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December 27, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Capturing The Spark”: An Interview With David B. Cohen

David B. Cohen, a California teacher who I have often written about here over the years, has just authored a great book titled Capturing The Spark: Inspired Teaching, Thriving Schools.

He spent a year visiting classrooms (including mine), observing and asking questions.

He agreed to answer a few of my questions about the book:

LF: What inspired you to write the book, and how did you go about choosing which teacher’s classrooms to visit?

David B. Cohen:

The first time I really took up this idea, merely imagining the possibilities, I was wondering what it would be like to visit the classroom of my friend Renee Moore. We know each other through work with the Center for Teaching Quality and the National Board, and I admire her immensely. Our life stories and our professional experiences couldn’t be much more different, though, once you set aside the teacher leadership interests. I wouldn’t just happen to be passing through Cleveland, Mississippi, so I imagined visiting Renee as part of some kind of project where I could see public education in a wide variety of settings.

That initial impulse to visit teachers and schools goes back several years. It took another few years for the project to take shape. I floated the idea to my wife as a “what if, someday…” kind of idea, and she was supportive, so the wheels kept turning. Limiting the scope to California instead of the nation made it more feasible. I had a conversation with Samer Rabadi at Edutopia, and I think he was the first person I tested the idea on, outside of close friends and family. It might not have seemed like much to him, but his response pushed me from speculation to action.

My inspiration evolved a bit too. At first it was just my own curiosity. I was involved in a variety of projects that were helping me meet and learn about great teachers all over the state. But then, at the same time that I was learning more about the positives in public education, I felt like public discourse around education was increasingly negative. So many people seem willing to generalize from the negatives and compartmentalize the positives. I wanted to flip that around, believing that I could present enough positive examples to sway readers’ attitudes towards public education.

Choosing teachers and schools was challenging, because I had too many good options and had to contend with logistical and fiscal constraints. Many were teachers or schools I’d come to know through various leadership and policy projects over the years. I also solicited suggestions through other professional networks, and from some trusted sources on social media. The final decisions reflected my attempt to achieve some diversity in the teachers themselves, the types of schools, and regions of the state. There are some gaps to be sure, but in the end I spent 63 days visiting 70 campuses and saw close to 100 teachers.

LF: What, if any, common features did you find among many of the classrooms you visited?

David B. Cohen:

The common feature most worth talking about is the caring teacher. There was never a moment of doubt that these educators all cared deeply about the students in the classrooms. Sometimes, caring shows up in the meticulously planned lessons and projects, and sometimes it appears in the form of student-driven learning experiences. Like parents, sometimes caring teachers are warm and effusive, and sometimes they have to take a stern approach to a situation. Other than that caring quality, the commonalities were predictable and less interesting than all the variability.

LF: What were some of the biggest challenges you saw facing the teachers you visited and how did they respond to them?

David B. Cohen:

Since my visits were limited to a day (or in a few cases, even less), I think I missed what are likely the greatest challenges. I know from experience that there are challenges that come with supporting students whose needs are almost overwhelming and whose progress requires intense and sustained effort. Much of that work is difficult to observe in the space of a day in an elementary school, or a single class period with a secondary school teacher.

What I could observe more directly were the challenges of time constraints and student load. We know that compared to most of our international counterparts, American teachers generally spend more of their time working directly with students, with less time for preparation, collaboration, communication and meetings, and evaluating student work. Some teachers respond to those conditions by giving everything they have; teaching is more than a job to them, and we’re lucky some teachers are willing to go so above-and-beyond. Some teachers can sustain that for years, and some can’t. Thinking about the long-term viability of the job, I’d say that teachers who understand the constraints they can’t change in the short-term and respond by setting some personal limits and boundaries are also responding effectively to the challenges of teaching. They won’t necessarily be the most noticed or heralded, but they may end up having many more years in the classroom doing fine work for more students.

LF: The school where I teach has encouraged us to visit and observe our colleagues in action. For teachers who can and want to do that, what would you recommend they look for in the classes they observe and/or what are your suggestions for how they can maximize their visits?

