Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Celebrate School Choice Week

This week is school choice week.   This is one week we celebrate the right of charter schools to choose which students they will teach and which ones will be counseled out.   I believe preserving that right for charter schools may well be the civil rights issue of our time.

In many cities, there are tremendous private schools, but those schools are always at a disadvantage because parents are forced to pay nearly the entire cost of their child's education out of their own pocket.  What makes charter schools so great is that it's a way for parents to get that great elite feeling that only the best private schools provide, while doing so at taxpayer expense.  This is why people the Koch Brothers and their organization Americans for Prosperity love School Choice Week so much.

Whether you have a student in a charter student or maybe one that's been counseled out because they were too expensive to teach, a discipline problem,  or just got low test scores, let's all raise a glass to charter schools this school choice week.  Their right to be selective is under constant attack and it's important to use this week to remind ourselves to stay vigilant.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Last Stand for Children Launches Campaign on School Turnarounds

After working hard in the legislature last year to strip Illinois teachers of bargaining rights and OSEA protections, Last Stand for Children First is proud to announce the formation of a Chicago chapter to work on issues specific to Chicago.

This week, Last Stand's President Myron Miner announced that it is launching a television campaign to “educate Chicagoans about the value of public turnaround schools.” Group leaders also plan to host extended robocalls where CPS officials and community leaders can record talking points to play for residents of the South and West sides the “need for quality schools.”

The television advertising is sure to turn heads and features 3 separate commercials pushing the message that turnaround schools are just like your neighborhood schools, only better.

Executive Director Monica Caldwell says turnarounds—in which the entire staff of a school are fired and must reapply for their jobs--are a proven way to improve schools.  "When CPS took over Sherman in 2006, they lost 20% of their student population and their low income percentage dropped 10%.  Think what we could do if we could get the more difficult students to transfer from every Chicago Public School?"

Caldwell emphasizes that Last Stand for Children First supports firing all the adults in a building to turn around it's test scores. 

"Sure, the lunch ladies, security guards, and janitors don't do test preparation, but maybe now that they see what can happen, they'll start.   Our students need quality schools and that means giving them 4 choices constantly throughout the day and asking them to make the best one possible, just like on a Scantron sheet."

In addition to holding their own events, Caldwell says that Last Stand for Children will get the parents they work with out to the community and public hearings on the school actions.  "There are a lot of people who are willing to carry a sign for $25 and a bus ride.  We will go out into the communities and find them."

The new movement by Last Stand to get involved in grassroots organizing is a big jump from their work so far in mobilizing the city's business elite.   Caldwell says they've always been more comfortable with the city's wealthy and besides, "some of these neighborhoods are kind of gross and the people are scary."

Last Stand for Children First plans to become much more active in Chicago issues.  Myron Miner stated, "there's definitely a Chicago website coming and you can be sure we're all over the Longest Day plan Chicago is rolling out next year."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Rethinking College Readiness

 The Winklevoss twins' Harvard education prepared
them for their future after college.

Many of us have believed for a long time that the role of a good education is to get a student ready for college so that he can get a degree that will enable him to not only improve his station in life, but also the situation for the student's family and neighborhood.   President Obama has made college readiness a cornerstone of his education and economic policies.  As a country we've tried to address appallingly low college readiness by adopting the common core curriculum.  Now it turns out we may have been all turned around on things.

A paper by Lauren Rivera from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University revealed that the top professional services firms recruit pretty much exclusively from 4 elite universities -- Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford.  These firms in the fields of law, investment banking, and consulting really are among the few employers that could provide the sort of transformational wealth that people like Michelle Rhee have called on schools to provide for our students.  To quote Rivera:

"Evaluators relied so intensely on the criteria of 'school' as a criterion of evaluation not because they believed that the content of the elite curricula better prepared students for life in their firms -- in fact, evaluators tended to believe that elite and, in particular, super-elite instruction was 'too abstract,' 'overly theoretical,' or even, 'useless' compared to the more 'practical' and 'relevant' training offered at 'lesser' institutions -- but rather due to the strong cultural meanings and character judgments evaluators attributed to admission and enrollment at an elite school."
I know some of you have had just about enough of my Vassar bashing, but we must ask ourselves if getting a student into a school like Vasser is really doing her any favors?  If a student becomes a teacher for instance, what good is a $40,000 salary if they achieve that salary with $150,000 in student loan debt.   We must not reward our public schools for turning out Dartmouth educated social workers, Vasser educated teachers, and New York University educated television repairmen.

College readiness is a meaningless tradition that simply serves to prop up the Browns and University of Chicagos in our country.  Our goal must be to send students to elite universities where they can truly have the future we want for them.  Currently, we estimate that between 25% and 40% of high school graduates are college ready, but if we look at the 4 elite schools, the number is much lower.   The 4 elite schools accept between 6% and 8% of applicants and that doesn't mean that all of those students are ready for the education they provide.

Until we have all students in America, applying and getting accepted at our country's elite schools, we will never achieve our greatness as a nation and we will continue to shortchange our schools.  There must be a way we can increase the rigor of our schools so that every student knows he has a Yale or Princeton education waiting for him after high school.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Elevating the Teaching Profession with STRIPES

One of the biggest problems that we face in education today is the seemingly endless quest to elevate the teaching profession.  Back in 1989, Wendy Kopp had a vision of taking gifted college students who weren't education majors, but wanted to teach and sending them out to learn how to teach on our country's neediest children.  The result has been Teach for America and one need only watch a talk show or listen to musicians like Common and John Legend to know what a success it has become.

Unfortunately, 23 years later, Teach for America feels like a relic of an earlier time.  Things like smart phones, the internet, and HDTV didn't exist in 1989.  In today's cyber age, gifted young people don't want to wait through a laborious five week training period and then commit to a two year teaching period.   You only have to wait 48 hours to get a gun, why should you have to wait five weeks to be a teacher.   If I am a brilliant young college student with so much to offer students, I want to do it now.  In five weeks I may well be onto something else.  For that matter, the two year commitment seems extremely archaic.  When you think about it, two years is the length of time Russell Brand was married to Katy Perry plus the length of time Kim Khardashian was married to Kris Humphries plus the length of time it would take to stream the new Bear in Heaven album in its super slowed down speed at  In other words, 2 years is forever.

If we are serious about really elevating the profession by taking it out of the hands of professional educators, we need a new teach for America.  We need a program where if you decide you have a calling to teach on Friday, we can give you an intense training session over the weekend and have you in front of students on Monday.  Rather than a 2 year commitment, we would only ask that you teach for one semester.  Think about it, in less than six months, a gifted student could become a teacher, impact children's lives, and move onto being a professional education reformer.  Last Stand for Children First believes it is time for this new breed of teacher to elevate the classroom.

We are calling our program Strategic Teacher Recruitment In Poverty Endangered Schools or STRIPES.  It is our goal to have the first 50 STRIPES in classrooms in time for the second semester of this school year.  Teaching sounds like a lot to learn in one weekend, but if anybody can do it, I believe the proud members of STRIPES will be able to because we will recruit them from only the most elite students at only the most elite schools.  If anybody can reach students living in poverty, it will be them.