Wisconsin DPI Assistant Superintendent – Only ‘Social Justice Equity Warriors’ Need Apply

Senator Steve Nass: Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) was outraged today by the most recent example of the radical politicization of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The DPI is currently seeking applicants for a career executive for the Assistant Director for Teacher Education/Professional Development/Licensing position. The position is supervised by Sheila Briggs an Assistant … Continue reading Wisconsin DPI Assistant Superintendent – Only ‘Social Justice Equity Warriors’ Need Apply

A $24 million New York City program was supposed to prepare more black and Latino men for college. But a new study found it

Alex Zimmerman: With just 10 percent of male students of color graduating “college ready” at the time, city officials hoped to boost that number by giving extra money and support to schools that already made strides getting those students to graduation. With extra resources, the theory went, those same schools might be able to nudge … Continue reading A $24 million New York City program was supposed to prepare more black and Latino men for college. But a new study found it

Defense against misinformation begins at the individual level (must be able to read)

David Stuckenberg: opinion contributor With the foundations of global stability being challenged by disruptive powers such as Russia and China, and rogues like North Korea and Iran, there’s scarcely been a more dangerous time to loose faith in each other and our government system. Yet, from social issues to economy and politics to defense, the … Continue reading Defense against misinformation begins at the individual level (must be able to read)

Some Top U.S. Educators Went to Finland. Their Big Takeaway: Empower Teachers

Madeline Will: After their time in Finland, the U.S. teachers traveled to Milan, Italy, for Education First’s Global Leadership Summit, which was focused on the future of food and had celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain as one of the speakers. The teachers’ travels were funded through scholarships by EF, an international educational tours company, and the … Continue reading Some Top U.S. Educators Went to Finland. Their Big Takeaway: Empower Teachers

How Act 10 contributes to teacher shortages — and how it doesn’t

Alan Borsuk:: But there is a lot more at work than Act 10 when it comes to attracting and keeping people in teaching. The roots of the shortages were showing up before 2011. For example, it was already getting challenging to find math and science teachers. The number of people in college-level programs to train … Continue reading How Act 10 contributes to teacher shortages — and how it doesn’t

Madison Government Schools Charter (and Innovation) Climate

Julie F. Mead & Preston C. Green III This policy brief addresses the challenge of using charter school policy to enhance equal educational opportunity. Three overriding assumptions guide the brief’s recommendations: (1) charter schools will be part of our public educational system for the foreseeable future; (2) charter schools are neither inherently good, nor inherently … Continue reading Madison Government Schools Charter (and Innovation) Climate

“The Plight of History in American Schools”

Diane Ravitch writing in Educational Excellence Network, 1989: Futuristic novels with a bleak vision of the prospects for the free individual characteristically portray a society in which the dictatorship has eliminated or strictly controls knowledge of the past. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the regime successfully wages a “campaign against the Past” by banning … Continue reading “The Plight of History in American Schools”

Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous

Fareed Zakaria: If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills. Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations … Continue reading Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous

How academia’s liberal bias is killing social science

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry: have had the following experience more than once: I am speaking with a professional academic who is a liberal. The subject of the underrepresentation of conservatives in academia comes up. My interlocutor admits that this is indeed a reality, but says the reason why conservatives are underrepresented in academia is because they don’t … Continue reading How academia’s liberal bias is killing social science

Revisitng Kristof’s criticism of academic irrelevance

D.E. Wittkower, Evan Selinger and Lucinda Rush: Some time has passed since Nicholas Kristof published his controversial Op-Ed “Professors, We Need You!“, and the time is ripe for us to approach the issue afresh. After briefly revisiting the controversy, we’ll offer some thoughts about how to promote public engagement by changing academic cultures and incentives. … Continue reading Revisitng Kristof’s criticism of academic irrelevance

Where We Stand: Praise Doesn’t Pay the Bills – Concord Review to Fold

Al Shanker via Will Fitzhugh: Usually when I write this column, I’m trying to convince thousands of people about something. This time, I’m trying to reach one or two people. I don’t even know who they are, but they’ll have to be people receptive to spending some money on a good cause. Here’s the story. … Continue reading Where We Stand: Praise Doesn’t Pay the Bills – Concord Review to Fold

Deja Vu? Education Experts to Review the Madison School District

The Madison School District:

