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The Cleveland Schools Plan

Came across this article on Huffington Post recently, which details the bipartisan efforts to reform Cleveland schools. The sticking point on the plan — which has been in the works since February — seemed to be how much control Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson would have over charter school implementation in the city. Under the enacted plan, a newly-formed Cleveland Transformation Alliance will review sponsors of new schools and ultimately make recommendations to the Ohio Department of Education regarding which should be green-lit.

Stephen Dyer of Innovation Ohio wrote this post pointing out the fact that Cleveland now has the potential for nine different agencies to approve charters in the city; in contrast, cities like Baltimore (33 charters), Chicago (38) and Philadelphia (north of 80) had all their schools approved through the district alone. Additionally, the Transformation Alliance doesn’t seem to be accountable for electronic schools, which are a majorly emergent component of the Ohio education system.

Obviously, something needed to be done in Cleveland schools: in 2009, for example, they ranked near the bottom of 17 urban school districts as relates to STEM. In 2011, they were the district No. 13 (out of 15) among Ohio’s urban districts — despite being the district that serves the most students. As one member of the editorial board for The Cleveland Plain-Dealer laments, the gap between rich and poor in Cleveland is as stark as it was in Charles Dickens’ London.

What do you think: Is Cleveland onto something? Can this be a successful urban model? Or is the sheer amount of organizations involved in charter production going to be a problem?

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‘Flipping’ For The Classroom Of The Future: A Look At Innovation Middle School

Innovation Middle School, outside of San Diego, recently won the 2012 Innovate Award from the Classroom of the Future Foundation.

One of the notable elements of Innovation Middle School’s approach is a technique called “flipping,” in which students watch a video lesson from home — on laptops provided by the school — then take a short assessment. When they arrive at school, instead of listening to a class lecture, they are placed in differentiated learning groups.

Teacher Michael Salamanca explains it this way:

So instead of that 30 minutes lecturing, it’s 30 minutes of I’m going to sit with this table or I’m going to sit with that table over there and we’re working on their specific issues instead of a more generic ‘this is where people tend to make mistakes.’ Because, as we all know, a lot of these kids learn differently.

Another teacher, Julie Garcia, explains the process this way:

It’s a lot more work, because I’m constantly circulating the room, checking work, talking with students. But I feel like I really know my students now because I can tell you after a 50 minute period I’ve probably talked to every single student at least three or four times and that kind of personal attention for students you don’t necessarily get with direct instruction.

This year, Innovation Middle also created their first-ever STEM Film Festival. The winners are listed here, where you can also watch their videos.

The school’s motto is “Where Technology And Character Come Together,” and all the focus on STEM education is underscored by developing the 7th and 8th graders as people. Principal Harlan Klein is a major proponent of character development.

Here’s our query: Does this seem like a common approach for schools now, or is something innovative developing outside of San Diego? Do you think the technique of ‘flipping’ might allow for greater student-teacher interaction?

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Election To Watch: Jay Inslee vs. Rob McKenna

There are gubernatorial elections in 11 U.S. states (and two territories) in 2012. Obviously, the education agendas of candidates in each election are important — many believe that Scott Walker’s June 5 re-election vs. Tom Barrett in Wisconsin could be indicative of the next year of American politics and beyond — but the Governor’s race in Washington state, likely to feature Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna, piqued our interest.

McKenna appears to have made education his primary issue of the campaign; Inslee has countered with a multi-tier plan of his own.

This piece breaks down where they differ on education policy. McKenna has supported charter schools; Inslee supports something similar to charter schools that he calls “innovative schools” — grant-funded alternative schools overseen by local school boards (Inslee has indicated that the traditional charter school model can dodge public accountability, which he sees as vital).

They both are in favor of a law using student test scores as a baseline for hiring, firing and tenure decisions.

One massively important drawback to this race is that both candidates have been vague on their school funding plans, even though outgoing Governor Christine Gregoire has noted that “new revenue is necessary.”

Is Rob McKenna one of the most education-focused gubernatorial candidates in America? Or should his vague funding plans concern us?

McKenna won the major endorsement of Stand for Children – they endorsed Gregoire last time out — using a “blind taste test” model.

In July of 2011, Washington ranked No. 20 on one metric ranking states in math and science education. It was No. 25, with a “C”-ranking, on the ALEC metrics. Within ALEC, the state received a “D+” ranking in the teacher quality areas. Clearly, the future of education in Washington state is a major issue — in the past decade, the percentage of the state budget dedicated to education has fallen from over half to around 40 percent, as one example — and this Governor’s race will make some inroads towards re-setting the path.