David B. Cohen:

That’s a good question! One of the points I tried to make in the book, in Chapter One, actually, is that the quality of observations depends on clarity of purpose and suspension of judgment. My purpose was appreciative and celebratory. I told my host teachers up front that I was not visiting to evaluate, and on the few occasions when I was asked for any advice or feedback after seeing a teacher all day long, I always declined. Honestly, sometimes I wouldn’t have been able to formulate that kind of response even with my pages and pages of notes. I simply wasn’t in that mode, wasn’t watching with that kind of lens.

I also relate in the book an example of why we need to suspend judgment, describing a time when I watched a second or third grader spend most of his day in the classroom under a desk, sitting on a rug and doing his own thing – reading, coloring, but not participating with his classmates. The teacher seemed to ignore him. I asked about that after the students left for the day, and learned that the student had missed a lot of school (for reasons the teacher couldn’t divulge, of course), and that today’s return to class was a great success, with the teacher approaching the situation using strategies formulated in consultation with the family and others responsible for the child’s care and well-being.

Now, in the situation you describe, the purpose of the observation may be different. If I invite a colleague into my class, I might want feedback regarding engagement and collaboration strategies, lesson structure or pacing, formative assessment, differentiation, etc., and so I’d talk to my peer observer ahead of time. I’d hope that the observer would keep to that focus as agreed upon ahead of time, or, formulate any additional observations in the form of non-evaluative questions. Trust is the key, though, in any type of observational arrangement.

LF: What’s the most important point you hope that readers take away from your book?

David B. Cohen:

It comes down to two ideas, one for the general public and one for educators and policy makers. For the general reader, when you walk or drive past a public school you don’t know, assume that there are great, caring teachers inside, helping students learn and grow. That’s what I’ve seen, and what I firmly believe. Though, paradoxically, these same outstanding schools and teachers are in dire need of additional support and resources to help students. The price of educators’ often heroic efforts should not be public indifference to the challenges they face.

For teachers and anyone concerned with education policy (including instructional and curricular decisions), I would add that our profession’s focus on “best practices” is often misplaced. Instead, I suggest that we focus on best conditions. We shouldn’t be in a rush to adopt the programs that helped other teachers and schools to improve (though we should certainly take note of those examples). The key to sustained improvement is fostering the conditions that allow people and organizations to develop their own strategies and solutions. That work is not done in isolation, nor does it imply a lack of awareness of the options that are out there. If we simply import programs, there are likely to be issues with buy-in and important systemic or contextual differences that haven’t been accounted for. When everyone in an organization has a part to play in identifying needs and crafting solutions, there’s much greater likelihood of success.

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

David B. Cohen:

Much of what’s in the book, and what I’ve shared above, focuses on the “sparks” that help teachers and students thrive at the classroom and school level. It would be a mistake to lose sight of the energy and inspiration we can exchange with colleagues across broader horizons. I would encourage teachers to be active in their union, in professional associations, in virtual networking and social media. Building up a vibrant personal/professional learning network is a great way to expand your knowledge and interests, and to contribute to the strength of our profession overall.

LF: Thanks, David!

February 20, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

David B. Cohen Interviews….Me

My Teacher Leaders Network David B. Cohen has just published an interview with me over at the Accomplished California Teachers blog. You might find it useful/interesting. Here’s one short excerpt:

 When you think about public education in Sacramento, in California, or in general, what gives you the greatest hope and the greatest cause for concern?

It may sound a bit corny, but I experience the greatest hope each day during the school day (or, I should say, during most school days — my students and I have our bad days, too).  The vast majority of students want to learn, and the vast majority of educators want to get better at their craft.  Being part of the great work of groups like Accomplished California Teachers and Teacher Leaders Network also provides me with the hope that we might be able to have an impact on educational policy issues.
My greatest cause for concern is seeing so many so-called “reformers” — an enormous number of them having little or no direct experience in the classroom — wanting to push non-evidence based changes on our students and us teachers.  We are not test tubes to be experimented on….

And, if you’re interested, I’m adding it to A List of Interviews With…Me.

November 12, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Second Interview Of The Month: David B. Cohen

I’m doing two “Interviews Of The Month” in November. As regular readers know, I focus this feature on people in education who I want to know more about. You can see previous interviews here.