Superintendent’s Teaching and Learning Transition Team to Begin Work This Week
A group of national and local education experts will support Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham’s entry plan work, the district announced today. The Superintendent’s Teaching and Learning Transition Team will begin work this week.
“Instruction and leadership are critical components of systemic improvement,” Superintendent Cheatham said. “This team of local and national practitioners will join district and school staff in assessing and analyzing strengths, areas of opportunities and priorities for improving teaching and learning in Madison schools.”
The eight member team brings together education experts from Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as educational practitioners from other urban school districts.
“We are fortunate to have access to national experts with a wide range of expertise from standards based instruction and leadership development, to bilingual and special education, to family and community involvement,” Cheatham said. “This team will help to deepen and strengthen my ongoing understanding of the strengths and challenges of our district. Their national perspective, coupled with the local perspective shared by principals, staff, parents and community members, will support us in narrowing our focus to only the most high leverage strategies for ensuring every student is college and career ready.”
The team, which was selected by the superintendent and will be funded through community and private foundations, will be chaired by Dr. Robert Peterkin, Professor Emeritus of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and includes: Maree Sneed, partner at Hogan and Lovells US LLC; John Diamond, sociologist of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Sheila Brown, Co-Director at the Aspen Institute’s Education and Society Program; Allan Odden, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; John Peterburs, Executive Director of Quarles & Brady; Wilma Valero, Coordinator for English Language Learner Programs in Elgin, Il; and Gloria Ladson-Billings, Professor of Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
As Superintendent Cheatham continues the listening and learning phase of her entry plan, the Teaching and Learning Transition Team will also meet with central office leaders, conduct focus groups with teachers, principals, and parents as needed, and review a variety of relevant data.
At the end of their work, the team will present the superintendent with a report of what they have learned and recommendations for moving forward systemically with best practices. That report will be used, along with data collected by the superintendent in school visits and other entry plan activities, to refine the district’s goals and strategic priorities.

Related:

  • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 2001 (additional background here)
    Updated Strategic Plan Results in Priority Action Teams
    Five Strategic Priority Action Teams, centered around the most critical challenges facing the Madison Metropolitan School District, are among the outcomes of the recently-completed strategic plan.
    “The immediate and emerging challenges facing the district are addressed in our revitalized strategic plan,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater, “and the Action Teams are focused on five important priorities for us.”
    The five strategic priorities are:
    Instructional Excellence – improving student achievement; offering challenging, diverse and contemporary curriculum and instruction
    Student Support – assuring a safe, respectful and welcoming learning environment
    Staff Effectiveness – recruiting, developing and retaining a highly competent workforce that reflects the diversity of our students
    Home and Community Partnerships – strengthening community and family partnerships and communication
    Fiscal Responsibility – using resources efficiently and strategically
    The five Strategic Priority Action Teams, one for each of the five priorities, are taking on the responsibility for continuous improvement toward “their” priority.
    The Action Teams, which will have both staff members and non-staff members, will be responsible for existing initiatives. In addition they will identify and recommend benchmarks to use in assessing school district performance.
    “We have a huge number of initiatives,” said Rainwater. “This strategic plan gives us a systemic approach to change, so that every initiative, everything we do, leads us to these established goals. I believe it is critical to our district’s success that we follow this strategic plan and use it as a decision filter against which we measure our activities.”
    Two other outcomes from the updated strategic plan are:
    a set of beliefs about children, families, enhanced learning, and the quality of life and learning, all of which are integrated with an identified District vision and mission.
    improved cost efficiency and effectiveness of many central office functions, which are being addressed on an ongoing basis.
    Madison Schools’ initial strategic plan came about in 1991, and provided direction until this update.
    “As a result of this project,” said Rainwater, “all of us who are stakeholders — parents, students, teachers and staff, administrators and community members — will share a renewed sense of clarity, while seeing an ever-more efficient deployment of resources.”
    You can see the complete strategic plan on the district’s Web site: http://www.mmsd.org.

  • Teachers Dispute District Standards: Superintendent Cheryl Wilhoyte’s Biggest Goals have become caught up in the contract battle with Madison Teachers.:

    Amid the picket signs Madison teachers carried at a rally last month protesting slow-moving contract talks, some teachers also carried a bright purple flier.
    On one side was written the heading “standards and benchmarks.” On the other, “Dimensions of Learning.” Beneath each, and filling the entire page, was one uninterrupted string of text: “Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah. . . .”
    While hardly erudite — some would call it juvenile — the flier expressed the sentiment many teachers have toward two of Superintendent Cheryl Wilhoyte’s biggest initiatives: the effort to create districtwide academic standards, and the teacher-training program that goes along with it.
    Neither issue is a subject of bargaining. But the programs have become a sort of catch-all target for teachers who blame Wilhoyte for everything from the poor state of labor-management relations to the current contract impasse.
    Wilhoyte, who was hired in part to implement the district’s 1991 strategic plan, including establishing rigorous standards, says carrying out that plan is central to the compact she has with the …

  • The 2009 update to Madison’s “Strategic Planning Process“.
  • Madison’s 2012-2013 $392,000,000 budget (just under $15k per student)
  • Madison’s long term disastrous reading results
  • The Madison school district’s recent “achievement gap and accountability plan“.
  • The Capital Times (9.21.1992):

    Wilhoyte, on the other hand, has demonstrated that she is a tough, hands-on administrator in her role as assistant superintendent for instruction and school administration in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. And even those who have tangled with her praise her philosophy, which is to put kids first.
    She has been a leader in Maryland in shaking up the educational status quo, of moving it forward to meeat the needs of the children, even while juggling new programs with budget cuts. The big question remaining about her: She has never been a superintendent. How would she handle the top job?

