Archive for April, 2012

April 29, 2012

Ten Things You Should’ve Read About Education This Week (in case you haven’t already)

Illustration from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. Original caption: Fig. 1.–Fruit of the pine-apple (”Ananas sativa”), consisting of numerous flowers and bracts united together so as to form a collective or anthocarpous fruit.

This is one of those weeks where there was too much going on to reflect. So, I collect:

1. Housing Policy and Educational Opportunity: Some Notes, Rachel Levy, All Things Education blog, April 24, 2012

If you’re interested in the questions that come up in the debates around zoned versus citywide elementary schools – issues about access and prohibitive housing costs and the importance of socioeconomic diversity to student achievement – this is chock full of important links. (Loosely related to this was a piece in the New York Times about a housing fight in Texas. Then there’s this, on political discussions in Washington, D.C., about whether charters schools can be neighborhood schools. (I don’t have time to connect the dots at the moment.)

2. Believing in City Schools, Adam Bednar, North Baltimore Patch, April 26, 2012

The Village Parents have been models of active citizenship when it comes to informing the community about the public school options in Charles Village. This week they brought a panel of parents from Roland Park, Mt. Washington, and Federal Hill – attractive neighborhoods with zoned elementary schools that have managed to lure scores of middle and upper-middle class families into their classrooms – to tell their stories. It was a great small event. Glad Adam Bednar was there to cover it. (There are obvious connections between this story and the housing concerns in the previous post, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

3. As school facilities crumble, executive suites get remodeled, Erica L. Green, Baltimore Sun, April 26, 2012

After the heady effects of the Village Parents event, this story was a downer. The District spent $500,000 on renovations to the central office, half of which went to spruce up the executive suite of the chief of information technology. This story comes against the backdrop of a push to raise $1.2 billion – a fraction of the total needed – to fix crumbling public schools. City Schools CEO Andres Alonso chalked it up to “a bad judgment call.” Right. The story makes me question my willingness to work within a system whose leaders’ have their priorities so crooked. I’m sure I’m not alone.

UPDATE: BCPSS Chief of Information Technology Jerome Olberton resigned his post in January 2013 and took a $185,000 chief-of-staff position in the Dallas public school system.

4. Critics seek more oversight of renovations at school district headquarters, Erica L. Green, Baltimore Sun, April 27, 2012.

City Schools advocates who have to fight for funding in Annapolis have more to be disappointed about than I do. The choicest part of this follow-up piece is where the chief information officer, Jerome Olberton, explains himself by claiming that the reason he needs to improve his department’s work space is to attract more highly qualified applicants. Um, to ask the obvious, how about upgrading school facilities to attract highly qualified teachers?

5. The suite life on North Ave., Sun editorial, Baltimore Sun, April 29, 2012

As a follow-up to Erica Green’s breaking news story, the editorial board weighed in with their view on why the allocations were “more than just bad judgment.”

6. Politics and Education Don’t Mix, P.D. Thomas, The Atlantic, April 26, 2012

News of the crazy renovation expenditures for North Avenue got my mind singing a refrain that’s been in the back of my head for a long time. It goes like this: “It’s the Bureaucracy, Stupid.” I have yet to write that post. Thomas’s opinion sort of takes care of it for me.

7. PD, Jess Gartner, jessgartner.com, April 22, 2012

The newest voice in Baltimore education blogging belongs to Jess Gartner, a teacher who has way more than the average level of commitment to her students. She took on Professional Development a week ago. Ms. Gartner is optimistic about the potential of the Common Core Standards to give teachers more autonomy. She is also far more positive than I am about the potential of the free market to solve problems that I would argue are of the free market’s own making. I commented with a note on Pearson, the educational content powerhouse that is making the kind of tailored instruction that Jess Gartner imagines a difficult dream to realize. She commented back. More on that below.

8. Mass Localism for Improving America’s Education, Yong Zhao, April 24, 2012

I think Jess Gartner would like this post. God knows I do. It talks about creativity, about autocratic rule, about radical localization of decision making. It should be required reading for anyone who works at North Avenue. Especially the ones at the top who moved here from New York and Boston and Atlanta via the Dallas/Fort Worth area and… you catch my drift. Is it me, or is Baltimore run by out-of-towners?