David B. Cohen, one of the key people behind The Accomplished California Teachers and co-author of a recent Op Ed piece titled Test scores poor tool for teacher evaluation,  is my guest today.  Next month, I’ll be interviewing John Norton, director of The Teacher Leaders Network.

What is the Accomplished California Teachers (ACT) and why did you help start it?

ACT is a network that aims to bring teacher voice and teacher leadership to the forefront of education policy debates and reform efforts.  We are under the umbrella of the National Board Resource Center (NBRC) at Stanford University.  Our current projects are a pair of policy reports on teacher evaluation and professional pay.  These reports are researched and written by teachers, and crafted to represent a consensus built through extensive conversations among our core members.  We assembled a diverse group of accomplished teachers from around the state, representing the full range of K-12 education.  As we grow, we aim to help California’s teacher leaders to broadcast their expertise to policymakers, media, and communities, and to develop their leadership voices and skills.  We have some good models for this work in the Teacher Leaders Network (which I’m also part of), and the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP) in the state of Washington.

My involvement in ACT is a result of working with the National Board Resource Center.  I worked as a support provider for National Board Certification candidates for a couple of years, and after each of our support sessions, the support providers have lunch and discuss the work of the NBRC.  Gathered around the table were teachers from around the San Francisco Bay area, and we were collectively able to talk about our glimpses and insights into the schools of dozens of our colleagues in the region.  Time and again, we were seeing teachers whose decision-making ability about how to reach their own students had been superseded by schools and districts whose sole concern was raising test scores.  So, the need for ACT was apparent.  The credit for starting ACT should go to the Stuart Foundation for funding the work, to Sandy Dean of the NBRC for providing all of the administrative direction, and to Linda Darling-Hammond for guiding and supporting our work on every level.  Outside of Stanford, Anthony Cody and I are the two teachers helping plan and direct ACT at the moment.

Merit pay and not-basing lay-offs on seniority are just two of many challenges “reformers” are making to the present public school teaching structure.  What is your perspective on those two issues, and any other challenges that you’d care to comment on?

I think merit pay and layoff/tenure issues are both on the table because there’s a welcome focus on teacher quality.  The problem is that we don’t have a consensus about how to define and measure teacher quality.  Outsiders looking at the problem love to reduce the issue to test scores, and offer facile pronouncements that “we know who the good teachers are” based on narrow and suspect data.  The idea of paying teachers for raising test scores should raise all sorts of opposition from anyone who really cares about the quality of teaching.

ACT is trying to help policymakers see teacher quality in a more complex way.  We’ve found that teachers welcome evaluation if it’s done properly, in ways that help us improve teaching at every level, and in ways that encourage collaborative analysis and reflection.  Our report on evaluation will emphasize shifting away from what is sometimes called the “drive-by evaluation” – an annual or bi-annual visit by an administrator with a checklist.  We found that in discussions among teachers who are mostly National Board Certified Teachers, and even including recipients of various regional and national honors, everyone is committed to ongoing improvement of their work.  The National Board Certification process and Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching were among the models that we find promising.

Once evaluation has been improved, I think districts and states are better equipped to work with teachers to address compensation and job security issues.  Our report on compensation will suggest that we ditch the term “merit pay” or even “performance pay” – in favor of the term “professional pay.”  If there is an ongoing commitment to invest more in teachers who demonstrably elevate the quality of their own teaching and the quality of education in their schools, then we could embrace differentiated pay for teachers with higher professional skills.  The higher pay becomes a function of a different role and broader responsibilities for the teacher.  We don’t want to see such a flat landscape for career teachers.

As for layoffs and seniority, the first step should be to attack the underlying problems by stabilizing funding for education.  Layoffs should be rare in schools or districts with steady or growing enrollment.   But in the face of layoffs, any changes in the privileges of seniority present a complex issue that must be negotiated locally.  Districts vary so much in their resources, sizes, and student populations.  We have unified districts, elementary districts, high school districts, and each setting has its own challenges.  If changes occurred in the context of a comprehensive approach to all the related issues, I would be open to proposals that weigh other factors as much or more than seniority, as long as we don’t throw seniority out of the equation entirely.  Any policy with the unintended consequence of introducing competition among teachers will end up hurting students.  Still, when you hear about teachers who are put into teaching situations entirely outside their training, experience, skill and knowledge base, you can’t argue that there’s any educational rationale for that.

