Holiday Feast: STOP THE PRESSES!!! And pass the gravy.

Though I would much prefer to write about “democracy,” which is the hot topic these days, or even mention our pilgrims progress, those pioneers who survived rough winters and stopped to appreciate their bounty, I must interrupt this program to urge readers to cozy up to and be thankful for the new issue of Education Next.  Cover-to-cover, it’s a blessing.

Okay, I’m a dying breed. I carried the print version of the Winter 2012 issue around most of the last several days – scribbling in the margins, spilling coffee on the pictures, throwing pages on the passenger seat, breaking the binding back and perching the salt shaker on it at breakfast – I guarantee you this is a  Thanksgiving feast.  Even online! (Full disclosure, I am a contributing editor at the magazine, have a story in the issue (see below), and am biased.)

But I guarantee you, you won’t leave this issue hungry:

Play Ball! This June Kronholz cover story takes us curriculum afficianados to a new playing field. “There’s not a straight line between the crochet club and the Ivy League,” writes Kronholz, “[b]ut a growing body of research says there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from high school, going to college and becoming a responsible citizen.”

This story sets us on a trajectory of common sense that is much needed in our polarized and partisan education policy world. I hesitate to use the word, but organic comes to mind. The whole child; more reason to move NCLB – and the reform movement – off its parochial ELA and math dime. A must read.

Do We Play Ball with the Unions? Marc Tucker is president of the National Center on Education and the Economy and here presents a compelling case for changing our approach to education labor and management relations: let’s collaborate, the way the Canadians and the Finns do it.  It’s enticing.

Thus three “social partners” – government, labor, and management – would frame social policy together, as equals.

Unfortunately, with all due respect to our social democratic neighbors to the north and east, that’s not how the world works in a free, heterogenius society, where government must celebrate, accommodate, and channel individuals.  This is one of the more persuasive arguments for collaboration – and the denial of nature! — and should be read.

Unions schmunions. What about the kids? This forum feature is a feast for our education gladiators: Spartacus Jay Greene v. Vercingetorix Richard Kahlenberg.  It is not a contest for the faint of heart.  But it’s worth pointing out that Kahlenberg does a lot of dancing around the central question – do teacher unions really help kids? – while Jay has to admit that “it is very hard to produce rigorous research on the effect of teachers unions on education.”  Bring on the lions.

Studying “teacher moves” This is perhaps the best story in the issue – and that’s because author Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH Charter School and MATCH Teacher Residency, is such a voice of reason.

Teachers don’t trust research, and understandably so.  There’s a lot of shoddy research that supports fads. Experienced teachers remember that `this year’s method’ directly contradicts the approach from three years ago.

Goldstein is here arguing that the Gates-sponsored project to study “teacher moves” – what a teacher does in a classroom – will provide “a massive uptick in our knowledge of teacher moves” and that such research  might actually be useful to teachers. “Until that [research] exists,” he says, “I’ll see you at the 5th-grade dance.” Go granny, go granny, go.

Our Best are Mediocre.  This little feature report, from Jay Greene and Josh McGee, should scare the pants off our country’s remaining education system boosters:

Even the most elite suburban school districts often produce results that are mediocre when compaired with those of our international peers.

So much for blaming poor, inner-city blacks for our dismal international test results. (And read the comments on this one.) Even American kids born on third base, conclude Greene and McGee, can’t hit home runs.  Take Beverly Hills, with a median family income of $102,611 and 85.1 percent white: math achievement of its average student puts the district at the 53rd percentile relative to our industrialized nation students. Take that, you smug middle class parents.  But here’s a chance to see where your district stands compared to the World (at .

This problem is reiterated by Sa Bui, Steven Craig, and Scott Imberman in a closely argued research report in the same issue, titled Poor Results for High Achievers. The research suggests that “students who are placed in higher-achieveing groups” don’t do all that well and, in fact, “can suffer psychological harm.”

What the best dressed countries can teach us.  This story by Carlos Astra-Anadon and Paul Peterson recaps the highlights of a unique conference sponsored by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance: “Learning from the Inernational Experience.”  By sampling views of educators from different education success countries – such as Jari Lavonen of Finland and Gwan-Jo Kim of Korea – and different fields – e.g. Susan Patrick of the International Association for K—12 Online Learning and Shantanu Prakash of Educomp Solutions – we get great insight into what works and what doesn’t from those who know.

Chris Cerf of New Jersey and Gerard Robinson of Florida were also there, talking about what is working in America.  It’s a roundtable of some intelligence and might convince you, conclude Lastra-Anadon and Peterson, that American “popular culture shows little appreciation for the educated citizen,” that “a decentralized government arrangement with multiple veto points precludes rapid innovation,” and that “education policitics [in the United States] is marked by antipathy between teachers unions and school reformers.” But there’s more.

Parent Power. This story is called “Not Your Mother’s PTA” – and that is a perfectly apt way of describing the difference between the old-fashioned bake-sale parents and the radicalized mamas and papas of our reform era.  Go Parents!

Desert: Le Whitney Tilson.  I was honored to meet this crusader for education excellence. And I hope this story conveys some of the nuance – and passion — that makes him one of the most insightful and incisive education reform provocateurs of our day.  Why does he care?

I believe very deeply in the promise of this country, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But there is nothing more fundamental about what America stands for than equality of opportunity. That it doesn’t matter who your parents are or what color your skin is or what neighborhood you were born in—every kid in this country should get a fair shot at the American dream. And there’s nothing more important to that than getting a decent education.… The outrage comes from the fact that we have a public education system in this country that systematically delivers a massively inferior education to low-income and minority kids. The kids that most need a good education, to escape the disadvantages of the life they were born into, are systematically given a lousy education. That violates every sense of fairness, every belief I have about this country and thus the outrage.

Bon appétit. And be thankful.

-Peter Meyer

This post also appears on Flypaper.

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