Stop watching feel-good teacher movies

Stop Watching Feel-Good Teacher Movies, writes  Joshua John Mackin in The Atlantic. Movies such as Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers and Lean on Me have distorted American’s ideas about teaching in struggling schools, he writes.

Idealistic young teacher enters classroom that is out of control. Young teacher tries his or her best to assert authority. Minority Student A responds with inner-city wisecrack and entire class laughs.  Minority Student B makes aggressive comments about Minority Student A and fistfight ensues.  Teacher goes home in tears.  Yet through indefatigable large-heartedness and real talk with students, young teacher eventually makes astonishing progress with these overlooked kids in the face of an unsupportive bureaucracy. 

There’s always a happy ending.

By focusing so narrowly on the inspirational teacher-overlooked student dynamic, the genre of movie teaching implicitly sends the message: All kids need is somebody to believe in them.  Think of Gabourey Sidibe’s character in Precious.  Or the “Dungeon Kids” in Take the Lead.  Almost every teacher movie follows the same dramatic arc: previously overlooked children have their potential unleashed only through the benevolent intervention of a charismatic adult.

Children who grow up with “poverty, crime, the collapse of family life, moral norms” need a lot more than one really good teacher, “even one really good Harvard-educated teacher,” Mackin writes.

The only Hollywood movies without hero teachers feature horrible teachers, he adds. Bad Teacher is not realistic either. (It’s not meant to be.)

Are there good feel-good teacher movies?


Signe Wilkinson

– Signe Wilkinson

Does Houston deserve the Broad Prize?

The Houston Independent School District has won the 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education. Houston also won in 2002.

Achievement gains included a 12-point increase in graduation rates from 2006 to 2009, double the average increase at the 75 urban districts eligible for the prize, reports U.S. News. “The district also slashed the achievement gap between low-income and Hispanic students and their more affluent, white peers.” And more students — especially Hispanics — are taking AP exams.

End. The Broad Prize. Now., writes Andy Smarick. In Houston and San Diego, one of the finalists for the prize, “only 10 percent of African American eighth graders can read proficiently!”

One of the prize’s four goals explains is: “Restore the public’s confidence in our nation’s public schools by highlighting successful urban districts.”

By praising such low performance, the Broad Prize doesn’t do a favor for public education. Instead, it serves to obscure the truth—that the urban district has been an unmitigated failure for 50 years—and to perpetuate a myth—that if we are to care about public education, we must commit ourselves in perpetuity to the district structure.

The Broad Foundation has been trying to fix urban districts rather than looking for alternative ways to educate disadvantaged city kids, writes Smarick. “We must build The Urban School System of the Future, not double down on the failed urban district of the past.”

Stop rewarding districts for getting to average, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Chartering the future

“The traditional urban public school system is broken, and it cannot be fixed,” argues Andy Smarick on Education Gadfly. “It must be replaced by a network of charter schools.

Chartering’s systemic innovations have already shown that the district need not be the exclusive operator of all public schools. A wide array of organizations can deliver a public education. Chartering has also demonstrated that there can be variety and churn within public education: Diverse new schools can be continually created, failing schools can be closed, and great schools can be replicated and expanded.

 His new book, The Urban School System of the Future, argues that chartering “can form the core of a comprehensive and coherent new urban public education system.”

Study: Standards alone don’t lead to progress

“The greater rigor embedded in the new Common Core State Standards is likely to be squandered—with little effect on student achievement—if the standards themselves are not well-implemented, and if the content of the curriculum, instructional materials, classroom instruction, and professional development are not top-notch, integrated, and consistent with the standards,” write Michael Casserly in Pieces of the Puzzle. The study looks at at Charlotte-Mecklenberg, a consistently high-performing district, Atlanta and Boston, which have showed improvement in the last decade, and Cleveland, which hasn’t improved.

Good To Great to . . . not-so good

MATCH founder Michael Goldstein, now blogging on Starting an Ed School, looks at what happened over time to the companies praised in Jim Collins’ influential management book, Good to Great.  After analyzing 1,435 companies, Collins 11 that had gone from “good to great.”

Corporate transformations don’t rely on a “miracle moment,” Collins wrote.

Instead, a down-to-earth, pragmatic, committed-to-excellence process—a framework—kept each company, its leaders, and its people on track for the long haul. In each case, it was the triumph of the Flywheel Effect over the Doom Loop, the victory of steadfast discipline over the quick fix.

Doom Loopers “launch change programs with huge fanfare,” then change direction. “Disappointing results lead to reaction without understanding, which leads to a new direction—a new leader, a new program—which leads to no momentum, which leads to disappointing results. It’s a steady, downward spiral.”

Many people in the K-12 world use Collins’ “ideas for how a school might go from good to great,” writes Goldstein. “Or mediocre to good. Or crappy to mediocre.” Yet urban teachers know the Doom Loop all too well.

Doom Loop is why my teacher friends in some traditional large urban schools have indigestion when they hear about any sort of “reform.”

