History > 2009 > USA > Education (II)
Ronald J. Cala II
A New Initiative on Education
for Night Class at 2-Year Colleges
October 28, 2009
The New York Times
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
BOSTON — Winston Chin hustles on Tuesdays from his eight-hour
shift as a lab technician to his writing class at Bunker Hill Community College,
a requirement for the associate’s degree he is seeking in hopes of a better job.
He is a typical part-time student, with one exception. His class runs from 11:45
p.m. to 2:30 a.m., the consequence of an unprecedented enrollment spike that has
Bunker Hill scrambling to accommodate hundreds of newcomers. In the dead of
night, he and his classmates dissect Walt Whitman poems and learn the finer
points of essay writing, fueled by unlimited coffee, cookies and an instructor
who does push-ups beforehand to stay lively.
Similar booms have forced many of the nation’s 1,200 community colleges to add
makeshift parking lots, rent extra space and keep thousands of students on
waiting lists this fall. While Bunker Hill offers two midnight classes — the
other is Psychology 101 — and Clackamas Community College in Oregon holds
welding classes until 2 a.m., others have added classes as early as 6 a.m. to
make room for the jobless and others whom the recession has nudged back to
The deluge also includes an unusually large number of recent high school
graduates, diverted from more expensive four-year colleges by the economic
“I liken myself to the old woman who lives in a shoe,” said Mary L. Fifield, the
president of Bunker Hill, where enrollment is up 16 percent over last fall. “The
seams are tearing, and people are just popping out all over.”
Virtually every state is dealing with enrollment booms at community colleges,
the American Association of Community Colleges says, with some in California
reporting increases of 35 percent. The demand comes amid deep cuts to
higher-education budgets, but also at a hopeful time for community colleges:
President Obama recently announced a $12 billion plan to increase the number of
community college graduates by five million by 2020.
“It shines a spotlight on a sector of higher education that by and large has
been viewed as the lowest rung on the ladder,” Dr. Fifield said. “Now we have
the president of the United States talking about community colleges as an engine
that will drive and sustain economic success in this country.”
Most of the students in Mr. Chin’s writing class, who range in age from 18 to
59, are employed but hoping a degree will lead to more stable, higher-paying
jobs. Some start work as early as 4 a.m. or finish as late as 11 p.m., making
the class time more appealing. They include a taxi dispatcher who dreams of
going to medical school, a Dunkin’ Donuts cashier who wants to be a homicide
detective and a landscaper who wants to be a state trooper.
The group cracked jokes and gently mocked one another for mispronouncing the
word “blithe” or not reading aloud passionately enough. When the instructor
asked around 2 a.m., “Who’s ready to answer the question?” one student wearily
answered, “Who’s confused?”
Mr. Chin, who took the midnight class because other writing classes were full,
wants to become a surgical nurse. At 57, he has three small children and has not
been a student since graduating from high school.
“I probably would have taken something early in the morning if I’d had my pick
of classes,” he said. “But this is working out. I never really need more than
about four hours of sleep anyway.”
Mr. Chin and his classmates get plenty of parking — a rarity at community
colleges these days. Holyoke Community College, in Holyoke, Mass., where
enrollment is up 13 percent over last fall, turned its tennis courts into
parking lots; it also sent postcards to all 7,500 students urging them to take
public transportation to class.
At Northern Virginia Community College, more than 20 classes start before 7 a.m.
this fall; many other colleges have classes running as late as 11 p.m.
But with state allocations down sharply this year because of the economy, many
community colleges have not been able to keep up with the demand. At Miami Dade
College, whose 170,000 students make it the nation’s largest community college,
about 30,000 could not get every class they wanted this fall; about 5,000 others
were shut out completely.
At De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif., about 8,000 students found themselves
on wait lists last month, as did 7,500 students at Central Oregon Community
College. And in New York City, where the six community colleges that are part of
the City University of New York experienced a record 9 percent enrollment
increase this fall, most closed enrollment early for the first time.
Because of budget cuts, Miami Dade College could not add a single new class this
fall despite an influx of more than 33,000 new students. Instead, it has
eliminated 1,200 class sections over the last two years, said Eduardo J. Padrón,
the college president.
“It’s an almost desperate situation,” Dr. Padrón said. “My heart breaks for
these students, because I know many are the ones who really need us the most.”
Colleen Roach, Bunker Hill’s spokeswoman, said higher student fees and an influx
of federal stimulus money helped the college offer dozens more classes this
fall. It is planning to add a third midnight course, Sociology 101, next spring,
along with five business and science courses that will run to 11:45 p.m.
Dr. Fifield said putting dynamic instructors in charge of the late-night classes
“Not everyone is going to be able to keep people awake until 2:45 in the
morning,” she said.
Wick Sloane, who teaches the midnight writing class at Bunker Hill, tried to
transport Mr. Chin and the other students from the windowless, concrete-walled
classroom one recent night with an essay by Edward Abbey, the nature writer,
about encountering a mountain lion in the New Mexican desert. When one student
answered a question with a giant yawn around 2:15, Mr. Sloane asked, “Can
everyone make it about 15 more minutes?”
For homework, he assigned an essay analyzing Calpurnia’s rhetoric in
Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” leading one student to ask whether Shakespeare
used an alias. The room started buzzing with opinions.
“Do you want to stay and debate who Shakespeare was?” Mr. Sloane asked.
They did not, but not for lack of enthusiasm. “He’s got me engaged,” Mr. Chin
said, “which is not easy at this time of night.”
Lisa W. Foderaro contributed reporting from New York.
New Meaning for Night
Class at 2-Year Colleges, NYT, 28.10.2009,
The INFLUENCE GAME: Bill Gates' Sway on Ed Policy
October 26, 2009
Filed at 4:23 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Not content with shaping education directly
through schools, the biggest player in the school reform movement has an eye on
moving education policy.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent around $200 million a year on
grants to elementary and secondary education.
Now the foundation is taking unprecedented steps to spend millions to influence
the way the federal government distributes $5 billion in grants to overhaul
The federal dollars are unprecedented, too.
President Barack Obama persuaded Congress to give him the money as part of the
economic stimulus so he could try new ideas to fix an education system that most
agree is failing. The foundation is offering $250,000 apiece to help states
apply, so long as they agree with the foundation's approach.
Obama and the Gates Foundation share some goals that not everyone embraces:
paying teachers based on student test scores, among other measures of
achievement; charter schools that operate independently of local school boards;
and a set of common academic standards adopted by every state.
Some argue that a private foundation like Gates shouldn't partner with the
''When you team up with the government, you compromise your ability to be
critical of the government, and sometimes you compromise your ability to do
controversial and maybe unpopular things with your money,'' said Chester E. Finn
Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank. The
institute is among the many that have received money from the Gates Foundation.
Another concern is that as a private foundation, Gates doesn't have to disclose
the details of its spending like the government does.
The big teachers' unions dispute some of the goals shared by Obama and the
foundation. They say student achievement is much more than a score on a
standardized test and that it's a mistake to rely so heavily on charter schools.
''Despite growing evidence to the contrary, it appears the administration has
decided that charter schools are the only answer to what ails America's public
schools,'' the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, said
in comments about the grant competition submitted to the Education Department.
The NEA added: ''We should not continue the unhealthy focus on standardized
tests as the primary evidence of student success.''
The American Federation of Teachers submitted similar comments. Together the
unions have 4.6 million members.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan welcomes the foundation's involvement.
''The more all of us are in the game of reform, the more all of us are pushing
for dramatic improvement, the better,'' Duncan said in an interview with The
Duncan's inner circle includes two former Gates employees. His chief of staff is
Margot Rogers, who was special assistant to Gates' education director. James
Shelton, assistant deputy secretary, was a program director for Gates' education
Rogers said she joined the administration because she was inspired by its goals
for helping kids graduate from high school and finish college.
The administration has waived ethics rules to allow Rogers and Shelton to deal
more freely with the foundation, but Rogers said she talks infrequently with her
Bill Gates said his foundation is not the government's partner in the new grant
program, which the government has called the ''Race to the Top.''
''It's no secret the U.S. education system is failing,'' Gates said. ''We're
doing all kinds of experiments that are different. The Race To The Top is going
to do many different ones. There's no group-think.''
Gates stepped away last year from his daily role at Microsoft, the software
company he co-founded, to focus on the work of his foundation.
Vicki Phillips, the Gates Foundation's director of education, said it originally
offered help to states and school districts that it was working with and that
are in agreement with many of the foundation's goals. She said the foundation
shares Obama's priorities and sees itself as part of a larger reform effort.
The foundation's rising profile comes as the recession has gutted state and
local budgets, which spend more money on education -- roughly 35 percent -- than
anything else. Many states and districts can't keep all their teachers on the
payroll, let alone spend money on a high-stakes application for federal money
that includes some 44 pages of rules.
In Minnesota, more than a dozen education department staffers are working with
consultants from the McKinsey & Co. global consulting firm to prepare the
state's application, using about $250,000 in Gates Foundation money, spokesman
Bill Walsh said.
When the foundation offered to help states apply for the grant money, it
initially offered the $250,000 to only 15 states.
Officials in other states complained when they learned of the plan. The
governors and chief school officers groups pressed the foundation to expand its
offer, and it has now agreed to help any state that meets eight criteria,
including a commitment to the common standards effort and the ability to link
student data to teachers.
The foundation also is helping some districts that are eligible for a share of
the money if they are working in partnership with nonprofits such as the Gates
Not all the states are willing to discuss the help from Gates or their
applications for the federal grants. In more than half a dozen states, education
officials did not return phone calls seeking interviews about the applications.
Those who receive money from the Gates Foundation often are reluctant to talk
about their work for fear of upsetting their benefactor.
Blankinship reported from Seattle. AP Education Writer Justin Pope contributed
to this report from Charlotte, N.C.
On the Net:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
Race to the Top: http://tinyurl.com/nz6a5t
The INFLUENCE GAME:
Bill Gates' Sway on Ed Policy, NYT, 26.10.2009,
How to Improve Failing Schools
October 17, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Democrats and Schools,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Oct. 15):
Once again when the topic of education reform is discussed, teachers and unions
are the scapegoats when, in fact, everyone can share blame.
Yes, there are incompetent teachers, and they have no business being in a
classroom. But in my 10 years of teaching, most of the people I’ve worked with
are dedicated professionals who truly want their students to succeed.
As a high school teacher, I believe that the best way to improve failing schools
would be smaller classes. Also, more parents need to make their child’s
education a priority. We need a “zero tolerance” policy for disruptive students.
Finally, there must be a realistic way to measure improvement, which has not
happened under No Child Left Behind. Andrew Davidson
Pomona, Calif., Oct. 15, 2009
To the Editor:
Too much blame for the problems with our education system is placed on teachers’
unions. If the point is to attract the most talented and motivated teachers,
there is a simple solution: Pay them!
If teaching were seen as a road to financial security, competition for positions
would intensify, and schools would have greater choice and bargaining power over
Further reducing the job security of teachers — many of whom have graduate
degrees and are already shamefully underpaid — will do nothing but make teaching
seem even less appealing.
Law firms, hedge funds, hospitals and every other institution that hires
professionals understand that compensation affects the caliber of their
employees. Why should education be any different?
West Orange, N.J., Oct. 15, 2009
To the Editor:
Among the 80,000 teachers in the New York City school system to whom Nicholas D.
Kristof refers, what percentage is incompetent? Is it a percentage much higher
than that of any other employment? And if these incompetents were rooted out
quickly and replaced by eminently qualified people, would the quality of our
school system increase dramatically?
At the heart of a quality public education system is a partnership among all the
elements of its functioning — the home environment, in which children enter the
school system with a positive predisposition toward learning; the classroom,
equipped with forward-looking learning tools; teachers who have been certified
to teach in the fields of their expertise; and a school system that is designed
to foster education.
East Meadow, N.Y., Oct. 15, 2009
The writer taught high school in New York City for 31 years.
To the Editor:
Nicholas D. Kristof seems adamant about removing inept and abusive teachers, so
why does he also favor reducing certification requirements? If our goal is to
provide all students access to high-quality education, we should not be making
it easier for underprepared, uncertified teachers to enter the profession, only
to see them leave after a few years.
We should instead invest resources in strengthening teacher preparation
programs, staff professional development and teacher retention.
In fact, the National Education Association report that Mr. Kristof cites makes
just this point: that the key to improving schools is not increased recruitment,
but stronger teacher leadership, opportunities to collaborate and better working
If we really were committed to our schools, we would be less interested in
purging ineffective teachers and more concerned with improving the teachers we
already have. Daniel Dawer
Brighton, Mass., Oct. 15, 2009
The writer is a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
To the Editor:
Nicholas D. Kristof reads America’s problems backward in declaring, “We can’t
fight poverty without reforming education.” The fact is, we can’t reform
education without fighting poverty. Disabled schools are just one product of
governments at all levels that fail to provide impoverished families and
communities with the resources to raise and educate children successfully.
How about turning schools in poor neighborhoods into year-round community
centers, with health and dental services, nutritious meals, up-to-date libraries
and computer labs, after-hours tutoring and recreation for children, and job
training, counseling, recreation and educational classes for adults?
Remaking schools into community centers would be far less difficult than
fighting the unions and firing incompetent teachers, as Mr. Kristof suggests,
and far more effective than allowing more charter schools and establishing a
system of teacher merit pay, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan intends to do.
