Tag Archives: news

Lazy mornings with the newspapers

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.

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Welcome back, Chuck!

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.

What I read today – news roundup

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.

Dialoguing with Duncan

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.

Diane Ravitch tells it like it is

I missed this interview in USA Today earlier in the week with Diane Ravitch, NYU professor and former Assistant Secretary of Education under the first President Bush. Once considered a right-of-center advocate of school choice, vouchers and high-stakes testing, Ms. Ravitch has over the years had a change of heart. Her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, is causing quite a buzz in education circles, because it is her strongest indictment yet of No Child Left Behind and other Bush-era policies she helped enact.  To my mind, the most striking passage in a very interesting piece is this one, when Ms. Ravitch answers the question, “What should parents do to ensure their children are getting the best  education?”:

There are two different questions. One is what should parents do, and the other is what should policymakers do. If policy­makers simply say, “It’s every family for itself,” we’re going back to the early 19th century, before we had public education. Some people had private tutors, and some people sent their kids to religious schools, and some people got together and had little schools that they created. Then at a certain point, there was an awareness that the public had a responsibility to educate the children of the community. If we’re doing a bad job of that, we really should develop public policy that looks to improving the quality of those schools and not just close them down and hand them over to private entrepreneurs. Because then we’re creating a marketplace, and markets have failures. Markets do not succeed in providing equal opportunity. They succeed in creating winners and losers. We saw that in the [economic collapse] of the fall of 2008, and that could happen to our schools as well.

Read the entire interview >>>>

Company only hires people with autism – ABC News

Tonight’s ABC News has a wonderful story to kick off Autism Awareness Month. Specilisterne (it means specialists) is a thriving Danish company that tests software–a click-by-click process so tedious it causes most testers to lose focus and make mistakes.

Thorkill Sonne, who founded Specilisterne in Copenhagen, believes that everyone does not have to fit in socially-accepted little boxes. He means to change the nature of that box completely. He is turning disability on its head, hiring his employees because of their ability. Sonne says workers with high-functioning autism have different brain wiring that gives them an edge.

Sonne told ABC News, “they have a good memory, they have very strong attention to details, they are persistent … within their area of motivation and they follow instructions.”

But Sonne has another motivation besides good business: he has a young son with autism, and hopes his successful example will create more opportunities for people with autism. Many of the employees at Specilisterne were unemployed for decades, because they were considered by most employers to be too out-of-sync socially and too distractible to be good workers. 

Mads, another employee at Specilisterne, told ABC News he hadn’t been able to keep a job in 20 years before landing his current job. He told us, “Most of my colleagues are like me … we have in common to be weird.”

The Economist gets it wrong

Usually I can count on The Economist magazine to offer a bemused but pragmatic analysis (albeit from a European viewpoint) of events and issues in the U.S. Not this time! A brief article on California’s education woes is pure conservative party line (with a halfhearted dig at Prop. 13 tacked on at the end for balance). It’s almost as if the writer just phoned in the commentary from a comfy perch in the magazine’s Washington bureau (there is a Los Angeles dateline, so maybe the writer phoned in the piece while relaxing poolside at the Chateau Marmont).  But really, when you look at who is quoted, it’s not surprising the article takes the slant it does:

Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist who is trying to reform education, blames a combination of California’s dysfunctional governance, with “elected school boards made up of wannabes and unions”, and the fact that the state’s teachers’ union is both more powerful and “more regressive” than elsewhere. The California Teachers Association (CTA) is the biggest lobby in the state, having spent some $210m in the past decade—more than any other group— to intervene in California’s politics.

The CTA has used its money to defeat almost any reform that might have turned the standards into reality. It helped to defeat ballot measures that, for example, would have given California a school-voucher system and changed the probation period for teachers. It ensured that the state has “laughably easy teacher tests”, as [Mike Petrilli of the D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute] puts it. It is also the biggest donor to the state’s Democratic Party.

Ah. I see. A controversial promoter of charter schools (not a big fan of elected school boards he) and a researcher from an organization that is considered by many to promote a conservative agenda of privatizing public education.  That explains it.

I’ve certainly read other criticisms of CTA and the amount of money it spends to influence elections, but I think we owe them a debt of gratitude for their work in passing education-friendly legislation and for crushing multiple attempts to introduce vouchers here in California (most of the time, the state PTA and CTA are on the same side in supporting or opposing legislation – and lucky for us PTA members, CTA has a bankroll to actually get the message out).  And if I were making a list of the biggest causes of the crisis we face here in California’s educational system, I’d put outdated, inequitable funding formulas and inadequate funding altogether at the very top of my list: not CTA.