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June 07, 2010 3 min read
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INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH

Principals’ Choice

In the May 31 edition of the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin, researchers mine data on 81,000 teachers in New York City schools to find out which teachers apply for transfers and which of those applicants get hired.

It turns out that teachers with impressive qualifications in terms of exam scores and sheepskins from prestigious universities tend to be those most likely to jump ship. On the other hand, teachers who are judged to be effective based on their students’ test performance tend to stick around a little longer.

“The results suggest not only that more-effective teachers prefer to stay in their schools but that, when given the opportunity, schools are able to identify and hire the best candidates,” the researchers conclude. I think it also suggests that having a sixth sense about teachers should be part of the job description for principals. —Debra Viadaro

ON SPECIAL EDUCATION

Sticks and Stones ...

Senators are preparing to eliminate all references in federal law to the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded individual,” The Hill newspaper reported. New legislation, called Rosa’s Law, would replace those terms with “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability,” the article says.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., last November after promising a constituent she would act if the Maryland legislature passed a similar law. The Maryland law was signed last year. —Lisa Fine

RICK HESS STRAIGHT UP

An Inconvenient Truth About Education Movies

I can’t recall how many times over the years I’ve heard from school reformers, “We need our own ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ “ All of a sudden, three-hanky edu-movies are storming the landscape—“The Cartel,” “Waiting for Superman,” and “The Lottery.”

Proponents hope that these flicks, which massively one-up Al Gore’s 2006 magnum opus when it comes to raw sentiment, are finally going to awaken Americans to the villainy of the teachers’ unions and get them invested in school reform.

Me, I’m a skeptic. I’m doubtful that getting people to sit for two hours of emotionally manipulative filmmaking really leads to changes in attitudes or behavior. For those who don’t remember, “An Inconvenient Truth” did huge in the box office, won an Academy Award, led to a Nobel Peace Prize for Gore, and was credited with riling a previously docile public into action.

But how much did the film actually shift public opinion on global warming? Even a cursory look at the data seems to suggest not much. There are at least three lessons here. One, a hugely successful movie can cause a shift. Two, it looks like that shift has a limited shelf life. And three, the green movement never had much success harnessing a temporary boost in a meaningful fashion. If education reformers want to better schools, they ought to bring a new playbook. —Rick Hess

LEADERTALK

Homework Happens

There are several myths surrounding homework: 1) teachers who give lots of homework are more challenging, 2) assigning homework makes a course rigorous, 3) homework has to be given to be taken seriously as a teacher, 4) children need homework because it makes them smarter, etc. The truth is homework does not benefit anyone unless it is purposeful and meaningful to the student.

It personally makes me upset when I walk down a hall and see poster board up with glued-on pictures from magazines and the Internet. Although technology is not everything, I would argue that by infusing it, there can be a richer understanding of material. So the next time you see a teacher asking students to pull out the glue stick and scissors to make a mobile in a shoe box, ask: What is the purpose? And who and how is this helping? —Teresa Ivey & James Yap

A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2010 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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