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September 13, 2011 3 min read
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Dead Child Walking

Some friends from church and I periodically do a community prayer walk, engaging people on the streets to find out how we can pray for them. One evening, I approached a group of teenagers and met Monique (not her real name), a 17-year-old who felt like a dead girl walking.

“My school sucks!” was the first thing she said when I asked her how I should pray. When she told me the name of her high school, I knew what she meant: high gang activity, low academic achievement, poor upkeep. Monique went on to say that so many things have gone wrong in her life, she didn’t know where to start.

“Pray for my boyfriend, that he will get himself together and that he won’t end up dead,” she said. Then she named at least eight friends who have been gunned down in Chicago. Her future prom date was the latest victim.

“He was jumping up and down, happy because he graduated,” Monique said, “but what was the point of that achievement if he’s gonna be dead?”

In high school, I knew several Moniques, but we had nothing in common and intentionally ran in contrasting circles. My perspective on Monique has changed as an adult. I no longer avoid her. In fact, I want to connect.

My calls for drastic education reform are not rooted in ideology or in politics. I want reform for girls like Monique. Her school cannot fix all the drama and trauma in her life, but it should at least be a safe haven that drives her toward hope. We all have to get our hands dirty and make sacrifices to engage and take back the community. We can no longer apply subtle, incremental changes to fix our radical problems.

When our sidewalk chat ended, I gave Monique a hug and my cell phone number. I told her I was a teacher and could be her mentor, if she wanted one. I really hope she rings my phone.

—Marilyn Rhames


School Reform’s Missing Link?

The current education reform ethos has centered on improving individual teachers’ effectiveness and accountability. But Carrie R. Leana, a professor of organizations and management at the University of Pittsburgh, argues that reformers have overlooked another, perhaps even more important, factor: the level of interaction and collaboration among teachers, or what sheterms a school’s “social capital.”

When teachers have strong ties to their peers, her research shows, student achievement goes up.

Along similar lines, she says principals are more successful in generating achievement gains when they concentrate on providing resources to help teachers build connections than when they are personally mentoring and monitoring teachers.

So what are the implications for education policy and reform?

In an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Leana points to the importance of supporting “teacher stability” and creating systems that reward “mentoring and collaboration among teachers”—perhaps over and above the achievements of individual superstars.

—Anthony Rebora


The Transparency Wars: AFT vs. Rhee

Just when you think the world has moved on from the AFT’s Randi Weingarten vs. former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee narrative, Politico reports that an anti-Rhee website was allegedly created on computers registered at the American Federation of Teachers’ headquarters.

Rhee’s fundraising group, StudentsFirst, which generally favors strong teacher evaluation and changes to pay and tenure, issued an affronted-sounding statement: “Unfortunately, this is just the latest report of an ostensibly organic, grassroots voice attacking reform proponents that has in fact turned out to be secretly backed by the teachers’ unions.”

The AFT’s counter-response isn’t a denial or confirmation as much as a thrown gauntlet: “What’s the big deal? has been up since March, tracking what Michelle Rhee has said, what she has done and how the media have covered her.”

What to make of these latest shots in the Transparency Wars? On one hand, it is more than a little jarring to see AFT affiliates calling for more civility in the nation’s education debates while endorsing these kinds of websites.

But Rhee’s advocacy group StudentsFirst isn’t exactly a paragon in transparency, either. The group, which set a fundraising goal of $1 billion in its first year, won’t release details of its fundraising so far, or which groups have paid.

Politico points out that these exchanges illuminate the very personal disagreements between Rhee and Weingarten. Interesting, then, that both have left their organizations vulnerable to similar criticism.

—Stephen Sawchuk

A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2011 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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