In their direct experience, all they’ve seen is Doom Loop. More precisely, Doom Loop masquerading with claims that this time it would be Flywheel. This time. Righto.

Only two of the 11 companies in Good to Great, published in 2001, are still Great when measured by stock prices, Nucor and Philip Morris, Goldstein discovered. Five have posted average performance. One, Gillette, was bought out. That leaves three that went from Great to Lousy:

Pitney Bowes is half its market cap of 2001.

Circuit City is defunct.

Fannie Mae (securities fraud, delisted by NYSE, contributed to gigantic financial meltdown)

So does that mean Collins was wrong — or that well-managed companies couldn’t keep it up over time?

Reformers fail the ‘Tiffany Test’

In stressing the achievement gap above all else, education reformers are failing the “Tiffany Test,” writes Robert Pondiscio on Core Knowledge Blog. As a fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx, he met Tiffany Lopez.

Walk into any classroom in any struggling urban school and you will spot someone like Tiffany almost immediately. Her eyes are always on the teacher, paying careful attention and following directions. She is bright and pleasant, happy to help and eager to please. Her desk is clean and well-organized; homework always complete. She grew up hearing every day how important education is. She believes it, and her behavior in class shows it. She does well in school. She gets praise and she gets good grades.

She also gets screwed.

Her teachers are told to focus on the low achievers. Tiffany isn’t a problem, so she gets ignored.

Rick Hess’s essay on “Achievement Gap Mania” is right on target, writes Pondiscio. Achievement gap mania is denying bright, hard-working students the help they need to reach their “full academic and life potential.”

When you have a Tiffany in your class in the age of gap-closing you understand that despite her good grades and rock steady performance on state tests, she is subsisting on starvation rations in history, geography, science, art and music. You understand that her finish line—read on grade level; graduate on time—is the starting line for more fortunate children. Tiffany and the numberless, faceless multitude of children like her, represents the low-hanging fruit the typical inner city school leaves drying on the vine.

Giving every child a mediocre, minimum-competency education is not the route to social justice, writes Pondiscio.

Thanks to her own grit, Tiffany has started her freshman year at a state university.



Study: Urban charters raise achievement

Urban charter schools significantly boost reading and math achievement for middle and high school students, concludes a Massachusetts study. But students showed no gains — and some lost ground — in suburban and rural charters.

The “no excuses” model used by most urban charters produced significant gains, concluded researchers for National Bureau of Economic Research led by Joshua Angrist, an MIT economics professor.

Researchers compared scores on the state exam for nearly 10,000 secondary school students who participated in lotteries at 24 charters from 2001-02 to 2009-10: All the non-charter students had applied to a charter school but lost the admissions lottery.

Urban charter schools enrolled low-income, low-scoring, minority students, while non-urban students were less likely to be poor or non-white and scored above average, reports Education Week.

Urban charters improved their students’ math and language arts scores from the bottom quarter of the class to the mean for all urban public school students. Black, poor, and very low-performing students showed the greatest improvement.

By contrast, while students attending nonurban charter schools started out with test scores slightly above the average of their peers attending regular public schools, their performance in high school was flat, and in middle school actually regressed to the average.

Urban charter students end up close to the average for suburban students, Agrist said.  “That achievement is remarkable.”

Charter schools in higher-performing suburban districts often focus on a theme, such as performing arts or language immersion, said Jed F. Lippard, president of the Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association.  Intensive academic preparation is not the goal.

No non-urban charter school called itself a “no excuses” school, while more than 70 percent of urban charter leaders identified with the model, which “focuses on intense math and reading instruction, extended learning time, discipline, and parent involvement.”

• On average, urban charter school years lasted five days longer and their school days were 42 minutes longer than those at nonurban charters, with 35 more minutes a day spent on math and 40 minutes more on reading.

• More than 80 percent of urban charters required parents to sign a contract pledging their involvement with the school, compared with 46 percent of nonurban charters.

• Sixty-five percent of urban charters used a formal discipline and reward system, compared with 18 percent of their nonurban peers.

In addition, urban charters were more likely to provide tutors and Saturday classes.

A turnover gap for minority teachers

Black and Latino teachers are leaving the profession “in droves,” says Betty Achinstein, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the co-author of Change(d) Agents: New Teachers of Color in Urban Schools.

“Teachers of color” make up only 17 percent of the teaching force, despite the rising percentage of minority students, reports Miller-McCune.  Schools are hiring more minority teachers, but also losing more, says Richard Ingersoll, a Penn professor of education.

According to the Penn study, more than half of all public school minority teachers are working in high-poverty, high-minority urban schools, compared to only one-fifth of white teachers, though white teachers still make up the majority of teachers in those schools.

The turnover rate for minority teachers was 24 percent higher than for whites in 2008-09, the Penn study found.  Difficult working conditions drive teachers out. “The reality is, the minority teachers are not more likely than white teachers to stay in those tough places,” Ingersoll said.