Reflecting their satisfaction with a controversial initiative, teachers in virtually every school that participated in the first year of a school-wide performance bonus program voted to participate again this year, the Department of Education announced today. (Download the full list of schools.) When it was first announced last year, the bonus program was received with skepticism by some who saw the union's participation as a first step toward true merit pay. Teachers unions have traditionally opposed the idea of paying teachers differently depending on their students' performance. The DOE's program, in contrast, awards participating schools that meet their "performance targets" a shared pot of money that school personnel can decide how to distribute With 89% of teachers voting to keep their schools in the bonus program, it's clear that teachers at participating schools were happy with the program's first year. But more important is whether the program benefitted students. On that question, the numbers are less clear.
An adapted Obama poster used at last night's District 3 diversity rally. An Upper West Side parent council last night put its stamp of approval on a plan to ease overcrowding in public schools there. But opponents of the plan, who have been criticizing it for the past two months as stamping out diversity, kept up their fight until the very end. The council's resolution means that two schools, the Anderson School and the Center School, will relocate to other buildings in the neighborhood next fall. In 2010, people living in three small sections of the neighborhood will be reassigned to different elementary schools. All that remains now is for the Department of Education to execute the changes. Opponents of the resolution included both Center School parents who don't want their school to move and advocates of diversity, who think the resolution will make schools in the area more segregated. Some of those parents rallied before the meeting yesterday. (View a video from last night's rally, during which speakers condemn Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and swear to keep fighting for diversity. Yes, "Sex and the City" actress Cynthia Nixon appears, but unlike in last week's video, she has a non-speaking role.) Before the council approved the resolution in a 7-1 vote, dozens of parents, neighborhood residents, and elected officials delivered one-minute speeches expressing their support or opposition. The speeches lasted more than an hour.
Sarah Reckhow, a grad student at UC Berkeley and a Teach For America alum, e-mailed me an idea for the naming contest: How about the Boardroom Progressives? The name comes from Reckhow's dissertation (getting serious here!), which she excerpted for me: A new cohort of "Boardroom Progressives"—officers in major national foundations, leaders of education nonprofits, corporate leaders engaged in education, and non-traditional urban superintendents—are leading a charge to reform public education. Much like the Progressives of the early 20th century, the Boardroom Progressive represent elite segments of society. They also share a suspicious view of the role of politics and interest groups, particularly teachers' unions, in education policy.
For the last six years, the federal government has subsidized an elementary-level reading program called Reading First, making it available for free to public schools that apply. But a study released today found that the program did not improve elementary students' ability to understand what they read. It did help first graders with the more basic reading skills of identifying and sounding out words, the study found. Reading First is currently used in more than 60 public schools in New York City, serving primarily low-income students. No New York City schools were part of the study, a spokesperson for the city Department of Education told me. Will the New York City schools that use Reading First drop it? I was hoping to ask principals that question today, but the DOE press office hasn't returned my request for a list of their names. A lot depends on whether Congress renews funding for Reading First.
PHOTO: Scott ElliottA few people protested outside last week's CEC meeting; more are expected tonight. A rally this evening against a parent council resolution to relieve overcrowding in Upper West Side schools will try to move beyond a bitter fight between two schools to focus on the broader issue of diversity in the neighborhood's schools. The Community Education Council for District 3 voted last week after a contentious meeting to introduce a resolution that would move two schools and reduce the zones of two others. Tonight, six members of CEC 3 must vote to pass the resolution. Before tonight's CEC vote, a rally will give voice to parents who say the resolution, if enacted, would reduce diversity in several of the neighborhood's school buildings. "Is this what we want in our city?" asked Jeanne Kerwin, a parent who is one of the organizers of tonight's rally. At stake is the fate of the entire two-month-long rezoning process. If the resolution is defeated tonight, the Department of Education, not parents, will decide how to deal with the space crunch at neighborhood schools.
Just yesterday she was being cagey about her role in the Obama transition, but today Linda Darling-Hammond, the lightning-rod Stanford professor, was officially named head of Obama's education policy working group. The position is likely to be scrutinized by those who were looking for a sign of precisely where Obama will land in the Democratic Party's raging debate over how to improve America's public schools. The thousands of people who have attached their names to an online petition supporting Darling-Hammond as a prospective Secretary of Education will likely embrace the news. They argue that she is "a key ingredient" to creating a "truly progressive public education system." But the news could also disappoint some in the education world who deeply oppose Darling-Hammond.