Portland, Ore., Oct. 15, 2009
The writer, a public school teacher and administrator for more than 40 years, is
the author of three books about education.
To the Editor:
It has always been easy and fashionable to blame the teachers for most of our
schools’ problems, but too often the blaming is done to hide the real problem.
Our schools lack money: classes are too large, facilities are out of date, and
teachers and classrooms lack the latest resources.
Elites in New York and in most other major cities do not send their children to
the public schools. They send them to private schools where classes are smaller,
facilities modern and resources available and up to date.
At the city’s private schools, tuition is often over $30,000, while per-pupil
expenditure in the public schools is about half that amount. If we are willing
to spend only half as much to educate the poor as we are to educate the rich, we
should hardly be shocked if the result is half as good. The old adage “you get
what you pay for” could not be more to the point.
San Mateo, Calif., Oct. 15, 2009
How to Improve
Failing Schools, NYT, 17.10.2009,
Democrats and Schools
October 15, 2009
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The Democratic Party has battled for universal health care
this year, and over the decades it has admirably led the fight against poverty —
except in the one way that would have the greatest impact.
Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare,
food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers’ unions, Democrats have
too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children
have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.
President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change
that — and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace
administration reforms that teachers’ unions are already sniping at.
It’s difficult to improve failing schools when you can’t create alternatives
such as charter schools and can’t remove inept or abusive teachers. In New York
City, for example, unions ordinarily prevent teachers from being dismissed for
incompetence — so the schools must pay failed teachers their full salaries to
sit year after year doing nothing in centers called “rubber rooms.”
A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill examined how New York
City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work,
follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards. The
teacher claimed that she was being punished for union activity, but an
independent observer approved by the union confirmed the allegations and
declared the teacher incompetent. The school system’s lawyer put it best: “These
children were abused in stealth.”
The effort to remove the teacher is expected to cost about $400,000, and the
outcome is uncertain. In New York City, with its 80,000 teachers, arbiters have
removed only two for incompetence alone in the last couple of years. We tolerate
failed teachers — and failed arbiters — as long as it’s not our own kids who
In another case cited by Mr. Brill, the union hailed its defense of a
high-school teacher — who had passed out in front of her class, allegedly
smelling of alcohol, with even the principal unable to rouse her. The union
fought to secure her return to teaching, Mr. Brill wrote, until she passed out
again, and her “water bottle” turned out to contain alcohol.
In California, we see the same pathology — as long as the students in question
are impoverished and marginalized, with uncomplaining parents, they are allowed
to endure the kind of teachers and schools that we would never tolerate for our
A Los Angeles Times article this year recounted how a teacher rebuked an eighth
grader who had been hospitalized for slashing his wrists in a suicide attempt.
“Carve deeper next time,” the teacher allegedly advised. He was even said to
have added: “You can’t even kill yourself.” A review board blocked the
termination of that teacher.
The Los Angeles Times investigation found that it is so expensive to remove
teachers that the authorities typically try to do so only in cases of extreme
misconduct — not for something as “minor” as incompetence.
Of course, there are many other obstacles to learning: lack of safety, alcohol
and narcotics and troubled homes and uninterested parents. But there’s mounting
evidence that even in such failing schools, the individual teacher makes a vast
Research has underscored that what matters most in education — more than class
size or spending or anything — is access to good teachers. A study found that if
black students had four straight years of teachers from the top 25 percent of
most effective teachers, the black-white testing gap would vanish in four years.
There are no silver bullets, but researchers are gaining a better sense of what
works in education for disadvantaged children: intensive preschool, charter
schools with long hours, fewer certification requirements that limit entry to
the teaching profession, higher compensation to attract and retain good
teachers, objective measurement to see who is effective, more flexibility in
removing those who are ineffective.
Unions are wary in part because school administrators can be arbitrary and
unfair. Yet there are some signs that the unions are rethinking their positions
in very welcome ways. The National Education Association has announced an
initiative to improve teaching in high-poverty high schools, and the American
Federation of Teachers is experimenting with teacher evaluation that includes
student performance data.
Neither initiative reflects sufficient urgency. But let’s hope this is a new
beginning. I’m hoping the unions will come round and cooperate with
evidence-based reforms, using their political clout to push to raise teachers’
salaries rather than to protect ineffective teachers.
This is the central front in the war on poverty, the civil rights issue of our
time. Half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, isn’t it time to end our
“separate but equal” school systems?
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook,
watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
Schools, NYT, 15.10.2009,
Little Restored Schoolhouse
October 13, 2009
The New York Times
By GEORGE ALLEN and PAUL GOLDMAN
“MORE than a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education, the dream of a
world-class education is still being deferred all across the country,” President
Obama declared in a recent speech to the N.A.A.C.P. “There are overcrowded
classrooms, and crumbling schools, and corridors of shame in America.” So we
have come together — one Republican, one Democrat — to develop a common-sense
solution to fix the problem of crumbling schools in a manner that doesn’t
require the federal government to tax, borrow or spend one dime. Our School
Modernization and Revitalization Tax Credit — Smart Credit — is also guaranteed
to create hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs, critical at a moment
when unemployment has reached a 26-year high and threatens to climb even higher.
Go to the Department of Education Web site and search “How Old Are America’s
Public Schools?” Click on the very first link and the “shame” President Obama
spoke of becomes evident: The average age of America’s schools is 42 years.
Twenty-eight percent of our schools were built more than 50 years ago. “After 40
years, a school building begins rapid deterioration,” announces the department
study. Worse still is that this analysis was done a decade ago, and too little
has been done since.
Several studies show a statistical connection between outmoded schools and
educational underachievement and the schools most in need of modernization are
disproportionately in inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas. But to fix these
schools, Congress need only make a simple, one-sentence change to a little-known
clause in the federal tax code.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan and Congress created a 20 percent federal
historic rehabilitation tax credit. Generally speaking, rehabilitation projects
involving structures at least 50 years old can qualify for this credit, which is
equal to roughly 20 percent of the modernization cost. It is widely acclaimed
for having created jobs, restored buildings and spurred economic activity.
This credit is applicable when an aging local school building is renovated for a
different use by private investors. But it is not should the same investors want
to invest the same money to turn the same building into an up-to-date local
school. The I.R.S. “prior use” rule disallows such credits in the latter
But if this “prior use” rule were amended to allow for school rehabilitation,
then decaying school buildings could be sold to private investors, modernized
and then leased back to school authorities. This approach has already been
proven to work and save taxpayers considerable money. When Gov. Tim Kaine of
Virginia was the mayor of Richmond, he used this basic sale-leaseback
arrangement to update a local school, Maggie L. Walker High, built during the
Depression, and transform it into a regional magnet school that reopened in 2001
and now serves the top students in Central Virginia. (This shift from local to
regional school satisfied the “prior use” rule.)
Mr. Kaine saved local taxpayers millions in this $20 million renovation because
Virginia has a 25 percent state historic rehabilitation tax credit, on top of
the 20 percent federal tax credit. Other states have their own special
incentives, and more are now considering them. In Virginia, when the various
financial factors are taken into account, the tax credit approach greatly lowers
the costs to local taxpayers — by as much as 33 percent — when compared with the
conventional approach of financing construction through school bonds.
Critics may scream that our approach “sells our schools” to the private sector.
But what national interest is served by denying local officials access to
private capital to provide schoolchildren the opportunities they deserve?
Besides, our market system works best when there is a level playing field for
both the private and public sectors, and this plan wouldn’t preclude local
governments from still using the traditional “borrow to build” strategy if they
With the Smart Credit, previously unaffordable projects now become affordable.
Moreover, we eliminate the costly political and bureaucratic favoritism now
pitting one locality against another in a fight for the limited school
construction money in the stimulus plan.
Potentially, there may be $100 billion in tax-credit-eligible school
modernization projects nationwide. Now is the perfect moment, with prices for
construction materials down, to unleash the private sector to create tens of
thousands of jobs while making schools better for millions of students.
We have talked to business investors. If Congress will amend the law, we already
have the money pledged to modernize more schools, at one time, than has ever
been done in any locality in Virginia’s history. The same is possible for your
America faces many challenges, but fixing this “prior use” rule is easy. With
all due respect to the president, the biggest “corridors of shame” will be the
halls of Congress if our federal lawmakers fail to act.
George Allen, a Republican, is a former senator and governor
of Virginia. Paul Goldman is a former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party.
Schoolhouse, NYT, 13.10.2009,
How to Flunk Test-Giving
October 13, 2009
The New York Times
Millions of Americans are trapped at the margins of the
economy because they lack the basic skills that come with a high-school
education. This year, more than 600,000 of these people will try to improve
their prospects by studying for the rigorous, seven-hour examination known as
the General Educational Development test, or G.E.D., which should end in a
credential that employers and colleges recognize as the equivalent of a diploma.
The most fortunate live in states — such as Delaware, Kansas and Iowa — that
have well-managed programs in which 90 percent or more of the test-takers pass.
The least fortunate live in New York State, which has the lowest pass rate in
the nation, just behind Mississippi. Worse off still are the G.E.D.-seekers of
New York City, which has a shameful pass rate — lower than that of the
educationally challenged District of Columbia. This bodes ill for the city,
where at least one in five adult workers lacks a diploma, and the low-skill jobs
that once allowed them to support their families are dwindling.
The scope of this problem is laid out in an alarming new study by the Community
Service Society, a 160-year-old advocacy group that focuses on policies
affecting the city’s poor. Unless the state and city strengthen and better
finance the G.E.D. programs, the authors say, a growing number of undereducated
New Yorkers will be shut out of the labor force and will become a permanent
burden to their fellow taxpayers.
The typical G.E.D.-seekers in New York City are black or Hispanic, aged 19 to
60, and have hit the advancement wall in the workplace because of the lack of a
diploma. They learn right away that G.E.D. classes are difficult to find, thanks
to poor programming by the city and state, which pay for them. The chaos in New
York is regularly felt at the GED Testing Service in Washington. According to
officials there, New York State accounts for about 10 percent of the testing
activity nationally but about three-quarters of telephone calls from people who
don’t know how to access the G.E.D. system locally.
There is an excellent program run by the City University of New York’s
preparatory high school. But in general, the report notes, the G.E.D. here “has
become a second-class education system serving low-income people of color who
were failed by our K-12 school system.”
The courses are often of questionable quality. The teachers are generally poorly
paid and most often marginally qualified. And according to the report, the state
and city spend about $1,000 per student, less than a tenth of what’s spent per
student in the public school system.
According to the GED Testing Service in Washington, New Yorkers have so much
trouble accessing the system and getting testing appointments that they often
take the test in Georgia, which welcomes out-of-state test-takers for a modest
New York drives up its failure rate on this costly test and wastes precious
resources by allowing people to take it without first taking preparation
courses. States with the highest success rates often require a diagnostic
pretest, followed by instruction as needed and then an official practice test.
That’s the case in Iowa, where 99 percent of the test-takers passed the exam in
Iowa also has made the G.E.D. an integral part of its educational system. Those
who do not pass the diagnostic test are funneled into literacy courses offered
by community colleges at little or no cost.
To emulate this model, New York will need to invest a great deal more than it
spends at the moment. But the costs of doing nothing clearly outweigh those of
remaking a chaotic and ineffectual system.
How to Flunk
Test-Giving, NYT, 13.10.2009,
The Uneducated American
October 9, 2009
The New York Times
By PAUL KRUGMAN
If you had to explain America’s economic success with one
word, that word would be “education.” In the 19th century, America led the way
in universal basic education. Then, as other nations followed suit, the “high
school revolution” of the early 20th century took us to a whole new level. And
in the years after World War II, America established a commanding position in
But that was then. The rise of American education was, overwhelmingly, the rise
of public education — and for the past 30 years our political scene has been
dominated by the view that any and all government spending is a waste of
taxpayer dollars. Education, as one of the largest components of public
spending, has inevitably suffered.
Until now, the results of educational neglect have been gradual — a slow-motion
erosion of America’s relative position. But things are about to get much worse,
as the economic crisis — its effects exacerbated by the penny-wise,
pound-foolish behavior that passes for “fiscal responsibility” in Washington —
deals a severe blow to education across the board.
About that erosion: there has been a flurry of reporting recently about threats
to the dominance of America’s elite universities. What hasn’t been reported to
the same extent, at least as far as I’ve seen, is our relative decline in more
mundane measures. America, which used to take the lead in educating its young,
has been gradually falling behind other advanced countries.
Most people, I suspect, still have in their minds an image of America as the
great land of college education, unique in the extent to which higher learning
is offered to the population at large. That image used to correspond to reality.
But these days young Americans are considerably less likely than young people in
many other countries to graduate from college. In fact, we have a college
graduation rate that’s slightly below the average across all advanced economies.
Even without the effects of the current crisis, there would be every reason to
expect us to fall further in these rankings, if only because we make it so hard
for those with limited financial means to stay in school. In America, with its
weak social safety net and limited student aid, students are far more likely
than their counterparts in, say, France to hold part-time jobs while still
attending classes. Not surprisingly, given the financial pressures, young
Americans are also less likely to stay in school and more likely to become
full-time workers instead.
But the crisis has placed huge additional stress on our creaking educational
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States economy lost
273,000 jobs last month. Of those lost jobs, 29,000 were in state and local
education, bringing the total losses in that category over the past five months
to 143,000. That may not sound like much, but education is one of those areas
that should, and normally does, keep growing even during a recession. Markets
may be troubled, but that’s no reason to stop teaching our children. Yet that’s
exactly what we’re doing.
