Publishers Weekly Reviews THE TEACHER WARS

PW logoIn the first review of The Teacher Wars, Publishers Weekly calls the book an “immersive and well-researched history…Attacking a veritable hydra of issues, Goldstein does an admirable job, all while remaining optimistic about the future of this vital profession.”

Read the review here and pre-order the book via Amazon, BN.com, Powell’s, or your local bookstore. The Teacher Wars will be available on September 2.

How College Contributes to Inequality

Check out my Atlantic interview with political scientist Suzanne Mettler, who is doing some of the best thinking on exploding college tuition, student debt, and for-profit colleges. 

Should we pay attention to those studies about how little money liberal arts grads earn in their first year out of college?

With the liberal arts, there’s long-term payoff. By the time you are 40, you are doing much better. As a college professor, I could ruminate on that. There’s been a reframing of higher education in the media in the last few years. The media looks at higher unemployment among college grads and says, ‘Maybe a college degree is not worth it.’ That’s wrong. You’re always better off to try and get more four-year college degree recipients. But then of course, we have to look at what sector of education are people attending? Is it a valuable degree?

Your book suggests that in many cases, people are better off not going to college at all than attending a for-profit college. 13 percent of college students are now enrolled at for-profits, yet they make up nearly 50 percent of student loan defaults. The industry says this is because they take a risk on less well-prepared students. They blame the students themselves when they drop out or fail to get decent jobs. What did your research turn up?

No. That’s an inadequate explanation. To the contrary, there are various scholars who’ve looked at this. As I show in my book, students who grow up high income and have low test scores are about as likely as students who are low income with high test scores to graduate college. What I’m trying to emphasize is the financial part of it. The major reason why students drop out and don’t complete college has to do with finances and with their varied ability to stay enrolled and afford it. That’s true across the board, whatever kind of institution the student is attending.

At the for-profits, the graduation rates are 22 percent. We know schools with more low-income students are going to have lower graduation rates. Studies control for that factor and still find particularly low graduation rates at the for-profits. They don’t have student support services and they don’t emphasize learning. They charge very high tuition. You could get the same kind of degree at a community college or four-year public for a much lower cost.

Read the whole thing

New Work and Media Appearances

My latest article, "Don't Help Your Kids With Their Homework," is featured on the cover of the April Atlantic.

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Yep — the headline is clickbait. But this is also a data-driven piece reporting on a 30-year study of American parenting partices, which can help us figure out which parental interventions do and don't help children succeed in school. My article is about the fascinating work of Keith Robinson and Angel Harris, sociologists and authors of The Broken Compass.  

To learn more, check out my radio segments on the Brian Lehrer Show/WNYCTo The Point/PRI, and Slate's Mom and Dad are Fighting.

Is School Desegregation a Failed Movement?

I turned in the revisions of my book to my publisher yesterday (!), so my plan for the next few weeks is to get back into the swing of daily journalism. So. 

Over at Slate, Tanner Colby is writing a series on "The Massive Liberal Failure on Race." His first entry was "how the left’s embrace of busing hurt the cause of integration." 

Colby is right to point out that the progressive meme of "resegregation" of the nation's schools is flawed, because controversies over busing in the 1960s and 1970s meant the nation never fully implemented desegregation in the first place. He then concludes, "So far, nobody seems to have a solution that works" in terms of educating children of different races and classes together. That, however, is not really true. Here are some of the things that have worked: 

Recognizing that housing policy is schools policy. When neighborhoods integrate with mixed-income housing, schools integrate and test scores go up. Because more and more Americans in their 30s are choosing to put down roots in diverse urban neighborhoods, this presents an amazing policy opportunity to foster integrated schools. Charter schools like the Larchmont network in Los Angeles, Community Roots in Brooklyn, and Charles Drew in Atlanta are embracing integration as part of their missions, and are popular with families across lines of race and class. Last month President Obama  signed an executive order to allow charter schools that receive federal funding to weight their admissions lotteries in order to create diverse student bodies. 

Where busing is used, make it a matter of choice. Colby writes about an urban-suburban busing program that didn't work in Kansas City. But such programs are often quite popular: In Boston, Hartford, Milwaukee, and other regions, there are tens of thousands of children on waiting lists for voluntary inter-district transfers. 

When I began reporting on education in 2006, desegregation was seen as hopelessly outdated. Today there is actually growing consensus around the wisdom of integrating schools at the classroom level. (That means not using "gifted" or AP tracks as de facto tracking programs for affluent kids). So while it's important to acknowledge busing's flawed history, we need to bring this conversation into the present, too, and explore creative policy solutions to the problem of American children growing up without enough meaningful contact with children from backgrounds different than their own. 

At Google, Tim Armstrong Was Sued for Demoting and Firing Employee Pregnant with Quadruplets

When CEO Tim Armstrong blamed “distressed babies” for proposed benefit cuts at AOL, here’s what he didn’t mention: While a sales executive at Google in 2005, he was the subject of a lawsuit by a former employee, Christina Elwell, who alleged he demoted and fired her because she could not travel during her high-risk pregnancy with quadruplets.

