Who Will Congress Put First? Children or Teachers Unions?; Testing Tactics Helped Fuel D.C. School Gains; Why Cory Booker Likes Being Mayor of Newark; No Ordinary Success; Gates Says He Is Outraged by Arrest at Cambridge Home

1 & 2 here
3) A wise comment in response to one of my recent emails:

Petrilli is right on the money – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard certain reformers denigrate “higher order thinking” and “problem solving” as just more union code words for an anti-accountability agenda. The problem is, when they insist that all that matters is basic skills and proficiency tests, they sound ridiculous to parents and teachers, and that limits their effectiveness. Basic skills, just because they’re easily tested, are NOT all that matter, and our pursuit of more and more accountability needs to not be accompanied by a dumbing down of the accountability systems so we can have an easier time measuring and can make an argument against those who inappropriately assert that everything is unmeasurable.

4) A great blog post following the recent death of Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes, who taught in NYC public schools for decades before becoming an author:

Frank McCourt was my English teacher in my senior year at Stuyvesant (class of ’74). He introduced us to African literature such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which sounded even more dramatic in his thick brogue.
When one student asked why we should read this book, what possible use would it be to us in our lives, he answered, “You will read it for the same reason your parents waste their money on your piano lessons. So you won’t be a boring little shyte the rest of your life.”
It was the most honest answer to such a question I ever heard from any teacher. Whenever the question came to my head about any subject thereafter I fondly remembered Mr. McCourt and resolved not to be a boring little shyte.

5) Good to see Roll Call telling it like it is:

The test for Congress is whether to allow Obama and Duncan to continue their efforts with adequate funding – which is being processed right now – and the follow-on to the NCLB, probably to be introduced in January.
Republicans, if they’re as serious about school reform as they’ve claimed for years, ought to rally to the cause because, as Duncan said in a speech in June, “we’re convinced that with unprecedented resources must come unprecedented reform.
“Just simply investing in the status quo isn’t going to get us where we need to go.”
But Democrats may be a bigger problem – especially those beholden to the teachers unions. Some appropriators have cast a skeptical eye on Duncan’s efforts to expand charter school funding, foster performance pay, get student test data tied to teachers and teachers colleges, fire persistently bad teachers and close bad schools.
Ultimately, the question for Members of Congress is, are you working to give America’s children, especially poor children, a chance to thrive and compete in the world, or to protect industrial-era work rules for union members? Members should be judged on the choice that they make.

I’m quoted briefly:

After Duncan’s speech, education blogger Whitney Tilson wrote, “This is a seminal event – an education secretary in a DEMOCRATIC administration went in front of the most important union in the country, that used to OWN the Democratic party and told them a whole lotta things they DIDN’T want to hear.
“This is the equivalent of Dick Cheney speaking at the NRA and espousing gun control.”

6) Despite this snarky article’s attempts to insinuate otherwise, there’s no doubt that real, positive change is happening under Michelle Rhee’s leadership in DC.

When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced the continued growth of standardized test scores for District students Monday, he hailed it as “powerful evidence of the incredible work being done by teachers, principals and most importantly our students.”
What Fenty did not say was that the two-year improvement in District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System results — including an average of nearly 15 percentage points in the pass rates on elementary reading and math tests — was also the product of a strategy that relied on improved statistical housekeeping.
These include intensive test preparation targeted to a narrow group of students on the cusp of proficient, or passing, scores, and “cleaning the rosters” of students ineligible to take the tests — and also likely to pull the numbers down.
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee described some of these approaches as the pursuit of “low-hanging fruit.”
The initiatives are neither novel nor improper. They’ve been in the toolboxes of urban school leaders since the inception of the No Child Left Behind Act. The law requires schools to show annual progress toward a goal of all students passing reading and math tests by 2014.
Rhee, who says she would like to see the law amended to emphasize year-to-year academic growth, said this week that much of what she had done was a matter of common sense.
“In our first year, we found that certain basic things were not happening,” she said.
“There were actions we took to ensure we were maximizing our potential to be successful.”

However, this article does raise important truths that not all progress is always what it appears. Here’s a quote from David Simon, the creator of one of my all-time favorite TV shows, The Wire, in an interview with Bill Moyers:

You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America, school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, arrest stats, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on. And as soon as you invent that statistical category, 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is.

7) A nice article in Time about Cory Booker. Under his leadership, there’s been amazing progress in crime fighting — now he needs control of the schools (whose budget is roughly 50% larger than the entire city budget) to make a similar impact there:

Whether the cameras, Booker’s patrols or the Policing 101 measures instituted by McCarthy — moving more officers to night and weekend shifts, when, get this, crime is more likely to happen — were most responsible for the turnaround, the results are stunning. Murders dropped 36% in Newark — from 105 to 67 — from 2006 to 2008. Shooting incidents dropped 41%. Rapes fell 30%, and auto thefts 26%. Newark went 43 days without a homicide in early 2008, the city’s longest such stretch in 48 years. In the first quarter of this year, Newark had its lowest number of homicides since 1959.

8) My friend James Forman with a long article about Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and Promise Academy charter school, and about KIPP:

How much can schools improve the life prospects of children growing up in poor neighborhoods? This question has divided the education community since at least the 1960s, when a group of researchers led by James Coleman attempted to quantify the extent to which segregation hurt black children. Coleman concluded that differences in family background had a greater impact on student achievement than did differences in school quality.

9) Gates is exactly right that this shit doesn’t happen to white people:

Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. cast his recent arrest in his home in Cambridge, Mass., as part of a “racial narrative” playing out in a biased criminal justice system. The professor who has spent much of his life studying race in America said he has come to feel like a case study.
“There are one million black men in jail in this country and last Thursday I was one of them,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post Tuesday morning. “This is outrageous and that this is how poor black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system. It’s one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it.”
He was still outraged but he said he has had time to take a step back and will now apply the scholarship that has been his life’s work to the issue of race in the criminal justice system.
Gates was arrested Thursday at his home near Harvard University after trying to force open the locked front door. The charge of disorderly conduct was dropped this afternoon, the Cambridge police department said in a news release. The department called the arrest “regrettable and unfortunate.”
According to the initial police report Gates accused police officers at the scene of being racist and said repeatedly, “This is what happens to black men in America.”
Police came to Gates’s home to investigate a possible break-in about 12:40 p.m. on Thursday. The department’s report said Gates was arrested “after exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior” at his home. Officers said they tried to calm Gates, who responded, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”