There’s no mystery about what’s going on: education is mainly the responsibility
of state and local governments, which are in dire fiscal straits. Adequate
federal aid could have made a big difference. But while some aid has been
provided, it has made up only a fraction of the shortfall. In part, that’s
because back in February centrist senators insisted on stripping much of that
aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the stimulus bill.
As a result, education is on the chopping block. And laid-off teachers are only
part of the story. Even more important is the way that we’re shutting off
For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on the plight
of California’s community college students. For generations, talented students
from less affluent families have used those colleges as a stepping stone to the
state’s public universities. But in the face of the state’s budget crisis those
universities have been forced to slam the door on this year’s potential transfer
students. One result, almost surely, will be lifetime damage to many students’
prospects — and a large, gratuitous waste of human potential.
So what should be done?
First of all, Congress needs to undo the sins of February, and approve another
big round of aid to state governments. We don’t have to call it a stimulus, but
it would be a very effective way to create or save thousands of jobs. And it
would, at the same time, be an investment in our future.
Beyond that, we need to wake up and realize that one of the keys to our nation’s
historic success is now a wasting asset. Education made America great; neglect
of education can reverse the process.
American, NYT, 9.10.2009,
College Officials Brace for Hit From Economy
September 26, 2009
The New York Times
By JACQUES STEINBERG and THEO EMERY
BALTIMORE — The talk this week at an annual gathering of
college admissions officers and high school counselors included the usual
topics, like how to deal with “difficult” parents and the names of hot student
prospects. But the conversations — in panel discussions, in hallways and over
crab cakes — always seemed to circle around to one subject: the economy.
High school counselors said that some parents who in other years worried mostly
about whether their children could get into a particular college were now
concerned about whether they could afford the price tag.
Admissions officers said they feared further price increases and cuts in
university budgets, perhaps even in classes. They wondered whether this would
create significant dips in yield, the number of accepted applicants who then
choose to attend. For those at private colleges, one anxious worry prevailed:
Will students even apply?
“We’re fearful,” said Paul M. Driscoll, the dean of admissions of the University
of Redlands in California, a private college that already had a 3 percent drop
in applicants for the new freshman class, and an increase in families seeking
Both college officials and high school counselors here said the full brunt of
the economic crisis was not felt in the most recent admissions cycle — because
families had long ago set college plans in motion, and had largely held to that
course. In many instances, colleges reported this past spring that they received
roughly as many applications in 2009 as they had in 2008, and that there were no
significant dips in yield.
But as the 5,000 officers and counselors moved among various panel discussions
here — including a packed session on changes in the Free Application for Federal
Student Aid, or Fafsa, the government’s main financial aid form — the conferees
expressed concern that this latest admissions cycle could be much grimmer, for
colleges and some families alike.
Ann Bowe McDermott, director of admissions at the College of the Holy Cross in
Massachusetts, said the economy and its many ripple effects were the main
subject of a meeting on Wednesday attended by admissions officers from more than
two dozen Jesuit colleges.
“Affordability is something everyone is concerned about,” said Ms. McDermott,
whose institution’s tuition, board and other fees already exceed more than
$50,000 annually for full-paying students.
And yet, Ms. McDermott noted that recently in Westchester County, N.Y., 200 high
school students and their parents turned out for a Holy Cross information
session at a Catholic prep school, far more interest than the college could
recall having previously received in the area.
“We’ve had this conversation in past years,” she said, in reference to concerns
about a dip in applications and enrollment, “and then it didn’t happen. I guess
I’m an eternal optimist.”
Among the high school advisers at the conference, which ends Saturday and is
formally known as the National Association for College Admission Counseling, was
Frank Tatto of Fairfield Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, Conn.
Mr. Tatto said that a financial-aid information night at the school in December
had drawn 350 people, more than triple the number in past years, and that he was
particularly struck by the number of students (some of them juniors, who were
included for the first time). “I think it’s an added dynamic that the kids are
having to contend with that they might not have had to in the past,” he said.
He added that, instead of asking where they might be admitted or what
constituted a good fit, “Now, it’s: ‘Will I be able to afford it and what’s my
debt going to be?’ ”
John Dunphy, a school counselor at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua,
N.Y., said he had seen perhaps 20 percent more students this year applying to
the State University of New York system, which he called a significant spike.
Applications for out-of-state public universities, like Michigan and Delaware,
are also on the rise, Mr. Dunphy said.
“Chappaqua is an affluent community, and quite a few of our kids look at
selective private schools,” he said, “but the affordability of public schools is
definitely being considered more than ever.”
Not that state colleges are necessarily a refuge. As the conferees huddled here
Thursday, thousands of students and faculty members were marching in protest
3,000 miles away, at the University of California, Berkeley. Their quarrel was
with steep tuition increases and sharp cuts in offerings throughout the state
On Friday afternoon, in what is always a high point of the conference,
representatives from nearly 550 colleges took their places behind long tables
draped with their institution’s banners. In front of them, several thousand
counselors moved past like slow-moving barges, some docking occasionally to
Representing the University of California, Davis, was Gregory W. Sneed,
associate director of undergraduate admissions, who said he felt the protesters’
pain. From now until June, he will have 18 unpaid furlough days.
“As admissions officers,” Mr. Sneed said, “it does make our jobs tougher.”
Brace for Hit From Economy, NYT, 26.9.2009,
Schools Aided by Stimulus Money Still Facing Cuts
September 8, 2009
The New York Times
By SAM DILLON
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Children are returning to classrooms
across the nation during one of the most tumultuous periods in American
education, in which many thousands of teachers and other school workers — no one
yet knows how many — were laid off in dozens of states because of plummeting
state and local revenue. Many were hired back, thanks in part to $100 billion in
federal stimulus money.
How much the federal money has succeeded in stabilizing schools depends on the
state. In those where budget deficits have been manageable, stimulus money
largely replaced plunging taxpayer revenues for schools. But in Arizona,
California, Georgia and a dozen other states with overwhelming deficits, the
federal money has failed to prevent the most extensive school layoffs in several
decades, experts said.
When Lori Smallwood welcomed her third-grade students back to school here, it
was a new beginning after a searing summer in which she lost her job, agonized
over bills, got rehired and, along with all school employees here, saw her
“I’m just glad to be teaching,” Ms. Smallwood said. “After the misery of losing
your job, a pay cut is a piece of cake.”
In the hard-hit states, the shuffling of teachers out of their previous
classrooms and into new ones, often in new districts or at unfamiliar grade
levels — or onto unemployment — continues to disrupt instruction at thousands of
schools. Experts said that seniority and dysfunctional teacher evaluation
systems were forcing many districts to trim strong teachers rather than the
And in some places, teacher layoffs have pushed up class sizes. In Arizona,
which is suffering one of the nation’s worst fiscal crises, some classrooms were
jammed with nearly 50 students when schools reopened last month, and the norm
for Los Angeles high schools this fall is 42.5 students per teacher.
“I’ve been in public education north of three decades, and these are the most
sweeping cutbacks I’ve seen,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the
Council of the Great City Schools. “But it would have been worse without the
Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest district, sent layoff notices
to 8,850 teachers, counselors and administrators last spring. Bolstered by
stimulus money, it recently rehired some 6,700 of them, leaving about 2,150
demoted to substitute teaching or out of work. Hundreds of districts across
California laid off a total of more than 20,000 teachers, according to the
California Teachers Association.
In Michigan, the Detroit schools’ emergency financial manager closed 29 schools
and laid off 1,700 employees, including 1,000 teachers. Arizona school districts
laid off 7,000 teachers in the spring, but stimulus money helped them rehire
several thousand. Tucson Unified, for instance, laid off 560 teachers, but
Florida’s second-largest system, Broward County Schools, laid off 400 teachers,
but aided by stimulus money, rehired more than 100. In Washington State, many
districts let employees go; Seattle laid off about 50 teachers.
Lauren Stokes, who taught high school English last year in North Carolina’s
Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, was laid off with about 650 of her colleagues.
She sought other jobs, but stimulus money sent to the state helped her district
hire her and many others back. One disappointment: her classroom this year is a
“But I’m rehired, thank goodness,” said Ms. Stokes, who is 23. “I’m looking
forward to trying new things out on this year’s batch of students.”
Catherine Vidal, a language teacher laid off in May from a high school in
Moorpark, Calif., is still out of work. Fifty-nine years old, Ms. Vidal has
given up her apartment and is living, for now, on a friend’s boat. Teaching has
become too iffy, and she will change professions, she said.
Not only school staff members are feeling the pain, of course.
“I struggled this year getting my three boys everything they needed,” said Mary
Lou Johnson, an unemployed office worker who went back-to-school shopping last
month at a Wal-Mart in Chamblee, Ga. “Buying their backpacks, sneakers, all the
stuff for their classes — it nearly cleaned me out.”
In Ohio, students in the South-Western City district south of Columbus returned
to schools with no sports, cheerleading or band, all cut after residents voted
down a property tax increase. Stimulus money allowed the district to expand
services for disabled students, but it could not save extracurricular programs,
said Hugh Garside, the district’s treasurer.
Driving the layoffs was a precipitous decline in tax revenues that left states
with a cumulative budget shortfall of $165 billion for this fiscal year,
according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research institute.
About half of the 160 school superintendents from 37 states surveyed by the
American Association of School Administrators said that despite receiving
stimulus money, they were forced to cut teachers in core subjects. Eight out of
10 said they had cut librarians, nurses, cooks and bus drivers.
Districts unable to avoid layoffs should seek to do minimum damage by retaining
outstanding teachers and culling ineffective ones, said Timothy Daly, president
of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group. But most districts are simply
dismissing teachers hired most recently, because union contracts or state laws
protect tenured teachers in most states and because few districts have systems
to accurately evaluate teacher performance, he said.
“Districts tend to make their problems worse by laying off good teachers and
keeping bad ones,” Mr. Daly said.
The Hall County district northeast of Atlanta, which has 35 schools, dismissed
100 of its 2,000 teachers, said William Schofield, the superintendent. John
Stape, who taught high school Spanish, and his wife, Janie, who taught third
grade, were among them.
Ms. Stape, 50, is still out of work. Mr. Stape, who is 65 and has a Ph.D., found
a job teaching this school year, for less pay, in a rural high school southeast
of Atlanta. He said that no administrator had ever observed his teaching before
the day he was laid off.
“They didn’t know whether I was a good teacher or not,” Mr. Stape said. Mr.
Schofield said the district used student achievement data and professional
judgment to identify mediocre teachers for dismissal, but he acknowledged that
Hall County had to cut so many teachers that strong ones were let go, too.
“We downsized about 50 pretty good folks,” Mr. Schofield said. The district also
trimmed salaries of all district employees by 2.4 percent. Mr. Schofield said he
cut his own by 3.4 percent, bringing it to $183,000 this year, and relinquished
$23,000 in bonuses.
The Hall County schools received more than $18 million in stimulus money, and
without it, “those 100 layoffs could easily have gone to 150,” he said.
Among the Hall County educators helped by the stimulus was Ms. Smallwood, who is
25. After she lost her job teaching kindergarten, she went to her mother’s home
to cry, then regained her composure and circulated her résumé. A principal
eventually hired her to teach third grade.
“I feel like I’m starting over again,” she said.
Schools Aided by
Stimulus Money Still Facing Cuts, NYT, 8.9.2009,
Surge in Homeless Children Strains School Districts
September 6, 2009
The New York Times
By ERIK ECKHOLM
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — In the small trailer her family rented over
the summer, 9-year-old Charity Crowell picked out the green and purple outfit
she would wear on the first day of school. She vowed to try harder and bring her
grades back up from the C’s she got last spring — a dismal semester when her
parents lost their jobs and car and the family was evicted and migrated through
friends’ houses and a motel.
Charity is one child in a national surge of homeless schoolchildren that is
driven by relentless unemployment and foreclosures. The rise, to more than one
million students without stable housing by last spring, has tested
budget-battered school districts as they try to carry out their responsibilities
— and the federal mandate — to salvage education for children whose lives are
filled with insecurity and turmoil.
The instability can be ruinous to schooling, educators say, adding multiple
moves and lost class time to the inherent distress of homelessness. And so in
accord with federal law, the Buncombe County district, where Charity attends,
provides special bus service to shelters, motels, doubled-up houses, trailer
parks and RV campgrounds to help children stay in their familiar schools as the
families move about.
Still, Charity said of her last semester, “I couldn’t go to sleep, I was worried
about all the stuff,” and she often nodded off in class.
Charity and her brother, Elijah Carrington, 6, were among 239 children from
homeless families in her district as of last June, an increase of 80 percent
over the year before, with indications this semester that as many or more will
be enrolled in the months ahead.
While current national data are not available, the number of schoolchildren in
homeless families appears to have risen by 75 percent to 100 percent in many
districts over the last two years, according to Barbara Duffield, policy
director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and
Youth, an advocacy group.
There were 679,000 homeless students reported in 2006-7, a total that surpassed
one million by last spring, Ms. Duffield said.
With schools just returning to session, initial reports point to further rises.
In San Antonio, for example, the district has enrolled 1,000 homeless students
in the first two weeks of school, twice as many as at the same point last year.
