 20 years in the suburbs. That news isn’t remarkable (other than the fact that it deprives the Bay Guardian of part of their favorite nickname for Mr. Nevius — “suburban twit“), but this passage was:
The next act of the script was the same for many of us. We met a life partner and started a family. A baby arrived, so instead of meeting people while walking the dog, you talked to other parents pushing a stroller.
And then the game-changer – the factor that probably drives more young couples out of the city than anything else. It’s not panhandlers, the crime, or noise, or traffic. It is the curse of the third bedroom.
It isn’t actually true that units with three bedrooms don’t exist. That’s just how it seems. The prices are shocking, the selection is minimal, and the schools are an enigma. And it finally dawns on you that for less than what you are paying in San Francisco, you could live in the suburbs and not only have a third bedroom, but a yard, private parking and warm summer days.
The next thing you know you’re eating at Applebee’s and reminiscing about that great little pasta place in the city where the owner remembered your name.
“The schools are an enigma.” I’ll accept that, especially since I’ve read worse so many times in the past (often in the Chronicle!). I’m sure Mr. Nevius will eventually write something about the schools that I’ll take issue with, but today, I want to thank him for forgoing the cheap shot. Merriam-Webster lists one of the defintitions of enigma as “something hard to understand or explain.” I actually think that’s a reasonable way of describing our school system here in San Francisco: there are many places where our kids are getting a good and even great education, and I’ll also grant that quality is uneven and our enrollment process is complex and difficult to understand.
Extensive and very interesting article about charter schools in today’s New York Times:
[F}or all their support and cultural cachet, the majority of the 5,000 or so charter schools nationwide appear to be no better, and in many cases worse, than local public schools when measured by achievement on standardized tests, according to experts citing years of research. Last year one of the most comprehensive studies, by researchers from Stanford University, found that fewer than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third, 37 percent, were “significantly worse.”Although “charter schools have become a rallying cry for education reformers,” the report, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, warned, “this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well” as students in traditional schools.
Researchers for this study and others pointed to a successful minority of charter schools — numbering perhaps in the hundreds — and these are the ones around which celebrities and philanthropists rally, energized by their narrowing of the achievement gap between poor minority students and white students.
But with the Obama administration offering the most favorable climate yet for charter schools, the challenge of reproducing high-flying schools is giving even some advocates pause. Academically ambitious leaders of the school choice movement have come to a hard recognition: raising student achievement for poor urban children — what the most fervent call a new civil rights campaign — is enormously difficult and often expensive. Continue reading >>>
Good op-ed written by a teacher in today's Chronicle Insight section, discussing the current prevalence of teacher-bashing by folks who:
[buy] into what the former Bronx history teacher and writer Tom Moore has called “The Myth of the Great Teacher” – the Hilary Swank-like heroine who never eats lunch, never stops working and has no personal life – a veritable automaton of education.
Hollywood aside, teachers often fall short of that ideal. And maybe that’s as it should be. When teachers are allowed to be human, perhaps we’ll understand that educational excellence isn’t a matter of scapegoating them. It ought to be the rational outcome of a fully funded commitment supported by parents and community members, taxpayers and lawmakers. That includes not only paying teachers more and improving working conditions but also increasing the training and pay of high-quality substitutes for those few times when teachers must be absent.
Continue reading >>>>
A depressing SF Chronicle piece on the state of gifted and talented education in California. Unfortunately, the link won’t work until 5:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, but if you have a print copy of the paper you can read it there – page A1.
Posted in issues
Interesting. I hit “publish” on my last post — a kind-of rant on the Obama Admininstration’s approach to chronically low-performing schools–and got into the car to drive to a meeting, only to hear Education Secretary Arne Duncan on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Mainly, he kept saying that anyone who has doubts about the administration’s plans to improve persistently low-performing schools is simply upholding the status quo. Perhaps if I thought the administration had done a good job culling approaches that are actually based in research, I might agree — but they haven’t and I don’t.