The Cornhusker Challenge

I talk to Education Cities’ Ethan Gray about the new Education Equality Index, and challenge him to accompany me to the #1 gap-closing city in the USA: Omaha, Nebraska. (Spoiler alert: he accepts!)

CornGuyEduShyster: Let’s not waste any time here. We’re headed straight to the top spot of your new Education Equality Index: Omaha, Nebraska—which is, according to your measure, closing the achievement gap faster than other city in the nation. Anything unusual happening in the schools there that you can put your finger on? 

Ethan Gray: You’re going to the question of why the results are the way they are. At this point we’re focused on trying to highlight the schools in those cities that have closed or are closing the achievement gap, and we think it’s really important for local education leaders, policy makers and researchers to spend some time in those schools and get to know them better and understand what educators in those schools are doing and what they would ascribe their success to. I haven’t spent time in those schools and so I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

EduShysterFull disclosure—that was actually a trick question. Omaha is unusual in that it has no charter schools. Nebraska, which is also home to your #6 gap-closing city, Lincoln, is one of just seven states that doesn’t allow charters. 

Gray: [Dry chuckle…] We don’t really think it’s about the type of school. We think it’s about spending time in those schools and learning more about what the school leaders, educators and parents are doing there. What we’ve noticed looking at the data is that there are schools of all types that are showing up on our list of gap-closing schools: district schools, charter schools, magnet schools, low-tech schools. We’re really encouraged that in almost every city we looked at, there is at least one, if not multiple gap-closing schools. Continue reading →

Schools and Neighborhoods: It’s Complicated

What’s the connection between schools and neighborhoods? If this seems like a straightforward question, try asking it to someone. Better yet, put it to a *stakeholder* in the heated debate over the future of public schools. For example, as neighborhood schools in urban areas are replaced by a portfolio of *choice options,* does that mean that the goal of education reform is to help students *overcome* their struggling neighborhoods? Can *choice options* fundamentally transform a *failing neighborhood*? What happens to a neighborhood when an institution as central and essential as the school is no longer part of it? And how do schools fit into the process of gentrification that’s reshaping so many cities?

Education policy wonk Seth Rau and I decided to pose the school/neighborhood question to a handful of people who we know, and whom we knew would have different opinions on what the connection between schools and neighborhoods should be and could be. Now we want to hear from you. Send your thoughts (under 500 words worth of thoughts please!) to Jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com and we’ll share in a future post.

—Jennifer Berkshire, editor, EduShyster and Seth Rau, Legislative Coordinator at the San Antonio Independent School District 
Continue reading →

TFA’s Diversity Paradox

TFA alum and scholar Terrenda White says that TFA’s diversity gains have come at the expense of teachers of color, whose numbers have declined drastically in the very cities where the organization has expanded. 

TFAdiversityJennifer Berkshire: You have a new paper out examining TFA’s initiative to become more diverse. You use the word *paradox,* but don’t you mean ‘success’? I just read this TFA tweet that *The TFA corps more closely reflects the public-school population than any other large teacher-provider.* What’s paradoxical about that?

Terrenda WhiteWhen I was first writing about TFA, I was complaining about the lack of diversity in the corps, especially when I was there in the early 2000s. And so a part of me is really happy that TFA seems to care about diversity and improving their numbers, and I think I’m fair in my piece about acknowledging that. But while TFA may be improving their diversity numbers, that improvement has coincided with a drastic decline in the number of teachers of color, and Black teachers in particular, in the very cities where TFA has expanded. I don’t see them making a connection between their own diversity goals and the hits that teachers of color have taken as a result of policies to which TFA is connected: school closures where teachers of color disproportionately work, charter school expansion, teacher layoffs as schools are turned around. We have to talk about whether and how those policies have benefited TFA to expand in a way that they’re not ready to publicly acknowledge.  Continue reading →

Rebellion in New Orleans

Is it time for a second installment of my new podcast, Have You Heard, already? Indeed it is, and in this episode, we head to New Orleans, where there’s a rebellion brewing against the city’s decade-long experiment with urban education reform. We speak to the unlikely leader of the revolt to find out why residents of the Big Easy say that changes are being made “to them, not with them” and how this uprising could be heading to a city near you.

I can’t wait to hear what you think! Send comments, criticism, cheery greetings and suggested topics for future episodes to jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com.

 

An Open Letter to Teachers and Staff at No Excuses Charter Schools

The former dean of students at a New Orleans charter school urges teachers and staff at No Excuses schools to ask some hard questions about the model’s social and emotional costs…

By Ramon Griffin

Dear You:

no excuses chalkboardYou were selected to teach at your school because of your intelligence, spunk, tenacity, vigor and, most of all, your passion for public education. You are a risk-taker. You have a can-do attitude with swag to match. You believe that every child has the capacity to achieve academically and are committing your life to ensuring that you affect change in every student you encounter. Your dedication to ensuring that traditionally marginalized students receive a first class education is commendable. But do you know how much power you hold? Do you truly understand the *No Excuses* school culture that you are part of? Do you know the psychological and emotional costs that the No Excuses model has on students of color? Furthermore, do you care to know? Continue reading →