Philadelphia’s next leader

I don’t know much about the three candidates.

I’m struck, though, by what they chose to highlight during their initial public interviews. (Caveat: this may just be what the reporter elected to stress in her piece).

Professor Ackerman: she “supported paying teachers at different rates based on performance and other factors.”

Professor McGuire: “praised the Philadelphia district’s standardized curriculum,” but “said it hadn’t been implemented as well as it should have been.”

Mr. Nunery II “emphasized his background in business.”

Sigh. Hold that ball still, Lucy, I’ll run up and kick it.

Caleb Crain

Wonderful New Yorker article.

Favorite passage:

At some point, as a child progresses from decoding to fluent reading, the route of signals through her brain shifts. Instead of passing along a “dorsal route” through occipital, temporal, and parietal regions in both hemispheres, reading starts to move along a faster and more efficient “ventral route,” which is confined to the left hemisphere. With the gain in time and the freed-up brainpower, Wolf suggests, a fluent reader is able to integrate more of her own thoughts and feelings into her experience. “The secret at the heart of reading,” Wolf writes, is “the time it frees for the brain to have thoughts deeper than those that came before.” Imaging studies suggest that in many cases of dyslexia the right hemisphere never disengages, and reading remains effortful.

In a recent book claiming that television and video games were “making our minds sharper,” the journalist Steven Johnson argued that since we value reading for “exercising the mind,” we should value electronic media for offering a superior “cognitive workout.” But, if Wolf’s evidence is right, Johnson’s metaphor of exercise is misguided. When reading goes well, Wolf suggests, it feels effortless, like drifting down a river rather than rowing up it. It makes you smarter because it leaves more of your brain alone. Ruskin once compared reading to a conversation with the wise and noble, and Proust corrected him. It’s much better than that, Proust wrote. To read is “to receive a communication with another way of thinking, all the while remaining alone, that is, while continuing to enjoy the intellectual power that one has in solitude and that conversation dissipates immediately.”

Quote from James B. Conant

I shall not stress the contrast in buildings or the physical facilities, though they are startling enough. For, to be frank, I am not at all convinced that in terms of education the dazzling attractiveness of the spacious buildings of some suburban school I know are as much of an asset as they seem, though I hasten to add that many large city schools should be torn down and replaced by modern structures. The real contrast is evident only to a visitor who will take the time to visit classes, talk to the principals and teachers in both schools, examine the relevant statistics, and ascertain the completely different educational aspirations of the families.

James B. Conant, Slums and Suburbs (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), 80.

More Wire

Link to Atlantic article.

Quoting the article:

Anderson would be the last person to gloss over the severe problems of the urban poor, but in The Wire he sees “a bottom-line cynicism” that is at odds with his own perception of real life. “The show is very good,” he says. “It resonates. It is powerful in its depiction of the codes of the streets, but it is an exaggeration. I get frustrated watching it, because it gives such a powerful appearance of reality, but it always seems to leave something important out. What they have left out are the decent people. Even in the worst drug-infested projects, there are many, many God-fearing, churchgoing, brave people who set themselves against the gangs and the addicts, often with remarkable heroism.”

Hmmm. Not quite sure what Professor Anderson is saying here or whether we’re watching the same show. Those individuals are ably and amply represented throughout the show, from Randi’s step-mother to the recurring Steve Earle character; none of these characters are pure but they shouldn’t be. Furthermore, the good intentions of various characters, some of whom have “set themselves against the gangs and the addicts,” often misfire when the dysfunction of urban institutions leaves individuals helpless before neighborhood decay.

The Slate article from the beginning of the fourth season.

Testing teachers

Article about a project in NYC that attempts to measure the impact of teachers in the classroom.

Clearly resisted by most parties, I was struck by the declaration of one of the NYC officials:

“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”

Are we going to publish the rates of new teachers who quit? Of poverty within a given school? Of principal turnover?

This data without context — how it will undoubtedly be taken regardless of how its presented — will be utterly irrelevant.

David Greenberg from Dissent

Great line from David Greenberg’s recent “read” of the candidates in Dissent:

In the ensuing debate about whether the photographer violated journalistic ethics, some pundits speculated that the Clintons had actually posed for the camera, hoping to send the public an irrefutable image of their closeness. Although this notion was absurd—“Just name me any 50-year-old woman who would knowingly pose in her bathing suit,” Hillary smartly quipped—it underscored the widespread uncertainty about what is real in political life and what is staged, what is spontaneous and what is contrived. We have become so alert to the manipulations of politicians and their consultants that sometimes the problem isn’t so much that we accept what’s false as true; it’s that we suspect that what’s true is really false.

Particularly in light of the recent episode credited with Hillary’s bounce in NH, this essay seems particularly salient.

Keith Olbermann’s take on the crying incident hasn’t emerged elsewhere — she slams Barack Obama as inexperienced in a most reprehensible way — further undermining claims that this incident was premeditated.

David Simon

This guy should be given nine more lives so that he can continue to document this big, ugly world. The Wire is the best television show ever made.

Interview with Nick Hornby is here.

Favorite quotes:

But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no decent reason. In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalized, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millennium, so to speak. Because so much of television is about providing catharsis and redemption and the triumph of character, a drama in which postmodern institutions trump individuality and morality and justice seems different in some ways, I think.

The show would instead be about untethered capitalism run amok, about how power and money actually route themselves in a postmodern American city, and, ultimately, about why we as an urban people are no longer able to solve our problems or heal our wounds.

Success in Cincinnati

Article from Education Week describing the success in increasing graduation rates in a once trouble district. I can’t even imagine seventy-nine percent of Philadelphia students graduating. While I don’t know much about this story, one segment struck me as crucial to any genuine reform:

Respecting teachers. Both the superintendent and the school board agreed that teachers at the lowest-performing schools would be allowed to select the curriculum and professional development they thought would best help them reach their goals. Maintaining this kind of autonomy was not always easy—for the teachers or for those who advised them…

Cincinnati teachers were treated like professionals are in other fields. In addition to special off-site workshops, there was recognition for schools showing exceptional progress, along with praise—to the news media and face to face—for educators in buildings with significant signs of growth. Veteran and younger educators alike responded with genuine openness, willingness to learn, and a growing belief that major advances were possible.

Sadly, empowering those individuals who spend the most time with the children always seems to be last on the list of reforms.