Archive for September, 2010

New documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman”’ argues against education as a game of chance for America’s poor kids

The new documentary "Waiting for 'Superman''' follows five children as they attempt to win admission to popular public schools that use lotterities. Anthony is one of the children whose plight seems dire to me. He really needs a super hero.

The new documentary "Waiting for 'Superman''' follows five children as they attempt to win admission to popular public schools that use lotteries.

The new documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” portrays teachers as both the solution and the problem in American education.

The film celebrates the herculean effort of individual teachers and administrators to battle an unyielding and bloated bureaucracy while condemning the collective resistance of teacher unions to accountability measures designed to get rid of ineffective peers.

And it does so through intimate studies of five students, all of whom are counting on their number coming up in a lottery so they can escape failing schools for better ones.

The title stems from a comment by the charismatic Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone in central Harlem, New York.

Canada told the filmmakers that while growing up he always expected Superman to come to his rescue in his South Bronx tenement and was …

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Time to retire Colonel Reb to the home for incorrect mascots. He can play checkers with Chief Noc-A-Homa.

I hope that is Colonel Reb waving goodbye. (Stan Carroll, The Commercial Appeal)

I hope that is Colonel Reb waving goodbye. (Stan Carroll, The Commercial Appeal)

Whenever I stray into education issues that touch on sports, I regret it almost immediately because sports fans are highly wired in both senses of the word and quick to bile.

But I think this New York Times story about the angst at the University of Mississippi over its Colonel Reb mascot is interesting and worth reading.

As I have said with recent blogs on the demon high school mascot in Warner Robbins, I don’t get the mania around costumed characters. I am not one of those folks who runs to get my photo with the Disney characters or the Chick-fil-A cow. At a  football game, I could just as easily ignore a grown man jumping around in a gopher costume or a tiger’s. Doesn’t matter to me. (BTW, am I the only one who finds the plasticine Burger King king in the commercials creepy?)

But Ole Miss doesn’t have a cute animal as a mascot. It has a Confederate soldier. And the university, anxious to shed …

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State study suggests Georgia teachers are not fleeing classroom. Stability highest in rural areas.

A new state study finds turnover is not high among Georgia teachers, even those in math and science.

A new state study finds turnover is not high among Georgia teachers, even those in math and science.

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement released interesting data on teacher retention in Georgia, showing the exodus out of the classroom is not that great.

The GOSA report includes teachers who leave the profession but return to the classroom later or take other education jobs. That broader view shows many more teachers staying in the field than had been assumed.

“This analysis is important because its findings clearly refute the long-held notion that half of Georgia’s teachers leave the profession within five years,” said GOSA executive director Kathleen Mathers.  “Instead, by appropriately broadening the definition of retention, we’ve learned that nearly 75 percent of Georgia’s new teachers remain in public education after five years.”

The report used Georgia public school employment data from 1998-2009. Among the findings:

–Of teachers who began …

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I missed a mutiny at APS. But is a “public engagement task force” a bold change of course or a sign of a sinking ship?

In my week in New Hampshire, I missed a mutiny on the Atlanta Board of Education that resulted in a new chair, Khaatim Sherrer El, and vice chair, Yolanda Johnson.The pair replaces former leaders LaChandra Butler Burks and Cecily Harsch-Kinnane. (The takeover and a change in policy to make it easier to oust leadership are now under legal challenge so consider this the opening act to a long-running drama.)

I still wonder about the worth of school boards, created at a time when schools were smaller, more local and less important to the nation’s viability. The APS board members behind the coup d’état contend that the move was necessary to restore public accountability, but I think it simply reflects a power scramble, as is the case with most of these fissures.

In my first jobs, I covered local government in several towns, including city councils, planning and zoning boards and school boards. Zoning boards were the most efficient. City councils were the most dramatic. School …

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Diminishing expectations and diminishing returns in education

Folks, To quote my colleague Jim Galloway, I have “gone fishing” this week. (I have actually gone hiking.) I will have no computer access, but am posting some great stuff in advance, including this wonderful essay by local writer Mary Grabar.

By Mary Grabar

According to the education experts, I never should have graduated from high school, much less a Ph.D. program.

My parents did not speak English, they both worked in blue-collar jobs, and suffered what we would call “dysfunctionalism.”  We had no car, I had no exposure to cultural activities, and I did not have the benefit of pre-school programs or kindergarten, or even books in the apartment, other than one my sister and I shared.