Teacher unions are often criticized for supposedly blocking changes that would benefit students.  What do you think is an appropriate response to those critics?

First, I would say that it’s a mistake to discuss teachers’ unions in monolithic terms.  The national, state, and local level unions are not all the same.  So, I don’t have much use for criticisms aimed at unions collectively, though I’m sure some of the criticisms have some merit when framed appropriately.  Some of the criticism comes from within – as you’d find in any large organization.  Much of the negativity aimed at unions also sensationalizes the most egregious teacher failures, especially those cases that have not been satisfactorily resolved.  But look – I have two sons and a number of other family members who are students in California public schools; as a parent and as a teacher, I have as much desire as anyone to see unfit teachers removed.  Better yet, I want to see teachers supported enough that few of us ever reach a point where we need to be removed.

Randy Ward, the current superintendent of San Diego County Schools, was in a roundtable discussion with John Merrow on PBS about a year-and-a-half ago, and given a chance to criticize unions, Ward made a wonderful comment that I’m paraphrasing here:  “I always tell school boards, ‘you signed the contract, too.’”  In other words, we shouldn’t expect unions not to stick to contracts, so if in the process of following a contract, the union is doing something the district doesn’t like, well, there’s an item for negotiation next time around.  If districts expect concessions in one area, I’d expect them to come to the table offering concessions in some other area.  And if unions were the root of our problems, you’d expect “right to work” states that lack collective bargaining to have significantly better results to offer, but they don’t.  They also struggle with teacher quality issues and various reform efforts.

I have a hunch that if you examined the places that have the most contentious labor relations, you’d find that there’s usually a scarcity of resources.  I work in a community that invests heavily in education, relying mainly on voter-approved local taxes rather than state funding, and our union relationship with the district is generally positive.  Our local association even has a no-strike agreement with the district.

You teach in a fairly affluent community — Palo Alto.  My first job as a community organizer over twenty-five years ago was in the adjacent very low-income city of East Palo Alto. How would you compare the two school districts today?  Is there any relationship between the two districts?  Does what you see in this particular situation speak in any greater way to issues facing schools in California and throughout the nation?

East Palo Alto and Palo Alto are divided by Highway 101, and are also in separate counties.  However, some East Palo Alto students attend schools in Palo Alto, as part of a court-ordered desegregation plan that dates back to 1986.  East Palo Alto students are served by three separate public school districts, and there are also some private and charter schools serving the community.

The disparity in resources among schools is indeed striking, but I observe that in dialogue with colleagues across the region, state, and country – not just across the freeway.  Not only do some districts raise their own taxes, but they also benefit from well-funded private foundations that provide supplemental resources.  These differences in funding mean more courses, smaller classes, more electives, more materials and equipment, and more teaching applicants to choose from and more stability within the staff.

I don’t hold out much hope that schools will ever really be equal across the board, but I do believe that we can summon a vision of quality schools that doesn’t rely on comparisons, and then ask some hard questions about how to rectify our failure to provide that quality to so many children.

Are there any particular books you’d recommend that teachers should read that might not be on their typical education booklist?  Why would you recommend them?

I love that question, and wish that I had some really cool, unexpected answer – like I’ve been reading Thucydides lately, or found some gem of Chinese philosophy.  In fact, my reading habits are education-saturated these days, with a sprinkling of fiction.  The last two books I’ve read that might come close to fitting your description have still been widely discussed in education circles.  Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers was a fascinating collection of analyses of exceptional people, events, trends.  Carol Dweck’s Mindset provides some valuable insights into success, with clear lessons that apply to teaching and parenting.  I have definitely made a conscious shift towards talking to my sons and my students more frequently and directly about how they grow from tackling difficult challenges, and pointing out how we acquire skills and knowledge rather than possess them innately.

But I would be curious to examine the wording of your question, the idea that teachers have a “typical education booklist.”  I worry that too many of us have only a typical “teaching” booklist – we prefer practical books and other readings that help us manage our day-to-day work in our classroom, but we pass up books that put our work in a broader context. I wish more teachers would read books on underlying issues we face, like Robert Marzano’s What Works in Grading and Assessment. It’s not a book on English teaching, but it has dramatically changed the way I teach English.  It took almost 15 years, but I’ve broken out of the grip of the points and percentages and averages.  I wish more people would read about tracking, and pick up Detracking for Excellence and Equity by Carol Corbett Burris and Delia T. Garrity.