9. A Very Pricey Pineapple, Gail Collins, New York Times, April 27, 2012

Picking up on that Pearson thread I brought up earlier was Gail Collins, who uses a pineapple as a juicy pretext for talking about privatization of public schools. The topic is a yawner otherwise, isn’t it?

10. New York’s Bargain Basement Tests, Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch’s blog, April 28, 2012

Diane Ravitch started her own personal blog this week. In this post, she explains the appearance of said pineapple in a test item on a New York state test that Pearson had produced, originally for Texas. Pearson seems to be the goose that laid the golden pineapple.

SPECIAL BONUS: The Common Core: The Technocracts Re-engineer Learning, Anthony Cody, Education Week Teachers’ “Living in Dialogue” blog, April 27, 2012

Like everyone else who reads opinions online, I gravitate toward those that articulate what I already believe. I try to do more than that – to read people I disagree with, to argue with people I wish I agreed with, to question my own positions, which are highly flexible on all but my worst days. This piece articulated all my misgivings about the Common Core. It also made me want to move to Nebraska, a state that held out against No Child Left Behind because its education commissioner values local-level initiative. Just like me. (Not that I have anything against imported fruit.)

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April 25, 2012

Tonight in Baltimore: Seeds of a Parent Revolution, Grassroots Style

Tonight at the Village Learning Place in Baltimore’s Charles Village, just a few blocks southeast of the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus and a few yards south of Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School, a group of parents and caregivers will convene to hear about how three neighborhood public schools in Baltimore turned around. (Hint: It didn’t require state intervention or the contracting of outside operators or charter conversions.)

If you’re curious about the power parents have to improve a city school, don’t miss it. Cases under discussion will be Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, The Mt. Washington School, and Federal Hill Prep.

WHEN: TONIGHT! Weds, April 25, 2012.
Doors open at 7 for refreshments and the panel starts talking at 7:30 pm.

WHERE: The Village Learning Place, 2521 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Check out the invite on the Village Parents website for more details.

Many thanks in advance to the Village Parents for organizing the event and to Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance President Judy Chung O’Brien and others for their participation.

April 11, 2012

Reflections on Year One of Re:education in Baltimore

Honoré Daumier 017 (Don Quixote)

Don Quijote and Sancho Panza by Honoré Daumier, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A week ago Baltimore storyteller Rafael Alvarez challenged me, over pita points and taramosalata at Samos, to explain what I was doing with this blog and who I was doing it for, in 140 characters or less. I couldn’t. But I took up the challenge to explain my quixotic quest, as he painted it, in my anniversary post.

Today marks one year of Re:education in Baltimore. It’s my paper anniversary. After filling a dozen creamy pages with ink (they used to call that writing), it’s time to transfer some thoughts to the Web.

What am I doing? 

I started this blog to prevent myself from alienating my friends and family. After a year of engagement with the charter versus neighborhood school quandary, I was bombarding everyone in earshot with talk of issues they either didn’t want to talk about or didn’t want to confront at the same high level of intensity. I’d learned a lot. The people in a ten-foot radius may not have cared, but I was sure others did. Why not write a blog?

What started as (and still is) an outlet for sharing knowledge and curating stories of interest quickly turned into a platform for staging public resistance. Less than a month in, I published “Why I Don’t Want a Charter School in My Backyard (Not Just Yet. Not So Fast.).” May 2011 would prove the blog’s biggest month in page views for all of 2011, not surpassed until January 2012. The uptake was thrilling in a sort of crazy-making way. I was the rookie who hit a homer in his first at bat. But it was only the beginning. I was in it for the long haul. I had bigger fish to fry.

The uptake of that post changed the direction of the blog when Baltimore NewsTrust reposted it. The site was a short-lived experiment in allowing the public to evaluate the merits of local news stories. It’s sort of like Star Search in that readers can rate selections for “style” and “originality.” It’s a grand experiment. It’s also supremely irritating in that it turns readers into judges. State senator Bill Ferguson, of all people, rated the post, and rated it “poor.” This did not endear him to me. It did get me on his radar, though, and I called him to see if he could help me improve my neighborhood school. He gave me some names. This blog became a foot in the door, a way to link to potentially helpful people in real life. I love it for that. I think that’s why I value it most.

