Category Archives: Media

Check Out Alex Nazaryan’s Provocative “Teacher Wars” Review

Alexander Nazaryan, a journalist and former teacher, has written a sharp, intelligent, and kind review of my book for the Times Arts section, for which I am extremely grateful:

Ms. Goldstein’s book is meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced, serving up historical commentary instead of a searing philippic. A hate-read is nigh impossible. (Trust me, I tried.) … The book skips nimbly from history to on-the-ground reporting to policy prescription, never falling on its face. If I were still teaching, I’d leave my tattered copy by the sputtering Xerox machine. I’d also recommend it to the average citizen who wants to know why Robert can’t read, and Allison can’t add.

One of the adventures of writing a work of history was knowing that because the past is so rich and complex, people from across the political spectrum would find, within the book, evidence to bolster their own conclusions. Nazaryan focused in his essay on the shortcomings of teachers unions, which I do cover honestly in the book. Ultimately, however, I think my take on the unions is far more sympathetic than Nazaryan suggests. (It is especially important to realize that the unions were supporters, not opponents, of school desegregation.) I hope you will buy the book and draw your own conclusions!

Read the NY Times Book Review of “The Teacher Wars”

In the New York Times Book Review, Claudia Wallis gives The Teacher Wars a thoughtful read and a rave:

In “The Teacher Wars,” her lively account of the history of teaching, Dana Goldstein traces the numerous trends that have shaped “the most controversial profession in America.” Along the way, she demonstrates that almost every idea for reforming education over the past 25 years has been tried before — and failed to make a meaningful difference. … ideas about what to teach and how to measure learning are subject to politics and passing fads. …

One of the incidental pleasures of this book is discovering how many historic figures better known for other achievements logged time in the front of a classroom. These include Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville and Lyndon B. Johnson. …

Stressing accountability, with no ideas for improving teaching, Goldstein says, is “like the hope that buying a scale will result in losing weight.”

Read the whole review!

Discussing Teacher Tenure on “Melissa Harris-Perry”

Here is part of my conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry, teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten, accountability reformer Derrell Bradford, and Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now.” We squeezed in a lot (the full segment was 40 minutes), but I would have loved to add the following points: First, surveys show teachers themselves strongly support tenure, but believe it should take longer — about five years — to earn it. Second, a major challenge in high-poverty schools is not that too few teachers are leaving, but that there is constant staff turnover (and turnover itself decreases student achievement). Third, teachers say a great principal would be the number one draw to get them to take a job in a high-poverty school, more attractive than incentive pay.

There’s more on all this evidence in chapters 9 and 10 of my book.

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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 8.04.22 PM

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.

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.

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!