I think it’s important for us to know more about the field of education, to understand how we reached the present moment, and what we’ve gained and lost over time.  Linda Darling-Hammond and Deb Meier are educators whose books have been helpful to me in that regard.  I also read a lot of articles and blogs, and have learned so much that way in recent years.

What do you hope to accomplish in your teaching career?

The beginning and ending point has to be about working with students.  The most professionally gratifying feelings I know are these: leaving work at the end of the day knowing you’ve made a positive impact on your students, or having a former student tell you months or years later how much you helped them academically and personally.  I don’t think I’ll ever get the same level of satisfaction from any of the work I do with the grown-ups instead of the kids.  I know I have a long way to go to be the best teacher I can be, though.  That’s an ongoing process that I expect will never end.

Still, I do have hopes that my teaching career will include some noteworthy contributions as a teacher leader, locally and beyond.  I have a long way to go in that regard too, but I’ve been taking on what I can, and doing my homework.  In the leadership realm, I think of myself as that baseball player on the bench, the kind of guy who’s made the team, but he’s not playing every inning and every game. But, he’s always hovering near the manager and talking to the All-Stars, watching, listening, learning constantly, making the most of his chances when they come, and expecting to crack the starting lineup soon enough.

For more information on Accomplished California Teachers, you can visit its Stanford site or its Ning. David can be contacted at Twitter.

January 28, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Articles Sharing Concerns About Common Core Standards

'06252013 - ASNE Annual Convention 59' photo (c) 2007, US Department of Education - license:

For the almost four years I’ve been writing blog, I’ve periodically shared my concerns about developing national standards. I’ve feared that people were over-estimating its impact on the classroom (where, in fact, I think it’s more like callers to talk radio feeling like they’re actually doing something about a problem). And I’ve been concerned that it was a boondoggle for publishers and testing services salivating at the prospect of selling new textbooks and tests.

But the Common Core Standards train has long left the station, and that fight is lost.

However, we can still try to minimize its negative impact. To that end, I thought I’d bring together a few resources that I’ve found helpful in gaining an understanding of what Common Core might mean.

Please feel free to additional suggestions.

Here are my choices for The Best Articles Concerns About Common Core Standards:

What Common Core State Standards are — and aren’t by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post

Testing the Common Core Standards, also by Valerie Strauss. She has also written The problem(s) with the Common Core standards.

The Common Core: Policy Triumph or Commercial Bonanza? by Nancy Flanagan at Ed Week.

Will National Standards Improve Education? is a useful New York Times forum.

Common Core Standards: Hardly an Evidence-based Policy by Larry Cuban.

National Standards a Wild Goose Chase by Anthony Cody at Ed Week.

David Cohen has a very thoughtful post titled Common Core Confusion. Be sure to read the comments, too.

Common Core Confusion – ASCD Edition is by David B. Cohen.

Jeffrey N. Golub: Common Core Standards Leave Teachers Out of the Equation is from Ed Week.

Good riddance to new national standards is by Jay Mathews at The Washington Post.

Choking on the Common Core Standards is by Joanne Yatvin and appeared in The Washington Post.

Common Core won’t likely boost student achievement, analysis says is from Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post.

Common Core: David Coleman is no Doug Lemov… is by Alice Mercer.

Why Common Core Standards Will Fail is by Larry Cuban.

Standardization: From Carnegie Units to Common Core Standards is a guest post at Larry Cuban’s blog.

Why Common Core standards will fail is by Jay Mathews at The Washington Post.

These Are The Standards We Should Focus On: “The Core Standards That Matter Most in My Classroom”

Teacher: One (maddening) day working with the Common Core is from The Washington Post.

Does the Common Core Matter? appeared in Education Week.

The Common Core: The Technocrats Re-engineer Learning is by Anthony Cody.

Common Core standards drive wedge in education circles is from USA .

