ed politics

Since I’ve been paying attention, education reform has seemed to defy easy political categorization. I found this article a nice explanation of how that happened, from a missed-Democratic-opportunity perspective. And you can tell it’s a serious article about education because it includes the mandatory “Nation at Risk” citation.

education reform

Every few days something crosses my mind to post here, but the fact of not updating in a month makes me feel like I need to squeeze out an epic narrative about what we’ve been up to. Rather than wait for that, I thought I’d just start posting those little things. Like this commentary from an education-related blog. It’s mostly about the recent New York Times Magazine piece about New Orleans (a much-covered topic in education journalism and TFA alumni newsletters). There’s a quote at the end that articulates well what frustrates me about 90% of the education reform commentary I read on my beloved liberal political blogs. Okay, here, I won’t make you read the whole post to get to it; here’s the Louisiana state superintendent on whether schools should be expected to successfully educate kids in the face of all the other social ills (from the magazine):

“It would be convenient to say that it’s a whole lot of other people who need to be part of the equation,” he replied. “But we have the job. And we have to do something.” Pastorek said he didn’t want to fall back on the excuse that he had heard from many other school officials, in Louisiana and elsewhere — that it was impossible to fix their schools until other social problems had first been corrected.

But then he switched direction somewhat. In many ways, he said, he was sympathetic to the Ravitch position. “If we want to really get kids to the level that we want to get them,” he said, “and we want to do it in a more efficient and effective way, then we would be well served if we took care of those kinds of problems — if we provided more resources to kids from conception to early childhood, if we took care of mental-health issues and physical ailments and teeth and eye examinations. Including, you know, where these kids go home to sleep at night. I’ve lived in this community a long time, and I can’t imagine how I could ever feel comfortable in neighborhoods that these kids live in at night. And yet they do, and we still expect them to do well.”

Pastorek paused for a moment. “So, now, can I solve all those problems tomorrow afternoon? Can I even get the attention of the people who have control over those things? Right now, in New Orleans, after Katrina, the answer is no, I can’t. But I can’t take the position that I can’t succeed unless I have those things. I have to take the position that we’re going to do it in spite of that. Now, will it be hard? Will I be less successful? Probably yes. But I have to take that approach, because I don’t have really any other cards to play.”

Me again: So yes, I think we ask too much of our schools, but throwing up our hands until we’ve ended poverty is not an acceptable response. And that’s why *I*…conduct research that is vaguely related to the field…

job, CHECK

Last week, we finally checked two of our four major To Do list items of the list: we signed a rental contract in Berlin (completing all arrangements for the summer), and I accepted a job with a nearby education firm (that shall remain nameless so I can talk about it here without becoming a hit for googlers).


It is such a relief to have a job I’m excited about lined up for the fall. I took a break from writing yesterday to walk around in the beautiful day. Sitting under a tree, looking up at the sky, I found myself totally relaxed and my mind empty. There’s still a lot to do this month—finishing this thesis, working on The Wedding. But now that we know where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing, the stress is gone.

This does mean, city-dwellers, that we will not be joining you in the fall. My future office is a ten minute walk from our current apartment, and I can’t give up that kind of commute even for the lure of San Francisco. But we do love where we live. Maybe next year, when it’s Bryan’s turn for the job searching, it will be time to make a move.

black kids CAN read

It’s easy to think that social science fields (like say, education research) have not advanced in the last 30 years in the same way that more technical fields (like say, computer science) have. I mean, we certainly don’t seem to be doing a much better job of actually educating people.

But every once in a while (like say, now, while I’m still writing this damn thesis), I’ll stumble across something that makes me think otherwise. This report was cited in one of the articles I read recently:

Weber, G. (1971). Inner city children can be taught to read (Occassional Paper No. 18).

Revelation! I guess we have learned something since the 70s.

Got an hour?

A couple of (long) articles today give good overviews of things that interest me.

From Time, “Why We Worry About the Things We Shouldn’t…And Ignore the Things We Should” [link] [pdf]
(Short Answer: We’re monkeys.)

From the NY Times Magazine, “What It Takes to Make a Student,” all about the achievement gap [link] [pdf]
(Short Answer: A lot more than we’re offering.)

Another week begins!

Two points of interest (to me)

1. High-achieving low-income students go to college at about the same rate as low-achieving high-income students (according to a new report that looks at National Education Longitudinal Study data). Which makes total sense when I think about all the dumb-asses at my high school that trotted off to [insert elite college here]. Feel free to comment about grade inflation and whatnot at high-poverty schools—you line ’em up, I’ll knock ’em down.

College-going rates

2. The Fundamental (except not really) Attribution Error. (Amy could probably tell you all about this since it’s a psych thing.) We talked about it briefly today in my Research Design class. Basically, people have a tendency to over-attribute people’s actions to their character.

For example, if a man steals a loaf of bread, they are more likely to say it’s because he’s dishonest or corrupt, and less likely to say it’s because of the situation he was in.

When (American) psychologists first discovered this, they named it the Fundamental Attribution Error. Later they tested for this in other countries and found out that—whoops—it’s actually mainly an American thing. In many Asian countries, they over-attribute people’s actions to their situations.

Just an interesting little insight into our national character.

Off to Texas for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Lots of family and friend bonding.

Was it a sunnier-than-usual day?

I’m doing my best to take at least one day to celebrate before I start worrying about how the Democrats will screw things up before 08. We get one day, right?

I’ve had “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” stuck in my head since Rumsfeld announced his resignation.

In other news, yesterday I was assigned to read a report I helped write for my Ed Reform class. This will probably never happen again.

NCLB, wot wot

In keeping with my last post, my knowledge of No Child Left Behind was pretty minimal when I was teaching. By minimal, I mean that it included two things:

– It was all about standardized tests, which blow.
– Bush signed it, so it must really blow.

Now, of course, my understanding of the ways in which NCLB does and does not blow are somewhat more nuanced. For anyone who’s interested, I’m slapping up here a clear but thorough guide to the law and its major shortcomings. Thank you, Harvard Civil Rights Project.