As a result of the NewsTrust attention I began to think of myself differently as a blogger. I began to think of myself as having a journalistic obligation. That was odd. I have a full time job writing for a marketing agency that brands colleges, universities, and independent schools. I hadn’t reported a news story since 1999. But I couldn’t help seeing a major hole in news coverage in this town and a slant in opinion making that is less than progressive or populist – two words I would like to think describe my political values. When mayoral candidate Otis Rolley came out with an education agenda that encapsulated everything that was wrong with the federal push for reform, I used it to take the national conversation down to the local level. I loved his candidacy. There is no greater friend to an activist than an enemy with a four-point plan. But the race ended. And so did my turn as a spotlighter of local politics. I turned inward again, back to the mission to make my neighborhood school a top choice, and the personal tale that goes along with it.

Who’s it all for?

“This isn’t just for your son,” Rafael tells me between bites of a gyro sandwich. He’s right. I wish I could say it was. But it’s not.

Who am I fighting for? Poor people? Black people? I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself. I can’t. I won’t. I write as a parent whose salary is not commensurate with her level of education. (The irony is that I haven’t been able to cash in on my education because I work in education. I sell it. Before that I developed content for it. These are not lucrative tasks.) I might say I am a fighter for the shrinking middle class. I’m one of its voices. I care about the direction the country is taking. I worry about the future of the world my son is growing up in. I witness behavior and read language that is thoughtless and careless, that is based in prejudice, classism, and racism, and I feel compelled to call it out. I’ve been doing that since the ninth grade. It has never won me any friends.

“You’re earnest,” Rafael tells me.

“That’s my blogger persona,” I explain. “I cultivate that. I can do snark and irony and cynicism, but the blogosphere doesn’t need it.”

“That’s fine,” he says. “You can make your nuanced arguments. You can take the high road. But people want their 140 characters.”

Fine, then: I want to leave my little world better than I found it.

If that’s not enough, follow me on Twitter. Better yet, help me celebrate my anniversary by subscribing to Re:education in Baltimore today.


April 10, 2012

Are Baltimore Parents Taking Out Loans for Private Kindergarten?

A recent piece in Smart Money reports that more parents are borrowing money for their children’s independent schooling. I recently met a parent in Baltimore who had borrowed to send his child to private school here, and told me it’s cheaper to send a kid to college, after financial aid and student loans are factored in, than it is to repay loans for private school. I wonder if other parents in a similar situation would be brave enough to share their stories in the comments below.

 

April 3, 2012

Public Education Communication Breakdown

I just came across a section of a piece on education reporting — “Flunking the Test” by Paul Farhi in the February/March issue of American Journalism Review — that I find myself wishing the communications officials at Baltimore City Public Schools would read:

…veteran education reporters say they face a simple yet profound barrier to doing their job: It’s hard to get inside a classroom these days. They say administrators are wary about putting potential problems on display, particularly in the wake of No Child Left Behind and the Obama Administration’s initiative, Race to the Top.

“School systems are crazed about controlling the message,” says Linda Perlstein, author of two books about schools and, until recently, public editor of the Education Writers Association. “Access is so constricted.” As a result, she says, “There’s great underreporting of what happens in classroom, and it’s just getting worse.”

Perlstein spent three school years in classrooms to report a series about middle school for the Washington Post in 2000, and for her books, “Not Much Just Chillin'” (about middle schoolers in Columbia, Maryland) and “Tested” (about high-stakes tests). But Perlstein says other reporters were never able to gain similar access to other schools, including those in Washington, D.C., where the reform efforts of former Schools Chancellor Rhee attracted national attention.

Even with a cooperative principal or school superintendent, few reporters could make the lengthy commitment that Perlstein did in her reporting. That means journalists don’t get to see the very thing they’re reporting about. Imagine if sportswriters never got to see athletes play or political reporters never attended a campaign rally. Some districts even forbid teachers from speaking to the media on the record outside the classroom.

What to do? “You rely more and more on talking heads and less on what a school looks like,” Perlstein says. She adds, “That matters.” Ironically, superintendents and administrators “always tell me that the media gets it wrong. Well, how can we get it right when they won’t talk to us?”

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