Thursday, April 2, 2009

News I'm Thinking About

Item #1: I rarely understand Israeli politics, and don't often care, but this piece in the New York Times made me a little nervous.

New Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, already a right-wing conservative, apparently needed to reach further to the right in order to form his government.

For foreign minister, he selected nationalist Avigdor Lieberman. The guy, according to the Times, wanted a loyalty clause for all Israelis, seems to be racist against Arabs, and refuses the Annapolis agreement signed in 2007.

Here are a couple of quotes from the Times:

"Those who wish for peace should prepare for war."

"Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong. It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars."

Obviously, the Israeli and Palestinian conflicts are incredibly complex, and I'll admit to understanding maybe 10 percent. It just seems odd to me that a foreign minister in charge of diplomacy with other nations would talk like this.

2) In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning, Eugene Kane wrote a piece about Milwaukee's school choice program.

In it he admits to not always supporting the program, while Howard Fuller, former school superintendent and nationally known supporter of choice program, believes school choice gives poor inner-city black students a better chance of academic success.

Last week, several studies reported no significant difference between test scores of choice schools and public schools. Fuller concedes, and Kane seems to agree, that choice schools need more "quality, accountability, and transparency."

Kane also talked about how choice schools become a political football, particularly for politicians who want to bash the teachers' union.

As a public school teacher, I haven't liked the idea of choice schools, particularly sending public money to private, often religious, schools. But Milwaukee Public Schools face incredible challenges, and if a man as well-respected as Howard Fuller says choice schools are good for poor black students, then I have to rely on his opinion since I don't teach at MPS.

But as a teacher who fully believes in drastically reforming public education, I think there is room for choice within MPS.

For example, could we create a school - or a school within in a school - where we work out the theories of James Beane, Paulo Freire, and so many other researchers who say kids need to have meaningful and relevant curriculum that they choose and that is based on authentic questions the kids pose?

And could there be other options: music and drama schools, schools where learners learn by doing, schools where kids explore science or history in depth?

I'd be a lot more comfortable with this kind of choice school, rather than publicly funded private schools.

You should see my classroom when all kids are fully engaged in meaningful activities. It doesn't happen every day, but I'll tell you: there are no discipline problems. Ever.

In schools and classrooms where kids feel like the curriculum is meaningless and/or irrelevant, the discipline problems increase.

Regardless, MPS needs serious changes. The educational system does not work for the current clientele of student. If Howard Fuller believes choice schools are the best alternative right now, and we can all agree on more quality, accountability, and transparency, then that's a good place to start.

But let's not rely on the new Israeli foreign minister's views to shape our education discussion about MPS. Those who wish for a better educational system should not bicker about political agendas, but should be concerned about how kids learn best. Then we should design our schools to meet those needs.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Paul - A couple comments...

    I know no more than you about the Isreal situation. I have some opinions, but don't know nearly enough history to be too strong in them. But, if you haven't already seen this, you might find this op-ed from the NYT in January interesting (and you might find the author quite ironic):

    As for the MPS situation... I think some of the internal choice you suggest already exists within MPS. I don't know about some of the curriculum philosophies you mentioned. But, MPS has a large number of speciality schools. It has a HS for the arts, Bradley HS is supposed to focus on trades, Rufus King is an IB school with fairly high achievement. One of my coworkers went to Bay View HS where she took a specialty construction program where they actually built a house. I know of specialty elementary schools that focus on environmental sciences and creative writing (and there are others), as well as three language immersion schools (K-8) and two Montessori schools. The choice is there. I just can't help but think the system might just be too big and unwieldy. I think, more than anything, MPS needs to find a new way to manage their finances/assets.

    Vouchers don't help their cause. I'm a big believer in public education, and I think vouchers just hurt public schools and help fund churches. What vouchers do accomplish is immediately helping kids who need help now, as opposed to letting a generation languish while MPS hopefully improves. But, the new studies cast doubt on how much help these kids are actually getting via vouchers. Which, might put us back a square one.

    It would be nice to look to vouchers or the school board to solve all of MPS's problems. But, in my opinion, the core of MPS problems is poverty. Poverty is a crazy tangled web of problems that put alot of extra stresses on kids that cut into their educational achievement. There has been talk of a public/private funded boarding school in Milwaukee. I think this option provides an opportunity to, at least partially, insulate students from some of these stresses and provide them with an environment in which to learn and grow.

    Ok, there's my 2 cents. I could probably write a dollar's worth, but I'll stop now.

    Glad to hear your prognosis is pretty good and you'll be heading back to the classroom soon!!