  • Retiring Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary club.
  • Madison Teachers, Inc. on the Madison Schools 2000 “Participatory Management”
  • Notes and links on recent Madison Superintendent hires”

Matthew DeFour summarizes and collects some feedback on the District’s press release here. It would be useful to dig into the archives and review the various strategic plans and initiatives over the years and compare the words and spending with results.
Deja vu.

The Future Of Education Eliminates The Classroom, Because The World Is Your Class

Marina Corbis:

This probably sounds familiar: You are with a group of friends arguing about some piece of trivia or historical fact. Someone says, “Wait, let me look this up on Wikipedia,” and proceeds to read the information out loud to the whole group, thus resolving the argument. Don’t dismiss this as a trivial occasion. It represents a learning moment, or more precisely, a microlearning moment, and it foreshadows a much larger transformation–to what I call socialstructed learning.
Socialstructed learning is an aggregation of microlearning experiences drawn from a rich ecology of content and driven not by grades but by social and intrinsic rewards. The microlearning moment may last a few minutes, hours, or days (if you are absorbed in reading something, tinkering with something, or listening to something from which you just can’t walk away). Socialstructed learning may be the future, but the foundations of this kind of education lie far in the past. Leading philosophers of education–from Socrates to Plutarch, Rousseau to Dewey–talked about many of these ideals centuries ago. Today, we have a host of tools to make their vision reality.
Socialstructed learning is an aggregation of microlearning experiences driven not by grades but by social rewards.

,

Adults Only

I may be one of a tiny minority who think that schools are for student academic work.
Of course, sports, concerts, social programs, dances, and all sorts of other youth activities are important, but students don’t need schools to do them in.
My view is that without student academic work, all the buildings, bond issues, budgets, school boards, teacher unions, superintendent and teacher training programs, Broad/Gates/WalMart grants, local-state-federal education departments, NCLB, RTT, CC, CCSSO, Schools of Education, standards projects, legislation, regulations, and all the rest of the Adults Only paraphernalia surrounding education in this country these days are just a waste of money and time.
The Education Punditocracy, including blogs, magazines, newspapers, foundations, Finn/Hess/Petrilli, etc., and even my friend and inspiration, Diane Ravitch, among hundreds and hundreds of others, are completely preoccupied with and absorbed in their consideration of what Adults are doing in education. The actual academic work of students takes place at much too low a level to attract their notice. They seem to be making the assumption that if they can just fix all the Adults Only stuff, then somehow student academic work will take care of itself. But they don’t pay any attention in the meantime to whether students are actually doing any academic work or not. And they have not learned that the students, and the students alone, have the power to determine whether they will do any academic work, and also what its quality will be.
To reiterate: without student academic work, all the rest of the bustle, noise, commentary, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent will amount to nothing, so it should be important to pay attention to student academic work, should it not?
I came to understand this because for the last 25 years in particular, and for about 10 years before that, I have been fully engaged in efforts that completely depend upon good student academic work, and I have been fascinated to discover how few Education people seem to be involved with that, and that just about every one of them, though laboring away quite seriously and conscientiously, seems to spend all their time on the Adults Only matters, and to have almost no interest, other than to give it lip service and quickly move on, in the serious academic work of students.
If that should somehow change, and if student academic work were to become the central focus of what we pay attention to in education, there is a chance we might see more of it, and that its quality might improve too. But if we continue to ignore it and focus on Adults Only, that most assuredly is not going to happen. As the Hindus say: “Whatever you give your Attention to grows in your life,” and we have been giving, IMHO, far too much attention (almost all of it) to the Adults Only aspects of education and far too little to student academic work.
To test what I am saying, if a kind Reader would go back over articles, books, blogs, and speeches on education in recent years, please do let me know if you find any that talk about student science projects, the complete nonfiction books they are reading, or the serious history research papers they are writing. I believe if you look closely, almost all that you find will show people caught up in what Adults Only are doing, should do, will do, must do, or might do, and there will be little to no attention to the actual academic work of students in our schools. But please prove me mistaken, with evidence, if you would be so kind.
—————————-
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics™
blog: www.tcr.org/blog

Council: Strive for high grade points, not big political points

Elise Swanson:

After Detroit, Milwaukee is the country’s most segregated city. The Milwaukee Public School District (MPS) has an endemic racial achievement gap, in which, in terms of aggregate statistics, African American students perform three to four years below their European American counterparts in both math and reading. Combine this with a general dearth of resources — as is common to virtually all of public education — and you have a recipe for inadequate schooling that is failing its almost 90,000 students.
The crisis in Milwaukee is indicative of the educational crisis roiling the nation. Across the United States, school districts are facing enormous budget deficits, decreasing enrollment and intense pedagogical and ideological debates questioning the very foundations of modern education. The debate is particularly vociferous here in Wisconsin, where the Wisconsin Education Association Council feels threatened by Governor Scott Walker’s educational platform. This past Tuesday, however, WEAC introduced a series of reforms it would endorse, many of which took observers by surprise, and received mixed reactions.
The reform drawing the most ire is the proposal to carve up MPS into multiple smaller districts to make them more manageable, and thus more successful. However, as pointed out by one observer, this separation of districts would probably mirror racial divisions within the city, compounding instead of alleviating racial achievement gaps.