What’s your take: Inslee or McKenna? And how important is this election relative to other gubernatorial races?

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Movie Trailer: “Won’t Back Down”

The above film, “Won’t Back Down,” comes out on September 23 and stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Holly Hunter and Ving Rhames, among others. It’s directed by Daniel Barnz, perhaps best known for “Phoebe in Wonderland.”

The film deals with “parent trigger laws;” a good description of the film, and how it got made, can be found here. The controversial enactment of the “parent trigger” law in Adelanto, CA is currently in the hands of a judge.

“Won’t Back Down” does have similar backers — Walden Media, Participant Media, and the Gates Foundation — to “Waiting for Superman.” Another film, “Detachment,” by “American History X” director Tony Kaye and starring Adrien Brody and Marcia Gay Harden, has also opened recently.

Obviously, it remains to be seen how audiences will react to “Won’t Back Down.” Will they view it as propaganda in favor of one viewpoint, or a legitimate film that presents both sides of an issue?

What do you think? Would you see it? Would you expect a nuanced treatment of the topics?

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Curriculum To Watch: Letters Alive

Letters Alive is the first curriculum based on augmented reality. You can watch the video clip above; essentially, the program aims to teach young children to read and write through interaction with virtual, 3D animals. Cynthia Kaye, the CEO of Logical Choice Technologies (which developed the curriculum), explains it more here; in that video she’s surrounded by some of the animals that students are interacting with.

You can learn more about the program in this article from NPR, as well as this article.

Audobon Park Elementary in Orlando was the first school in the nation to adopt the curriculum, and it’s being beta-tested in several other elementary schools in California and Florida.

What do you think: Is this the future of teaching reading, or a technological fad?

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Is Mike Miles The New Face Of Education Reform?

You may remember this December 8, 2008 TIME Magazine cover that helped cement Michelle Rhee as the face of education reform in America. At Learning Matters, we covered Michelle Rhee’s tenure as superintendent for three years; there’s no doubt that her celebrity became a big part of the story.

Rhee runs StudentsFirst now, where she continues to affect school reform in the U.S.

Now, the new face of education reform among superintendents might be Mike Miles.

At the EWA Conference in Philadelphia last week, we received a copy of outgoing College Board president Gaston Kaperton’s new book, The Achievable Dream, which introduced me to Miles in greater detail.

Miles came to prominence as the superintendent of Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, CO; there, he closely linked teacher pay to teacher performance and instituted a policy where teachers had to instruct with their doors open, increasing transparency. He was hired to lead Dallas ISD on April 26, 2012; Dallas is the 14th-largest school district in America presently (second-largest in Texas).


How sweeping will Mike Miles' reforms in Dallas ultimately be?

While Miles’ plans for DISD aren’t known yet — his job officially begins on July 1, but he’s been quoting Moneyball at press conferences to explain some of his changes — it seems that some of the focuses will be feedback (including more assistant superintendent school site visits), Spanish-language programs, and a healthy dose of Teach for America teachers (Charles Glover, a TFA leader in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, was Miles’ first hire as Chief Talent Officer).

This 2010 profile of Miles, written when Rhee was still heading D.C. schools, makes the comparison between the two leaders directly:

Miles has been compared with Michelle Rhee, the go-get-em chancellor who has been villainized and lauded as she tries to repair the shattered Washington, D.C. school system. Rhee, a Korean-American who once taught in the innovative Teach for America program but has never been an administrator, was tapped to run the troubled district of 46,000 students. She has rewarded good teachers but has fired more than 250. Obama has called her “a wonderful new superintendent,” but she gained the wrath of the Washington Teachers Union, which is appealing the firings.

The question many are asking not only of Rhee, but of Miles: Are they reformers who can measure the quality of teachers in a fair way and bring reform to public education, or are they outsiders moving so recklessly that they’re endangering the good in public education along with the bad?

William McKenzie, blogging for The Dallas Observer, added this:

DISD has a new superintendent who seems more firmly rooted in the education reform camp than former Superintendent Michael Hinojosa was during his tenure. Dr. Hinojosa was certainly not opposed to reforms like more realistic teacher evaluations, developing stronger principals, using data to drive instruction and giving students choices through charters. He put his weight behind each of those. But neither was he as driven by education reforms that people like new superintendent Mike Miles seem to be. Hopefully, Miles won’t be as combative as uber-reformer Michelle Rhee was in D.C., but he seems much more in her student-focused approach to education.

So, dear readers … what do you think? Is Miles the new face of education reform in America? Is it fair to link Rhee and Miles? What can we expect from Dallas schools over the next decade?

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