“It’s hard enough going to school and growing up, but these kids also have to
worry where they’ll be staying that night and whether they’ll eat,” said Bill
Murdock, chief executive of Eblen-Kimmel Charities, a private group in Asheville
that helps needy families with anything from food baskets and money for utility
bills to toiletries and a prom dress.
“We see 8-year-olds telling Mom not to worry, don’t cry,” Mr. Murdock said.
Since 2001, federal law has required every district to appoint a liaison to the
homeless, charged with identifying and aiding families who meet a broad
definition of homelessness — doubling up in the homes of relatives or friends or
sleeping in motels or RV campgrounds as well as living in cars, shelters or on
the streets. A small minority of districts, including Buncombe County, have used
federal grants or local money to make the position full time.
The law lays out rights for homeless children, including immediate school
placement without proof of residence and a right to stay in the same school as
the family is displaced. Providing transportation to the original school is an
expensive logistical challenge in a huge district like Buncombe County, covering
700 square miles.
While the law’s goals are widely praised, school superintendents lament that
Congress has provided little money, adding to the fiscal woes of districts. “The
protections are important, but Congress has passed the cost to state and local
taxpayers,” said Bruce Hunter, associate director of the American Association of
Fairfax County, Va., where the number of homeless students climbed from 1,100 in
June 2007 to 1,800 last spring, has three social workers dedicated to the
homeless and is using a temporary stimulus grant to assign a full-time
transportation coordinator to commandeer buses, issue gas cards and sometimes
call taxis to get the children to their original schools.
Like Fairfax County, the Asheville area looks prosperous, drawing tourists and
retirees, but manicured lawns, million-dollar homes and golf courses mask the
struggles of many adults working at low-paying jobs in sales and food service.
Emily Walters, the liaison to the homeless for the Buncombe County schools, is
busy as school begins, providing backpacks and other supplies and signing
children up for free breakfasts and lunches. But her job continues through the
school year as other families lose their footing and those who had concealed
their status, because of the stigma or because they were not aware of the
benefits, join the list.
Sometimes it includes driving families in crisis to look at prospective shelters
— a temporary solution at best, Ms. Walters said. When the county receives a
two-year stimulus grant next month, she said, she hopes there will be more money
to help people avoid eviction or pay security deposits for new rentals.
The evening before school began, Ms. Walters drove 45 minutes to an RV
campground to deliver a scientific calculator and other essential school
supplies to Cody Curry, 14, who lives with his mother, Dawn, and his brother,
Zack, 11, in a camper. Mrs. Curry had to downsize from a trailer, she said, when
her work as a sales clerk was cut to two days a week.
The first day of school, Ms. Walters drove to a men’s rescue shelter in the city
to take Nate Fountain, 18, to high school. Nate said his parents kicked him out
of the house last spring, during his senior year, because he was not doing his
school work and was drinking and using drugs. With Ms. Walters’s help, he said,
he expects to finish high school this semester and study culinary arts at a
“I spend a lot of time just making sure the kids stay in school,” Ms. Walters
The busing service was especially valued by Leslie Laws, who was laid off from
her job in customer service last year and lost her rental apartment.
Ms. Laws and her 12-year-old son are staying in a women’s shelter in Asheville,
far from his former school. He is deeply involved with activities like chorus.
Now he must catch the bus at 6:05 a.m. and ride one and a half hours each way.
Educators and advocates for the homeless across the country said that in the
current recession, the law had made a difference, minimizing destructive gaps in
schooling and linking schools with social welfare agencies.
Charity Crowell, despite her vow to bring up her grades, may be in store for
another rough semester. Her stepfather works long hours delivering food on
commission, but business is poor. Her mother, Katrina, wants to look for a job,
but that is difficult without a car.
Food stamps help, but by the second half of each month the family is mostly
eating “Beanee Weenees and noodles,” Ms. Crowell said. As school resumed in late
August, the family was facing eviction from the $475-a-month trailer and
uncertain about what to do next.
Surge in Homeless
Children Strains School Districts, NYT, 6.9.2009,
The Future of Reading
A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like
August 30, 2009
The New York Times
By MOTOKO RICH
JONESBORO, Ga. — For years Lorrie McNeill loved teaching “To
Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee classic that many Americans regard as a
literary rite of passage.
But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not assign
“Mockingbird” — or any novel. Instead she turned over all the decisions about
which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English
classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south Atlanta suburb.
Among their choices: James Patterson‘s adrenaline-fueled “Maximum Ride” books,
plenty of young-adult chick-lit novels and even the “Captain Underpants” series
of comic-book-style novels.
But then there were students like Jennae Arnold, a soft-spoken eighth grader who
picked challenging titles like “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines and
“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, of which she wrote, partly in text-message
speak: “I would have N3V3R thought of or about something like that on my own.”
The approach Ms. McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books, discuss
them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals
about their reading, is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature
is taught in America’s schools. While there is no clear consensus among English
teachers, variations on the approach, known as reading workshop, are catching
In New York City many public and private elementary schools and some middle
schools already employ versions of reading workshop. Starting this fall, the
school district in Chappaqua, N.Y., is setting aside 40 minutes every other day
for all sixth, seventh and eighth graders to read books of their own choosing.
In September students in Seattle’s public middle schools will also begin
choosing most of their own books. And in Chicago the public school district has
had a pilot program in place since 2006 in 31 of its 483 elementary schools to
give students in grades 6, 7 and 8 more control over what they read. Chicago
officials will consider whether to expand the program once they review its
None of those places, however, are going as far as Ms. McNeill.
In the method familiar to generations of students, an entire class reads a novel
— often a classic — together to draw out the themes and study literary craft.
That tradition, proponents say, builds a shared literary culture among students,
exposes all readers to works of quality and complexity and is the best way to
prepare students for standardized tests.
But fans of the reading workshop say that assigning books leaves many children
bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own
books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading.
“I feel like almost every kid in my classroom is engaged in a novel that they’re
actually interacting with,” Ms. McNeill said, several months into her
experiment. “Whereas when I do ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,” I know that I have some
kids that just don’t get into it.”
Critics of the approach say that reading as a group generally leads to more
meaningful insights, and they question whether teachers can really keep up with
a roomful of children reading different books. Even more important, they say, is
the loss of a common body of knowledge based on the literary classics — often
difficult books that children are unlikely to choose for themselves.
“What child is going to pick up ‘Moby-Dick’?” said Diane Ravitch, a professor of
education at New York University who was assistant education secretary under
President George H. W. Bush. “Kids will pick things that are trendy and popular.
But that’s what you should do in your free time.”
Indeed, some school districts are moving in the opposite direction. Boston is
developing a core curriculum that will designate specific books for sixth grade
and is considering assigned texts for each grade through the 12th.
Joan Dabrowski, director of literacy for Boston’s public schools, said teachers
would still be urged to give students some choices. Many schools in fact take
that combination approach, dictating some titles while letting students select
Even some previously staunch advocates of a rigid core curriculum have moderated
their views. “I actually used to be a real hard-line, great-books, high-culture
kind of person who would want to stick to Dickens,” said Mark Bauerlein,
professor of English at Emory University and the author of “The Dumbest
Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our
Future.” But now, in the age of Game Boys and Facebook, “I think if they read a
lot of Conan novels or Hardy Boys or Harry Potter or whatever, that’s good,” he
said. “We just need to preserve book habits among the kids as much as we
In Search of a Better Way
As a teenager growing up just a few miles from Jonesboro, Ms. McNeill loved the
novels of Judy Blume and Danielle Steel. But in school she was forced to read
the classics. She remembers vividly disliking “The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn.” Still, she went on to teach it to her own students.
In 1999 she moved to Jonesboro Middle School, where more than 80 percent of the
students are eligible for free lunches. Teachers there stuck to a curriculum
prescribed by the county. Working with students designated as gifted, Ms.
McNeill began teaching familiar novels like “Lord of the Flies” and
“Mockingbird.” But she said, “I just never felt that they were as excited about
reading as I wanted them to be.”
Ms. McNeill, an amateur poet whose favorite authors include Barbara Kingsolver
and Nick Hornby, wondered if forcing some students through a book had dampened
their interest in reading altogether. She tried “literature circles,” in which a
smaller group chose a book to read together, and had some success. Then, in
early 2008, she attended a professional seminar in Atlanta led by Nancie Atwell,
the author of “In the Middle” and “The Reading Zone,” popular guidebooks for
teachers that promote giving students widespread choice. “In the Middle” has
sold nearly half a million copies since it was first published in 1987.
An Eye-Opening Experience
Over the last two decades, Ms. Atwell, along with Lucy M. Calkins, founding
director of the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University’s Teachers
College, has emerged as a guru of the reading workshop approach. Ms. Atwell
brings 45 teachers a year to her base of operations, the Center for Teaching and
Learning, a small private school she founded in Edgecomb, Me., an hour north of
Portland. Last September Ms. McNeill spent a week there with four other English
teachers, each of whom had paid $800, observing Ms. Atwell’s work.
That first cool fall morning, 17 seventh- and eighth-grade students assembled
for their reading and writing class in a large room overlooking a grove of birch
and maple trees. Shelves of books ringed the room. The students flopped in
forest green beanbag chairs set in a circle on the carpeted floor. At the front
Ms. Atwell sat in a rocking chair, a small stack of volumes beside her.
Ms. McNeill watched closely, taking notes. After a session in which the students
edited poems they had been writing, Ms. Atwell ceded the rocking chair to
students, who gave short talks recommending books to their classmates.
One eighth grader presented “Getting the Girl” by Markus Zusak, the author of
“The Book Thief,” a best-selling young-adult novel about the Holocaust that had
been one of the boy’s favorites. He highlighted the book’s unusual line breaks
and one-word sentences, concluding, “It’s a fun, good read.”
When Ms. Atwell resumed her seat in the rocking chair, she pitched several
titles she had read over the weekend. She held up “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,”
the novel by David Wroblewski that had been anointed by Oprah Winfrey.
“It is just incredible,” she said, leaning forward. “It is about signing,
dog-breeding, muteness, adolescence, the beauty of the American Midwest.” Before
she could even lay it back on the floor, Maura Anderson, an eighth grader, asked
if she could take it to start reading that afternoon.
In a 30-minute reading period that followed, each student hunkered low in a
beanbag chair. Ms. Atwell moved quietly among them, coming in close for
whispered conferences and noting page numbers to make sure each student had read
at least 20 pages the night before.
One girl had “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult, while a boy a few seats away
read Khaled Hosseini‘s novel “The Kite Runner.” Another boy was absorbed in “If
I Die in a Combat Zone,” by Tim O’Brien.
Throughout the week the teachers observed Ms. Atwell open each class with a
mini-lesson about a poem as well as one in which she talked about research on
how the brain learns to read fluidly.
Despite the student freedom, Ms. Atwell constantly fed suggestions to the
children. She was strict about not letting them read what she considered junk:
no “Gossip Girl” or novels based on video games. But she acknowledged that
certain children needed to be nudged into books by allowing them to read popular
titles like the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer.
At the end of the first day the teachers discussed the demands of standardized
testing and how some had faced resistance from administrators. Ms. McNeill said
her students had so little freedom that they even had to be escorted to the
Suddenly she was overcome with emotion as she contrasted that environment with
the student-led atmosphere in Ms. Atwell’s class. “It makes me sad that my
students can’t have this every day,” she said, wiping away tears. “These
children are so fortunate.”
Ms. Atwell reminded the teachers that she had once taught in a public school and
faced strict requirements. “There is nothing that we are doing here that can’t
be done in any public school,” she said. “The question is, how do you tweak
these hidebound traditions of the institutions?”
Choice as a Motivator
Literacy specialists say that giving children a say in what they read can help
motivate them. “If your goal is simply to get them to read more, choice is the
way to go,” said Elizabeth Birr Moje, a literacy professor at the University of
Michigan. Ms. Moje added that choices should be limited and that teachers should
guide students toward high-quality literature.
Though research on the academic effects of choice has been limited, some studies
have shown that giving students modest options can enhance educational results.
In 11 studies conducted with third, fourth and fifth graders over the past 10
years, John T. Guthrie, now a retired professor of literacy at the University of
Maryland, found that giving children limited choices from a classroom collection
of books on a topic helped improve performance on standardized reading
“The main thing is feeling in charge,” he said. Most experts say that teachers
do not have to choose between one approach or the other and that they can
incorporate the best of both methods: reading some novels as a group while also
giving students opportunities to select their own books.
But literacy specialists also say that instilling a habit is as important as
creating a shared canon. “If what we’re trying to get to is, everybody has read
‘Ethan Frome’ and Henry James and Shakespeare, then the challenge for the
teacher is how do you make that stuff accessible and interesting enough that
kids will stick with it,” said Catherine E. Snow, a professor at the Harvard
University Graduate School of Education. “But if the goal is, how do you make
kids lifelong readers, then it seems to me that there’s a lot to be said for the
choice approach. As adults, as good readers, we don’t all read the same thing,
and we revel in our idiosyncrasies as adult readers, so kids should have some of
the same freedom.”
Ms. McNeill returned to Jonesboro determined to apply what she had observed. She
knew she was luckier than some of the other teachers in the Edgecomb program,
who were saddled with large classes and short periods. She had no more than 20
students in any class, for 100 minutes every day.
Trying to emulate the relaxed atmosphere of Ms. Atwell’s classroom, Ms. McNeill
pushed the desks out of their rows and against the white cinderblock walls. She
placed a circle of carpet swatches on the tile floor and put a small wooden
rocking chair at the front.
