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Help Build a Bridge for Essential Schools

Every day seems to bring more interesting news in the world of public education: a new alliance of school districts and charters schools, scores on PISA, a waiver from the state department of education to allow Cathy Black to succeed Joel Klein in New York City, a front page story in the New York Times about Bill Gates’ support for videotaping teachers and Michelle Rhee’s launch of Students First.

Perhaps all of these developments deserve our attention, even though none can claim impact—they’re all works in progress, even the semi-good news about small increases by US students on the international PISA results. I expect to be blogging about them down the road.

If you are looking for positive impact on the lives and learning of children, I suggest the Coalition of Essential Schools, that wonderfully loose organization created in 1984 by the late Ted Sizer, a true giant in education.

Whether it’s the network of like-minded teachers who have been supporting each other for years and years, sharing ideas, techniques, successes and failures, or wildly successful schools like High Tech High and the Met schools, it’s clear that CES has had a positive impact on our schools. The CES common principles are found in most of the good work that is going on for kids today in schools all around the nation.

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Thanksgiving Tricks & Treats: Klein, Tenure, NAEP and more

Somehow this Thanksgiving seems more like Halloween, full of tricks and treats.

#1. The big treat was, of course, Tom Friedman’s column in the New York Times, telling the world that, if he were starting out in journalism today, he would be an education reporter. He’s right. It’s a happening beat.

#2. This next one is either a trick or a treat, depending on where you are sitting: Bill Gates continues to speak out, leading some to label him ‘the shadow Secretary of Education. This time he chose the annual meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Louisville to call for huge changes in how teachers are paid. He said that the ‘bonus’ for having a Master’s degree was a waste of money (lots of money too, an estimated $8.6 billion in extra pay), because there’s little evidence that extra degrees add to positive student outcomes. There’s a mighty wind blowing on the issue of teacher pay.

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A Jaw Dropping Day

I had two jaw dropping moments in just one day, November 9, 2010. The first involved Black boys in and out of school; the second, Joel Klein.

“Jaw-Dropping Data” and “National Catastrophe” were two of the attention-getting phrases in the press release from the Council of the Great City Schools, phrases I assumed were hyperbole designed to catch the reader’s eye.

Wrong! The data, from the report titled A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools (PDF), are jaw dropping, and we do have a national catastrophe.

Let’s start with educational attainment. Here are just a few of the numbers:

  • Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys.
  • Only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.
  • In 2009, the average mathematics scale score of large city Black males who were not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch was eight points lower at grade 4 and 12 points lower at grade 8 than the score of White males nationwide who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
  • Young white male students in poverty do as well as young black male students who are not in poverty.
  • African-American boys drop out of high school at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower.

But the crisis doesn’t begin in school, the report notes.

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