Protecting School Reform in D.C.

The New York TImes:

It was inevitable that Michelle Rhee, the District of Columbia’s hard-driving schools chancellor, would resign after her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost last month’s Democratic primary. It was no secret that Ms. Rhee had a strained relationship with Vincent Gray, the presumptive mayor and chairman of the City Council.
Still, Ms. Rhee’s departure is a loss for the nation’s capital. It has unsettled middle-class parents who valued the strong, reform-minded leadership that was setting Washington’s schools on the path back from failure. And it sent a tremor through the private foundations that provisionally committed nearly $80 million to support the school reforms that were started during Ms. Rhee’s tenure.
After Mr. Gray’s clashes with Ms. Rhee, it was good news that he said the right things after her resignation. He pledged to move ahead with the reform agenda, which has strengthened the city’s teacher corps, remade a patronage-ridden central bureaucracy and raised math and reading scores. He said he would keep Ms. Rhee’s senior staff on for the remainder of the school year and named her deputy and longtime associate, Kaya Henderson, the interim chancellor.

Harvard Education School

When my father graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1927, I am pretty sure it was not called “The Harvard Graduate School of Medical Education.” People I know who got their degrees from Harvard Law School tell me that it was never, to their knowledge, called the “Harvard Graduate School of Legal Education.” I think that the Harvard Business School does not routinely refer to itself as the “Harvard Graduate School of Business Education.” Harvard College (this is my 50th reunion year) has never seen the need to call itself “The Harvard Undergraduate School of Academic Subjects,” as far as I know. But the Harvard Education School, where I was informed, in the late 1960s, that I had been made a “Master of Education,” (!?) calls itself the “Harvard Graduate School of Education.” Perhaps that makes it a status step up from being called the Harvard Normal School, but the name is, in my view, a small symptom of a deeper problem there.
I had lunch in Cambridge yesterday with a man from Madagascar, who was bringing his daughter (one of The Concord Review’s authors), for her first year at Harvard College. He asked me why there seemed to be so much emphasis in United States schools on nonacademic efforts by students (I assumed he was referring to things like art, band, drama, chorus, jazz ensemble, video workshop, sports of various kinds, community service, etc., etc.). Now you have to make allowances for a geophysicist from Madagascar. After all, on that large island, and indeed in the whole Southern Hemisphere, they think that June, July, and August are Winter months, for goodness’ sake!
As I tried to explain to him the long tradition of anti-intellectualism in American life, and the widespread anti-academic attitudes and efforts of so many of our school Pundits, I thought again about the way the Harvard Education School defines its mission.
As you may know, I am very biased in favor of reading and writing, especially by high school students, and since 1987, I have published 912 exemplary history essays by secondary students from 39 countries in the only journal in the world for such work, so when I have failed to stir some interest in faculty at the Harvard Education School, it has disposed me to look closer at what they are interested in other than the exemplary academic work of students at the high school (or any other) level.
To be fair, there have been a few Harvard people who have taken an interest in my work. Harold Howe II wrote to fifteen foundations on my behalf (without success) and Theodore Sizer wrote the introduction to the first issue in the Fall of 1988, and served on my Board of Directors for several years. Recently, Tony Wagner has taken an interest, and, a very good friend, William Fitzsimmons, Harvard Dean of Admissions, got his doctorate there.
But what are the research interests of faculty at the Harvard Education School, if they don’t include the academic work of students? I recommend that anyone who is curious about this odd phenomenon may review the interests of this graduate faculty by looking at their website, but here a few revealing examples:

“Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson is a Lecturer in Public Policy and Senior Research Associate at the Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he has taught since 1983. His research publications cover issues in education policy, youth development programming, community development, economic consequences of skill disparities, and state and local economic development. For much of the past decade, Dr. Ferguson’s research has focused on racial achievement gaps…”
“During the past two decades, [Howard] Gardner and colleagues have been involved in the design of performance-based assessments; education for understanding; the use of multiple intelligences to achieve more personalized curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy; and the quality of interdisciplinary efforts in education. Since the mid-1990s, in collaboration with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon, Gardner has directed the GoodWork Project, a study of work that is excellent, engaging, and ethical. More recently, with longtime Project Zero colleagues Lynn Barendsen and Wendy Fischman, he has conducted reflection sessions designed to enhance the understanding and incidence of good work among young people. With Carrie James, he is investigating trust in contemporary society and ethical dimensions entailed in the use of the new digital media. Underway are studies of effective collaboration among nonprofit institutions in education and of conceptions of quality in the contemporary era. In 2008 he delivered a set of three lectures at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on the topic ‘The True, The Beautiful, and the Good: Reconsiderations in a post-modern, digital era.'”
“Nancy Hill’s area of research focuses on variations in parenting and family socialization practices across ethnic, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood contexts. In addition, her research focuses on demographic variations in the relations between family dynamics and children’s school performance and other developmental outcomes. Recent and ongoing projects include Project PASS (Promoting Academic Success for Students), a longitudinal study between kindergarten and 4th grade examining family related predictors of children’s early school performance; Project Alliance/Projecto Alianzo, a multiethnic, longitudinal study of parental involvement in education at the transition between elementary and middle school. She is the co-founder of the Study Group on Race, Culture, and Ethnicity, an interdisciplinary group of scientists who develop theory and methodology for defining and understanding the cultural context within diverse families. In addition to articles in peer-reviewed journals, she recently edited a book, African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity (Guilford, 2005) and another edited volume is forthcoming (Family-School Relations during Adolescence: Linking Interdisciplinary Research, Policy and Practice; Teachers College Press).”

This is really a random sample and there are scores of faculty members in the School, studying all sort of things. If I were to summarize their work, I would suggest it tends toward research on poverty, race, culture, diversity, ethnicity, emotional and social disability, developmental psychology, school organization, “The True, the Beautiful, and the Good…in a post-modern, digital era,” and the like, but as far as I can tell, no one there is interested in the academic study (by students) of Asian history, biology, calculus, chemistry, foreign languages, European history, physics, United States History, or any of the academic subjects many taxpayers think should be the main business of education in our schools.
Of course all the things they do study are important, and can be funded with grants, but how can the academic work of students in our schools be of no importance to these scholars? How can they have no interest in the academic subjects which occupy the time and efforts of the teachers and students in our schools?
Perhaps if they were interested in the main academic business of our schools, the place would have to change its name to something less pretentious, like the Harvard Education School?
===============
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®
www.tcr.org/blog

LITERACY KUDZU

Kudzu, (Pueraria lobata), I learn from Wikipedia, was “…introduced from Japan into the United States in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it was promoted as a forage crop and an ornamental plant. From 1935 to the early 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service encouraged farmers in the southeastern United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion… The Civilian Conservation Corps planted it widely for many years. It was subsequently discovered that the southeastern US has near-perfect conditions for kudzu to grow out of control–hot, humid summers, frequent rainfall, and temperate winters with few hard freezes…As such, the once-promoted plant was named a pest weed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1953.”
We now have, I suggest, an analogous risk from the widespread application of “the evidence-based techniques and processes of literacy instruction, k-12.” At least one major foundation and one very old and influential college for teachers are now promoting what I have described as “guidelines, parameters, checklists, techniques, rubrics, processes and the like, as props to substitute for students’ absent motivation to describe or express in writing something that they have learned.”
Most of these literacy experts are psychologists and educators, rather than historians or authors of literature. Samuel Johnson, an 18th century author some may remember, once wrote that “an author will turn over half a library to produce one book.” A recent major foundation report suggests that Dr. Johnson didn’t know what he was talking about when it comes to adolescents:
“Some educators feel that the ‘adolescent literacy crisis’ can be resolved simply by having adolescents read more books. This idea is based on the misconception that the source of the problem is ‘illiteracy.’ The truth is that adolescents–even those who have already ‘learned how to read’–need systematic support to learn how to ‘read to learn’ across a wide variety of contexts and content.” So, no need for adolescents to read books, just give them lots of literacy kudzu classes in “rubrics, guidelines, parameters, checklists, techniques, and processes…”
Other literacy kudzu specialists also suggest that reading books is not so important, instead that: (to quote a recent Washington Post article by Psychologist Dolores Perin of Teachers College, Columbia) “many students cannot learn well from a content curriculum because they have difficulty reading assigned text and fulfilling subject-area writing assignments. Secondary content teachers need to understand literacy processes and become aware of evidence-based reading and writing techniques to promote learners’ understanding of the content material being taught. Extended school-based professional development should be provided through collaborations between literacy and content-area specialists.”
E.D. Hirsch has called this “technique” philosophy of literacy instruction, “How-To-Ism” and says that it quite uselessly tries to substitute methods and skills for the knowledge that students must have in order to read well and often, and to write on academic subjects in school.
Literacy Kudzu has been with us for a long time, but it has received new fertilizer from large private foundation and now federal standards grants which will only help it choke, where it can, attention to the reading of complete books and the writing of serious academic papers by the students in our schools.
Writing in Insidehighereducation.com, Lisa Roney recently said: “But let me also point out that the rise of Composition Studies over the past 30 or 40 years does not seem to have led to a populace that writes better.”
Educrat Professors and Educrat Psychologists who have, perhaps, missed learning much about history and literature during their own educations, and have not made any obvious attempt to study their value in their education research, of course fall back on what they feel they can do: teach processes, skills, methods, rubrics, parameters, and techniques of literacy instruction. Their efforts, wherever they are successful, will be a disaster, in my view, for teachers and students who care about academic writing and about history and literature in the schools.
In a recent issue of Harvard Magazine an alum wrote: “Dad ( a professional writer) used to tell us what he felt was the best advice he ever had on good writing. One of his professors was the legendary Charles Townsend Copeland, A.B. 1882, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. Copeland didn’t collect themes and grade them. Rather, he made an appointment with each student to come to his quarters in Hollis Hall to read his theme and receive comments from the Master…”Dad started reading his offering and heard occasional groans and sighs of anguish from various locations in the (room). Finally, Copeland said in pained tones, ‘Stop, Mr. Duncan, stop.’ Dad stopped. After several seconds of deep silence, Copeland asked, ‘Mr. Duncan, what are you trying to say?’ Dad explained what he was trying to say. Said Copeland, ‘Why didn’t you write it down?'”
This is the sort of advice, completely foreign to the literacy kudzu community, which understands that in writing one first must have something to say (knowledge) and then one must work to express that knowledge so it may be understood. That may not play to the literacy kudzu community’s perception of their strengths, but it has a lot more to do with academic reading and writing than anything they are working to inflict on our teachers and students.
I hope they, including the foundations and the university consultant world, may before too long pause to re-consider their approach to literacy instruction, before we experience the damage from this pest-weed which they are presently, perhaps unwittingly, in the method-technique-process of spreading in our schools.

