Patrice Wingert

Stories by Patrice Wingert

  • Threatened with Firing, Rhode Island Teachers Agree to Reformers List of Demands

    Remember the uproar back in February when President Obama commended Rhode Island school leaders for threatening to fire the entire staff of Central Falls High School, the lowest-performing high school in the state, after negotiations over a transformation plan fell apart? The ensuing controversy—reformers lauding the state’s aggressive action and teachers’ unions decrying the move as union busting—eventually resulted in everyone coming back to the negotiating table. And it’s a good thing they did. Today, an agreement was reached and both sides are declaring victory. The teachers get to keep their jobs—by agreeing to every transformation reform proposal the local superintendent, Frances Gallo, had originally asked for back in February, including a longer school day, extra tutoring for struggling students and more professional development over the summer. The February negotiations fell apart when the union pushed for an additional $90 an hour for any extra work—much more than the $30...
  • D.C.’s Groundbreaking Teachers' Contract Will Boost District’s National Prominence

    News today that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and AFT President Randi Weingarten have at last reached a tentative agreement on a ground-breaking teachers' contract for teachers in the nation’s capital comes with an added advantage for D.C. schools: it likely boosts their chances of winning the next round of the Race to the Top competition. ...
  • As Race to the Top Winners Announced, Spotlight Now Turns to Losers

    Delaware and Tennessee, two states that have aggressively pursued school reform, are the winners of the first round of the U.S. Department of Education’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition. Because the awards are based on student population, Delaware will win $100 million and Tennessee $500 million at a time when most recession-weary states are scrambling to close widening budget gaps.The fact that only two of the 16 finalists made the last cut was cheered by reformers, who publicly lobbied the DOE to set the bar very high, and award only those states that made a massive commitment to change. Tennessee exhibited its determination to win by reconvening its legislature to push through bills removing its cap on charter schools, as well as overhauling its teacher-evaluation system to include student achievement data, both key requirements in the competition. Delaware was rewarded for a decade of steady progress toward comprehensive reform.But maybe even more interesting is the...
  • Surging Numbers of College Applicants Putting Pressure on Direct-Loan Debate

    It’s never seemed like much of a debate. Should the government spend $61 billion over the next 10 years to continue to subsidize the private lenders who have long acted as middlemen for student loans that are guaranteed by the federal government? Or should we cut out the private lenders and completely convert to the government’s direct-loan program, which already provides about half these college loans at a cheaper cost, and funnel the savings into programs that help low-income students finance their education and encourage colleges to do more to help them graduate and find jobs?A showdown on the issue, one of the Obama administration’s top education goals, is expected next week now that the student-loan proposal has been bundled up with the administration’s health-care bill into a single package. Both initiatives will need only a simple majority to pass both the House and Senate, but neither house has yet nailed down the votes they need. Private lenders, determined to keep the...
  • March Academic Madness

    On the eve of March Madness, Education Secretary Arne Duncan used his bully pulpit Wednesday to lobby the NCAA to ban from post-season play any college that fails to graduate at least 40 percent of its players.If such a policy were in place right now, a dozen teams including top-seeded Kentucky, which graduates only 31 percent of its players, would be out of contention. Other men's basketball teams that would be barred include Maryland (8 percent graduation rate), California (20 percent), Arkansas–Pine Bluff (29 percent), Washington (29 percent), Tennessee (30 percent), Kentucky, Baylor (36 percent), Missouri (36 percent), New Mexico State (36 percent), Clemson (37 percent), Georgia Tech (38 percent), and Louisville (38 percent), according to the latest athletes' graduation survey done by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University Central Florida.And what if there was an alternative universe where the NCAA tournament played out based not on the...
  • Michelle Obama's Plan for Healthy School Lunches Still Faces Funding Hurdles