Her principal, Freda Givens, was supportive, persuaded by Ms. McNeill’s
enthusiasm. But Ms. McNeill warned her: “I am not sure how it’s going to pan out
on the standardized tests.”
Ms. McNeill started to build her classroom library. All told, she spent about
$1,000 of her own money buying books, many of which were titles she had seen in
Ms. Atwell’s classroom, including “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”; “The Road” by
Cormac McCarthy; and several novels by the young-adult favorites Walter Dean
Myers and Sarah Dessen.
Modeling herself after Ms. Atwell, she began conducting sales pitches for books
in her warm drawl and invited her students to do so, too. Every day Ms. McNeill
allotted 30 minutes for the students to read on their own. Chatty, but firm if
she detected that someone was not reading, she scooted from student to student
on a lime-green stool, noting page numbers on a clipboard chart. She asked
questions about the books and suggested new ones.
Many students began the year choosing books she regarded as too simple, and she
prodded them to a higher level. After Khristian Howard, an earnest seventh
grader, read “Chaka! Through the Fire,” a memoir by the R&B star Chaka Khan, Ms.
McNeill suggested that she try Maya Angelou’s autobiography, “I Know Why the
Caged Bird Sings.”
Khristian, who found the book tough at first, ended up writing an enthusiastic
six-page entry in her journal. Ms. McNeill went on to suggest “The Bell Jar” by
Sylvia Plath and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith, a book, Khristian
wrote, that she “really didn’t want to come to an end.“
To help teach concepts like allegory or foreshadowing, Ms. McNeill began
virtually every session by dissecting a poem that the class then discussed. One
morning this spring Jabari Denson, an eighth grader, read aloud “Mother to Son”
by Langston Hughes. The class spent 15 minutes teasing out the metaphorical
meaning of a line about “places with no carpet on the floor.”
She required that the students record their impressions of each book, citing
specific passages and analyzing themes. Jennae often wrote four or five pages in
her tightly packed print. A year earlier she had been bored by reading and had
little to say about books.
But now new worlds were opening. In January she read “It’s Kind of a Funny
Story,” a novel by Ned Vizzini about a depressed teenager who ends up in a
psychiatric ward. “After reading this book, I have decided that I want to be a
psychologist,” Jennae wrote in the spiral-bound notebook where she kept her
journal. The book, she continued, had changed how she viewed mental illness.
“I think people that are labeled ‘crazy’ aren’t crazy at all; they just see the
world differently than others,” she wrote. “They don’t really know how to
express it correctly so nobody else knows how to accept it so they lock them
away in a psych ward.”
Ms. McNeill did hit some snags. In January two of her students failed a state
writing assessment. Over dinner one night with her husband, Dan McNeill, she
confessed her fear that Ms. Givens, the principal, might not let her continue
with her radical approach. But Ms. Givens did not interfere.
Ms. McNeill knew that students who were now being asked to write much more
frequently about their reading might be tempted to copy the work of others. In
March one of her most reluctant seventh graders plagiarized a journal entry
about “Tomorrow, When the War Began,” a novel by John Marsden about children
coping with an invasion of Australia. The boy did not even bother to remove the
words “The Horn Book, starred review,” from the printout he pasted into his
She admonished the boy and asked him to redo his entry. She was discouraged to
see that he wrote only one paragraph that amounted to not much more than a plot
summary, concluding, “I highly recommend this book to young teens who like this
kind of stuff.”
To Ms. McNeill’s chagrin, several students, most of them boys, stubbornly
refused to read more challenging fare. One afternoon this spring she pulled her
stool next to Masai, an eighth grader who wore a sparkling stud in one ear, as
he stared at a laptop screen on which he was supposed to be composing a book
review. Beside him sat the second volume in the “Maximum Ride” series, which
chronicles the adventures of genetically mutated children who are part human,
part bird. He was struggling to find anything to write.
“I keep trying to get you to read things other than James Patterson,” Ms. Atwell
said, tapping the book’s cover. “But if you are going to write a book review of
substance, you are going to have to find substance in the book.”
In staff meetings with fellow English teachers, Ms. McNeill showed them her
students’ journals and explained her new teaching methods. A few were curious,
but none were ready to give up their textbooks or class novels.
Some colleagues suggested that Ms. McNeill was only able to teach this way
because of who was in her class. “Ms. McNeill has the freedom to do that because
she teaches gifted students,” said Linda White, an eighth-grade teacher.
But in May Ms. McNeill felt vindicated when she received the results of her
students’ performance on standardized state reading tests.
Of her 18 eighth graders, 15 exceeded requirements, scoring in the highest
bracket. When the same students had been in her seventh-grade class, only 4 had
reached that level. Of her 13 current seventh graders, 8 scored at the top.
In the final week of school Helen Arnold, Jennae’s mother, sent Ms. McNeill an
e-mail message thanking her. “She never really just read herself for enjoyment
until she took your class,” Ms. Arnold wrote.
Ms. McNeill knew she had not succeeded in persuading all of her students to read
deeply or widely. But she was optimistic that she would capture a few more in
the coming school year.
A week after her students left for the summer, Ms. McNeill boxed up the class
sets of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” along with “Diary of Anne Frank” and “The
Giver” by Lois Lowry, keeping just three copies of each for her collection. She
carted the rest to the English department storeroom.
A New Assignment:
Pick Books You Like, NYT, 30.8.2009,
A New Initiative
August 24, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Dangling $4.3
Billion, Obama Pushes States to Shift on Education” (front page, Aug. 17):
When President Obama was elected, many parents and educators had hoped to see a
lessening of the reliance on standardized testing to assess student progress and
address the issue of equity.
For many years, there has been a terrible distortion of education’s promise, as
everything besides reading, writing and math has increasingly been cut. The
arts, imaginative endeavors, recess, inquiry, curriculum that integrates various
domains: these are not luxuries but are integral to student identification with
In addition, the use of test data for purposes of evaluating and compensating
teachers will work against the education of the most vulnerable children. It is
a mistake to conceptualize education as a “Race to the Top” (as federal grants
to schools are titled) — for children or schools. The Obama administration
should reject the basic tenet of No Child Left Behind: children are not numbers.
New York, Aug. 17, 2009
The writer taught in the New York City public school system for more than two
decades and is the author of “Welcome to the Aquarium: A Year in the Lives of
To the Editor:
President Obama’s new education initiative is a misguided effort to restore
America’s education prowess. Linking teacher evaluations to faulty standardized
tests ignores the socioeconomic impact on a nation that is both rich and poor.
Can a teacher confronting the poverty of some children in Bedford-Stuyvesant be
made to compete with a teacher instructing affluent children in Scarsdale? One
must consider all societal effects on the education of our children.
Maurice R. Berube
Norfolk, Va., Aug. 17, 2009
The writer is scholar emeritus at Old Dominion University and the co-author of
“The End of School Reform.”
To the Editor:
As a former business executive and current New York City public high school
educator, as well as director of a charter school, I applaud the effort to use
standardized-test measures to evaluate teachers and schools. But it is critical
that the incentive not reward solely yearly results; the financial services
industry debacle has taught us a hard lesson about short-term orientation and
how it distorts behavior.
Rather, I propose that teachers be evaluated on three criteria: student data,
principal evaluation and peer review, which would encourage an enduring teamwork
culture within and across departments that is the hallmark of great schools.
Bronx, Aug. 18, 2009
The writer is college adviser/academic dean of the Bronx Center for Science and
Math and director of the Promise Academy Charter Schools, Harlem Children’s
To the Editor:
President Obama has the right idea when he says he wants to get rid of
ineffective teachers and reward the good ones. But his Race to the Top proposal,
which includes using standardized test results to judge teacher performance,
will do nothing to meet that goal.
I left my job as a public school teacher shortly after the No Child Left Behind
law was passed. My job went from teaching children to teaching test preparation
in very little time. Many of our nation’s teachers have left their profession
because the focus on testing leaves little room for passion, creativity or
The No Child Left Behind law identifies successful schools as those that show
improved test scores on a test with little redeeming value. Now, the Race to the
Top proposal seems to identify “good” teachers as those who successfully teach
to the test.
I voted for President Obama. I trust that he does not want to sap our teachers
of their creativity and inventiveness. I also trust that he does not want our
next generation to be a group of men and women who have learned to await the
next multiple-choice problem.
Westport, Conn., Aug. 17, 2009
To the Editor:
It is becoming universally accepted that the best (only) way to fix our schools
is by using student scores on standardized tests to rate both students and their
teachers. Tragically, President Obama’s focus on accountability through testing
is doomed to fail.
Standardized tests are, by their nature, predictable. Most administrators and
teachers, fearing failure and loss of position and/or bonuses, de-emphasize or
delete those parts of the curriculum least likely to be tested. The students
sense this and neglect serious studying because they know that they will be
prepped for the big exams.
Perversely, all of this (plus the constant pressure of grades) leads to a
decrease in students’ abilities to understand, retain, apply, revere and enjoy
what they are asked to learn.
High test scores do not guarantee student learning. The evaluation of a
student’s progress and a teacher’s abilities requires an act of human judgment
(much like evaluating a work of art). Our obsession with testing reveals our
misunderstanding of the true nature of education. Martin Rudolph
Lee, Mass., Aug. 17, 2009
The writer was a math teacher at Oceanside High School, 1962-2006.
To the Editor:
The administration’s superseding of “states’ rights” by essentially forcing
states to follow its demands once again shows a certain insensitivity to
time-tested educational principles. Just as mathematics is the most easily
quantifiable subject in the curriculum and thereby lends itself to easy testing,
to place inordinate importance on test results forces all teachers to
concentrate on teaching to the test — especially when their very livelihood is
dependent on these results!
To “teach to the test” in mathematics by having students memorize facts and
mnemonic devices takes away from the true value of learning mathematics and its
ever-increasing importance in our technological society. To deny students the
opportunity to be enriched with mathematical concepts prevents them from
learning to appreciate the power and beauty of mathematics. In the long range,
this could cause irreparable harm to our society!
Alfred S. Posamentier
New York, Aug. 17, 2009
The writer is a professor of mathematics education and dean of the School of
Education at the City College of New York, CUNY.
A New Initiative on
Education, NYT, 24.8.2009,
Dangling Money, Obama Pushes Education Shift
August 17, 2009
The New York Times
By SAM DILLON
Holding out billions of dollars as a potential windfall, the
Obama administration is persuading state after state to rewrite education laws
to open the door to more charter schools and expand the use of student test
scores for judging teachers.
That aggressive use of economic stimulus money by Education Secretary Arne
Duncan is provoking heated debates over the uses of standardized testing and the
proper federal role in education, issues that flared frequently during President
George W. Bush’s enforcement of his signature education law, called No Child
A recent case is California, where legislative leaders are vowing to do anything
necessary, including rewriting a law that prohibits the use of student scores in
teacher evaluations, to ensure that the state is eligible for a chunk of the
$4.3 billion the federal Education Department will soon award to a dozen or so
states. The law had strong backing from the state teachers union.
Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Tennessee and several other states have moved to
bring their laws or policies into line with President Obama’s school improvement
The administration’s stance has caught by surprise educators and officials who
had hoped that Mr. Obama’s calls during the campaign for an overhaul of the No
Child law would mean a reduced federal role and less reliance on standardized
testing. The law requires schools to bring all students to proficiency in
reading and math by 2014 and penalizes those that do not meet annual goals.
The proposed rules make testing an even more powerful factor in schools by
extending the use of scores to teacher evaluations. The proposed rules for the
$4.3 billion in grants, which the administration calls the Race to the Top,
require states to show they are fostering innovation, improving achievement,
raising standards, recruiting effective teachers, turning around failed schools
and building data systems.
Just to be eligible to apply, a state must have no “barriers to linking data on
student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose
of teacher and principal evaluation,” the rules say.
While many educators and advocates support the administration, there has also
been an outpouring of complaints, including in comments on the rules filed with
the Education Department. (The department will issue final rules after the
comment period ends Aug. 28.)
“The proposed regulations are overly burdensome,” Robert P. Grimesey,
superintendent of the Orange County Public Schools in Virginia, said in written
comments. “They give the impression that stimulus funds provide the federal
government with unbridled capacity to impose bureaucratic demands.”
Much of the grumbling is from educators who say they supported Mr. Obama’s
“I am a public school teacher who vehemently wanted to vote for a president who
would save us from No Child Left Behind,” Diane Aoki of Kealakekua, Hawaii,
wrote to the department. But linking test scores to teacher evaluations, Ms.
Aoki said, means “the potential is there for the test frenzy to get worse than
it is under No Child Left Behind.”
An Education Department spokesman, Peter Cunningham, said, “There’s a healthy
debate around this grand application, which is what we were hoping for.”
“We’re mindful of all the criticisms about federal overreaching, about too much
testing, of all the complaints about No Child Left Behind,” Mr. Cunningham said.
“These complaints come up all the time in conversations about all our programs,
not just this one, with education officials across the country. The context that
No Child has generated is the context that we have to live with.”
The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group, published a report this month
handicapping states’ chances. Florida and Louisiana, it said, were “highly
competitive,” New Jersey and others were “competitive,” and Connecticut was
“somewhat competitive.” California, New York and Wisconsin, the report said,
were not eligible because of state laws limiting the use of achievement data in
Lawmakers and officials in California and Wisconsin are debating whether to make
In New York, officials are pushing back against suggestions that the state is
ineligible. Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said Friday
that because the law banned the use of student data in evaluating teachers only
for tenure decisions, New York should be eligible.