What Students Do

In the 1980s, when I was teaching history at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, one day there was a faculty meeting during which some of my colleagues put on a skit about one of our most intractable problems: students wandering in the hallways during classes. One person played the principal, another the hall monitor, and others the guidance counselor, the vice-principal, and I can’t remember who else from the staff. One teacher played the student who had been in the halls.
They did a good job on the acting and the lines were good, but as it went on, I noticed something a bit odd. Everyone had a part and things to say, but the only passive member of the show was the student, who had nothing much to say or do.
I notice a parallel to this in the majority of discussions about education reform these days. With some exceptions, including Carol Jago, Diane Ravitch, Paul Zoch, and me, edupundits seem occupied with just about everything except what students do academically.
There is a lot of discussion of what teachers do, and what superintendents, curriculum coordinators, principals, financial officers, mayors, legislators, and so on, do, but the actual academic work of students gets very little attention.
This observation was reinforced for me when the TCR Institute did a study in 2002 of the assignment of serious term papers in U.S. public high schools. It was the first (and last) study of its kind, and it found that the majority of HS students are not being asked to do the sort of academic writing they need to work on to prepare themselves for college (and career).
In the last eight years, I have sought funds for a study of the assignment of complete nonfiction books in U.S. public high schools, but no one seems interested. Of course, many billions have been spent since 2002 on school reinvention and reorganization, assessment plans, teacher selection, training and retention, and so on, but again, the academic work of the students (the principal mission of schools) is “more honored in the breach than the observance.”
My perspective on this is necessarily a bottom-up, Lower Education one. I publish the serious research papers of high school students of history. Most of the 20,000+ U.S. public high schools never send me one, which is not a great surprise, because most history departments, other than in IB schools, do not assign research papers.
But it gives me a curiosity over the neglect of student work which does not seem to be present in those whose focus is at a Higher Level in education. Those who live on the Public Policy level of Education Punditry can not see far enough Down or focus closely enough on the activity of schools to find out whether our HS students are reading history books and writing term papers.
I believe this is because foundation people, consultants, education professors, public policy experts, and their tribes mostly talk to each other, not to students or even to teachers, who are so far far beneath them. They hold conferences, and symposia, and they write papers and books about what needs to be done in education, but from almost none of them come suggestions that involve the academic reading and writing our students should be doing.
Of course what teachers do is vastly important, as well as very difficult to influence, but surely it cannot be that much more important than what students do.
Naturally, we should design curricula rich in knowledge, but if they don’t include serious independent academic work by students, the burden will still be on the teacher, and many too many students can slide through under it and arrive in college ready for their remedial classes in reading, math and writing, as more than a million do now each year.
Tony Wagner, the only person I know at the Harvard Education School who is interested in student work, did a focus group with some graduates of a high school he was working with, and they all said they wished they had been given more serious work in academic writing while they were in the high school. I asked him how many schools he knows of which take the time to hold focus groups with their recent graduates to get feedback from them on their level of academic preparation in school, and he said he only knew of three high schools in the country which did it.
We do need improvements in all the things the edupundits are working on, and the foundations and our governments are spending billions on. But if we continue to lack curiosity about and to ignore what students are doing academically, I feel sure all that money will continue to be wasted, as it has been so many many times in the past.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®
www.tcr.org/blog

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: About Academic Excellence and Writing

Michael F. Shaughnessy:

