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  • That's Not Teacher-Like

    Written on September 24, 2012

    I’ve been reading Albert Shanker’s “The Power of Ideas: Al In His Own Words," the American Educator’s compendium of Al’s speeches and columns, published posthumously in 1997. What an enjoyable, witty and informative collection of essays.

    Two columns especially caught my attention: “That’s Very Unprofessional Mr. Shanker!" and “Does Pavarotti Need to File an Aria Plan” – where Al discusses expectations for (and treatment of) teachers. They made me reflect, yet again, on whether perceptions of teacher professionalism might be gendered. In other words, when society thinks of the attributes of a professional teacher, might we unconsciously be thinking of women teachers? And, if so, why might this be important?

    In “That’s Very Unprofessional, Mr. Shanker!" Al writes:

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  • Jobs, Freedom And Mr. March On Washington

    Written on August 28, 2012

    Today is the 49th  anniversary of the historic 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in a year that marks the centennial of the birth of Bayard Rustin, the march’s principal organizer and chief strategist, referred to at the time as "Mr. March on Washington." Here, we reprint Albert Shanker’s 1987 eulogy to Rustin, who served as a mentor to both Shanker and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    The death of Bayard Rustin last week is an incalculable loss to our country and the world. He was the last of the great giants - A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Roy Wilkins - who brought us a grand, humane social vision and a dream of an integrated, democratic nation. I have lost a dear personal friend and inspiration.

    Bayard was a gifted leader, but he headed no mass organization. His extraordinary influence came not from numbers and money but from his intense moral, intellectual and physical courage. He was a black man, a Quaker, a one-time pacifist, a political and social dissident, a member of many and often despised minority groups, yet he always believed in the necessity of coalition politics to enable minorities to build majorities in support of lasting progress.

    He was a penetrating critic who had no use for those whose criticism merely destroyed and did not present a constructive program for change. He was an intellectual who could act and a visionary for whom no organizational detail was too trivial if it moved dreams to reality. Over his lifetime, Bayard was called everything from a dangerous revolutionary to a sellout conservative. The truth is that Bayard was a true democrat in a world of pretenders. Unlike those who lived by double standards and expediency, he remained constant to the principles and goals of democracy no matter what forces or insult were hurled against him.

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  • College For All; Good Jobs For A Few?

    Written on August 21, 2012

    A recent study by the Center for Policy Research (CEPR) asks the question that must be on the minds of college grads, now working as coffee shop baristas: “Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?" The answer: swallowed by corporate profits and the personal portfolios of the ultrawealthy.

    Despite the fact that the American economy has experienced “enormous” productivity gains since the late 1970’s, the study finds that the number of “good jobs” (defined as those paying at least $37,000 per year, with employer-provided health insurance and an employer-sponsored retirement plan) has declined from 27.4 percent in 1979 to 24.6 percent in 2010.  This discouraging trend was strong even before the onset of the country’s economic crisis: in 2007, the year before the onset of the recession, only 25 percent of college grads had “good jobs."

    CEPR notes that the prevailing explanations for the failure to share productivity gains are “technology” and lack of necessary skills among American workers. But, if this were true, the CEPR study argues, one would expect college grads to have a higher share of good jobs than they did 30 years ago. They don’t. Instead, at every age level, today’s college grads are less likely to have a “good job” than their 1970s counterparts. This is especially surprising, the researchers note, since twice as many Americans now have advanced degrees as compared to the 1970’s.

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  • Literacy For Life: The Role Of Career And Technical Education In Reading Proficiency

    Written on August 13, 2012

    It is well established that a student’s reading proficiency level in elementary school is a good predictor of high school graduation success. The lower the reading level, the more likely it is that the student will not graduate on time. Against this background, it is sobering that many U.S. students reach high school without the reading and comprehension skills they need. According to NAEP data, in 2011, more than a third (33 percent) of 4th-graders were reading at a below basic level; among 8th-grade and 12th grade students, the percentage of students who were stuck at the below basic reading level had dropped, but only to about 25 percent. Many of these students drop out; many go on to earn a diploma, but enter the work world singularly unprepared to earn a living.

    What is to be done? Certainly, intensive remediation is part of the answer, but so are practice and motivation and interest. The challenge for struggling readers at the high school level is hard to overstate; by the time they enter high school, they often display a negative and despairing attitude toward school that has been hardened by years of failure. Furthermore, most high school teachers are not trained in literacy instruction, a specialized skill which is theoretically the purview of early elementary school. Indeed, for many urban teachers, motivating kids just to come to school is the major challenge.

    How do we motivate these kids, who sometimes exhibit stubborn resistance to reading or to any other kind of schoolwork?  One effective strategy is to make the purpose of reading as interesting and obvious as possible. For many youngsters, that means access to high-quality Career and Technical Education (CTE).

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  • The New Middle East: Democratic Accountability And The Role Of Trade Unions

    Written on August 10, 2012

    Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli.  She has 25 years of experience in the promotion of democracy, independent trade unions, political and economic development. She has worked with institutions and leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to challenge authoritarian regimes. Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

    Since the shock of 9/11 and the tragedy that ensued, many policy analysts have questioned whether or not Islam is compatible with democracy, while  ignoring countries such as Indonesia (the largest Muslim nation in the world) as well as  India, Turkey, and  others with large Muslim populations.

    Now, in the aftermath of Arab Spring, Islamist political parties have gained political power through elections in the Middle East and, for many analysts, the jury is still out: Can Islamist governments be responsive to the people who elected them? Will it be one person, one vote, one time?  It appears that these questions are about to be answered:  The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which governs Turkey, has been in the forefront for many years. In Morocco, a majority of voters also handed power to the Justice and Development Party (PJD), a party inspired by Turkey's moderate Islamists. Tunisia’s Al-Nahda (Renaissance) party and its prime minister were elected to office after free and fair elections.  In Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) established by the Muslim Brotherhood, won the Presidential elections and his new prime minister has formed a cabinet.

