How to fix schools, indeed …

I’m not really sure how much more I can add to the fine criticism of Time‘s latest cover story about Michelle Rhee, DC’s Chancellor of Education (read: Jim Horn, Dean Shareski, and Chris Lehmann) … but, two things stand out for me (other than being rather annoyed by the glamorization of someone who has clearly not read The No Assh0le Rule:

1) Why are we still fixated on standardized test scores as a measure of teacher capacity? Surely there is enough debate about the validity of such tests, their negative impact on student engagement, and their contribution to passionate teachers fleeing the profession, to suggest a need to find something else. I’m all for accountability measures, but we know that an aggregated summative number doesn’t give us the full picture, either about a student or about the teacher(s) who taught that student. I have first-hand experience in well-meaning teacher merit systems as well as completely flawed teacher evaluation programs. Boiling it down to an autopsy-style test given in March doesn’t tell us how good the teaching was.

Why can’t we consider valid and reliable diagnostic assessments that encourage students, families, and teachers to partner with each other and work on a child’s individual learning needs (perhaps because we would have to give them at the beginning of the school year and spoil the newspapers’ fun of bashing poor-performing schools)? How about using thoughtful teacher evaluation rubrics that encourage educators to self-assess and focus on areas that they feel need improvement (perhaps because it’s more difficult and requires reflection and effort, rather than a spreadsheet)?

2) If it’s about teacher quality, we need to shift our culture to one that appreciates, encourages, and rewards intelligent and passionate young people to enter the education profession. We need high-quality pre-service programs that do not rely on traditional methods courses that segregate disciplines and neglect using current technology to alter the learning environment. We need high-level certification programs for elementary teachers that are willing to be content-area experts; for middle school educators that truly embrace that developmental age group (not just frustrated high school teachers); for secondary teachers that don’t spout information and ask bored teenagers to regurgitate it.

Yes, there are plenty of bad teachers out there and we should get rid of them – but who will replace them?


I’ve written about Kiva before, but since it’s holiday time – I thought I’d mention it again. Since I first learned of the micro-lending concept, I have given Kiva gift certificates for birthdays and holidays. I have heard great stories from folks who have made investments, seen them returned, and are re-investing in new entrepreneurs. I learned of schools that use Kiva with students to focus their fund-raising efforts in unique ways. Kids research¬† countries’ economic conditions, then¬† convince their peers about who they believe to be the neediest. After reaching consensus, they donate funds.

If you haven’t checked out Kiva yet, please do. From their website:

We Let You Loan to the Working Poor

Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.

The people you see on Kiva’s site are real individuals in need of funding – not marketing material. When you browse entrepreneurs’ profiles on the site, choose someone to lend to, and then make a loan, you are helping a real person make great strides towards economic independence and improve life for themselves, their family, and their community. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can relend to someone else in need.

Kiva partners with existing expert microfinance institutions. In doing so, we gain access to outstanding entrepreneurs from impoverished communities world-wide. Our partners are experts in choosing qualified entrepreneurs. That said, they are usually short on funds. Through Kiva, our partners upload their entrepreneur profiles directly to the site so you can lend to them. When you do, not only do you get a unique experience connecting to a specific entrepreneur on the other side of the planet, but our microfinance partners can do more of what they do, more efficiently.

Kiva provides a data-rich, transparent lending platform. We are constantly working to make the system more transparent to show how money flows throughout the entire cycle, and what effect it has on the people and institutions lending it, borrowing it, and managing it along the way. To do this, we are using the power of the internet to facilitate one-to-one connections that were previously prohibitively expensive. Child sponsorship has always been a high overhead business. Kiva creates a similar interpersonal connection at much lower costs due to the instant, inexpensive nature of internet delivery. The individuals featured on our website are real people who need a loan and are waiting for socially-minded individuals like you to lend them money.

How Kiva Works

Choose an Entrepreneur, Lend, Get Repaid

1) Lenders like you browse profiles of entrepreneurs in need, and choose someone to lend to. When they lend, using PayPal or their credit cards, Kiva collects the funds and then passes them along to one of our microfinance partners worldwide.

2) Kiva’s microfinance partners distribute the loan funds to the selected entrepreneur. Often, our partners also provide training and other assistance to maximize the entrepreneur’s chances of success.

3) Over time, the entrepreneur repays their loan. Repayment and other updates are posted on Kiva and emailed to lenders who wish to receive them.

4) When lenders get their money back, they can re-lend to someone else in need, donate their funds to Kiva (to cover operational expenses), or withdraw their funds.