1) Will, you recently gave a talk in Madison, Wisconsin. What exactly did you speak about?
WF: A group of professors, teachers, business people, lawyers and community people invited me to speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison about the work of The Concord Review since 1987, and about the problems of college readiness and academic writing for high school students.
The Boston Public Schools just reported that 67% of the graduating class of 2000 who had gone on to higher education had failed to earn a certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree by 2008. Also, the Strong American Schools program just reported that more than a million of our high school graduates are in remedial education in college each year.
I recommend their report: Diploma to Nowhere, which came out last summer. While many foundations, such as Gates, and others, have focused on getting our students into college, too little attention has been paid to how few are ready for college work and how many drop out without any degree.
2) “We believe that the pursuit of academic excellence in secondary schools should be given the same attention as the pursuit of excellence in sports and other extracurricular activities.” This is a quote from The Concord Review. Now, I am asking you to hypothesize here–why do you think high schools across America seem to be preoccupied with sports and not academics?
WF: In Madison I also had a chance to speak about the huge imbalance in our attention to scholars and athletes at the high school level. I had recently seen a nationally televised high school football game in which, at breaks in the action, an athlete would come to the sidelines, and announce, to the national audience, which college he had decided to “sign” with. This is a far cry from what happens for high school scholars. High school coaches get a lot of attention for their best athletes, but if the coach also happens to be a history teacher, he or she will hear nothing from a college in the way of interest in his or her most outstanding history student.
When Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a very tall high school senior at Power Memorial Academy in New York, he not only heard from the head coaches at 60 college basketball programs, he also got a personal letter from Jackie Robinson of baseball fame and from Ralph Bunche at the United Nations, urging him to go to UCLA, which he did. That same year, in the U.S., the top ten high school history students heard from no one, and it has been that way every year since.
The lobby of every public high school is full of trophies for sports, and there is usually nothing about academic achievement. For some odd reason, attention to exemplary work in academics is seen as elitist, while heaps of attention to athletic achievement is not seen in the same way. Strange…The Boston Globe has 150 pages on year on high school athletes and no pages on high school academic achievement. Do we somehow believe that our society needs good athletes far more than it needs good students, and that is why we are so reluctant to celebrate fine academic work?

William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review Presentation

William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review. Varsity Academics®

QT Video
The video of this presentation is about 1 1/2 hours long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download. MP3 Audio is available here.

We are pleased to have William Fitzhugh, Editor of The Concord Review, present this lecture on history research and publication of original papers by high school students.
From an interview with Education News, William Fitzhugh summarizes some items from his Madison presentation:
“A group of professors, teachers, business people, lawyers and community people invited me to speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison about the work of The Concord Review since 1987, and about the problems of college readiness and academic writing for high school students.
The Boston Public Schools just reported that 67% of the graduating class of 2000 who had gone on to higher education had failed to earn a certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree by 2008. Also, the Strong American Schools program just reported that more than a million of our high school graduates are in remedial education in college each year.
I recommend their report: Diploma to Nowhere, which came out last summer. While many foundations, such as Gates, and others, have focused on getting our students into college, too little attention has been paid to how few are ready for college work and how many drop out without any degree.
In Madison I also had a chance to speak about the huge imbalance in our attention to scholars and athletes at the high school level. I had recently seen a nationally televised high school football game in which, at breaks in the action, an athlete would come to the sidelines, and announce, to the national audience, which college he had decided to “sign” with. This is a far cry from what happens for high school scholars. High school coaches get a lot of attention for their best athletes, but if the coach also happens to be a history teacher, he or she will hear nothing from a college in the way of interest in his or her most outstanding history student.

BIBLIOPHOBIA
Will Fitzhugh in Madison 11/19 @ 7:00p.m.

Madison meeting details here
The Boston Globe reported recently that Michelle Wie, the 16-year-old Korean-American golfing phenomenon, not only speaks Korean and English, but has also taken four years of Japanese, and is beginning to study Mandarin. She is planning to apply early to Stanford University. I would be willing to bet, however, that in high school her academic writing has been limited to the five-paragraph essay, and it is very likely that she has not been assigned a complete nonfiction book.
For the last two years, and especially since the National Endowment for the Arts unveiled the findings of its large ($300,000) study of reading of fiction in the United States, I have been seeking funding for a much smaller study of the assignment of complete nonfiction books in U.S. public high schools. This proposed study, which education historian Diane Ravitch has called “timely and relevant,” has met with little interest, having so far been turned down by the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as a number of foundations and institutes both large and small.
Still, I have a fair amount of anecdotal evidence some of it from people who would be quite shocked to hear that high school English departments were no longer assigning any complete novels that the non-assignment of nonfiction books on subjects like history is unremarkable and, in fact, accepted.
A partner in a law firm in Boston, for instance, told me there was no point in such a study, because everyone knows history books aren’t assigned in schools. This was the case, he said, even decades ago at his own alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he was assigned only selections, readings, and the like, never a complete book. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said when I lamented that I couldn’t find anyone who agrees that high school students should read at least one nonfiction book, “The only hope is parents introducing their kids to reading, and that’s a mighty slim hope.”

