2009-05-15 / School News

School Scope

It's All So Simple
Commentary By Norman Scott

It must be wonderful to find simple solutions to complex problems. Witness this item from a Korean blog advocating a merit pay system for that nation.

"Barack Obama has unveiled a plan to close down 5,000 failing schools over the next five years at a rate of 1,000 a year and have them reopen with new principals and teachers. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said kids have only one shot at a good education, and that chronically underperforming schools need a new start. Since 2000, a program gained attention in Colorado, which saw students' grades improve after state education authorities began awarding bonuses to teachers who improved students' academic performance. Known as the "Denver Proposal," the policy of rewarding excellent teachers and firing incompetent ones is changing the face of American public education."

Using this logic, we can end illness by paying doctors with healthier patients more. And how about ending crime? Pay police merit pay based on conviction rates of people they arrest.

NY Times columnist David Brooks took up the cudgel of the education deform movement with his praise of the Harlem Children's Zone, comparing the success in that school in closing the achievement gap (which subsequent analysis has shown has not truly occurred as much as claimed) to curing cancer. Check out a few facts about Harlem Children's Zone, which provides social services and health services to its students and their families.

According to the television news show, "60 Minutes," "Harlem Children's Zone raises $36 million in private funds per year. Classes have a ratio of one adult for every six kids as well as state-of-the-art science labs, a firstclass gym, and a cafeteria that looks more like a restaurant."

According to the school's data on the 2007-8 school report card, class sizes are 18 in K-6th grade, and in 8th grade they range from 12 to 20 kids per class, depending on the subject. According to the same school report card, the school enrolls 1 percent ELL students.

According to other state sources, it has 0 percent special ed students.

Duhhhh! Like a cure for cancer, indeed. As for Obama's plan to close 5000 schools and reopen them with new staffs, why not take 100 of these schools and increase the size of the staff by 30 percent, institute social services and health care just as a control to see what really works? In other words, do what they do at the Harlem Children's Zone. Double Duhhh! If Obama is as clueless on the economy and defense, I'm moving to Iceland.

Class Size Skinny Awards Attracts Rock Stars of Education

I'm much more of an ed/pol junkie than a music fan. So, was I more impressed with seeing the 40 stars at "A Night With Pete Seeger" or Leonie Haimson's Class Size Matters fundraiser honoring Diane Ravitch, Jennifer Jennings (Eduwonkette), and Gary Babad?

Leonie sure knows how to put on a party. Imagine: Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier (one of my ed idols since the early 70s) bridging their differences in person with Eduwonkette Jennifer Jennings. And her mentor and co-blogger, Columbia professor Aaron Pallas, alias Skoolboy, also present. With superb satirist Gary Babad (who read us an "email" from Klein). And Manhattan borough PEP member Patrick Sullivan, the lone voice on the PEP consistently defending parent interests. And of course, that force of nature, as Diane put it, Leonie Haimson.

Did Ravitch, Meier, Haimson, Jennings trump Springsteen, Baiz, Emmylou, Melankamp?

Close. I'm an edugeek supreme. Many parent leaders were there and some UFT officials showed up. There were even surprise guests, including some from the DOE and Gotham Schools journalist supreme Elizabeth Green, reiterating she is not biased against teachers, which I have accused her of being. Okay, okay, already. Whatever she says. She's irresistible and as much a force of nature as Leonie. I finally realized that Leonie had dubbed the award "The Skinny" as a take on the Eli Broad (rhymes with toad) Award.

Leonie introduced each honoree with a gracious speech. I'll admit that as part of the anti-high stakes testing crowd, there was a lot of resistance to Diane Ravitch over the years. But even if she had not modified some of her positions ("I don't know if it's because of Deborah or Leonie," she said) her charm and wit can win anyone over. Once, at a Manhattan Institute luncheon for Chester Finn, which she moderated, I was the lone critic in the room. She whispered in my ear something like, "Good to see a voice of dissent. I agree with you." That sure firmed up my spine in hostile territory when I got up to ask my question.

Diane pointed out that she had resigned from the Hoover and Thomas B. Fordham Foundations and was more proud of being on the Class Size Matters board. She talked about what Leonie does on a slightly skinny budget. I expected her to pull out a shoestring.

Leonie introduced Gary by reading some of his satire, which in the bizarre world of Tweed, is often taken seriously. She said she started the NYC Public School Parent blog partly so people could read his funny stuff. Jennifer, whose Eduwonkette blog in its short time of existence (less than a year) created a national sensation, made waves recently with her report on the school force-outs. (See my blog for details.) It caused some serious consternation at Tweed as they scrambled to respond.

In her speech, Jennifer was kind enough to give me credit for suggesting she start the blog. Frankly, I didn't remember. But I do remember her sending me some of her amazing research and I kept asking her to figure a way to share it with more people and offered to let her use Ed Notes if she wanted. We did have lunch (on the day BloomKlein received the Broad award) in September 2007 and she asked me questions about blogging and we discussed how to protect her identity.

Three days later she had the prototype up and the 'kette was off to the races.

Leonie, who has a good relationship with Randi Weingarten, also was kind enough to say some nice things about me despite the fact there were UFT reps in the room.

She also gave me credit for urging her to blog and I do remember that. I actually started the Norms Notes blog solely to find a way to save Leonie's amazing comments and analysis on the web.

Finally, after the February 28, 2007 famous rally that brought so many people opposed to BloomKlein (I met Patrick and Diane for the first time that night) together, Leonie informed me she and Patrick were starting the NYC Parent blog. It's been a wonderful addition to truth, justice and the American way of democratic criticism.

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