Schools pay to advertise

Tired of losing students to charter schools, private schools and suburban alternatives, urban districts are hiring marketing consultants and running ads, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Administrators say they are working hard to improve academics — but it can’t hurt to burnish their image as well. 

The are recording radio ads, filming TV infomercials and buying address lists for direct-mail campaigns. Other efforts, by both districts and individual schools, call for catering Mexican dinners for potential students, making sales pitches at churches and hiring branding experts to redesign logos.

“Schools are really getting that they can’t just expect students to show up any more,” said Lisa Relou, who directs marketing efforts for the Denver Public Schools. “They have to go out and recruit.”

Some charter schools also run ads to recruit students — including boasting of higher graduation rates than district-run schools. But KIPP decided that recruitment ads make a school sound “desperate.”
Advertising can backfire if the public decides a district is wasting money on image that could have been spent on substance.

Too many teachers?

Across the country, thousands of teachers are losing their jobs, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Teacher layoffs are inevitable, writes EIA.

The entire United States public school system enrolled only 60,966 more students in 2006-07, yet it hired 20,564 more teachers. Twenty-six states showed a decline in student enrollment, but only 14 had fewer teachers than the year before.

Class sizes have been falling — till this year — and more teachers have been hired for special education and support services.

Detroit schools near bankruptcy

Detroit’s public schools are on the verge of bankruptcy, reports the Wall Street Journal.  District schools, already educationally bankrupt, have lost half the city’s students to charter and suburban schools. Of those who start ninth grade, only a quarter claim a diploma four years later.

As with General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, bankruptcy may not be the worst thing for Detroit’s schools. A filing under Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code, which covers public entities like school districts and municipalities, would allow the district to put major creditors such as textbook publishers, private bus operators and DTE Energy, the local gas-and-electric utility, in line for payment. It also would give (emergency manager Robert) Bobb broad latitude to tear up union contracts without protracted negotiations.

But a filing also could hurt the district’s debt rating and ability to float bonds.

Detroit Public Schools have lost money to corruption and mismanagement.

Bobb,  brought in to handle finances, is trying to save the system. With Barbara Byrd-Bennett, his chief academic adviser, he’s fired principals and “hired private companies to take over 17 of the district’s 22 high schools.” But it’s probably too late.

Detroit would be the first major urban district to go bankrupt, but it probably won’t be the last.

Technology, politics and change

Cyberschools, online classes and virtual tutoring may force change in public education argue Terry Moe and John Chubb in Liberating Learning.  The book looks at how technology shifts political power, writes James K. Glassman in a Wall Street Journal review:

Teachers unions, of course, are appalled. They know that “the new computer-based approaches to learning simply require far fewer teachers per student — perhaps half as many, and possibly fewer than that,” Messrs. Moe and Chubb write. Online charter schools employ two or three teachers per 100 students; the average public school employs 6.8 per 100. Technology also disperses teachers geographically (making them elusive for union organizers); lets in private-sector players who aren’t members of the guild; and enables outsourcing to foreign countries. For unions, technology is poison.

Moe and Chubb believe parents will demand access to online education.  School districts, hit by rising labor costs, will “turn to technology as a way to get more for less.” Glassman fears politics will trump productivity as office-holders consider “the election-time productivity of unions that help politicians get into office and stay there.”

Frontline’s Digital Nation is hosting a discussion tomorrow on education in the digital age.

Thinking and learning

Dan Willingham’s new book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, gets a rave review in the Wall Street Journal.

A cognitive scientist, Willingham explains how teachers can use what we know about thinking to enhance learning.  For example: Is drilling worth it?

The answer is yes, because research shows that practice not only makes a skill perfect but also makes it permanent, automatic and transferable to new situations, enabling more complex work that relies on the basics. Another question: “What is the secret to getting students to think like real scientists, mathematicians, and historians?” According to Mr. Willingham, this goal is too ambitious: Students are ready to understand knowledge but not create it. For most, that is enough. Attempting a great leap forward is likely to fail.

. . . Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, is not in favor of merely making learning “fun” or “creative.” He advocates teaching old-fashioned content as the best path to improving a student’s reading comprehension and critical thinking.

Why Don’t Students Like School? is “one of the most important education books of our time,” writes Bill Evers on his Ed Policy blog.

