All posts by history

Finish a teacher education program with what?

I wonder what experienced teachers would say when asked what they want students to come out of teacher certification programs with, particularly if they were limited to things that can be taught. In other words, the traits I’d identify as necessary to succeed in a classroom — humility, intellectual curiosity, self-awareness, compassion — are very difficult to teach.

What kinds of things, then, can be taught?

My first thoughts:

1. the ability to look at a state standard and immediately have several ideas as to how to shape a classroom so that students could attain it.
2. the ability to look at a topic and see multiple approaches to teaching it.

More to come.

Budget woes: why would anyone…

So I often wonder what drives people to become superintendents of large urban districts. The newcomer to Philadelphia, Arlene Ackerman, will arrive to this situation: a grim budget with little chance of any real increase in funding.

Why would take a position when you wouldn’t really be given the tools to do the job? Unless you’re a politician with an understanding of how to leverage certain kinds of funding from the state (see Vallas, Paul), you’ve got no real chance of success.

Kenneth Clark quote

In the introduction to her recent book, Schools Betrayed, Kathryn Neckerman quotes Kenneth Clark:

“The dominant and disturbing fact about the ghetto schools is that the teachers and the students regard each other as adversaries. Under these conditions the teachers are reluctant to teach and the students retaliate and resist learning.”

It’s a cool quote, for its continued relevance, and I’m very interested in this book. I’m particularly interested in two portions of her argument:

One, she claims in the introduction that the policies and institutional structure created in the early portion of the twentieth century would play a critical role in the creation of an unequal education after 1945. I’d like to see how she makes her argument as I can see both sides for Philadelphia. On one hand, many of the kinds of inequalities that would become pervasive in the 1960s and 1970s already existed; on the other, the vast new migrations shifted the political and social fabric of the city during the 1950s.

Two, she seems ready to base her argument on the daily interactions occurring in classrooms and hallways across Chicago’s schools. I’m very interested in the source base for this portion of the argument.

Neckerman, Kathryn M. Schools Betrayed: Roots of Failure in Inner-city Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Being a parent

This article describes the difficulty most parents who want to remain in the city face in negotiating the bureaucracies of large school systems.

Twelve years of constant struggle vs. six months of deciding which suburb to live in, selling one’s home, and moving.

I don’t want to live in the ‘burbs but I do envy the ability of folks to buy a home and not have to face the “which school” question again.

Just one thing

There’s a cool editorial here about different programs in Chicago schools that keep kids engaged.

While I whole-heartedly agree with the premise — if school kids have one thing they look forward to, be it computers, music, sports, comic books, or one great class, they’ll perform better — there’s a false note in the opening paragraphs:

In most communities, students attend school every day because they are convinced that educational achievement is essential to their future success.

There are many reasons why kids go to school — socializing, parental pressure — but future success? That feels like an adult category that kids will make a nod towards without really buying it.

Obama today

Full text here.

One segment that I found particularly moving:

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

Quote from architect, 1970

Can’t quite find a place for this quote in my dissertation but it captures something really important about the constructed world of schools:

“This is not to say that a well-designed school or campus can change everything. But it can do a lot to improve a child’s subliminal reception of a message right now extremely negative. A crisp modern building with long corridors and great, efficient asphalt yards won’t do it. Neither will a stylish, windowless garrison that is safe from the assault of the surrounding community. School must be as exciting as education is exciting, and what comes first — chicken or egg — is really unimportant. The building can be as varied and as colorful as a personal relationship. Above all, it must have intimate scale and a sense of freedom — to look outside, to move about, to choose where and when to study, to think independently, to find one’s special meaning an involvement in a place where life is really lived — whether school, city or home.”

Thompson, Benjamin. “Visual Squalor, Social Disorder or A New Vision of the City of Man ” Architectural Record 145, no. 4 (1969): 161-164

Strange article in the Inqy

So there’s your standard issue “scare-the-middle-class-parents-who-still-send-their-kids-to-public-school” story in today’s Inqy.

The first two paragraphs are solid:

A Philadelphia School District plan to send more money to schools with the neediest students has some parents worried even though the change is at least a year away.

Each school in the district receives a budget to pay for teachers, programs and other resources. There are long-standing inequities among schools in part because inexperienced teachers, who earn less, tend to work at the most troubled schools.

The author then shifts to quotes from parents regarding the devastation such an attempt at equalization might cause.

Here’s the problem and it should have been spelled out clearly:

1. Every school is allotted a particular number of teachers based on enrollment.


2. They are given a budget for staff based on that number TIMES a set-figure per teacher. A few years ago it was $63,000. I don’t know what it is now.

If your staff is composed primarily of senior teachers, you’re fine. If, however, you have thirty teachers and twenty of them are within their first five years of teaching, your school is getting screwed.

The schools where people want to transfer are full of senior teachers. It’s the only way they can get there — a voluntary transfer after years of service. The schools where no one wants to work, where there are always vacancies, these schools have immense turnover. And these schools do not receive a fair share as a result.

The high-performing schools get to have it both ways: they get the best, most experienced teachers AND they get a huge break on the budget.

What if poor performing schools were given the differential between what the district budgeted and what their teachers actually cost?


Presently: 30 teachers @ 70K= 2,100,000 That’s all.

My idea: 30 teachers @ 60K=1,800,000 and then give that school $300K to spend.

Unfortunately, finding the make believe money that emerges from this accounting slight of hand will be impossible UNLESS you start messing with the budgets of the schools where senior teachers work…