Yong Zhao Interview: Will the Common Core Create World-Class Learners? appeared in Anthony Cody’s blog at Education Week.

Common Sense Vs. Common Core: How to Minimize the Damages of the Common Core is by Yong Zhao.

My View of the Common Core Standards is by Diane Ravitch.

Common Core vs. Common Sense
appeared in Education Week.

Five Questions to Ask about the Common Core is by Yong Zhao (and here’s a follow-up by him).

A tough critique of Common Core on early childhood education is from The Washington Post.

Speaking Back to the Common Core is by Thomas Newkirk.

Common Core: Will it hurt struggling readers? is by Laura Robb.

Common Core supporter: ‘I see the opportunity being squandered’ is by Stephen Lazar.

Quote Of The Day: “Was adopting Common Core a mistake?”

The Common Core’s Fundamental Trouble is from Rethinking Schools.

Why Common Core Standards Will Succeed is an ironic title of a Larry Cuban post.

Linda Darling-Hammond on the Common Core Standards appeared in Diane Ravitch’s blog.

Federal Bureaucrats Declare ‘Hunger Games’ More Complex Than ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ The Common Core’s absurd new reading guidelines is from The New Republic.

The WOW! factor of CCSS is by Alice Mercer.

Following Common Core money: Where are millions of dollars going? is by Carol Burris and appeared in The Washington Post.

The Common Core Kool-Aid is from Rick Hess.

Common Core and the Food Pyramid is also by Rick Hess.

When, How and With Whom to Battle the Common Core? is by Nancy Flanagan.

Everything you need to know about Common Core is by Diane Ravitch.

Why Common Core Advocates Should Let Teachers Lead It is by Jeff Bryant.

A challenge: Teach 8th grade Common Core before endorsing it is from The Washington Post.

The coming Common Core meltdown is by Stan Karp.

Teachers union head calls for Core ‘course correction’ is from The Washington Post.

McKinsey & Company Projects That Common Core Implementation Will Result In 15% Increase In Dropout Rate

How Common Core Could Double Dropout Rate is by John Thompson.

Will Common Core double the high school dropout rate? is from The Washington Post. In it, Valerie Strauss picks-up and elaborates on my previous post, McKinsey & Company Projects That Common Core Implementation Will Result In 15% Increase In Dropout Rate.

Common Core’s five big half-truths is by Frederick Hess.

Common Core: yes or no? A debate. appeared in The Washington Post.

Common Core calls for kids to read books that ‘frustrate’ them. Is that a good idea? appeared in The Washington Post.

Has “Education Post” Already Changed Its “Kinder, Gentler” Tune? is by John Thompson

Teachers grade Common Core: C+ and room for improvement is from The Christian Science Monitor.

How to start cleaning up the Common Core is by Carol Burris.

The Two Biggest Mistakes in the Common Core Standards is by Grant Wiggins.

How Twitter is changing the national Common Core debate is an intriguing article about an interesting project.

Superintendents, but not teachers, give high grades to Common Core rollout is from Ed Source.

Common Core, College Readiness Skills Don’t Match Up, Study Says is from Ed Week.

Additional suggestions are welcome.

If you found post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to blog for free.

You might also want to explore the over 600 other “The Best…” lists I’ve compiled.

September 24, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

September’s Best Tweets — Part Two

Every month I make a short list highlighting my choices of the best resources I shared through (and learned from) Twitter, but didn’t necessarily include them in posts here on my blog. Now and then, in order to make it a bit easier for me, I may try to break it up into mid-month and end-of-month lists.

I’ve already shared in earlier posts several new resources I found on Twitter — and where I gave credit to those from whom I learned about them. Those are not included again in this post.

If you don’t use Twitter, you can also check-out all of my “tweets” on Twitter profile page or subscribe to their RSS feed.