    The first lady rolled out her campaign against childhood obesity Tuesday, and put a special emphasis on the need to get healthier choices onto school-lunch trays. The federal government is a major player in this area, since the federally funded school-lunch program feeds 31 million low-income American children a year and provides many of those kids the bulk of the calories they consume a day. As part of Michelle Obama's comprehensive approach to dealing with the obesity problem, she's secured commitments from food-industry experts to reduce the amount of fat, sugar, and salt in the products they supply. But upping the number of fruits and vegetables on kids' trays is an expensive proposition, since these products have increased 50 percent faster than other foods over the last 20 years. Nutrition experts had been hoping the president's new budget might add $1 a day to the $2.63 current allocated for each school lunch to pay for higher-quality foods. While the...
  • Michelle Obama's Childhood Obesity Plan: Reaching Out to America's Moms

    When Michelle Obama became first lady, she stressed that her "No. 1 job" would be "first mom." Following through on that focus, today at the White House, she elevated her personal concern for her own kids' health and eating habits into a massive national campaign aimed at solving the U.S. epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation. Calling the issue "one of the most serious threats to their future," Obama noted that childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last three decades and that the excess weight kids are carrying these days increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. As a result, Obama said, she had  "great concern" that too many of today's kids were on track to live shorter and less healthy lives than their parents, even though the problem is "so imminently solvable." Read the rest of the story on the Human Condition blog.
  • Michelle Obama's Childhood-Obesity Plan: Reaching Out to America's Moms

    When Michelle Obama became first lady, she stressed that her "No. 1 job" would be "first mom." Following through on that focus, today at the White House she elevated her personal concern for her own kids' health and eating habits into a massive national campaign aimed at solving the U.S. epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation. ...
  • Next Bunch of Obama Education Reforms to Offer More Carrots

    When the Obama administration first proposed having states duke it out for a share of a $4 billion education-reform fund, critics expected the whole enterprise to either be largely ignored or dissolve into political infighting. But instead, the Race to the Top competition has proved so successful in motivating states to accelerate their education-reform efforts that the administration has new plans to offer such competitions on an annual basis. President Obama will also announce tonight that the Department of Education will be offering a new competition to push states to create more and better preschool programs. During a briefing Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the country doesn’t “need any more studies” to prove that high-quality preschool education can significantly close the achievement gap between rich and poor. Instead, he said, the country just needs to offer such programs to more kids. The president “wants to dramatically increase access and give kids a...
  • How Obama Will Keep Pushing Education

    President Obama’s aggressive push for education reform has been one of his few domestic success stories, so it’s not surprising that he’s decided to build on that with a 6.2 percent increase in federal education spending next year. During his State of the Union speech tonight, Obama will specify that the new money will be targeted to expand college access, adult education, K–12 reform, and early learning, administration officials said. Part of the money will be used to encourage states to work together to develop higher national standards, which in turn will be used to encourage states and local school districts to develop more ambitious expectations and curricula for students and more meaningful tests. The money is also expected to help revamp former president George W. Bush’s hallmark education program, No Child Left Behind, which has come under considerable criticism since its introduction because of its emphasis on testing and its unfunded mandates. Obama is expected to maintain...
  • The Real Issue Behind the Rhee Flap: Why Can't Schools Fire Bad Teachers?

    Michelle Rhee, the tough-talking D.C. schools chancellor, is used to taking her lumps from the press, the teachers' unions, and city politicians as she tries to overhaul one of the nation's worst public-school systems. But this week she's been under siege after a controversial quote about teachers molesting students made it into print. Rhee is fighting back, arguing the quote was taken out of context, but the whole episode highlights a bigger problem in districts all over the country: why can't a school system fire teachers who abuse kids or don't bother showing up for work? In D.C., as in many other cities with "progressive" employee discipline procedures, school officials can suspend such teachers but can't terminate them.      The latest uproar began with the publication of a short "update" item in the Feb. 1 issue of Fast Company, in which Rhee seemed to say that the 266 teachers laid off last fall during the system's budget...
  • College Presidents’ Bow to Bad Publicity: Pay Hikes Slow as Tuitions Continue to Soar