It was one of those dime store books called Hiawatha and Little Bear, and when he was laid off from the railroad my father tried to read it to us.  Alas, all he could do was make up a story based on the pictures in our native Slovenian.  But he would not have been able to even read a book …

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Parent’s passion: Keep playing that piano. You’ll thank me someday. I hope.

As a longtime fan of advice columnist Dear Abby, I valued her practical answers, especially about raising children. However, one question stumped her years ago, and she threw it out to her readers to answer: Should children who hate piano lessons be forced — even kicking and screaming — to continue because they may eventually find joy in it and even decide that music is their passion? Abby’s mail was split. Readers wrote that they hated every second of their childhood piano lessons, and the experience soured them forever on music. Others wrote to say that they were now with the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music or the Boston Pops and were forever grateful that their parents held their ground.

One mom maintained that parents force kids to do many things, including bathe, brush their teeth and eat their vegetables. Why should music be any different? Her son begged to quit piano when he was 10. Today, she said, he was a noted conductor and music professor.

But another mother …

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Does postermania ever end? Or will I be buying gluesticks in the nursing home?

This week, we are drawing the map of Spain in my household. In painful detail.

After four kids,  I think I would have been smarter to invest in poster board and gluesticks than high tech stocks. My kids were always racing the clock to finish posters, projects and presentations.

After years of helping kids create dioramas, panoramas and kidney-bean maps of Alabama, I have to wonder — do children learn much from these endless school projects?

In their zeal for hands-on learning — a zeal shared by many parents — schools have adopted what Education Week once described as the “Crayola Curriculum.” Kids are now coloring and making trifold posters even in math and chemistry classes. Parents hoard shoe boxes for dioramas. The back-to-school shopping list now includes sheaths of white poster board and Styrofoam balls for the inevitable solar system project.

My household has been through just about every iteration of school project, from the classic paper mache volcano to a tasty …

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The strong policy focus on struggling students shortchanges the gifted students in Georgia schools

Folks, To quote my colleague Jim Galloway, I have “gone fishing” this week. (I have actually gone hiking.)

I will have no computer access, but am posting some great stuff in advance, including this essay by Gyimah Whitaker, president of the Georgia Association for Gifted Children, and Ann Robinson,  president of the National Association for Gifted Children.  It runs on the Monday education op-ed page.

I will be back online on the 19th.

By Gyimah Whitaker and Ann Robinson

Children across Georgia are now back to school. For some students, the return to school felt like a burden, a necessary chore they have to slog through every day, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Rather than viewing school as an unhappy departure from carefree summer days, many of the most disinterested students in a classroom are also the high-ability children who spend the bulk of their school days going unchallenged and largely ignored.

Our nation’s education system has a long history of …

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All in the family: Politicians find deserving scholarship recipients under their own roof.

I don’t get why there is so much abuse of scholarships. It would seem a simple matter to tell politicians that they can’t give scholarships to their own relatives, but it seems to happen quite a bit. And the cop-out typically offered — that the politician followed the rules — is nonsense.

Any person elected to office, whether local, state or federal, should understand that it is unseemly and unethical to route scholarship money to family members. If elected officials can’t see the glaring conflict in awarding scholarship money to their relatives, they aren’t fit for office.

Here is an AJC story on the latest wrongdoer:

An education foundation connected to the influential Congressional Black Caucus is re-examining its scholarship programs after finding out Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany apparently awarded foundation scholarships to his family members.

“From here on out, we will re-evaluate our scholarship programs in terms of practices and guidelines to be sure … …

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Last words worth remembering from a fine journalist about what we expect of schools

There is a quote in today’s obituary of  journalist Tom Bradbury that I thought you would enjoy.

It is from the farewell column that Bradbury wrote for the Charlotte Observer 11 years ago. The 67-year-old Bradbury had been the associate editor and a long-time member of the paper’s editorial board.

Here is the quote:

“The prescriptions for schools are as common and often as certain as the patent medicine ads a century ago, but improving schools is not a simple or one-dimensional matter . . Reaching every child is much easier to say than to do, much easier for editorialists to call for than for teachers and other educators to carry out. Homes and neighborhood social problems matter. Students aren’t widgets and teachers aren’t machines.”

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