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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]


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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Voices Unheard

by Jane on Nov 20th, 2009


When I’m president, we’ll fight to make sure we’re once again first in the world when it comes to high school graduation rates.

-Barack Obama (Dayton, Ohio, September 9, 2008)

I admit I do things that get me in trouble at school. I like to talk in class, argue with the teacher and make people laugh. But I feel like the teachers and principals are always waiting for me to do something stupid so they can jump on my case. It’s like we’re in a war. The only question is who’s going to strike first.

- Desmin, New York, New York, April 2009

Many Americans hear from or about President Barack Obama near daily.  But voices like Desmin’s - an 8th grader struggling to finish middle school in New York City - are less heard, though education reform remains a high priority of this president (and the last).

A recent report commissioned by the America’s Promise Alliance (PDF) puts the national high school graduation rate at 71%.  That number drops sharply in large urban districts like New York, where in 2008 just 60% of students earned a diploma within four years — a new high for the city.  

Youth Communication attacks the problem from an unusual angle.  Founded almost 30 years ago in New York, YC is dedicated to helping teenagers develop reading and writing skills by publishing magazines written by and for teens.  A recent issue titled “Getting to Graduation” included Desmin’s story.  An excerpt:

Now I am on the brink of being kicked out of school because of my behavior. I think my teachers feel like the school would have no problems if they just got rid of me, and that upsets me. I feel disgusted because they label me the bad seed. I don’t see myself as that.

I just want to pass 8th grade and move on to high school. I don’t really want to draw negative attention to myself for acting up. I’d rather draw positive attention to myself for being on the honor roll.

I want to go to college and get my master’s degree. I want to become an architect or maybe an entrepreneur so I can be my own boss. With this brain, I feel that I have the skills to start my own business—like a champagne label or maybe a record label. But first I have to graduate from high school.

This weekend, take the time to read Desmin’s story and others on the Youth Communication website.  Often our discussions of education pivot around adult stories, neglecting the voices of those sitting in the classroom - or leaving it too early.

Learn more: Youth Communication
Related content: Listen Up! Youth media network

categories: Ed Beat, Op-Ed, President Obama


Harlem Children’s Zone, 2.0

by Elena on Nov 12th, 2009

In 2010, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be giving out a total of $10 million in grant money to twenty potential “Promise Neighborhoods” across the country. Their use of the word “Promise” is a nod to the inspiration for the program–Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, and its Promise Academy charter schools. In order to receive grants, communities will have to propose plans for comprehensive community programs that replicate HCZ’s model and, ideally, match its success.obamacanada

“Changing the Odds: Learning from the Harlem Children’s Zone Model,” a three-day conference attended by upwards of 1,000 educators, municipal leaders, and non-profit workers, was held earlier this week in New York. Secretary Duncan gave a keynote address, explaining that grants would be competitive, and that communities must base their proposals on already existing systems of schools–money won’t be spent on good ideas alone.

The Harlem Children’s Zone has received extraordinary praise for the very real gains it has produced in reading and math achievement among students who attend Promise Academy schools. As the New York Times‘ David Brooks points out, “In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.”

But Harlem Children’s Zone has some advantages over its proteges, among them a politically savvy, high-profile leader and a $65 million yearly budget furnished by big sponsors (including the chairman of American Express). Without that kind of influence or cash, it’s unclear that other programs will be able to match HCZ’s explosive success.

Non-Profits Look at Harlem Children’s Zone and Ask: Only in New York? [WNYC, 11/11/09]
The Harlem Miracle [David Brooks, NY Times, 5/7/09]
In The Zone [Ed Beat, LMtv, 8/28/09]


A Stimulus Update

by Elena on Nov 5th, 2009

obama-signs-stimulus-bill-300x291This week on the NewsHour, we reported on the effects of stimulus dollars in school districts in Rochester, New York. The program is part of our ongoing effort to track federal money as it floods–or trickles, as the case may be–into school districts across the country.

In Rochester, where schools received $30 Million from the federal government, the money helped to save three innovative programs and many educators’ jobs. According to President Obama and his education staff, this kind of change has been and will continue to be fostered by stimulus dollars. In a speech yesterday in Madison, Wisconsin, the President laid out the tenets of his Race to the Top program, in which states are eligible to win stimulus grants if they “develop a strong plan to improve the quality of education”in their states. He described what states need to do to qualify and how applications will be evaluated. Meanwhile, the Department of Education has released a report detailing the effects of stimulus money in the education sector, which states that 325,000 jobs have been saved since the money went out.

Pieces in both the New York Times and EdWeek say that the report’s data is somewhat suspect, however, and “only as good as the recipients that have reported it.” In many cases, it remains unclear what kinds of jobs were created and whether “saved” jobs were ever really in danger–for example, many Head Start programs seem to have given raises to employees whose jobs were reported as saved. The Obama administration has prioritized transparency by making these numbers public so quickly, but the report itself sheds only a hazy light on the stimulus and its usefulness.

Stay tuned for continuing coverage from us on both the stimulus and, more narrowly, the Race to the Top.

“Holding the Line” [LMtv & The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 10/3/09]

Watch Obama’s Speech in Madison

Reports Show Conflicting Number of Jobs Attributed to Stimulus Money
[NY Times, 11/4/09]
Transparency Watch: Evaluating Stimulus Reporting [Education Week, 11/2/09]
ED Recovery Act Report: Summary of Programs and State-by-State Data
[, 11/2/09]

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