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Media Monday: Secretary Duncan may not like Michelle Rhee, but the Wall Street Journal sure does

by Elena on Dec 14th, 2009

The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed today that marries two of education’s hottest topics: D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee and the Department of Education’s Race to the Top fund. The Journal claims that Secretary Duncan should more actively and publicly put himself in Rhee’s corner, since her reform efforts in D.C. parallel many of the Department’s alleged reform goals. Race to the Top funding will be given to states that prioritize pay for performance, charter schools, and tying teacher evaluation to student performance–all of which figure prominently in Rhee’s plan for D.C.

As you know if you’ve been following our coverage of Rhee, it’s the D.C. teachers’ union who most vehemently oppose her approach to school reform; it’s been more than two years since we started following Rhee, and her prolonged contract negotiations with the union are still unresolved. In many states, especially those with strong unions, it may prove difficult to get teachers on board with proposals for reform. The Journal writes:

The problem with this passivity is that union-negotiated collective-bargaining agreements are often the biggest barrier to enacting these education reforms. By not using their bully pulpit to back state and local reformers like Michelle Rhee, Mr. Duncan and President Obama are sending mixed messages, emboldening the opposition and jeopardizing their own education objectives.

The Journal’s unilaterally positive read on Rhee, whose reign in D.C. has been controversial, seems full of jumped-to conclusions. But it will be interesting to see whether the Race to the Top will produce replicates of the situation in D.C., as states and districts come up against union resistance, and whether Duncan’s position–”We generally don’t weigh in on local labor disputes”–will change.

To catch up on the ongoing negotiations between Rhee and the D.C. teachers’ union, watch our most recent coverage for the NewsHour, below, and listen to our interviews with Rhee and union president George Parker, collected here.

Who’s Got Michelle Rhee’s Back? [The Wall Street Journal, 12/14/09]

Two Years of Talks with Michelle Rhee & George Parker [LMtv, 9/21/09]


Shakira: now the voice of global education

by Elena on Dec 8th, 2009

In June, we wrote about Shakira’s increasing focus on education in her philanthropic work. The Economist recently published a piece she wrote about the importance of creating a Global Fund for Education. The fund, she writes, already has President Obama’s support, and would work toward the United Nation’s stated goal that every child in the world complete primary school, starting in 2015.


One of Shakira’s foundations, Pies Descalzos–The Barefoot Foundation–builds and maintains schools in three regions of Colombia, and focuses its work on children whose families are part of Colombia’s large displaced population. The Barefoot Foundation’s approach to education seems to be holistic, in the vein of Harlem Children’s Zone:

We also support the broader community. On any given day our school buildings are hubs of activity—providing a range of services, including adult-literacy classes, youth-leadership development, access to libraries and computer training. Perhaps most importantly, we have also begun to form parent co-operatives focused on teaching parents and on income-generating activities aimed at ensuring that families are financially secure.

Learning Matters’ John Tulenko explores another side of global education in a recent interview with the Ford Foundation’s Joan Dassin. Dassin’s primary concern is the phenomenon of “Brain Drain” in the developing world: young people, once educated, often leave their countries of birth. The Ford Foundation’s college scholarship program tries to ensure that the talented and educated citizens of the developing world stay there.

Though they’re working from different ends of the education lifespan, both Shakira’s and Dassin’s thoughts are worth some attention this holiday season.

Shakira: The Voice of Early Childhood Education [Ed Beat, LMtv, 6/10/09]

Si, Se Puede [The Economist, 11/13/09]

Podcast: Brain Drain [LMtv, 12/7/09]

The Barefoot Foundation


Media Monday: Why Texas won’t race to the top

by Jane on Dec 7th, 2009

If you hear someone worrying about a “federal takeover,” it’s likely they’re talking about the health care debate and the public option — but Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott is pointing in a different direction.

The US Department of Education is “placing its desire for a federal takeover of public education above the interests of the 4.7 million schoolchildren in the state of Texas,” Scott said last week. He was discussing the USDOE’s “Race to the Top” (RTTP), a federal education grant program, the first of its kind, with $4.35 billion in cash for winning states.