    Public-university presidents have been getting a lot of bad press recently: endowments are dwindling, state support is shrinking and tuitions, which have been rising faster than inflation for years, are jumping even more to close the gap. College and university presidents, who enjoy generous six-figure salaries and ample expenses and benefits, are being targeted for abuse by student protesters as a result. ...
  • Is There a Mistress Limit? What Makes Scorned Celebrity Wives Throw In the Towel

    Exactly how much will the modern celebrity wife put up with?Not as much as she used to.That may be a reasonable conclusion based on Jenny Sanford's decision to call it quits to her marriage to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and the news that Elin Nordegren Woods is taking the kids and escaping to a remote Swedish location, leaving Tiger to deal with his own PR nightmare. But is it really true that we're seeing "the year of women fighting back?" If so, how do we explain the celebrity wives who have stuck it out (See Elizabeth Edwards, Silda Spitzer, and the long-suffering Hilary Clinton) even in the face of the most brutal public disclosures of extramarital cheating?We can all agree that it wasn't that long ago that the "good" celebrity wife was expected to stand by her man no matter what─or as former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey told his wife, Dina, just before his 2004 press conference announcing he had had an extramarital affair with a man...
  • Should States Think Twice About Forcing All Eighth Graders Into Algebra?

    Twenty years ago, most middle-school kids spent most of their day in tracked classes. Even if they had bland names like English A, B, or C, every kid knew if they were in the smart or the dumb class, and research indicated that the kids most hurt by tracking were the kids at the bottom. ...
  • Bloomberg Announces New Round of Aggressive School Reforms

    Education reformers are buzzing today about New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s ambitious new education goals for New York City schools that will not only up the ante for all states vying for a piece of the federal $4.35 billion Race to the Top school-reform fund, but is likely to spur sharp resistance from teachers' unions. While participating in a panel discussion about the future of education reform sponsored by the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, Bloomberg announced that he and his school Chancellor Joel Klein are aiming to push through a platform of new reform proposals that include:Overhauling teacher evaluation systems to include student performance data.Boosting salaries for high-performing teachers in hard-to-staff specialties (math, science, special education) in low-income schools. Ignoring seniority (and prioritizing merit) when making layoff decisions.Making it easier to get low-performing teachers out of the classroom and off the payroll.Raising...
  • Do Fat Parents Have Taller Babies? Mice study indicates surprising relationships between food, height, and families.

    Could your height be determined (at least in part) by your grandma’s weight? That’s the startling implication of a new study published in the November issue of the journal Endocrinology. The study showed that mothers who were fed a high-fat diet had taller children, and that those children—both sons and daughters—can pass along this trait to their own progeny. If both parents' mothers are heavy, the offspring will be even taller. But before you conclude that this is the secret to raising your own basketball team, there are some caveats. First of all, the research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Tracy Bale, associate professor of neuroscience, and graduate student Gregory Dunn was performed on mice, not humans. Dunn and Bale began with nearly 200 normal-size mice. For four weeks, they fed a high-fat diet to one group of adult females and a typical low-fat diet to the rest. They were then bred with normal-size males and continued on their particular diet for the...
  • State Math, Reading Tests in 'Race to the Bottom'

    In 2005, Oklahoma’s reading and math standards were rated easier than average; by 2007, they decreased the rigor even more, making all their tests among the easiest to pass in the nation, and below the national standard of “basic” achievement. In 2007, Tennessee had the distinction of having the lowest standards in the country in eighth-grade reading, and in and grade math. Mississippi had the easiest test to pass in grade reading, followed by Oklahoma and Tennessee. North Carolina, which has long held itself out as a leader in education reform, had among the lowest standards in and grade reading. States that had set their test standards below the basic level in grade reading and math were Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Those that scored below basic in grade reading and math included Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Not all the news was bad. South Carolina was the only state to develop...
  • Duncan Offers Incentives for 'Revolutionary' Overhaul of Teacher Colleges