    Against this background, the fundamental challenge to these governments in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region is economic and not religious. The newly-minted Islamist governments are going to be tested daily and this time held accountable by voters who are no longer afraid to speak out.

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  • Investing In Children = Supporting Their Families

    Written on August 2, 2012

    Although some parents are better positioned than others to meet their families’ child care needs, very few parents are immune to the challenges of balancing work and family. Adding further stress to families is the fact that single-parent households are at a record high in the U.S., with more than 40 percent of births happening outside of marriage. Paid parental leave and quality early childhood education (ECE) are two important policies that can assist parents in this regard. In the United States, however, both are less comprehensive and less equally distributed than in most other developed nations.

    As a recent (and excellent) Forbes piece points out, we have two alternatives: hope that difficult family circumstances reverse themselves, or support policies such as paid parental leave and universal early childhood education and care — policies which would make it much easier for all parents to raise children, be it as a couple or on their own. So, what’s it going to be?

    In 2010, a global survey on paid leave and other workplace benefits directed by Dr. Jody Heymann (McGill University) and Dr. Alison Earle (Northeastern University) found that the U.S. is one of four* countries in the world without a national law guaranteeing paid leave for parents.** The other three nations are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. Some might see this as evidence of American “exceptionalism," but what a 2011 Human Rights Watch report finds exceptional is the degree to which the nation is "Failing Its Families." In fact, according to a survey of registered voters cited in the report, 76 percent of Americans said they would endorse laws that provide paid leave for family care and childbirth. Yet, it is still the case in the U.S. that parental leave, when available at all, is usually brief and unpaid.

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  • Labor Market Behavior Actually Matters In Labor Market-Based Education Reform

    Written on July 26, 2012

    Economist Jesse Rothstein recently released a working paper about which I am compelled to write, as it speaks directly to so many of the issues that we have raised here over the past year or two. The purpose of Rothstein’s analysis is to move beyond the talking points about teaching quality in order to see if strategies that have been proposed for improving it might yield benefits. In particular, he examines two labor market-oriented policies: performance pay and dismissing teachers.

    Both strategies are, at their cores, focused on selection (and deselection) – in other words, attracting and retaining higher-performing candidates and exiting, directly or indirectly, lower-performing incumbents. Both also take time to work and have yet to be experimented with systematically in most places; thus, there is relatively little evidence on the long-term effects of either.

    Rothstein’s approach is to model this complex dynamic, specifically the labor market behavior of teachers under these policies (i.e., choosing, leaving and staying in teaching), which is often ignored or assumed away, despite the fact that it is so fundamental to the policies themselves. He then calculates what would happen under this model as a result of performance pay and dismissal policies – that is, how they would affect the teacher labor market and, ultimately, student performance.*

    Of course, this is just a simulation, and must be (carefully) interpreted as such, but I think the approach and findings help shed light on three fundamental points about education reform in the U.S.

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  • A Chance To Help Build Grassroots Democracy In China

    Written on July 12, 2012

    Our guest author today is Han Dongfang, director of China Labor Bulletin. You can follow him on Weibo in Chinese and on Twitter in English and Chinese. This article originally appeared on the China Labor Bulletin, and has been reprinted with permission of the author.

    The first of February this year was a historic day in the Chinese village of Wukan. Several thousand villagers, who had chased out their corrupt old leaders, went to the polls to democratically elect new representatives. A few months later, on 27 May, there was another equally historic democratic election in a factory in nearby Shenzhen, when nearly 800 employees went to the polls to elect their new trade union representatives. These two elections, one in the countryside, the other in the workplace, both represent important milestones on the road towards genuine grassroots democracy in China.

    Just like in Wukan, the Shenzhen election came about a few months after a mass protest at the ineptitude of the incumbent leadership. The workers at the Omron electronics factory staged a strike on 29 March demanding higher pay and better benefits and, crucially, democratic elections for a new trade union chairman.

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  • Mind The Gap

    Written on June 20, 2012

    We have been engaged in decades-long public policy debates on gaps and how best to close them: the income gap, the student achievement gap, gender-linked gaps in employment opportunities. But why do we care so much about gaps? In a land of diversity, why are subgroup differences such a concern?

    At a basic level, we care about gaps because (or when) our fundamental assumption is that, on a “level playing field," there should be no systematic differences among people based on ascribed traits, such as race and gender, that are unrelated to the “game." It is “ok” if a specific Hispanic kid performs at a lower level than his/her white counterpart or vice-versa. But it’s not ok if, on average, Hispanic students’ test scores systematically lag behind that of similar white children. Why? Because we know intelligence and ability are normally distributed across racial/ethnic groups. So, when groups differ in important outcomes, we know that this "distance” is indicative of other problems.

    What problems exactly? That is a more complex question.

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  • Gender Pay Gaps And Educational Achievement Gaps

    Written on June 13, 2012

    There is currently an ongoing rhetorical war of sorts over the gender wage gap. One “side” makes the common argument that women earn around 75 cents on the male dollar (see here, for example).

    Others assert that the gender gap is a myth, or that it is so small as to be unimportant.

    Often, these types of exchanges are enough to exasperate the casual observer, and inspire claims such as “statistics can be made to say anything." In truth, however, the controversy over the gender gap is a good example of how descriptive statistics, by themselves, say nothing. What matters is how they’re interpreted.

    Moreover, the manner in which one must interpret various statistics on the gender gap applies almost perfectly to the achievement gaps that are so often mentioned in education debates.

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