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The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading helps with a national crisis

John Merrow reports from Washington, DC and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading event organized by Ralph Smith and others. Merrow spotlights how important the skill set is — 83 percent of low-income students are behind in this regard — while also bringing up some excerpts from his new book, The Influence of Teachers, that shed additional light on the topic.

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REQUIRED READING: 6 Titles Not To Be Missed

February is a great month for books about education, with very readable releases from John Seely Brown, Richard Whitmire, Ron Dietl, Alexander Russo, Gene Maeroff and one of Peg and Gris Merrow’s sons. It’s a short month, so you might not have time to read them all before March 1, but I hope you will give at least some of them a try. Below are my somewhat biased reviews.

For those who are looking forward to what schooling might become, “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Flux” is essential reading. While I don’t know co-author Douglas Thomas, I assure you that John Seely Brown is a deep thinker whose interests encompass just about everything. He’s one of the smartest people I know. To give you a taste of their thinking, here are a couple of quotes from the book. “We propose reversing the order of things. What if, for example, questions were more important than answers? What if the key to learning were not the application of techniques but their invention? What if students were asking questions about things that really mattered to them?”

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On Teachers: Let’s Stop Bashing and Get Proactive

Last week in this space I wondered why the President had singled out for high praise a school in Denver where the teachers had taken on their own union to get work rules relaxed. Was he, I asked, sending a not-very-subtle message to teacher unions, “Put kids’ interests first. Stop with the trade union behavior”?

I asked Peter Cunningham, the Department’s uber-capable Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach, how that particular school was selected. He responded in an email that he had had nothing to do with it.

So if it wasn’t the Department of Education, then who? The likely suspects are on the President’s White House staff or in the Office of Management and Budget. Perhaps someone is off the reservation.

Or perhaps a speechwriter didn’t perform due diligence. That happens.

Or maybe eager staffers who work for Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (former Denver Superintendent of Schools) did their job—promoted their boss—effectively. (We saw the Senator and others from Colorado give their own standing ovation at that point in the speech.)

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The State of The (Teachers) Union

Was the President sending a strong message to teacher unions last night? Sure looks that way in the light of day.

What most of us saw and heard was high praise for education. He put it #2, behind ‘innovation’ on his list. Five of his 23 guests were students, and a 6th—Jill Biden—is a community college teacher. That’s all good. Mr. Obama praised “Race to the Top” and called for rewriting No Child Left Behind, and that’s all good too.

He went out of his way to praise teachers and remind us all that parents must do their job—turn off the TV, and engage with their children. That provided a welcome relief from all the teacher- bashing going on now.

And—icing on the cake–he made an eloquent plea to young people: become teachers!

Friends of public education had to be smiling and may still be today. The National School Boards Association and others have issued press releases full of praise, for example.

You may remember that he singled out one public school for high praise.

Here’s what he said:

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Teacher Bashing

Teacher bashing is all the rage these days, unfortunately. Teachers are leaving the profession, and I am hearing from teachers I trust that the exodus would be greater if the economy were better. While I think that aspects of the profession ought to be criticized, particularly the ‘trade union’ mentality of some—but not all—union leaders, the bashing is way out of line.

I write about this in my forthcoming book, The Influence of Teachers, but here today I am simply presenting the words from one veteran teacher, a woman I know to be dedicated to her students and the profession.

Please read and reflect.

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Can We Build A Grad Nation?

We have 15 million high school students, but about 1 million drop out every year. That’s nearly 7%! This means that approximately 1 out of every 4 9th graders won’t graduate high school.

Today’s report from America’s Promise, “Building a Grad Nation,” indicates that some progress has been made, but not enough. The report, made possible by Target, calls for a domestic Marshall Plan to address the problem.

I had strong reactions to five points in the report. And if you are too busy to read them all, please skip to #5.

#1: Credit card companies can track us anywhere, anytime, but schools don’t have a clue about where their students end up, because states and schools don’t count graduates and dropouts the same way. We do have a common measure—but, the report notes, “The federal government will require the states to use this calculation for the 2010-2011 school year and be held accountable for their progress based on this calculation for the 2011-2012 school year.”

In other words, wait till next year!

Anybody else wondering why this is taking so long?

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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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