The (DC) Odyssey

Leadership, Learning, Organizational Change

A decade ago this month, I taught The Odyssey to a 9th grade classroom for the last time. Today, I’m reminded of Homer’s central lessons – now nearly 3,000 years old – as I watch Adrian Fenty’s tenure as DC mayor speed towards a potentially spectacular, and tragic, end.
I mean ‘tragic’ the ways the Greeks did – as a form of art based on human suffering in which some people find pleasure, but all people find wisdom and insight. And although the election is still a week away, no doubt political scientists are already scrambling to understand why a young leader who, just four years ago, began a presumptively-lengthy reign of the nation’s capitol by winning every single precinct, may now soon be out of work.

The Science of School Renewal

Assessment, Equity, Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

There’s a revolution underway in the scientific community, and it’s changing the way we understand both the structure and the inner workings of the universe. These insights have far-reaching implications for all of us – and none of them are being heeded by the leading voices of our current efforts of transform America’s antediluvian public education system.
This is a serious problem. Here are three examples of what I mean:

The Good, Bad & Ugly of Value-Added Analysis

Assessment, Learning, Teacher Quality

I’m on the road all week — from DC to Oregon to Philadelphia to Oklahoma City — and everywhere I go people seem to be talking about the L.A. Times’ recent expose into the city’s school teachers, and the extent to which individual teachers are either helping students learn — or holding them back.
The conversations are based on the Times’ decision to use value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Thickening the plot, the Times produced this report using seven years of data the school district had — but had never analyzed. As the paper explains: “Value-added analysis offers a rigorous approach. In essence, a student’s past performance on tests is used to project his or her future results. The difference between the prediction and the student’s actual performance after a year is the ‘value’ that the teacher has added or subtracted.”
Because the idea of value-added analysis, or VAA, seems to be everywhere in K-12 education discussions (it has been embraced by the Obama administration, and many of the field’s leading philanthropic entities, from Gates to Walton to Broad, are intrigued by the approach), I want to offer what I see as the good, the bad and the ugly of VAA — and of the Times’ decision to use VAA as the foundation of its landmark report:

How 'Bout A Little Respect?

Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

I realize the only work-related issue in K-12 education that anyone wants to talk about today is the rumored jobs bill making its way through the U./S. Congress — a bill that could, depending on whom you ask, either save thousands of essential teacher jobs or simply delay the need to trim excess positions out of a bloated bunch of state budgets — but I can’t stop thinking about a conversation I had last night with my brother-in-law, a recent graduate of the NYC Teaching Fellows program and a prospective Special Education teacher in a city that sorely needs them.

We Need a New Set of "Words, Words, Words"

Leadership, Learning, Organizational Change

On the radio this morning, I heard three different stories about public education reform. In each story, I heard the same three words — data, testing, and accountability.
Before I get any more depressed about how uninspiring this language makes me feel, I have a proposal to make: let’s stop the madness and start identifying some new words that can more accurately describe the changes we seek for children.

Using Rewards in the Classroom: Short-Term Crutch or Long-Term Strategy?

Learning, Teacher Quality

Today is the last day of Center for Inspired Teaching’s two-week Institute, and as the rest of the country talks about the merits and shortcomings of the Obama administration’s education plan – particularly its belief that external systems of accountability and extrinsic motivators like performance pay are an essential ingredient in reforming public education – I’m watching the same debate unfold here, on the ground, as a small group of DC teachers prepares for the coming school year.

Building Democratic Learning Communities

Democracy, Learning, Voice

On July 28, I participated in a live web discussion about democratic learning communities with Classroom 2.0’s Steve Hargadon. It was an interesting and sometimes chaotic discussion. While Steve was asking me questions, participants from all over the globe were also typing questions and comments in a dialogue box. So please excuse my occasional flightiness when Steve asked me a … Read More

A Sinking Ship?

Assessment, Equity, Leadership, Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

During a week in which both Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama will publicly defend their education reform priorities – in response to severe criticism from the country’s leading civil rights organizations – I’m trying to figure out how a set of ideas that was so close to mobilizing a quiet revolution in public education has instead led the soldiers of that revolution to passionately (and loudly) take up arms against each other.
All I can come up with is they’ve gotten some lousy advice. And I think I see where they’ve gone wrong.