To be competitive, states must agree to enact USDOE sanctioned reforms, including participation in the creation of common standards. Only two states have elected not to participate, Texas and Alaska. According to Scott, who says Texas’ standards are already high, the RTTP amounts to coercion.

The “Race to the Top” is the federal government’s latest, and arguably most ambitious, foray into education reform. In a recent piece for the NewsHour, we asked where RTTP fits into the history of federal involvement in public education. Watch it below.

A Race to the Top: The History [, 12/03/09]

Texas Education head warns of federal takeover [Austin American-Statesmen, 12/03/09]

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Charter schools find a home in New York

by Elena on Dec 1st, 2009

Though charter schools have been a buzzword in education reform for years now, the past months have seen them gain even more traction and hype. Thanks to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s vocal support for charters, and the regulation that denies Race to the Top funds to states that block their creation, it looks as if the future of public education will have to accommodate them.

0219_1And so, it seems, will New York City. According to the New York Times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made it a priority to encourage the growth of New York’s charter schools in his third term. Not only has he committed to opening twenty-four charter schools next fall and one hundred over the next four years, he has offered many of the city’s charters space to operate within existing public school buildings. In most other cities, charter schools are required to buy or rent their own spaces–this is in part what distinguishes them from traditional public schools and makes it more difficult for them to exist in the first place.

In an article for Counterpunch, David Wolff does a thorough job of explaining how the business behind charter schools–the investments that support them, and why it’s lucrative for companies to invest in them at all. According to Wolff, when charter schools use portions of their (public) funding to buy real estate, it often means that cutbacks are made in other areas:

In the case of the 100 Academy of Excellence, the principal told a state official that money was saved by letting go veteran (read expensive) teachers and increasing class size (read cost saving).

By Wolff’s reasoning, Bloomberg’s decision to house more charter schools in public school buildings may improve the quality of the education they provide. But, as Jennifer Medina notes in her piece for the New York Times, students in traditional public schools will still have to walk past their charter neighbors and wonder why their facilities are newer and better. Joel Klein, New York City’s schools chancellor, has said about charters:

“There are so many talented people out there, and I want them to come to New York…[w]hy would we want to put up barriers to that?”

His emphasis on importing talent begs the question: when charter schools move in, what will happen to what’s already here?

City’s Schools Share Their Space, and Bitterness [The New York Times, 11/29/09]
Speculating on Education [Counterpunch, 9/29/09]
Tracking the Charter Movement [Taking Note, 12/01/09]


Media Monday: The War on Kids

by Elena on Nov 30th, 2009

At one of the schools documented in Cevin Soling’s new film, The War on Kids, an 8-year-old student was arrested for pointing a chicken finger at another student and saying “Pow!.” In the ten years since the massacre at Columbine High School, school shootings have unnerved parents and educators. Filmmakers and activists have repeatedly asked why violence in schools has increased, and schools have poured money into preventative measures. The War on Kids explores the ramifications of those measures.

Soling’s documentary, now playing at the Quad Cinema in New York, argues that public schools are instruments of fear and oppression in the lives of children. Reviews in both the New York Times and Variety are quick to note that the film’s reporting could be more balanced, but neither dismisses its claims as outlandish, either. The film uses shocking images–of which you’ll get a taste in the trailer–of armed guards, police dogs and handcuffs to emphasize its points. It drifts, too, into analysis of other ways in which children are oppressed by adult institutions–namely, the over-prescription of drugs like Ritalin. Clearly, efforts to keep children–or adults, for that matter–healthy and safe can all too often lead to passivity and fear.

Watch the trailer below and, if you’re a fan of the Colbert Report, watch Soling’s appearance on the show tonight at 11:30 on Comedy Central.

The War on Kids [Official Website]
The War on Kids Review [Variety, 11/17/09]
The War on Kids: What Ails Public Schools? Better Ask, What Doesn’t? [The New York Times, 11/18/09]

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