See more here on what Willingham thinks teachers should know about cognitive science.

Killing a program that works

School Reform Means Doing What’s Best for Kids, writes Education Secretary Arne Duncan in the Wall Street Journal.

We need solid, unimpeachable information that identifies what’s working and what’s not working in our schools.

The Obama administration will fund “what works,” he writes.  They’ll follow the data where ever it leads.

Unless vouchers, bane of the teachers’ unions, are involved. writes George Will.   After Democrats voted to effectively defund Washington, D.C.’s voucher program, Duncan’s Education Department tried to bury the release of a “congressionally mandated study showing that, measured by student improvement and parental satisfaction, the District’s program works,” Will charges.

The department could not suppress the Heritage Foundation’s report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools.

The Senate voted 58 to 39 to kill the program. Heritage reports that if the senators who have exercised their ability to choose private schools had voted to continue the program that allows less-privileged parents to make that choice for their children, the program would have been preserved.

The Washington Post editorially piles on Duncan, who admits he moved to Arlington, Virginia because he didn’t want to “jeopardize my own children’s education.”

Jay P. Greene wraps up the criticism of Duncan and the Dems.

Unions kill vouchers, go after charters

Teachers’ unions have declared war on charter schools, writes Jay P. Greene in the Wall Street Journal. The unions are fighting on two fronts:  While seeking to deny charter funding, they’re also trying to unionize charter teachers.

Studies have shown students who win charter school lotteries do better than those who seek a charter education, lose the lottery to get in and have to attend district-run schools, Greene writes.  A study by Harvard economist Tom Kane also looked at Boston’s district-run, unionized charters, known as “pilot schools.”

. . . students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.

When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.

“Vouchers made the world safe for charters by drawing union fire,” Greene writes. Now that the unions have beaten back vouchers — pressuring congressional Democrats to defund the successful and popular voucher program in Washington, D.C. –  they can unionize, regulate and starve the charter schools.

The American Federation of Teachers is working hard to unionize three Chicago charter schools run by a non-profit, notes This Week in Education.

Marcus Winters writes on KIPP vs. the Teachers’ Unions on City Journal.

Bad parents tell all

Self-proclaimed bad parents are sharing their worst moments — and cashing in, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Now some parents, hoping to quiet the chorus of opinions, judgments and criticism, are defiantly confessing to their own “bad parenting” moments. They say that sharing their foibles helps relieve the pressure to be a perfect parent — and pokes fun at a culture where arguments over sleep-training methods and organic baby foods rage on. Critics say it’s the latest form of oversharing online — the equivalent of posting your every move on Twitter or Facebook — and only reinforces parents’ worst habits.

One mother on Babble.com admits to allowing her toddler to watch as much as six hours of TV a day. Another worries she’s raising a bigoted baby. A third admits to hating her daughter’s friend, who is 3 years old.

It’s a short step from tweeting about screaming at your toddler to writing a book about it. There are several bad parent confessionals heading for the book stores.

Via Instapundit, here’s the perfect gift for bad parents to buy their toddlers: The Playmobil wine bar.  Really.

Update: Not really. The Playmobil wine bar was an April Fool’s Day spoof.

More ‘gappers’ postpone college

Postponing college for a “gap year” of service and travel is a growing trend, reports the Wall Street Journal. The story profiles Lillian Kivel, who deferred Harvard to intern at a global health nonprofit and serve as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts Statehouse.

To fill her spring months, Ms. Kivel turned to gap-year consultant Holly Bull, president of Interim Programs, to help her sift through more than 100 different programs in China. Ms. Kivel will live with a host family in Shanghai, study Chinese language, history and culture in a classroom setting, and teach English to children. “I have gained so much by … becoming more responsible and independent [and] exploring my interests,” Ms. Kivel says.

Princeton plans to offer a gap year option to admitted students, who will be placed in an overseas service job.  Students will be eligible for financial aid to cover their costs.

Motivated students probably benefit from a year to work and explore; average students, who aren’t likely to be studying in Shanghai, may get off the academic track and never get back on.

Americorps offers a chance to work at low wages and earn college aid. However, as Donald Douglas writes, a year of foreign travel and resume-polishing service is a luxury that most young people can’t afford.  If they take a year between high school and college, they won’t hire a $2,000 “gap” consultant; they’ll get a “job.”