School Success Criteria Vol 2: Teachers

In yesterday’s post, the first of a series outlining what makes a school successful, I started the article by stating that I was unhappy that teachers are disproportionately punished for bad performance in schools. Newsweek’s cover story this week is titled “Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers” tells the other side of the story–that teachers should be blamed when blame is due,

What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher. Much of the ability to teach is innate—an ability to inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess (and some people definitely do not)….It is also true and unfortunate that often the weakest teachers are relegated to teaching the neediest students, poor minority kids in inner-city schools. For these children, teachers can be make or break. “The research shows that kids who have two, three, four strong teachers in a row will eventually excel, no matter what their background, while kids who have even two weak teachers in a row will never recover,” says Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and coauthor of the 2006 study “Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality…..disturbing is the immunity enjoyed by the thousands of teachers who let down their students in more ordinary ways. Many more teachers are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. Maybe they’d get more respect if the truly bad teachers were let go.

This article was inspired by the recent brouhaha surrounding the Rhode Island teacher firings, but it could just have much been about the Philadelphia Renaissance School program, Read the rest of this entry »

The Lower Merion School District Paradox

Lower Merion School District (LMSD) is known to be one of the best school districts in Pennsylvania, despite the recent laptop-webcam scandal.  I have toured two of the public elementary schools already and they seem to be amazing.  It would seem like a no-brainer that I would want to move my family there for the schools if the decision was purely based on school quality.  Of course, there are issues that are important to me beyond school quality (see the choice criteria tag plus personal issues like commute times and financial), but let me put them aside for the purposes of this post.  Are there other reasons that LMSD is not the best choice?

Drawing the school districting lines for the Lower Merion School district last year was a contentious issue, involving loud town hall meetings, angry allegations of racism, lawsuits, and now a federal investigation.  Should that controversy also be a factor?  Read the rest of this entry »

Comprehensive Directory of Philadelphia Charter Schools

directory coverThe Philadelphia School District’s Charter School website is helpful, but the Directory of Philadelphia Charter Schools (PDF) published by the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition is much better. It contains a lot of great school data, including the mission of each school, demographic/test score data, contact information, and more. It also has special sections on cyber charter schools, a charter school FAQ, a checklist of things to look for when visiting a school, a charter school map, and more.

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

This blog got very popular very quickly.  I have no illusions that it is about anything that I am doing.  I am certain that it is all about the shared anxiety we have as parents of soon-to-be-school aged kids.  I have only gotten one community submission on the emotional aspect of this process, but, as a result of finding this blog, many strangers and friends are reaching out to me to share their fears and anxieties without formally submitting stories.

The conversations often go something like this.  “We love our Philadelphia neighborhood, but we hate our local public school.  We believe in public school, just not the public school option available to us here.  We can’t afford private schools [or we don’t think that they are the best option].  We can’t count on getting into Read the rest of this entry »

Public versus Private Open Houses Part 2

I have now been on almost a  dozen school open houses in the last eight weeks.  (Yikes!)  Some made my head spin, some schools met my expectations, some did not.  Some were after school hours, some were during the school day.  All of them were run differently.  I have been given tours by school principals, PTA volunteers, admissions officers, and teachers.  I have visited private schools and public schools (no charter schools yet).

There are three big things that I have learned. Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking About School Choice Long Term

Yesterday, Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer posted a story entitled “Study finds high school choice ‘an illusion’.”

There is a pretty vibrant (and in some cases heated and profane) debate about this article happening in the Philadelphia Speaks Forum.  I am evaluating elementary school options for my kids, and I wrote about my own anxiety around sticking with the School District of Philadelphia with regards to the uncertainty of what comes after elementary school.  Here is the two sentence summary of that post:  If my family moves to the suburbs, we have a prescribed school path that we know will provide excellent schools for my kids.  If my family selects an elementary school in Philadelphia, we will just have to go through the process again for high school, possibly even for middle school, with no certainty of being satisfied with the options.

Ultimately this article doesn’t change my thought process much.  I am definitely in favor of school improvement, who isn’t?  I am disturbed by the inequality inherent in the Philadelphia school system, but right now I am most occupied by the priorities of my family.  I am concerned that my children won’t be able to get into their preferred school choice.

Graham reports that overall, about 70 percent of district eighth graders apply for admission to a school other than their local high school, but only 45 percent of them end up attending the special schools.  I am neither an expert or activist one way or another on school choice.  But it strikes me that if 45 percent Read the rest of this entry »

Wild Waldorf Ride

Wow.  I visited The Waldorf School over the weekend.  It was really a game-altering experience for me.  Their program is like nothing I had ever seen or heard of before.  One of the teachers that I spoke with summed up the uniqueness in their program stating that ‘The most impoverished public school has more in common with the most well-endowed private school than we do.’  It was really true.  Most schools that I have ever been exposed to follow very similar teaching approaches with minor differences.  I am not sure whether the Waldorf philosophy is in any way superior or inferior, but their pedagogical philosophy is certainly very different than any other school I have visited, public or private.

For several reasons, I think that the school itself is not going to work for my family.  [EDIT–Here’s why I am not elaborating on that statement].  Even so, I am very happy that I went to the open house.  I am not an expert on childhood development, learning styles, or pedagogical philosophy. As a lay person, I can’t make an evaluation as to which pedagogical approach is better.  What I can say is that seeing the school and hearing the teachers, students, parents, and administrators discuss their program was eye-opening.  I will no longer hold steadfast to the assumptions I have about how children learn or how a school should be structured.  Even if I never go back to Waldorf, my visit there will make me evaluate schools and pedagogical approaches differently than I ever would have.

What is so different about Waldorf?  Well, I am not an expert in the philosophy, so here are some resources so you can read about it for yourself if you are interested.