Here are my picks for September’s Best Tweets — Part Two (not listed in any order):

Math By Design is neat online interactive game

Ten Items All Should Know When Using Google Basic Search…. Far From Basic!, TechLearning

Earth From Above, pretty amazing aerial photography

NASA unveils Mars rover Curiosity, Wash Post slideshow

People Who Became Nouns, Fun LIFE slideshow

Here’s what you need to know about Waiting for “Superman.” It’s not a film—it’s a propaganda campaign

In Praise of Teacher’s Unions

What my evaluation must include by David Cohen

Mashup Turns Messages Of Hate Into Poetry Preaching Love, NPR

An apology–to Muslims for the hysteria and invective directed at them by Nicholas Kristoff, NY Times

History of major US Benefits programs, Wall St Jrnl interactive

You might also be interested in seeing a list of favorite tweets at:

Shelly Terrell’s blog

Kalinago English

Eye On Education

May 6, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

April’s Best “Tweets” — Part Two (A Few Days Late)

Every month I make a short list highlighting my choices of the best resources I shared through (and learned from) Twitter, but didn’t necessarily include them in posts here on my blog. Now and then, in order to make it a bit easier for me, I may try to break it up into mid-month and end-of-month lists.

I’ve already shared in earlier posts several new resources I found on Twitter — and where I gave credit to those from whom I learned about them. Those are not included again in this post.

If you don’t use Twitter, you can also check-out all of my “tweets” on my Twitter profile page or subscribe to their RSS feed.

Here are my picks for April’s Best Tweets — Part Two (not listed in any order):

“Natural Disasters from 1900-2008 Infographic”

Your Credit Score Demystified Infographic

“The Journey Of A Successful Blog Post” Infographic

World Population & Ownership of Global Assets Infographic

How soap operas could save the world, Boston Globe

8 moments that shaped the environmental movement, slideshow

NPR on teacher tenure

“No Value Added: The Mismeasurement of Teaching Quality” by David Cohen

Fun Analogies and Metaphors Found in High School Essays

Teaching: No ‘Fallback’ Career, NY Times

Stanford charter school and ‘confirmation bias’, Wash Post

Can Messy Be A Sign Of Brilliance?

How Long Does It Take To Become a “Good” Teacher? Larry Cuban

You might also be interested in seeing a list of favorite tweets at Shelly Terrell’s blog.

November 9, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Interview Of The Month: Alexander Russo

For November, I should actually call it “Interviews Of The Month” because I’ll be posting two of them.

Today, I’m sharing my interview with Alexander Russo, writer of the popular blog This Week In Education (and several others). Next week, David Cohen, one of the key people behind The Accomplished Teachers Forum and co-author of a recent Op Ed piece titled Test scores poor tool for teacher evaluation, will be the guest.

Can you give a little background on who you are and how and why you got connected to the education “world”?

I’m a 45 year-old freelance education writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. I got into this by teaching at a parochial boys school in LA for three years right out of college – English Lit – going to grad school to learn a little more about policy and politics, and then ending up in Washington DC working on the Hill as a legislative aide in the Senate (and briefly for the former Chancellor of New York City Schools, Ramon Cortines). I worked on education issues for Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and for Jeff Bingaman, a Dem from New Mexico who is on the Senate education committee.

I currently have three blogs, This Week In Education (about national trends), District 299 (about Chicago schools), and most recently Hot For Education (about pop culture and schools).

Your popular blog, “This Week In Education,” seems like a combination of an education news digest, some strongly opinionated pieces, plus an occasional touch of Walter Winchell thrown-in. How did you arrive at this combo, and how did you ever get a company like Scholastic, which has a bit of a stodgy reputation, to publish it? What are your goals in writing it?

I started This Week In Education in 2004 as a weekly email. I was living in Chicago and missed being in DC. I turned the email into an awful-looking Blogger blog in 2005 and spun off the Chicago-related content into District 299 a year later. In late 2006 the far-sighted folks from Education Week signed me on as a paid freelance blogger, where I was their first big blog to get rolling. A year after that I moved over to Scholastic where I work with the folks who put out Instructor and Administrator, Scholastic’s two magazines for educators.

My Chicago blog has also had two different homes – Catalyst Chicago, a nonprofit publication about Chicago schools, and (currently) ChicagoNow, a part of the Chicago Tribune that’s sort of like the Huffington Post.

The goal is to educate, engage, and amuse – and to provide a little bit of a reality check where needed. I like to skewer trendy school reform ideas and lame news coverage of schools – and educators who do knuckleheaded things like ‘ban’ hugging. Plus which, school reform is difficult and can be demoralizing. There’s so much failure and so much judgment and hot air. And there’s so much misunderstanding among educators, reformers, advocates, and the media. No one understands each other’s values or methods.

