Sunday, December 21, 2008

DCPS Reform -- getting the conversation right

We liked the posting today on Eduwonkette's blog shown as a link on the right here because it makes some of the same points about New Yorks reforms that we make below in relation to DC.

Three of us from the "Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform" initiative met with Special Assistant to the Chancellor Jason Kamras and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson Dec.18 to share our concerns about important reforms being designed in DCPS. Our bias -- that system support for improvement in the quality of teaching and learning is needed. But we aren't sure the focus is there yet in Rhee's reforms. The meeting was candid, and concrete. Among the suggestions we made:
1. Efforts to re-design the teacher evaluation system needs to utilize national experts to get it right, and needs to be collaborative to ensure buy-in. A credible, not secretive, process is crucial.
2. Recent involvement of AFT with the WTU and DCPS is a step forward.
3. There needs to be a "framework" that defines skillful teaching that teachers and administrators can study and that gives the whole conversation about the quality of teaching and learning legitimacy and serves as the basis for evaluating teachers.
4. Professional development needs to stop being random acts in each school. We need a comprehensive program of professional development that promotes a clear conception of what good teaching looks like. Teaching is rocket science.
5. The symbolism of the Chancellor with a broom and the emphasis on cleaning house is demoralizing to the best teachers, in part because it is absent a clear definition of what good teaching is.
6. Downtown DCPS must own some responsibility for the demoralizing lack of improvement in the conditions of teaching and learning -- eg: discipline and truancy issues, instability in student enrollment that charters and school closings have exacerbated, schedule mismanagement, materials of instruction deficits.
7. Equating the quality of teaching with student test scores on the DC CAS is insulting to teachers, and amounts to accountability to a proxy for learning rather than the act of teaching and learning itself.
8."Red and green" salary schedules make no sense and has become a distraction and an obstacle to reform aimed at improving teaching and learning.

We look forward to further conversation with Henderson and Kamras. Multiple eyes, ears, and voices will be needed to help get it right.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Voice from Chicago -- It's Duncan

Education activist Mike Klonsky, from Chicago, posted this on his blog.
Well, you can't win 'em all. While I had no expectations that the Obama team would select the only progressive educator on the list for Sec. of Ed, I had hoped he would steer clear of the hatchet-swinging, test crazy, union busting, NCLB-loving, privatization-minded, Klein-Rhee-Vallas-Duncan types. Now some of my friends here in Chicago have argued with me, that Duncan is really not that way--that he's more of a compromise pick somewhere in the middle of Klein and Linda Darling-Hammond.

After all, they point out, Duncan got Randi Weingarten's stamp of approval along with that of Margaret Spellings. Everybody to the right of left-center field and left of Rush Limbaugh should be happy with this pick. Duncan isn't an ideologue, they argue. He'll be a decent bully-pulpit spokesman for urban public education, especially now that he's out from under the thumb of Daley. And the good side is, it might open the way for some changes here in the Windy City, where the disaster that is Renaisance 2010 has but a year to go and hopefully will go the way of NCLB.

Up until yesterday, I thought that the fallout over Blagojovich might reach all the way to City Hall, thereby making a Chicago pick for SOE too risky. But then I came to my senses.

My feeling is that these battles over cabinet posts tend to be ultra-divisive and sap the energy of progressive educators. Whoever is running the DOE is going to be a damn sight better than what we've had the past eight years. The struggle continues either way and the battle over real education reform will remain contested territory.

Is that sour grapes talking? Maybe a little.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Defending Linda Darling-Hammond for Secretary of Education

NY Times columnist and conservative, Republican David Brooks offered a scathing attack against the prospect of Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond becoming US Secretary of Education. Today's online version of the Times printed our reply at

Our response appeared in the Times, but here's the unedited version:

David Brooks got it exactly wrong (“Who Will He Choose?” Dec. 5 Opinion column). Linda Darling-Hammond was appointed as head of Obama’s transition team precisely because she represents the real and deep education reform faction in the national education debate. Her track record of analysis of what it takes to improve the quality of teaching and teachers has been the most consistent critical voice over the past 25 years. She is anything but the establishment. On the other side, we have self-described change agents without a real plan for improving teaching and learning. Brooks does a disservice labeling Klein, who ended the successful reforms in New York’s District 2, a reformer. The question is one of deep versus superficial reform. Deep reform demands that school systems nurture skillful teaching, and that standards assess students’ higher order thinking skills, not just multiple choice tests. We can do better than the superficial reforms that have led to very mixed results over the past eight years. Obama should go with the real reformer, Linda Darling-Hammond.

Mark Simon
The writer is a member of Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform, DC