Meet Arne Duncan

“Part of the reason urban education has struggled historically is you haven’t had that leadership from the top,” he said.

“Where you’ve seen real progress in the sense of innovation, guess what the common denominator is? Mayoral control,” Duncan said.

It’s an AP article, but one version is here.

More on merit pay

So the Education First Compact/Philadelphia Education Fund/Cross City Campaign launched their “Effective Teaching for All Children Campaign” yesterday. There’s reference to a policy paper in the news coverage but I couldn’t find it on their website. Whether it’s their intent or not, it seems a clear salvo at the PFT, a way to undermine seniority.

We’ll see how much traction they get with this — it’s a contract year and the PFT will strike over this issue — but last night I wondered what would happen if they allowed teachers to form groups or teams that could transfer to troubled school together. What if these teams could gather, write a proposal, and then see if there was a principal willing to take them on (and a principal they’d be willing to deal with) ?

Then, they could all be rewarded equally, as a team, if the school’s performance turned around… It would avoid some of the nastier elements of merit pay — principals with minimal understanding of instruction or teachers essentially competing against each other — and support a community “grown” by teachers themselves.

(Just to reiterate a point I’ve made over and over again: with such a shallow pool of administrators, you can’t expect veteran teachers to take a chance on the sanity/intelligence of a principal they don’t know. And you can’t create new school culture by dropping an assortment of new folks — experienced or not — into a building.)

Litmus test

Still preparing review of Charles Payne’s new book, but I found this statement that I think would be a great litmus test to see where someone stands on the political spectrum and how close they are to the daily life of urban schools:

“The basic picture of life in inner-city schools has not changed much in several decades.”

Merit Pay

There’s a bunch of articles out there describing President Obama’s advocacy of merit pay for teachers; here’s a transcript of his March 10th speech on education. He alludes several times to this issue, albeit indirectly.

Today’s Inquirer takes it further, enlisting always quotable Ted Hershberg and new Superintendent Arlene Ackerman as foils to dry, conflict averse Jerry Jordan. Incentives are one thing — finding a middle school math teacher is nearly impossible — but systems of pay based on merit…

I wish anyone pushing for merit pay would read Charles Payne’s exceptional new book — So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools. His description of many troubled urban schools as demoralized, as essentially irrational places where reforms cannot penetrate is not only accurate but a sound explanation for why these sorts of merit pay plans cannot work in Philly. For such a system to function would require multiple parts that simply do not exist and cannot be created overnight: thoughtful administrators who know instruction, motivated teachers who haven’t been burned again and again, and a reasonably efficient administrative system.

Michael Kammen quote

“Historians become controversial when they do not perpetuate myths, when they do not transmit the received and conventional wisdom, when they challenge the comforting presence of a stabilized past. Members of a society, and its politicians in particular, prefer that historians be quietly ironic rather than polemical, conservators rather than innovators.”

cited in Linenthal, Edward Tabor, and Tom Engelhardt. History Wars : The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Co., 1996), 60.

who cares more?

I like this recent article on the new school reform efforts in Philadelphia because every adult in it is trying to play the “I care about kids and you don’t” card.

Whoever can get it out first, whether a Superintendent, a Union Leader, a member of the SRC, and whoever can sing it loudest, somehow wins.

There are several variations of this tactic. There’s the “oppose me and you must hate kids” version. There’s the “I’m for kids and as such, I’m above your petty politics” version.

Unfortunately, it’s a conversation stopper and does lasting damage to relationships; it’s hard to recover good will towards someone who levels this charge at you.

Latest Course dream

I’m always dreaming of courses I’d like to teach but will never get the chance to. Today, as I finished “The Known World,” I thought of a new class: an introduction to historiography taught mostly through literature:

Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose (to discuss the use of sources)

Edward Jones, the Known World (to discuss agency vs. structure)

Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (to discuss family/diaspora)

Madison Smart Bell, All Souls Rising (to discuss what’s known and what’s ignored)

Short story: Randall Kenan, Let the Dead Bury The Dead