    As I predicted Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan's major speech at Columbia University this week called on America's teacher colleges to follow the lead of Louisiana, which has been setting the pace nationally in terms of overhauling its schools of education. The state has turned the devastation wrought by Katrina into an opportunity to force through the kind of education reforms that other states just can't seem to muster. One of its most controversial strategies has been to include data on how effectively new graduates are teaching and how much their students are learning when evaluating the quality of teacher colleges and other training programs. ...
  • BREAKING: Health Author Suzanne Somers Mostly Wrong About Science, Medicine

    It’s the book every medical writer in the country wants to ignore. Suzanne Somers’s latest “health” tome hit the bookstores this week, and this time she's offering her advice on how to cure and prevent cancer. As if people with cancer don’t have enough problems. When the review copy arrived, we decided to give it a once-over—so you don’t have to.The gist of Somers’s argument is that conventional cancer treatments—surgery, radiation, chemotherapy—take a destructive approach and that chemo, in particular, is overused. Long an advocate of alternative therapies, Somers argues that it makes more sense to build up the body to fight cancer than it does to tear it down through radiation and chemicals. She is particularly enamored of nutritional “cures.” Of course, Somers has had no formal medical or scientific training, but considers herself an authority—in part because she’s survived breast cancer after choosing not to have chemotherapy, and because she’s a regular on the alternative...
  • Duncan Pursues Teachers Who Make the Grade

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spent the past several months dangling $4.35 billion in Race to the Top money at states to entice them to include data detailing students’ year-to-year academic growth when evaluating teachers’ performance (an idea that the teachers' unions have long dissed).Now he may be poised to push states to dramatically overhaul their teacher colleges by urging states to follow Louisiana’s lead and include information specifying how well new teachers perform in real classrooms when evaluating the quality of schools of education and other training programs. Duncan is scheduled to give what his staff says is a major speech Thursday at Teachers College at Columbia University to set a new “national direction” on teacher preparation. The quality (or lack thereof) of America’s teacher colleges has long been one of the main stumbling blocks to closing the achievement gap. Arthur Levine, the former president of Columbia's Teachers College, put it bluntly...
  • New Calls for a National Test?

    Calls to create a national test have long been fought back by advocates of local school control, but the release of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress results that showed no gains nationally in fourth-grade math scores—as well as shocking gaps between students' scores on that test vs. state test scores in places like New York—will likely reignite the debate again. While eighth-grade math scores rose by 2 points on the 500-point NAEP scale, it was the first time since the test was launched in 1990 that no uptick was recorded for fourth graders. Scores on the highly regarded NAEP test, commonly known as "The Nation's Report Card," are based on a national sampling, and not every student in the country takes it. But it has consistently given a more accurate picture of what (if any) progress American students are making over the years than the highly political state tests, which vary wildly in rigor from state to state, and have come under increasing...
  • Is the AFT Trying to Reform Its Image?

    Education reformers were pleasantly stunned when the American Federation of Teachers announced today that two of the winners of their new Innovation Fund grants planned to use the money to create teacher-evaluation systems that give weight to students' standardized test scores. The idea of considering gains (or the lack thereof) in student test scores when evaluating the effectiveness of teachers is an idea that reformers have pushed for years. But it's also an idea that the AFT, the country's second-largest union, as well as its rival, the National Education Association, has repeatedly dissed, insisting that research doesn't prove that teacher quality and test scores correlate. In fact, AFT President Randi Weingarten, while head of the New York City teachers' union, helped push through state legislation banning use of student test scores in teacher evaluations for tenure.  ...
  • Straight Talk

    The debate over whether sexual orientation is a choice was reignited this week with the release of two new-and opposing-studies on the outcome of "reparative" therapies, which purport to convert gays and lesbians into heterosexuals. Both papers were released in New Orleans on Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, the group that ruled in 1973 that homosexuality is not a mental disorder that requires treatment. Neither study has been peer-reviewed or published. ...