Elwell went to work for Google’s sales force in 2000, and in 2003 was promoted to national sales director, a position in which she managed the North American sales force. She worked from the company’s New York office. Her boss was Armstrong, then Google’s vice president for national sales. According to Elwell’s complaint, before her pregnancy, he praised her in a meeting as having made a “significant contribution” to Google’s preparations for its initial public offering.

In April 2004, four months before that IPO, Elwell told Armstrong she was pregnant with quadruplets and would not be able to travel by plane due to complications. He was concerned, but she reassured him she was eager to resume travel after giving birth. In May, Elwell miscarried two of her four fetuses. A few weeks later, Armstrong allegedly called her into his office and showed her an organizational chart in which her position would be eliminated and she would be demoted to the operations department, with no management responsibilities. He allegedly told colleagues he was moving Elwell because she could not travel.

Elwell proposed that she instead take a position as East Coast sales director, in which she would be able to travel by train and car. Armstrong rejected that idea and filled the job with a male employee whom Elwell had recently hired. Then, on June 4, 2004, Armstrong allegedly called Elwell into his office and told her she was a “HR nightmare” because she had talked with colleagues about her concerns regarding her pregnancy and employment status at Google. The following day, he called her at home and fired her, saying he had “a gut feeling” it was the right thing to do, in part because she had “spoken to others” about the situation. (Remember when Armstrong impulsively fired a guy in the midst of a conference call last year, with 1,000 employees listening in?)

Google determined Elwell had been improperly fired and rehired her in a low-level operations position, in which she claims she was given work comparable to that of a summer intern. She filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She subsequently lost a third quadruplet and delivered one baby. After her maternity leave, Elwell went back to Google in January 2005, but when she learned she would not be able to return to her former position on the sales force, she left the company.

It all sort of puts into perspective Sheryl Sandberg’s cheery anecdote about lobbying Google for “pregnancy parking” at its California headquarters, doesn’t it?

In 2006 a federal judge moved Elwell’s suit into arbitration. Her attorney met with Google’s lawyers in 2007 to discuss a possible settlement, but the company’s lawyer allegedly responded, “These people are not settlers.”

Sources with knowledge of the case say the parties did eventually reach a settlement via arbitration, which was fairly financially advantageous to Elwell, and which the parties are barred from discussing publicly. AOL senior vice president for corporate communications Peter Land says, "We can’t comment on the lawsuit because it had nothing to do with us." The company points out that Working Mother Magazine has named it a top 100 company for working moms.

A woman who answered the phone at Elwell’s Manhattan home told me she was not in and took a message. Leah Schloss, director of marketing at Elwell’s law firm, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, says, “We are not able to discuss this case.” I have also reached out to Google. I will update this piece when and if I hear from additional sources.

Jacob Riis, School Reformer

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Essex Market School, the East Side. By Jacob Riis, ca. 1888-1895.

I just caught this poignant essay at the New York Times about How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis' 1890 exposé of day-to-day life in New York City tenements. Bill de Blasio mentioned Riis during his inaugural address, and the book — which depicted urban squalor through vivid, flash photography (a new technology at the time) — is credited with sparking the movement toward modern sanitation laws and housing regulations. 

What's less well known is that Riis' exploration of poverty in New York City turned him into an education reformer — one who sounded a whole lot like today's teacher accountability hawks. His follow-up to How the Other Half Lives was a volume called The Children of the Poor. Here's a litte excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Teacher Wars (Doubleday, Sept. 2014), about the familiar arguent Riis made in that book:

Riis acknowledged the systemic constraints on immigrant children’s lives. The United States lacked strong anti-child labor laws and relied mostly on overextended local charities, many with a proselytizing religious mission, to provide the poor with health care and jobs training. There was no public support for sanitary affordable housing and far too little government funding for truant officers who were supposed to encourage child workers to enroll in school. (In New York City, Riis found that a paltry 12 officers were responsible for tracking 50,000 absent children between the ages of 5 and 14, many of them homeless.) Nevertheless, like today’s accountably reformers, Riis considered teachers the determining factor in whether a child escaped poverty. He wrote that schools are “our chief defense against the tenement and the flood of ignorance with which it would swamp us. … it is the personal influence of the teacher that counts for most in dealing with the child. It follows it into the home, and often through life to the second and third generation, smoothing the way of sorrow and hardship with counsel and aid in a hundred ways.” 

Checking in on Bill de Blasio’s Universal Pre-K Ambitions

The signature proposal of Bill de Blasio's mayoral campaign was a promise to raise the wealthy's income taxes to fund universal, free, full-day pre-K for all the city's four-year olds. 

In the new issue of The Nation I report on the political prospects for this abitious plan, and also describe what a gold standard pre-K education looks like. 

Check it out!

Does Class Size Matter?

The latest episode of my Slate podcast, Schooled, tackles what the research really tells us about class sizes, and how teachers experience class size every day: 

Polls show that smaller class sizes are incredibly popular with parents and teachers. But when the Great Recession forced school budget cuts, class size once again became a matter of debate, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, megaphilanthropist Bill Gates, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg all suggesting that larger class sizes could be a good idea.

What do we really know about how class size affects student learning? Is there an ideal class size? In this episode, I talk to Larry Ferlazzo, a public school teacher and blogger, and Matthew Chingos, a class-size researcher at the Brookings Institution.

 Listen here!