Also, Dr. Tisch said, the state law is scheduled to expire in June 2010, and
“there is no appetite to renew that law.”
Not everyone is upset with the administration’s tactics.
“We like the way the administration is using Race to the Top to send a message
about its priorities,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for
Education Reform. “We like that it’s gotten states to take a close look at their
laws and practices.”
Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University, disagreed. “The
Department of Education should respect the requirements of federalism and look
to states to offer their best ideas rather than mandating policies that the
current administration likes,” Dr. Ravitch said in comments filed with the
An early sign that the promise of education financing could induce state changes
came after several blunt statements by Mr. Duncan this spring that states
limiting the growth of charter schools would have trouble getting an award.
Lawmakers in Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee and several other states responded
by lifting caps on the numbers of charter schools or by expanding the pool of
students eligible to attend them. Charter schools are publicly financed, but
they are managed by groups separate from school districts and are largely free
from traditional school work rules.
In Indiana, lawmakers beat back an effort to impose a moratorium on new charters
and, after Mr. Duncan warned that states prohibiting the use of test data in
teacher evaluations would be ineligible for awards, revoked such a prohibition.
Union lobbying was crucial in passing such laws. The two national unions have
not formally commented on the proposed rules. They have opposed using test
scores in evaluations, saying misuse of ambiguous data could lead to unfair
California got attention in June when Mr. Duncan noted in a speech that it was
among states that had created “a firewall between students and teacher data.”
“In California, they have 300,000 teachers,” he said. The top 10 percent are the
“best in the world,” he said, the bottom 10 percent, “should probably find
another profession, yet no one in California can tell you which teacher is in
“Something is wrong with that picture,” he said.
In response, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, board of
education president and education secretary jointly wrote to Mr. Duncan saying
his concerns were “based on a misunderstanding.”
California’s law, they argued, bars state officials from using test results to
evaluate teachers but does not block local districts from doing so. Only a few
State Senator Gloria Romero, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Education
Committee, said in an interview that because “disagreement continues” between
the state and Obama officials, she was drafting legislation to clarify the law.
Ms. Romero has scheduled a hearing on the issue for Aug. 26.
“We’ll do everything in our power,” she said, “to make sure that California is
in compliance with the expectations of the Obama administration.”
Jennifer Medina contributed reporting.
Dangling Money, Obama
Pushes Education Shift, NYT, 17.8.2009,
As Charter Schools Unionize, Many Debate Effect
July 27, 2009
The New York Times
By SAM DILLON
CHICAGO — Dissatisfied with long hours, churning turnover and,
in some cases, lower pay than instructors at other public schools, an increasing
number of teachers at charter schools are unionizing.
Labor organizing that began two years ago at seven charter schools in Florida
has proliferated over the last year to at least a dozen more charters from
Massachusetts and New York to California and Oregon.
Charter schools, which are publicly financed but managed by groups separate from
school districts, have been a mainstay of the education reform movement and
widely embraced by parents. Because most of the nation’s 4,600 charter schools
operate without unions, they have been freer to innovate, their advocates say,
allowing them to lengthen the class day, dismiss underperforming teachers at
will, and experiment with merit pay and other changes that are often banned by
work rules governing traditional public schools.
“Charter schools have been too successful for the unions to ignore,” said
Elizabeth D. Purvis, executive director of the Chicago International Charter
School, where teachers voted last month to unionize 3 of its 12 campuses.
President Obama has been especially assertive in championing charter schools. On
Friday, he and the education secretary, Arne Duncan, announced a competition for
$4.35 billion in federal financing for states that ease restrictions on charter
schools and adopt some charter-like standards for other schools — like linking
teacher pay to student achievement.
But the unionization effort raises questions about whether unions will
strengthen the charter movement by stabilizing its young, often transient
teaching force, or weaken it by preventing administrators from firing
ineffective teachers and imposing changes they say help raise achievement, like
an extended school year.
“A charter school is a more fragile host than a school district,” said Paul T.
Hill, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University
of Washington. “Labor unrest in a charter school can wipe it out fast. It won’t
go well for unions if the schools they organize decline in quality or go bust.”
Unions are not entirely new to charter schools. Teachers at hundreds of charter
schools in Wisconsin, California and elsewhere have long been union members, not
because they signed up, but because of local laws, like those that extend union
status to all schools in a state or district.
Steve Barr, the founder of one large charter network, Green Dot, said his group
operates its 17 charter schools in Los Angeles and one in the Bronx with union
staff because it makes sense in the heavily unionized environment of public
In recent months, teachers have won union recognition at schools including the
Boston Conservatory Lab School, a school in Brooklyn that is part of the
Knowledge Is Power Program, an Afro-centric school in Philadelphia, four
campuses in the Accelerated School network in Los Angeles, and a Montessori
school in Oregon. Moves toward unionizing have revealed greater teacher unrest
than was previously known.
“I was frustrated with all the turnover among staff, with the lack of teacher
input, with working longer and harder than teachers at other schools and earning
less,” said Jennifer Gilley, a social studies teacher at the Ralph Ellison
Campus of the Chicago International Charter School, who said she made $38,000 as
a base salary as a starting teacher, compared with about $43,500 paid by the
Chicago Public Schools.
The potential for further unionization of charter schools is a matter of debate.
“They’ll have a success here and there,” said Todd Ziebarth, a vice president of
the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “But unionized charters will
continue to be a small part of the movement.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the
gains of the past year “a precursor.”
“You’re going to see far more union representation in charter schools,” Ms.
Weingarten said. “We had a group of schools that were basically unorganized,
groups of teachers wanting a voice, a union willing to start organizing them,
and now money in our organizing budget to back that up. And all of that has come
together in the last 6 to 12 months.”
She quoted Albert Shanker, her union’s founder, as saying charter schools should
be “incubators of good instructional practice.”
“I’m adding to the argument,” Ms. Weingarten said. “Let them be incubators of
good labor practice.”
The largest teachers union, the National Education Association, has no national
charter organizing campaign. But some of its state affiliates have helped
Some recently unionized charters say they are feeling their way forward.
The Knowledge Is Power Program, known as KIPP, which operates 82 mostly
high-performing charter schools nationwide, is facing first-time negotiations
with teachers at its KIPP Amp Academy in Brooklyn, where teachers this spring
won affiliation with the United Federation of Teachers.
KIPP is also facing demands for higher pay at its high-performing Ujima Village
Academy in Baltimore, which has been unionized under Maryland law since its
“Our schools had largely been left alone,” said Steve Mancini, a KIPP spokesman.
“Now we’re getting all this union attention.” One goal KIPP will seek in
negotiations in New York and Baltimore, Mr. Mancini said, is to preserve the
principals’ right to mold their teams.
Whether KIPP can maintain that posture in its negotiations remains to be seen.
Another question is whether the strains of unionization will affect the culture
of collegiality that has helped charter schools prosper.
Here in Chicago, where students at several Chicago International campuses have
scores among the city’s highest for nonselective schools, teachers began
organizing last fall after an administrator increased workloads to six classes a
day from five, said Emily Mueller, a Spanish teacher at Northtown Academy.
“We were really proud of the scores, and still are,” Ms. Mueller said. “But the
workload, teaching 160 kids a day, it wasn’t sustainable. You can’t put out the
kind of energy we were putting out for our kids year after year.”
Some teachers disagreed. Theresa Furr, a second-grade teacher at the Wrightwood
campus, said she opposed unionization.
“Every meeting I went to,” Ms. Furr said, “it was always ‘What can we get?’ and
never ‘How is this going to make our students’ education better?’ ”
For Joyce Pae, an English teacher at Ralph Ellison, the decision was agonizing.
Her concerns over what she saw as chaotic turnover and inconsistency in
allocating merit pay led her to join the drive. But after school leaders began
paying more attention to teachers’ views, she said, she voted against
unionization in June.
Union teachers won the vote, 73-49.
“If nothing else,” Ms. Pae said, “this experience has really helped teachers
As Charter Schools
Unionize, Many Debate Effect, NYT, 27.7.2009,
Meet the New Elite, Not Like the Old
July 26, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON — They are the children of 1969 — the year that
America’s most prestigious universities began aggressively recruiting blacks and
Latinos to their nearly all-white campuses.
No longer would Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia be the domain of the
privileged. Instead, in response to the national soul-searching prompted by the
civil rights movement, America’s premier colleges would try to become more
representative of the population as a whole.
Forty years later, America is being led, to a striking extent, by a new elite, a
cohort of the best and the brightest whose advancement was formed, at least in
part, by affirmative action policies. From Barack and Michelle Obama (Columbia,
Princeton, Harvard) to Eric Holder (Columbia) to Sonia Sotomayor (Princeton,
Yale) to Valerie Jarrett (Michigan, Stanford), the country is now seeing, in
full flower, the fruition of this wooing of minorities to institutions that for
much of the nation’s history have groomed America’s leaders.
And yet the consequences of that change remain unresolved, as became clear on
Friday, when Mr. Obama grappled a second time with the arrest of the Harvard
Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his own home.
The incident, the president said, offered the potential to soothe longstanding
distrust between minorities and police officers. But it also laid bare another
reality, that the children of 1969, even those who now occupy niches at the top
of society, regard their status as complicated, ambiguous and vulnerable.
“Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully
contributing to constructive — as opposed to negative — understandings about the
issue, is part of my portfolio,” Mr. Obama said.
It was a reminder that Mr. Obama, in addition to being the most powerful
American, is also the fulfillment of the ideals embraced by Ivy League minority
recruiters in 1969. Mr. Gates entered Yale that year, as one of 96 black
freshmen. Today that number seems small. But there had been only six black
students just three years before.
Mr. Gates belonged to the first affirmative action wave at top universities — a
wave that continued into the 1970s and the 1980s. I was one of its
beneficiaries. A black 17-year-old from Monrovia, Liberia, I was one of some 200
black freshmen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1983.
My first roommate was a white student from Seagrove, N.C., whose SAT scores and
grade-point average were higher than mine. Privately, I consoled myself that I
had qualifications that she didn’t: I could name the capital of every country in
Africa; countries she had never heard of. I knew where the Zambezi River emptied
into the Indian Ocean. None of that had been on the SAT.
But every now and then I feared I was faking it, that my white classmates had
something I didn’t. There were things they seemed to know instinctively, that I
had to look up. I remember getting laughed at during a game of Pictionary when I
couldn’t come up with the word for a giant bird landing on a lawn with a baby in
My feelings of inadequacy were not unusual, said David L. Evans, the
Saturn/Apollo electrical engineer hired by Harvard in 1969 to help lead its
affirmative action program. When Mr. Evans visited public high schools in
Arkansas in search of promising black students, he was met with skepticism.
“Even people who didn’t have any mean-spiritedness would say to the students,
‘You going to be up there with the Kennedys?’ ” he recalled. “ ‘How do you think
you can make it there?’ ”
There was anxiety, too, among the originators of race-based affirmative action
programs. “The idealistic version of why these universities embraced racial
affirmative action is that they said, ‘Hey, we’re in the business of training
elites, it would be better for America if there were a diverse elite,’ ” said
Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and
author of “The Big Test,” a history of the SAT and the rise of America’s
meritocracy. To its architects, the minority recruitment was the next phase for
universities that for years had paved the way for whites, particularly the
offspring of upper-class alumni, Mr. Lemann said.
“The cynical version of why they did this is they said, ‘We can’t control this
country, it’s becoming too diverse, we need to socialize the brighter minorities
and make them more like us.’ ”
In many ways, being molded into people “more like us” gave the children of 1969
an advantage denied most of their white counterparts. They learned to navigate
within a second world. They also absorbed some of its ideas and values. And they
paved the way for the next generation.
“We had to go through this phase of larger integration for Barack Obama to be
possible,” Mr. Gates said in an interview a few days after his arrest. “It would
have been impossible for Barack Obama to go from a historic black school to
become president, at this time. The whole point is that a broad swath of America
had to be able to identify with him.”
It also enabled Mr. Obama to run “the most race-blind campaign” of any black
presidential candidate, said Gwen Ifill, the PBS news reporter whose book “The
Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” examines the rise of
African-Americans in politics.
Perhaps. But the children of 1969 dwell in a complex world. They retain an
ethnic identity that includes its own complement of cultural, historical and
psychological issues and considerations. This emerged at Judge Sotomayor’s
confirmation hearings. And it emerged again last week, when Mr. Obama joked in
the White House East Room that if he ran afoul of the police, “I’d get shot.” In
saying this, he seemed to draw on the fears of black men across the United
States, including those within the new power elite.
What Mr. Obama seemed to be demonstrating was what Mr. Lemann of Columbia calls
a “double consciousness” that allows the children of 1969 to flow more easily
between the world which their skin color bequeathed them and the world which
their college degree opened up for them.
It’s the same double consciousness I acquired at U.N.C., though I didn’t think
about it that way as a student. Sure, my white friends were learning a little
more about black (and African) culture from me. But I was absorbing much more
from them, since they surrounded me in such great number. At the time it seemed
I had the advantage; I would leave college having gotten much more from my
interactions with my white friends than they could possibly have gotten from me.
And the principal thing I learned was how to make them feel at ease around me.
Except, of course, on those occasions when one can’t. Life outside the
university doesn’t duplicate the conditions of university life.