In a couple of paragraphs (maybe three?), do you think you could summarize — for someone who might not at all be familiar with what has been going on — what you would consider the major “school reform” flashpoints and the positions of key public players on them?

Most of what gets discussed in the school reform bubble seems incidental to me, if not downright superfluous. Performance pay, for example, seems like a tremendously difficult and only mildly effective way to change academic outcomes. Ditto for charter schools, mayoral control, vouchers, alternative certification.

I’m not saying that we need to wait for research to prove these things effective or ineffective – the research is almost always going to be outpaced by lawmakers’ and leaders’ needs for short-term action. I’m just saying that the things that are most likely to make the most difference are the very most basic levers: the amount of time spent in school, the rigor and depth of the curriculum that’s taught, the quality and ability of classroom teachers, and the measures of success that are used to determine and compare achievement. There’s nothing cute or innovative about this stuff. But it’s what’s going to make a real difference in and when it happens.

I think that most think tanks are glorified PR outfits for their funders, and that many many education advocates are sadly ineffective. I think innovation is highly over-rated compared to implementation. (I’m currently in favor of a moratorium on innovation while we implement some of the things we already know how to do. Maybe with a little less distraction we’d actually get down to business and get some things done.)

I haven’t really answered your question. Sorry.

Who do you think are some important people to watch in education over the next few years — and why– who might not be on everybody’s radar now?

Someone is going to come along in the next year or two who is hard-working, passionate about education and has an amazing skill at communicating complex issues. A Malcolm Gladwell type, if you will. That person – I don’t know who it is – will be picked up by a mainstream media outlet and could become the nation’s first mainstream education blogger, the person through whom many Americans will come to understand school reform issues. That’s who I’m looking for. That’s what I’m waiting for. Meantime, I think my blog is the fastest, smartest, most wide-ranging education blog out there (besides yours, of course).

The other category of person we’re going to be hearing a lot more from in the future are what I call the aisle-crossers or hybrids – people who have worked for districts and teachers unions, or governors and legislators. People who understand the other side’s perspective. Brad Jupp from Colorado is an example. Jonathan Gyurko is another. There may be a few more. Ideally, they’ll help bridge the different worlds of education and help get more done faster.

What kind of legacy, if any, do you think Arnie Duncan and the Obama administration are going to leave with public education?

I’d love to be wrong about this, but Arne Duncan could well end up exposed as the Obama administration’s version of Rod Paige – a generally nice guy who’s in way over his head in Washington as he may have been in Chicago. And I worry that the Obama administration will be too focused on innovation and political needle-threading that it won’t get anything meaningful or transformative done on the education front. Even before the past six months, Obama displayed an enormous unwillingness to take a side or make someone mad. Vagueness is a good way to get and stay elected, but it’s a bad way to make important changes. I’m not saying Obama and Duncan should be unnecessarily confrontational. But they’re trying to be everything to everyone and that isn’t going to do much good. Duncan has been wagging his finger in a lot of peoples’ faces without doing much heavy lifting of his own. Unless Race To The Top ends up being a much bigger success than I think it’s going to be, NCLB reauthorization is going to be a struggle.

What people — through their writing, speaking, or actions — do you get most intellectually stimulated by these days?

I very much enjoy communicating with longtime education writers like Greg Toppo (USA Today), Jay Mathews (Washington Post), and Stephanie Banchero (Chicago Tribune). I’m also a big fan of Charles Payne, the University of Chicago academic who seems to tell it like it is. I greatly admire the writings of Jesse Katz (Los Angeles magazine) as well as Kate Boo (New Yorker) and James Traub (New York Times Sunday Magazine). I’m writing a book about a bunch of educators in LA who are trying to turn around Locke High School under a Green Dot unionized charter. There’s also a small set of smartypants and big thinkers who give me great ideas and correct me all the time, but they don’t like to admit that they know me so I can’t tell you who they are.

Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t asked?

Not that I can think of. I love your blog and I appreciate the chance to share my thoughts and experiences with your readers. I’m always looking for good content to share with my readers, whether or not I agree with it. Thanks again.

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