Published Online: August 23, 2010
Published in Print: August 25, 2010, as Blogs of the Week

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SARA MEAD'S POLICY NOTEBOOK

Edujobs: Not All That

As we consider Edujobs, don’t let’s forget that K-12 public education isn’t the only area of education suffering from significant state budget cuts now. Child care programs received a significant funding bump—the first in a very long time—in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but the impact of those federal funds has been largely swamped by state spending cuts.

I also wish people would talk/ask a bit more about distributive impacts. As David Leonhardt noted in The New York Times last week, the Great Recession has not hit all Americans equally: Workers with college degrees are faring much better than those without. Given this disparity, does it really make sense for a major federal jobs effort to focus on teachers—virtually all of whom are college-educated—rather than less-educated workers who face less favorable employment prospects? —Sara Mead


RICK HESS STRAIGHT UP

Edujobs: Just Plain Bad

I want to be crystal clear. I think that Edujobs was not just wasteful but was positively harmful. For more than a half century, we’ve spent more dollars on K-12 schooling each year than we did the year before. The problem with this is that no one makes tough choices in flush times. I don’t care if you’re a tough-minded for-profit CEO or a cuddly koala of a nonprofit executive; nobody is eager to squeeze salaries, shut down inefficient programs, seek out savings, or trim employees when they can avoid it.

This is why recessions, threats posed by new competitors, difficult fund-raising cycles and the like are so healthful for organizations. They make possible the occasional pruning, and permit organizations to regain their fighting trim, to reexamine old priorities, to create a leaner culture focused on productivity and performance, and to increase the likelihood that new dollars will be spent smarter.

So long as the bailout drawer might be open, however, union leaders who might be tempted to deal in good faith know that they will look like suckers and softies if they do so. —Rick Hess


DIGITAL EDUCATION

Hands-On Laptops

A recent edweek.org commentary examines researcher Ted Kesler’s experience integrating laptops into an urban 5th grade classroom. Because of budget cuts, the school did not have a computer lab, and it relied on teachers themselves to integrate the technology instead of providing a technology specialist for the school.

Some of Kesler’s suggestions seem to go against what lots of ed-tech advocates say, which is that technology should not be treated as a separate subject, but infused throughout the curriculum. What Kesler’s experiences suggest, though, is that not all teachers are capable of integrating technology effectively without the help of specialists who can provide support and guidance on how it should be done. —Katie Ash


INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH

Motivation Matters

In a recent review of more than 100 studies from the U.S. and across the globe, University of London researcher Chris Watkins ties the current discussion over how to teach modern critical thinking and problem-solving skills back to the decades-old discussion of students’ motivation in the classroom. The research, reported in the summer 2010 edition of Research Matters, suggests that two parallel motivations drive student achievement: “learning orientation,” the drive to improve your knowledge and competency; and “performance orientation,” the drive to prove that competency to others. Watkins found the highest-achieving students had a healthy dose of both types, but students who focused too heavily on performance ironically performed less well academically, thought less critically, and had a harder time overcoming failure.

Two guesses which orientation develops under a U.S.-style assessment accountability system, and the first guess doesn’t count. One study included in the review showed 10-year-olds mirrored their teacher’s performance orientation even in unrelated tasks outside the classroom—and performed poorer on those tasks as a result. The pressure to perform can hamstring teachers’ attempts to deepen students’ understanding through metacognitive exercises like journals or class discussions, the studies showed.

Of course, the likelihood of U.S. or British schools moving away from high-stakes accountability is low, and the Research Matters review suggests that educators should stop thinking of learning and performance as diametrically opposed. —Sarah D. Sparks

Vol. 30, Issue 01, Page 8

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