Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 14, 2012

I have not written about the Newtown massacre because there is nothing to say. Safety, gun laws, mental health services--blahdy blahdy blah. Whatever. There are no "issues" here, only mute, gaping grief.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good. 

--W.H. Auden

Yeats wrote that "the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Uncommon Denominators

Bobby Jindal is on the warpath in the wake of his school choice legislation being struck down by a Louisiana court as unconstitutional. I'm not writing this blog, actually, to talk about this particular legislation, about which I see nothing good and which it seems to me had better be struck down by the Louisiana and Supreme Courts as well, as it baldly seeks to divert public moneys to private entities. I'm writing it to talk about the weird obsession with school choice in regards to education reform.

There are lots of things politicians, policy-makers, and school leaders might mean when they talk about "school choice," or parents' access to free/ low-cost schooling options other than their neighborhood school. They might be talking about vouchers for private schools, as in the recently struck-down Louisiana legislation. But there are also various kinds of public schools, such as charter schools, magnet schools, online schools, and home-schooling options.

There are differing, and strong, opinions about the effectiveness and merit of some of these public options, but I'm not going to get into that either. What struck me about this most recent school choice article is just how thoroughly the entire discussion about updating and upgrading our school system has boiled down to school choice. Well, that and testing of teachers and students. Why?

There are so very many systemic upgrades needed whose successful application we know would  buoy each and every school: eliminating stark inequities in school financing; funding and supporting whole-family services at school sites where needed; renovating crumbling and outdated building structure and infrastructure; revamping teacher education, compensation, and working conditions to match today's workforce; improving the relevancy and responsiveness of curriculum development. Of course, those things would all take a tremendous amount of money and cooperation on the part of our nation's leaders. Asking citizens to fix these deep, enduring problems themselves requires phenomenally less money, attention, political will, or courage.

I'm not against experimenting with different formats and delivery systems in schools. I believe that innovating forces are generally good and necessary in a healthy society, all the more so when major inequities are present; and, moreover, I believe that one-size-fits-all approaches to children's learning and communities' success don't work. But for the conversation to be meaningful and effective, it simply must get larger and braver.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Three Takes on Branding

There's been a lot of talk lately related to issues of branding and marketing K–12 education, though the term is used differently in different contexts and readers or listeners are expected to take away entirely different messages.

At a recent City Club of Chicago lunch (and elsewhere) Karen Lewis decried the ed reform policies  championed by Arne Duncan and Rahm Emanuel and supported by large funders such as the Gates Foundation as empty marketing schemes that hide the truth, hinder effective and fair solutions, and cede control to privateers. (Here's a summary, though its tone implies a great deal less warmth of reception than I witnessed, and here's some paraphrasing along with a clip to the video of her speech.  I also live-tweeted the speech here.)

Meanwhile, some folks writing for Co.Exist (I can't figure out the writers' relationship to the site; they're not listed as contributors or editors) argue that K–12 education would actually benefit from some re-branding. Their argument is that education should be far, far higher on the American public's list of Interesting and Urgent Things To Engage With. "If we could devise a provocative and ongoing message--" they say-- "a relevant pitch that appeals to people's immediate lives and illuminates the possibilities rather than the problems in education--we could unify businesses, teachers, communities, and political leaders around a single goal."

And I recently heard a piece on Marketplace about the dramatic difference a Cincinatti school's renovation has made in student engagement. Certainly, much of that is related to physical comfort, access to conditions needed to focus, and resources such as new science-lab equipment. But there is also an enormous psychological element. Says a Kansas State prof in the story, "A poor building imparts a poor attitude, and it has an effect on learning;" a school building with well-lighted hallways,  clean floors, upgraded plumbing, and temperature control is a place "where children feel valued, where teachers feel valued, and where the environment and the surroundings don't get in the way." That's a pretty important sort of branding.

By the way, Marketplace has done several heart-warming pieces on this particular school's  smart, caring, and systematic approach to revitalizing itself and its community, which you can access here. I am very curious about the renovation's funding sources. There are so many school buildings in terrible physical shape! I emailed Marketplace with the question but have not heard back.