Published Online: April 27, 2010
Published in Print: April 28, 2010, as Blogs of the Week

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LEARNING THE LANGUAGE

Dream On

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Richard Lugar have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asking her to stop deportations of any undocumented students who would be eligible to earn legal status under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act.

A number of students who would benefit from the DREAM Act, some of whom call themselves “DREAMers,” have become politically active in trying to get Congress to approve the measure, which was introduced by Sen. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Sen. Lugar, an Indiana Republican, but never passed. Four undocumented students are currently walking from Miami to the nation’s capital to try to attract public support for its passage.

Through social networking and media blitzes, a few individual undocumented students have gained backing from members of Congress and immigration authorities to get postponement of deportations.—Mary Ann Zehr


POLITICS K-12

This Isn’t Graduate School

U.S. Department of Education officials recently gave some insight into what the peer reviewers really liked, and what they really didn’t like, about states’ first-round Race to the Top applications.

The peer reviewers would really appreciate that applications have page numbers, a table of contents, and be legible. (Sheesh. They’re asking a lot.)

The peer reviewers are clearly a bunch of professors. They would like a coherent, flowing application with topic sentences, and without too many “buzzwords” or acronyms. The peer reviewers can apparently tell when states have delegated sections of the application to different writers and teams. They would prefer an application written with “one voice.”

And if a question asks states to address teachers and principals, then address both. They notice when states give only partial answers. Credibility also matters. The peer reviewers want an honest, straightforward application that addresses weaknesses or a lack of data head-on, and that doesn't use long, windy sentences to try to get around an issue.—Michelle McNeil


CURRICULUM MATTERS

Hitting a High Note

If you’re tired of hearing bad news about the state of arts education amid budget cuts and pressure on schools to focus most of their energy on boosting test scores in subjects like reading and math, a recent analysis about string and orchestra programs may, well, strike a chord.

Twenty-nine percent of public school districts in the nation offered string programs in 2009, compared with 18 percent in 1997, says the white paper by the National String Project Consortium. The white paper also identifies a shortage of string teachers, with 3,000 needed by 2013, although that's smaller than the 5,000-teacher shortage by 2005 that was identified in an earlier study. Of course, not all of the news from the research is hopeful. Between 2003 and 2008, financial support from school districts for string education decreased in 66 percent of programs, the white paper says.—Erik W. Robelen


DISTRICT DOSSIER

Waiting for Superman

Documentaries have made the same point over and over: America’s public school system is failing many students and doing a pitiful job at preparing those we do graduate to compete in a global economy. But in a new documentary film, Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) is hoping to tell that story in a way that makes it more personal and inspires action.

His yet-to-be released film, “Waiting for Superman,” takes us on a journey through the perils and pitfalls of American education. Those in the education reform camp represented by the likes of Democrats for Education Reform are more likely to be happy with their depictions than say, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who many filmgoers at a recent screening said seemed to be represented in a somewhat one-dimensional fashion.

As Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the renowned Harlem Children’s Zone, explains in the film, he hoped as a kid for someone to come save him from his bleak neighborhood. But he remembers how much he cried the day his mother told him Superman wasn’t real.

I was crying because there was no one coming with enough power to save us.—Dakarai I. Aarons


WALT GARDNER'S REALITY CHECK

Risky Business

It’s not often that a scathing academic study about business schools and front-page news about a Wall Street scandal are published simultaneously. But such was the case when three Harvard Business School scholars released Rethinking the M.B.A.: Business Education at a Crossroads, and The New York Times reported that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had filed a civil complaint against Goldman Sachs for alleged securities fraud. The confluence warrants a closer look because of its relevance to the debate over reforming K-12 schools.

The mantra is that the greatest threat to the future of the U.S. is the failure of public schools to graduate students who possess the skills and knowledge to compete against students from other countries in the new global economy. Yet the graduates who created the worst catastrophe since the Great Depression were not deficient in literacy and numeracy. On the contrary, so many of them were graduates of tony prep schools and marquee-name colleges. But they were woefully devoid of ethics.

In a democracy, schools exist not only to teach subject matter, but also to prepare students to become responsible citizens. Because this outcome is not measured on standardized tests, it is virtually ignored. Yet in the long run, it may well be the most important, as the Wall Street mess attests.—Walt Gardner

Vol. 29, Issue 30, Page 11

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