“I can’t wear my Harvard gown everywhere I go,” Professor Gates said. “We — all
of us in the crossover generation — have multiple identities, and being black
trumps all of those other identities.”
On Friday Mr. Obama said he hoped Mr. Gates’s incident might become a “teachable
moment.” It is a daunting task for the children of 1969: finding out whether the
double consciousness they honed in the Ivy League can actually get this country
to listen — and react — to race in a different way.
Helene Cooper, a White House correspondent for The Times, is
the author of “The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood.”
Meet the New Elite,
Not Like the Old, NYT, 26.7.2009,
Aiming for College, Seeking an Edge
July 22, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Before College,
Costly Advice Just on Getting In” (front page, July 19):
Reading this article made me extremely angry. I cannot believe that people have
no shame in charging so much for college counseling. It’s too bad that we live
in a society whose culture dictates such crazed behavior to get kids into
The only necessary ingredients to get into a good school are passion, dedication
and good old hard work. There is nothing magical about these counselors other
than the spell they cast on bank accounts.
Students should find something, or several things, that they love and care about
and work hard to become the best they can be. Kids have gotten into top colleges
writing about buying milk, Barbies and, for me, my perseverance with piano.
Study hard, maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay positive. That’s it.
S. Susan Zhu
Paris, July 19, 2009
The writer is a student at Harvard.
To the Editor:
Your article highlights unscrupulous practices of college counselors, an issue
worthy of attention. But it overlooks many of the benefits a college counselor
I grew up in Greenwich, Conn., attended public school and worked with a college
counselor from eighth grade on. She helped me select schools that fit my
interests, personality and academic goals. She set deadlines and helped me
understand the process.
More than that, she encouraged me to take the risk and apply to Yale while my
public school guidance counselor advised against it. Had it not been for her
encouragement I would have missed out on an amazing experience.
Parents should know that college counselors are not miracle workers, but they
can provide valuable insight into matching a child and a college, along with
easing a stressful and complicated process.
Riverside, Conn., July 19, 2009
The writer is a 2009 graduate of Yale.
To the Editor:
As president of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, I hope
readers will recognize that all consultants shouldn’t be lumped together. Our
members must pass a rigorous application procedure and annually sign an
agreement to abide by our Principles of Good Practice.
We, too, regret that there are consultants who do not abide by our association’s
standards. We encourage our members to charge reasonable fees; more than 90
percent of our members do some sort of pro bono work and/or work on a sliding
Our members are professional consultants who demonstrate competence and are
screened carefully. When students and families seek outside help, it is
important that they work with an expert who is competent, ethical and well
trained, and who charges reasonable fees.
Los Angeles, July 20, 2009
To the Editor:
Your article demonstrates what is wrong with the college admissions process. If
admissions officers would stop trying to play God and simply put all applicants
who meet scholastic standards into a lottery, they would end up with just as
good a class as by current methods — and they would save students and colleges
much grief and money.
Bristol, R.I., July 20, 2009
To the Editor:
As a high school guidance counselor and the parent of a high school senior, I
spend a lot of time contemplating and dealing with the college application
process. And while a private college counselor may be a nice addition to one’s
admissions arsenal, most students need not venture any further than their
school’s guidance office for help with this process.
The major criteria used in college admissions are academic rigor;
extracurricular activities and leadership roles; SAT and ACT scores; teacher and
counselor recommendations; and the application essay. The average high school
guidance counselor is qualified to advise students on all of the above.
As with other aspects of education and life in general, some students will have
access to more services than others. Ultimately, however, each student will be
judged on how well he or she meets the admissions criteria of each college. And
this is controlled by the student, not by the counselor.
Short Hills, N.J., July 20, 2009
To the Editor:
Your article is right to point out the inconsistent background claims of some
independent admissions advisers, but college-bound students and their families
should focus more on the lack of training for school-based counselors.
Fewer than 50 of the hundreds of graduate programs offer a course designed to
teach school counselors how to assist students with choosing, applying to and
paying for college.
Since the vast majority of college advising occurs in schools, the first step in
improving its quality is to mandate training in college advising for
school-based counselors in all graduate programs.
Patrick J. O’Connor
Birmingham, Mich., July 19, 2009
The writer is director of college counseling at the Roeper School and past
president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
To the Editor:
By focusing on the few boutique college counselors who charge exorbitant fees
and feed off the fears of status-seeking, upper-crust clients, your article
missed the opportunity to highlight the good that the majority of educational
The average payment to an educational consultant is around $3,000, not $40,000.
We work with clients who want the best fit possible between student and college
and are willing to pay for help.
Some have special needs or learning disabilities. I helped a student with
Asperger’s find a school where she will not be overwhelmed, and also helped a
depressed student transfer from a large, impersonal university to a small
liberal arts college.
These young people are not interested in learning how to overdress for an
interview. They are seeking assistance in finding colleges where they will
North Bethesda, Md., July 19, 2009
The writer is president of Best Four Years, a college counseling service.
Aiming for College,
Seeking an Edge, NYT, 22.7.2009,
Costly Advice Just on Getting In
July 19, 2009
The New York Times
By JACQUES STEINBERG
The free fashion show at a Greenwich, Conn., boutique in June
was billed as a crash course in dressing for a college admissions interview.
Yet the proposed “looks” — a young man in seersucker shorts, a young woman in a
blue blazer over a low-cut blouse and short madras skirt — appeared better
suited for a nearby yacht club. After Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions at
Kenyon College, was shown photos of those outfits, she rendered her review.
“I burst out laughing,” she said.
Shannon Duff, the independent college counselor who organized the event, says
she ordinarily charges families “in the range of” $15,000 for guidance about the
application process, including matters far more weighty than just what to wear.
Ms. Duff is a practitioner in a rapidly growing, largely unregulated field
seeking to serve families bewildered by the admissions gantlet at selective
No test or licensing is required to offer such services, and there is no way to
evaluate the counselors’ often extravagant claims of success or experience. And
Ms. Duff’s asking price, though higher than many, is eclipsed by those of
competitors who may charge upwards of $40,000 — more than a year’s tuition at
In the last three years, the number of independent admissions advisers (as
opposed to school-based counselors) is estimated to have grown to nearly 5,000,
from about 2,000, according to the Independent Educational Consultants
Association, a membership group trying to promote basic standards of competency
and ethics. While initially clustered on the East and West Coasts, counselors
are making inroads across the country.
The consultants association has made a particular target of counselors who boast
of helping nearly all their clients gain admission to their top-choice colleges.
“When you say things like, ‘We know the secrets of getting in,’ it kind of
implies that it’s not the student’s ability,” said Mark H. Sklarow, executive
director of the association, in Fairfax, Va. “It suggests that there’s some kind
of underground code.”
A reputable, experienced counselor might, for a few hundred dollars, help a
student compile a list of prospective colleges, or brainstorm topics for an
essay. But others demand tens of thousands of dollars to oversee the entire
application process — tutoring jittery applicants on what classes to take in
high school or musical instruments to play, the better, their families are told,
to impress the admissions dean.
Never mind that admissions officers say that no outsider can truly predict how a
particular applicant might fare. “I guess there are snake oil salesman in every
field,” said Amy Gutmann, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, “and
they are preying on vulnerable and anxious people.”
While the going national rate for such work is about $185 an hour, a counselor
in Vermont and another in New York City are among those who charge some families
more than $40,000. Their packages might begin when a child is in eighth grade.
“It’s annoying when people complain about the money,” the Vermont-based
counselor, Michele Hernandez, said. “I’m at the top of my field. Do people
economize when they have a brain tumor and are looking for a neurosurgeon? If
you want to go with someone cheaper, or chance it, don’t hire me.”
Dr. Hernandez, a former Dartmouth admissions officer, says she counsels as many
as 25 students in each high school grade each year. She also offers four-day
“boot camps” every August in a Boston hotel, charging 40 incoming high school
seniors as much as $14,000 each.
Lee Stetson, who retired in 2007 after three decades as dean of admissions at
the University of Pennsylvania, now has a counseling practice near Philadelphia,
where he charges as much as $15,000 for his junior-senior package. Unlike many
competitors, Mr. Stetson says he cautions his small group of clients, maybe
seven students a year, that he will not handicap their chances of admission to a
particular college, nor button-hole former colleagues on their behalf. “I’m
hoping they see me more as someone who understands the process,” he said, “than
someone who can influence the chances of acceptance.”
While Mr. Stetson was one of the most influential admissions officers in the
country, the extent of other counselors’ experience may be more difficult for
parents to divine.
On her business Web site, Collegiate Compass, Ms. Duff says she brings
“firsthand perspective to today’s admissions landscape,” borne of her earlier
work “as a reader” in the Yale undergraduate admissions office. While outside
readers help evaluate some candidates’ files, they typically have no
It is not uncommon for other counselors to exaggerate their backgrounds. Ivy
Success, in Garden City, N.Y., which charges some clients nearly $30,000, says
on its Web site that its counselors have “years of experience as admissions
officers to help you gain an edge in this competitive and uncertain process.”
Victoria Hsiao, a partner in Ivy Success, said in an interview that she had
worked as an admissions officer at Cornell for several years in “the late
1990s.” But Jason Locke, the director of undergraduate admissions at the
university, said there was no record, or memory, of Ms. Hsiao doing such work.
(Mr. Locke did confirm that she graduated from Cornell in 1996.)
Asked about the discrepancy, Ms. Hsiao said she had mainly assisted the
admissions office as an alumna who conducted interviews. She also said a
partner, Robert Shaw, had been an admissions officer at the University of
Pennsylvania. Asked about this in an e-mail message, Mr. Shaw said he had been
only “an assistant,” from 1987 to 1988.
“Don’t remember all the details,” he said, adding, “We really don’t want to be a
part of your article as we’re not a service for the masses.”
Admissions officers say that for many students, the advice of their high school
counselors should suffice. Those applicants who might benefit from supplemental
counseling — like those at urban high schools with overworked counselors — are
often among the least able to afford such services.
Regardless, colleges say parents should be wary of any counselor’s claim of
being able to lobby for a candidate’s admission. While noting that there are
“genuinely rational and knowledgeable folks out there doing this work,” Bruce
Poch, the dean of admissions at Pomona College, adds, “Some of the independents
leave me looking for the nearest emergency shower.”
Though none of the counselors said business was off in the struggling economy,
some are making adjustments. Having initially presented the fashion show outfits
as serious, Ms. Duff later said she had intended to “create a lighthearted
environment,” the better to promote two new advisory DVDs she is offering, “at a
price that is accessible.” (One for $45; two for $80.)
Katherine Cohen, the founder of IvyWise in New York City, has a team that
charges from a few hundred dollars to more than $40,000. But she also has been
emphasizing a spinoff called ApplyWise that for $299 helps students assemble
their application in ways reminiscent of Turbo Tax.
Dr. Cohen, a former reader at Yale, is a member of the independent consultants
association — despite a claim on the IvyWise Web site that runs afoul of an
association admonition. “Congratulations,” it blares, “100 percent of IvyWise
students were admitted to one of their top three choices in 2009!”
Fewer than one of every five admissions consultants can claim to be an
association member. Bill Dingledine, a longtime educational consultant in
Greenville, S.C., is among those advocating even more stringent certification
offered by the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners. It requires
counselors to pass a three-hour written examination.
The concept has yet to catch on, at least in part because many counselors’
practices are already booming. Asked how many counselors had sought, and won,
that certification last year, Mr. Dingledine had a ready answer: about 20.
Costly Advice Just on Getting In, NYT, 19.7.2009,
Parent-Paid Aides Ordered Out of City Schools
July 20, 2009
The New York Times
By WINNIE HU
For years, top Manhattan public schools have raised hundreds
of thousands of dollars from parents to independently hire assistants to help
teachers with reading, writing, tying shoelaces or supervising recess. But after
a complaint by the city’s powerful teachers union, the Bloomberg administration
has ordered an end to the makeshift practice.
Principals have been told that any such aides hired for the coming school year
must be employees of the Department of Education, their positions included in
official school budgets.
But such employees can command nearly double the pay of the independently hired
assistants, and several schools on the Upper East Side either have told current
employees they will probably not have jobs in the fall or have put off hiring
new employees. That has incensed many parents, who see the aides less as a perk
than as a necessity to cope with growing class sizes in well-regarded schools
like the Lower Lab School for gifted children, where the average class size is
now 28, and Public School 290, where broom closets are used as offices and the
cafeteria doubles as a gym.
“The reason the teaching assistants are here is because they’ve been stuffing so
many kids in these classes,” said Patrick J. Sullivan, co-president of the
Parent-Teacher Association at the Lower Lab School (P.S. 77), where parents
spend $250,000 a year on the teaching assistants. “Nobody wants to break any
rules, but 28 is just too many kids for one teacher.”
Rebecca Daniels, a mother of two and past president of the Community Education
Council for District 2, which stretches from the Upper East Side to TriBeCa,
said the move exemplified how city education officials could be oblivious to
classroom needs. “I mean,” she said, “how much do parents have to put up with?”
Supplemental fund-raising from parent groups has long raised questions of
fairness. While the ability to provide extras — teaching assistants, books,
computers and art supplies, enrichment programs — has helped keep middle-class
families in urban public schools, it also can make it more difficult for schools
in poor neighborhoods to compete.
