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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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“Give it a ponder.” The catchphrase for a generation?

by Elena on Dec 3rd, 2009

James Lipton, the decidedly odd host of the now defunct Bravo series “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” hardly seems like an ideal spokesman for teen culture. And yet, LG, a large electronics company that produces mobile phones, has developed a series of PSAs targeted at teens centered around Lipton. In each of the flippant, quirky videos, Lipton delivers a short monologue on the dangers of sending belligerent text messages or sexually explicit photos to one’s peers. “Before you text…give it a ponder,” he says, after transferring his signature beard from his own face to the face of the teen in question. The campaign seems potentially effective: Lipton may be just offbeat enough to appeal to teens.

“Sexting,” as it’s somewhat obnoxiously referred to by many, has become a real threat to the health and happiness of adolescents, as have other forms of online harassment. Check out our coverage of this issue from earlier this year to find out how some other non-profits are addressing it, and watch our favorite Lipton bit below.

Give it a Ponder [Official Site]

How “Give it a Ponder” Could Help Teens Think Twice [YPulse, 12/02/2009]

Relationship Abuse: That’s Not Cool [Ed Beat, LMtv, 6/30/09]


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]


DC Judge Rules in Favor of Michelle Rhee

by Jane on Nov 25th, 2009


Good news for Michelle Rhee this Thanksgiving: the DC Superior Court ruled yesterday that layoffs she made in October were legal. “This has been a difficult time for the entire school system,” Rhee stated through a press release Tuesday evening. “We all look forward to maintaining our focus on serving students and renewing a collective effort to improve the quality of education we offer every child across the District.”

The decision is a blow to the Washington Teachers’ Union, which had argued that Rhee had manufactured a budget shortfall in order to target teachers she wanted out of the system.

George Parker explains his version of events at 3:20, below.

Judge Judith Bartnoff acknowledged that some teachers may have been improperly removed but soundly rejected Parker’s larger claim, writing:

The Court recognizes that questions could be raised about particular RIF decisions, in terms of the position that was eliminated, the individual whose employment was terminated, or both… Nevertheless, some questionable RIF decisions do not establish that the RIF was a pretext for a mass discharge, given the undisputed evidence that the DCPS budget was sufficient to support the existing staff and the new teachers being hired for the current school year, until the Council reduced the budget by $21 million only two weeks before the new teachers were scheduled to report.

Parker and the teachers’ union may appeal Bartnoff’s decision. But for now, it seems that the dispute will return to its original venue, out of the courtroom, and back to the bargaining table.

Also important to note - at a city council hearing in October, council members questioned whether Rhee’s decision to lay off teachers was legal, but for a different reason. When the council cut Rhee’s budget over the summer, it ordered her to slash funds for summer school. Instead, Rhee made layoffs without seeking the council’s approval. That charge continues to be investigated by the council.

Full coverage of Michelle Rhee and DC Schools:
Michelle Rhee in Washington DC: The Series
Two years of talks with Michelle Rhee and George Parker


School lunch is on the table

by Elena on Nov 19th, 2009

cover00In September, John Merrow blogged about a few of the education-related books engaging him at the moment. In this month’s BookForum, Kate Christensen reviews a book by Janet Poppendieck that may turn up on a lot of our reading lists in 2010.

Free For All, Poppendieck’s exposé of the American school lunch, claims that public schools need to prioritize providing nutritional, free breakfasts and lunches to all its students. The issue of school lunch is wedded, she argues, to issues of race and class: after all, the accepted measure of poverty at a given American school is the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. In many schools, the free lunch fed to poor kids is not only unhealthy, it’s also ridden with social stigma. From Christensen’s review:

The three-tiered system of free, reduced-price, and full-price lunches ostensibly provides for needy kids but in fact intimidates and confuses parents with endless forms to fill out and fosters a sense of shame in eligible kids, who opt to go hungry rather than expose their poverty to their peers. The program therefore often fails to reach the very kids it was designed for.

Christensen compares Poppendieck’s book to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and one hopes that the popularity of Pollan’s ideas will carry over into the realm of education. We all deserve to eat well, but with the considerable challenges they face, schoolchildren may deserve the finest dining.

Midday Malaise [, Dec/Jan 2010]
A Reading List [Taking Note, LMtv, 9/22/09]

categories: Ed Beat, blog~media

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