Assessment Opinion

Bridging Differences: 2013’s Top 10 Posts

By Education Week Staff — December 24, 2013 4 min read
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Poverty. Equity. And how teaching and standardized assessment intersect with both. These are themes that dominated Bridging Differences in 2013.

Looking back at the blog this year revealed that the most-read posts in 2013 were written by numerous writers (Eric A. Hanushek, Alfie Kohn, Michael J. Petrilli, Elliott Witney, and, of course, Deborah Meier) on different aspects of the achievement and experience gap between rich and poor students. Readers were particularly drawn to essays on the concept of the kind of schools poor children deserved, including how discipline should be meted out, how teachers should go about their work, and how student success should be judged.

Below are the headlines and brief descriptions of the 10 most-read Bridging Differences blog posts from the past year. Read the blogs and add a comment about what they say and why you think they attracted more readers than other Bridging Differences posts. —The Editors

1. The year’s most popular post was written by Alfie Kohn. Titled “Alfie Kohn: Why Punishment Doesn’t Work,” the piece examined punishment in schools. In the Jan. 24 piece, author and former educator Kohn wrote: “With respect to the issues you’ve raised this week, I’d add a more specific question: Do you think punishment is sometimes appropriate and beneficial, or do you agree with me that it isn’t but contend that it sometimes must be used as a transitional measure, the idea being that it should be faded out once the students’ (or their parents’) trust in the educators has been established and a caring school community has been constructed?”

2. Elliott Witney, a former KIPP school leader who now works in a traditional public school district, posted the No. 2 entry (“Explaining KIPP’s ‘SLANT’ ") on April 11. “SLANT emerged at our school in Houston as an easy way to explain to children some key elements of a stimulating learning environment,” Witney wrote. “Engaged learners Sit up; they Listen; they Ask and Answer questions; they Nod when it makes sense to nod; and they Track the speaker—whether that speaker is a fellow student or the teacher. SLANT is a means to an end, not an end in itself—a distinction that is worth re-reading.”

3. In the No. 3 post of the year, Deborah Meier writes to the Fordham Institute’s Michael J. Petrilli about test scores and more. In the May 16 post “Problem vs. Solution: A Response,” she writes: “The belief that the most promising way to tackle poverty requires frequent standardized tests for all students, breaking up the public school monopoly, imposing accountability measures on teachers, and more ‘efficient’ delivery systems is, in my view, ‘part of the disease.’ ”

4. The No. 4 post, from April 2, is “Trying to Understand the KIPP Approach.” Written by Deborah Meier to Elliott Witney, she notes that she is “generally predisposed to a negative reaction to the KIPP model—both for its reputation for accomplishing testing ‘miracles’ and for its approach to discipline.” But, she adds, “many thoughtful education critics claim there’s a connection between KIPP’s discipline system and high achievement (i.e. high test scores).”

5-9. Poverty and education figure prominently in the next several top blog posts, all of which were penned by either Michael Petrilli or Deborah Meier.

At No. 5 is Petrilli’s “Am I a Part of the Cure ... or the Disease?,” published online May 14. Petrilli wrote: “A year ago, for example, I explored the “test score hypothesis"—a line of reasoning, undergirding much of the reform movement, that says that if we can significantly improve low-income students’ math and reading skills, as measured by standardized tests, we can significantly increase their chances of escaping poverty.”

Petrilli’s May 28 post, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Poverty” comes in at No. 6. In it, he writes “I want to return to the perennial question of poverty as it relates to educational outcomes. ... I’m not opposed to tackling these larger issues of poverty and inequality. (Neither are most reformers.) But we’d better have a good understanding of what we’re tackling. I would argue that clarity is sorely lacking. ... Is the issue really poverty, per se?” Petrilli also authored the No. 7 post, “To Close the ‘Opportunity Gap,’ We Need to Close the Vocabulary Gap,” which ran on the blog on May 7, and the provocatively titled No. 8 post, “The Especially Deserving Poor,” from Oct. 10.

On May 30, Deborah Meier responded to Petrilli with the No. 9 post: “Can Schools Overcome Poverty and Racism?” Meier writes: “You are right; it isn’t money ‘alone’ (it actually rarely comes alone) that damages the children of the poor. Still, we both agree that money helps. For example, the poor are more likely to be in school while suffering from pain (e.g. toothaches, nausea, or a fever or untreated wound.) Going to the doctor, finding someone to stay home with the baby, taking a day or two off work are advantages that money buys. Poverty means you are unlikely to belong to a network (via family and neighborhood) that introduces you to ‘useful’ people, digs up letters of reference for you, or gets you a summertime job. All these have something to do with money. An advantage is an advantage.

And, the No. 10 blog post of the year was by Eric A. Hanushek of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. It was titled “Can’t We Pay Our Best Teachers More?” and ran on the blog on March 26. As the title suggests, it explores the touchy subject of merit-based teacher pay. He writes: “And there is another element of the failure to differentiate pay according to the effectiveness and impact of teachers. Almost certainly overall salaries of teachers are held down by the failure to recognize that some teachers are more effective than others.

Bridging Differences takes a short holiday break after this post. The blog will return in early 2014. Happy holidays!

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