And education officials and union leaders say that the informal system of hiring
teaching assistants that has sprouted up over the past decade raised security
concerns because it was not necessarily subject to the city’s screening process.
“It’s hurting our union members, and to some extent it could be hurting kids
because we don’t know how qualified they are,” said Ron Davis, a spokesman for
the United Federation of Teachers, which filed a grievance in October about the
Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the city had
prohibited parents from directly paying the salaries of school staff members
since the 1990s. She added that parent groups could still raise money to add to
the staff, as long as they give the funds to their schools, and the assistants
hired are employed by the Department of Education.
In a March memorandum, Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, instructed
principals to immediately report P.T.A.-paid employees to the Department of
Education for background checks and fingerprinting.
In response, 18 schools reported a total of 195 employees, including classroom
aides, art instructors, lunch monitors and people who help with after-school
programs, according to the Education Department. Of those employees, at least 49
had not previously been fingerprinted (some school administrators conducted the
checks on their own).
Some of these schools are among the most sought-after in the city, admitting
students through a competitive selection process, or serving neighborhoods where
families choose to live so their children can attend the local schools.
P.S. 77 reported the largest number of hires, 43; P.S. 290 on the Upper East
Side had 28; and a citywide gifted program known as the Anderson School, on the
Upper West Side, had 21. Other schools included P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side,
P.S. 166 and P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side, and P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights.
The current teaching assistants generally earn $12 to $15 an hour, compared with
as much as $23 an hour, plus benefits, for the unionized paraprofessionals. Even
if schools were willing to pay the higher salaries, they could not keep their
assistants because of a citywide hiring freeze.
Average class sizes in the early grades across the city have stayed fairly
stable around 21 since 2003, but some Manhattan schools have seen theirs swell.
Most of the nearly $150 million in state aid used to reduce class sizes last
year went to schools serving low-income students.
Parents at P.S. 290 say they began paying for teaching assistants more than five
years ago to provide an extra layer of supervision as enrollment skyrocketed.
The assistants there do not help with instruction, but instead hand out papers,
take children to the nurse and help supervise recess, where students often have
to play on the street. The suggested donation to a teaching assistant fund is
$700 a year per child, and half of the school’s families contribute something,
for a total of about $200,000 a year.
“This is not like the movers and shakers of Wall Street; this is a middle-class
school,” said Emily Heckman, whose 7-year-old son will be entering second grade.
“We’re doing this because we’re stuck — we have kids coming out of the windows.”
Parents at several schools said they did not know whether there would be any
teaching assistants this fall, citing the additional cost as well as confusion
over how to proceed without violating the city’s regulations. “We’re living in
this land of limbo trying to find out what happens next,” said Sandi Atkinson,
co-president of the P.T.A. at P.S. 116 in Murray Hill, which spends about
$100,000 annually for up to nine teaching assistants shared by the kindergarten
and first-grade classes.
At P.S. 6, each kindergarten and first-grade class was assigned a full-time
assistant, who earned $12 an hour; second- and third-grade classes shared them.
The 17 assistants cost nearly $300,000 a year.
The system was so successful, according to parents, that it evolved into a
training ground for future teachers: At least half of last year’s assistants had
graduate degrees in education and New York State teaching licenses. In recent
years, 10 former assistants have been hired as teachers at P.S. 6.
School administrators said that hiring union members not only would cost more,
but would also probably bring in people with less experience; the typical
paraprofessional does not have a four-year college degree. The school is
considering using some of the money raised for teaching assistants to hire a
part-time teacher to run enrichment and academic intervention programs.
Sally Holt, whose son, Lucas, 4, is starting at P.S. 6 in the fall, said the
caliber of the teaching assistants was one reason she moved from the Upper West
Side in 2005.
“I’m afraid of him being lost with a crowd of kids,” she said. “The more adults
in the room, the better the chances that his strengths will be recognized and
nurtured, and his weaknesses will be addressed.”
Ordered Out of City Schools, NYT, 20.7.2009,
No Size Fits All
July 17, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID BROOKS
If you visit a four-year college, you can predict what sort of
student you are going to bump into. If you visit a community college, you have
no idea. You might see an immigrant kid hoping eventually to get a Ph.D., or
another kid who messed up in high school and is looking for a second chance. You
might meet a 35-year-old former meth addict trying to get some job training or a
50-year-old taking classes for fun.
These students may not realize it, but they’re tackling some of the country’s
biggest problems. Over the past 35 years, college completion rates have been
flat. Income growth has stagnated. America has squandered its human capital
advantage. Students at these places are on self-directed missions to reverse
that, one person at a time.
Community college enrollment has been increasing at more than three times the
rate of four-year colleges. This year, in the middle of the recession, many
schools are seeing enrollment surges of 10 percent to 15 percent. And the
investment seems to pay off. According to one study, students who earn a
certificate experience a 15 percent increase in earnings. Students earning an
associate degree registered an 11 percent gain.
And yet funding lags. Most people in government, think tanks and the news media
didn’t go to community college, and they don’t send their children to them. It’s
a blind spot in their consciousness. As a result, four-year colleges receive
three times as much federal money per student as community colleges. According
to a Brookings Institution report, federal spending for community colleges fell
six percent between 2002 and 2005, while spending on four-year colleges
Which is why what President Obama announced this week is so important. He
announced a $12 billion plan to produce 5 million more community college grads
If the plan were just $12 billion for buildings and student aid, it wouldn’t be
worth getting excited about. The money devoted to new construction amounts to
about $2 million per campus. With new facilities costing in the tens of
millions, that’s not a big deal.
Nor is increased student aid fundamentally important. I’ve had this discussion
with my liberal friends a thousand times, and I have come to accept that they
will never wrap their minds around the truth: lack of student aid is not the
major reason students drop out of college. They drop out because they are
academically unprepared or emotionally disengaged or because they lack
self-discipline or because bad things are happening at home.
Affordability is way down the list. You can increase student aid a ton and you
still won’t have a huge effect on college completion.
What’s important about the Obama initiative is that it doesn’t throw money at
the problem. It ties money to reform and has the potential — the potential — to
spur a wave of innovation.
People who work at community colleges deserve all the love we can give them,
since they get so little prestige day to day. But the fact is many community
colleges do a poor job of getting students through. About half drop out before
getting a degree.
Most schools have poor accountability systems and inadequately track student
outcomes. They have little information about what works. They have trouble
engaging students on campus. Many remedial classes (60 percent of students need
them) are a joke, often because expectations are too low.
The Obama initiative is designed to go right at these deeper problems. It sets
up a significant innovation fund, which, if administered properly, could set in
motion a spiral of change. It has specific provisions for remedial education,
outcome tracking and online education. It links public sector training with
specific private sector employers.
Real reform takes advantage of community colleges’ most elemental feature. These
colleges educate students with wildly divergent interests, goals and abilities.
They host students with radically different learning styles, many of whom have
floundered in traditional classrooms.
Therefore, successful reform has to blow up the standard model. You can’t
measure progress by how many hours a student spends with her butt in a classroom
chair. You have to incorporate online tutoring, as the military does. You have
to experiment with programs like Digital Bridge Academy that are tailored to
individual learning styles. You have to track student outcomes, as the Lumina
Foundation is doing. You have to build in accountability measures for teachers
Maybe this proposal, too, will be captured by the interest groups. But its key
architects, Rahm Emanuel in the White House and Representative George Miller,
have created a program that is intelligently designed and boldly presented.
It’s a reminder that the Obama administration can produce hope and change — when
the White House is the engine of policy creation and not the caboose.
No Size Fits All,
Facing Deficits, Some States Cut Summer School
July 2, 2009
The New York Times
By SAM DILLON
COCOA, Fla. — A year ago, the Brevard County Schools ran a robust summer
program here, with dozens of schools bustling with teachers and some 14,000
children practicing multiplication, reading Harry Potter and studying Spanish
verbs, all at no cost to parents.
But this year Florida’s budget crisis has gutted summer school. Brevard
classrooms are shuttered, and students like 11-year-old Uvenka Jean-Baptiste,
whose mother works in a nursing home, are spending their summer days at home,
surfing television channels or loitering at a mall.
Nearly every school system in Florida has eviscerated or eliminated summer
school this year, and officials are reporting sweeping cuts in states from North
Carolina and Delaware to California and Washington. The cuts have come as states
across the country are struggling to approve budgets, and California’s governor,
Arnold Schwarzenegger, declared a fiscal state of emergency on Wednesday.
“We’re seeing a disturbing trend of districts making huge cuts to summer school;
they’re just devastating these programs,” said Ron Fairchild, executive director
of the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s
having a disproportionate impact on low-income families.”
The federal stimulus law is channeling $100 billion to public education, and
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has repeatedly urged states and districts to
spend part of the money to keep schools open this summer.
But thousands of districts have ignored Mr. Duncan’s urgings. In Florida and
California, for example, government revenues have fallen so precipitously that,
even after receiving federal stimulus dollars, local officials have been forced
to make deep cuts to school budgets. Officials in many other states, considering
summer school a frill, despite research showing it can narrow the achievement
gap between poor and affluent children, have spent their stimulus money
An Education Department spokeswoman, Sandra Abrevaya, said the agency did not
yet know how many of the nation’s 15,000 school districts had cut summer school
Large districts still offering robust summer programs include Boston, Buffalo,
Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Seattle, according to the Council of the Great
City Schools, which represents large districts.
New York City has made some cuts to its summer program, which last year served
120,000 children, said William Havemann, a spokesman for the city’s Department
of Education. This year, classes will be offered in 369 schools, down from 562
in 2008, Mr. Havemann said, and the city expects fewer children to enroll, too,
although all children who need extra work for promotion to their next grade are
Some systems have spent federal stimulus money to invigorate summer school.
These include Montgomery County, Md., and Cincinnati, where officials have used
$1.5 million of the city’s stimulus dollars to offer full-day summer school at
its 13 lowest-performing elementary schools, nearly doubling enrollment to 1,700
Mornings are devoted to math and reading, and afternoons to camp-like activities
including environmental science and gardening, ballroom dancing and yoga, said
Janet Walsh, a Cincinnati schools spokeswoman. Twelve other Cincinnati schools
are offering half-day summer programs, Ms. Walsh said.
But thousands of districts have made cuts. In Los Angeles, where school
officials are still working to remove hundreds of millions of dollars from a
$5.5 billion annual budget, they cut $34 million last month by canceling summer
school for all elementary and middle school children except the disabled. That
left 150,000 students without summer classes, and parents scrambling for child
Hundreds of other California districts, including San Diego, Long Beach and
Sacramento, have also trimmed or eliminated summer school. An online survey in
late April by the California State PTA found that about 40 percent of responding
school districts had reduced summer programs and about 20 percent had eliminated
The North Carolina School Boards Association did a similar survey of the state’s
115 districts. Three-quarters of those that responded said they would eliminate
summer school or reduce its scope, said Leanne Winner, a director at the
association. “Things have gotten worse since we did the survey,” Ms. Winner
Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association,
said, “Nearly all districts in Florida have cut summer school down, and about
half have eliminated it altogether.”
In Rutherford County, Tenn., school authorities cited not only money troubles
but also swine flu in explaining why they cut elementary summer school after the
district lost some state financing.
All the cuts nationwide have put into jeopardy an institution that has turned
summertimes past into nostalgic memories for millions of Americans.
“I remember as a child growing up, summer school was enriching and fun,” said
Tamara Sortman of Sacramento, where cuts have left her three children with no
summer school option. “I took guitar one summer, creative writing another. I
remember an arts class where we did tie-dying. I had a single working mom, and
summer school kept me out of trouble.”
Kenneth Gold, an education professor at the College of Staten Island who wrote a
history of summer learning, said that in the 19th century, many American schools
offered their regular classes in summer and winter, with recesses scheduled for
spring and fall to allow planting and harvesting. By 1910, however, that cycle
had been largely displaced by the September-to-June, 180-day calendar common
today, in which summer school is an optional addendum.
Since the 1970s, however, the value of rigorous summer school has gained
increasing recognition because of research by a Johns Hopkins professor, Karl
Alexander, and other sociologists showing that the academic achievement gap
widens during summer vacations.
Low-income students who hold summer jobs or are idle, the research has
demonstrated, forget more math and reading skills over the summer than their
affluent classmates, who often receive intellectual stimulation in the summer
from canoe trips, language camps or ballet lessons.
Richard DiPatri, schools superintendent here in Brevard County, leaned on those
findings in recent years as he made free summer school classes available to all
students, both for remedial work and for languages and other electives.
“We built it up, but last year here in Florida, our funding just went over the
cliff,” Mr. DiPatri said.
Adrimel Marlasca, 12, who just finished sixth grade, said that in previous
years, she had enjoyed summer classes at Discovery Elementary in Palm Bay, Fla..
But this summer, she is marooned at home.
The other day, Adrimel was up at midmorning, ate some cereal, then watched a
show on the Disney channel. She played with her pet cockatiel and her dog,
Princess, ate lunch and watched some more television. Later, she went shopping
with her mother, picked up her room and read a mystery book for 45 minutes.
After dinner, her mother used flashcards to drill her in multiplication for a
“I like the math because it’s challenging, but sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh,
I can’t answer this,’ and you get nerve-racked,” Adrimel said.
“We’re working with her at home, but its not the same,” said her father, Jose
Marlasca. “She ends up watching TV. The best scenario would be to have her at
Facing Deficits, Some
States Cut Summer School, NYT, 2.7.2009,