seamus heaney

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

Seamus Heaney, “Voices from Lemnos,” in Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), 305-306.

Junior High School vs. Middle School

Someone should write an article describing the ebb and flow of that elusive facility called the junior high school or middle school or the eighth grade wing of the K-8 school. Nobody wants to teach these kids or maybe few people actually know how to teach this age; either way it’d be an interesting comparison to see when shifts in programming were about policy or research and where they were about money.

BobDylan on Obama

He’s got an interesting background. He’s like a fictional character, but he’s real. First off, his mother was a Kansas girl. Never lived in Kansas though, but with deep roots. You know, like Kansas bloody Kansas. John Brown the insurrectionist. Jesse James and Quantrill. Bushwhackers, Guerillas. Wizard of Oz Kansas. I think Barack has Jefferson Davis back there in his ancestry someplace. And then his father. An African intellectual. Bantu, Masai, Griot type heritage – cattle raiders, lion killers. I mean it’s just so incongruous that these two people would meet and fall in love. You kind of get past that though. And then you’re into his story. Like an odyssey except in reverse.

Interview here.

Funny, too, that he likes Obama’s prose so much and criticizes Ulysses Grant’s writing, whose autobiography tends to be roundly praised.

This is a quote from an article about soccer but it could be an article about any sport, the American system of education, or childhood in the United States:

In U.S. soccer circles, there is an ongoing discussion about how American players, from a young age, are overcoached and coddled. They practice only under a coach’s supervision, and games take place as parents hover with lovingly cut orange slices and juice boxes. The selection of talent for top U.S. teams, from the youth level all the way up to the senior national squads, tends to emphasize speed, strength and aggression over great technical skill or improvisational ability. Marta will present a strong visual image of what can happen with less coaching and a childhood spent learning to pick up the bounces and spin of a soccer ball on nearly every imaginable surface except a groomed field.

Quote to frame a class around

Hear this one a lot, but rarely see the full citation:

Those that control the past control the future and those who control the present control the past.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949; New York: Signet, 1950), 32.

Putting it next to this quote: It is one of the less visible ironies of the democratic system that the academy’s freedom of expression rests securely on its being ignored.

from Marilyn Young, Dangerous History: Vietnam and the “Good War”, Edward Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, History Wars (NY: Henry Holt, 1996), 206.

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.