NAEP Writing Assessment 2011

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: About Assessing Writing EdNews.org Houston, Texas, 24 January 2007
Michael F. Shaughnessy Senior Columnist EdNews.org:

1) I understand that you have just finished a stint on the ACT/NAGB Steering Committee for the 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Writing Assessment. What was that like? (And what does NAGB stand for?)
WF: NAGB is the National Assessment Governing Board, which runs the NAEP, “America’s Report Card,” as they say. I was glad that Diane Ravitch recommended me for the Steering Committee for the new national writing assessment scheduled for 2011. I was very impressed with the intelligence and competence of Mary Crovo, representing NAEP, and Rosanne Cook, who is running the project for American College Testing. Many people on the Committee were from the National Council of Teachers of English and the College Composition world, which have little interest in having students read history books or write history research papers. In fact that world favors, or has favored in the past, personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, which do a terrible job of preparing high school students for the nonfiction books and the academic term papers most will be asked to cope with in college.
2) Given the paucity of writing that goes on in the high schools of America, is it really fair to ask high school students to engage in a robust writing assessment?
WF: It would not be fair to ask high school students to play in a football game if they hadn’t had an opportunity for lots of practice, and it is very hard to ask high school students to do the sort of academic expository writing they should be doing if they have never done it in all their years in school. But we need to start somewhere. Every high school student does not need to be able to play football, but they all need to be able to read nonfiction books and write serious term papers.
3) On the other hand, since so much of the college experience is writing, are high school teachers doing students a disservice by NOT requiring more writing?
WF: High school teachers would make terrible football coaches and their teams would lose most if not all of their games, if the teacher/coaches did not have time to practice their teams. We take football seriously, and we take band seriously, so ample time and money are made available to produce the best teams and the best bands the high school can manage. We allow really no time for a public high school teacher to work with students on heavy-duty term papers. We don’t make time for them, because we don’t think they are that important. Not as important as drama practice, yearbook, chorus, debate or a host of other activities. As a result our high school students are, once again, ill-prepared for college reading and writing. AP courses in history do not require, in most cases, that students read a complete nonfiction book, and most of the AP teachers say they don’t have time to ask the student to write a research paper, because they “have to get students ready for the AP Exam.”

A time for heat – and light – on Milwaukee schools

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Mayor Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee School Board agree on this much: The community needs an accurate reading on the district’s finances.
Unfortunately, that may be the only thing they agree on.
Both are moving separately on plans to get the numbers. The School Board wants to spend $50,000 of taxpayers’ money to perform an audit to see where the Milwaukee Public Schools can be more efficient. Barrett is seeking funding from local foundations for an assessment of the struggling district’s financial and operational situation — a study that also could take the next step and recommend restructuring and how to best direct resources to the classroom where they can most help educate Milwaukee’s kids.
On paper, we believe Barrett’s plan goes beyond that of the School Board, because it will home in on a half-dozen or so top priorities that, when funded adequately, will improve MPS performance and increase the district’s credibility among parents, taxpayers and decision-makers in Madison.
For Barrett’s plan to have bite, he needs the support of foundations to retain a firm expert in urban school system finance and operations. Then the mayor needs to pressure the board and administration to get to work.

One district is finding that simple measures are helping kids read.

Maria Elena Baca:

If administrators in the Centennial School District are right, all it takes is a few minutes a day to get many of their struggling readers on track.
The district’s five elementary schools are finishing the first year of the Centennial Early Reading Foundations program (CERF), a K-3 literacy initiative created to reduce the number of special education referrals, to lift more students to grade level, and to improve children’s social development, through increased small-group instruction and assessment, tailored to each child’s needs. Much of the extra work occurs right in the classroom.
“We recognize that literacy is a cornerstone to the success of our children,” said Dan Bittman, the district’s director of elementary and secondary schools. “Literacy affects achievement in all areas and prepares them for the global world.”

French & British Education Climate Update

The Economist: Bac to School: LADEN with hefty backpacks, French children filed back to school this week amid fresh agonising about the education system. Given its reputation for rigour and secular egalitarianism, and its well-regarded baccalauréat exam, this is surprising. What do the French think is wrong? Quite a lot, to judge from a 30-page … Continue reading French & British Education Climate Update

Jefferson on Public Education: Defying Conventional Wisdom

Tom Shuford: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Thomas Jefferson The Fourth of July is fireworks, festivities and images of a gathering of remarkable men determined “to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and … Continue reading Jefferson on Public Education: Defying Conventional Wisdom

Overture Center Soars while MMSD Fine Arts Curriculum Sinks

The following letter was submitted to the Madison papers today. Dear Editor: What joy I experience when I attend performances at the new Overture Center for the Performing Arts! I�ve been to a variety of free and paid performances, including the MSO and Kanopy Dance. Thank you Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland for your gift … Continue reading Overture Center Soars while MMSD Fine Arts Curriculum Sinks