• What Makes a Great Teacher?
    Years ago I asked somebody who ought to be know — an economist turned educational analyst who’d spent years studying how to improve American education. Eric Hanushek is a professor of education at Stanford and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution there. If anybody ought to know the answer to that question, he’s the one. When I asked him, his response was direct, concise, honest and just about the best I’ve ever heard on the topic. It’s stayed with me ever since. What makes a great teacher? “We don’t know,” said the professor. But you know what a great teacher is when you’ve been lucky enough to have had one.
  • States, Districts Move to Require Virtual Classes
    Two years ago, Tennessee’s Putnam County school system adopted an online-learning graduation requirement for its high school students. The state of Tennessee already mandated that all students take a class on personal finance, so Putnam County put its version online, complete with the district’s own online teachers. The goal is to make sure students get an online-learning experience in a low-risk, supportive environment, Airhart says.
  • Report: TN charters are national leaders
    For Tennesseans paying attention to the growing charter school movement in our state, a report issued this month on behalf of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University was extremely encouraging for three reasons.
  • Lessons From New Orleans
    There are three important things to consider about the New Orleans experience: Many of the structural changes occurred because the hurricane essentially destroyed the old system, allowing the city to begin fresh. Charter schools, while a foundation of the system now, did not by themselves improve achievement. And finally, New Orleans has done the hard work of changing the school culture while embracing new instructional methods.
  • Karl Dean to seek legislation to help high school students take college courses
    Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced Monday that he will seek legislation from the Tennessee General Assembly to remove financial barriers for students who want to take college courses while in high school.
  • Metro schools’ data warehouse plays key role for principals, teachers, students
    The district’s so-called “data warehouse” –– a term used to describe the newly restructured wealth of information on its 80,000 students and 140 schools, packed together in a computer format easily accessible to teachers and administrators –– is increasingly garnering attention as not only one of the best in Middle Tennessee or the state, but across the entire nation.
  • Senate No Child Left Behind Proposal: More Big Government for Schools
    Harkin’s proposal piles new federal directives, rules, and regulations on top of the existing 600-page law. The proposal continues to wager that this time Washington’s education reform efforts will be effective. Of course, this represents the ninth such bet since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, and none has proved successful. NCLB, the most recent reauthorization of ESEA, has left local school districts crying out for more freedom from federal red tape and to have their educational decision-making authority restored.
  • Strong Governors Play Vital Role
    Race to the Top remains overrated in terms of impact. While there was a flurry of multi-state activity caused, it didn’t result in any real snow. A cap lift for charters here, a teacher evaluation bill with little teeth there. Many smart people disagree about this. But, the fact is if you look around the country today, there is activity on teacher evaluations, meaningful charter law changes (not just cap lifts), expanded accountability, parent triggers and more without any carrot or stick from Washington. So, is Washington becoming irrelevant to state policy? The answer is yes – only when you have strong governors who push and get passage of education policy.
  • Teacher evaluations slow Race to the Top
    School boards, principals and teachers all are complaining about the new evaluation system, which, among other things, assigns a numerical score of 1 to 5 that largely determines whether a teacher receives tenure. The outcry is such that at least one Republican legislator, Rep. Rick Womick of Rockvale, agrees the system isn’t working, and House Education Committee hearings have been set early next month. This provides an excellent chance to hear constructive suggestions from a range of teachers, principals, superintendents and others about ways to make the system functional, efficient and do what it is intended to do: encourage good teachers while identifying those who are not educating Tennessee’s youth and change their work for the better.
  • Educators work to reach kids during ‘pivotal years’
    But now, in the face of increasing evidence that high school is far too late to attract and keep students’ interest, middle schools are getting a makeover.
  • Student progress can be tied to teacher’s school
    The academic progress of public school students can be traced, in part, to where their teachers went to college, according to new research by the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research. But the center’s director, Dan Goldhaber, cautioned that the study is just a first step toward determining what kind of training — not where the training occurred — best prepares teachers for excellence in the classroom.
  • Can charter principles work in traditional schools?
    The issues are myriad but the problem clear: replicating charter school success can be difficult. It’s difficult, but a new study suggests, it’s also doable. Harvard economist Roland Fryer published research last week showing that the education policies that have succeeded in charter schools can also increase test scores in traditional, public schools. He boiled it down to five “best practices,” including longer school days, better teachers and data-driven education, that emphasized education gains.
  • The Steve Jobs Model for Education Reform
    At the top end, our public schools are producing fewer and fewer graduates who have the skills necessary for the world’s best jobs. At the bottom, each year more than a million Americans—that’s 7,000 every school day—are dropping out of high school. In the middle, too many American children float from grade to grade in schools that never challenge them to reach their full potential. This is unjust, unsustainable and un-American. And it is especially galling because we have the technology to change it. Our children are growing up in Steve Jobs’s world. They are eager to learn and quick to embrace new technology. Outside the classroom they take technology for granted—in what they read, in how they listen to music, in how they shop. The minute they step back into their classrooms, it’s like going back in time. The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach frustrates the ones who could do more advanced work. And it leaves further and further behind those who need extra help to keep up. Teachers are likewise stunted. Some excel at lecturing. Some are better at giving personal attention. With the right structure, they would work together like a football team. With the existing structure, they are treated like interchangeable cogs. The education industry bears a good part of the blame here. It continues to sell its tired wares into a failing status quo. It settles for mediocre charter schools. And its answer seems to be throwing more money at the problem. In the three decades since, per-pupil spending on K-12 education has doubled—while achievement scores have been flat. Technology is never going to replace teachers. What technology can do is give teachers closer, more human and more rewarding interactions with their students. It can give children lesson plans tailored to their pace and needs. And it can give school districts a way to improve performance in the classroom while saving their taxpayers money. Everything we need to do is possible now. Steve Jobs knew all about competitive markets. He once likened our school system to the old phone monopoly. “I remember,” he said in a 1995 interview, “seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said ‘We don’t care. We don’t have to.’ And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.” We have to care. In this new century, good is not good enough.

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