Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stimulus and Real Learning

Two quick thoughts for your Wednesday morning.

First, the next time someone tries telling me that the stimulus plan didn't work, I'm going to point out that 250,000 people employed in education wouldn't have jobs if it weren't for the stimulus. That's the number of education employees whose jobs were preserved by federal recovery aid, according to the Department of Education. Now, the wording leads me to believe that not all of them are teachers, but I think it would be fair to assume that a good percentage of that number are in the classrooms. The fact that so many districts are still in trouble and saying they may have to lay off teachers shows you how bad things are.

With all the focus on Wall Street and unemployment (both serious issues, to be sure), it's easy to look at the stimulus and say that it didn't work. But at the local level, the stimulus preserved so many jobs and programs that would otherwise have been cut. It's in the absence of massive negative changes that we see the positive effects of the stimulus. Say what you will about the price tag, but the stimulus saved local municipalities from going into a tailspin that would have proven nearly impossible to correct at any time in the near future.

Second, this is the kind of thing that more schools should be doing. I'm sure Robert Pondiscio at Core Knowledge Blog will be covering this better than I will, so check out his site. The gist, though, is that a Harlem charter school takes their kids on a "field study" to a farm each year to learn about the animals so that they have some background when farm animal questions come up on the state tests each year. Note that rather than just try to teach kids better strategies for faking their way through the test, the school is actually exposing their kids to new knowledge that they likely won't find in Harlem. That's what school is all about. And in the end, I'm sure it will pay off in their test scores. Too bad more people don't see things that way.

I'm going to be at an event where Arne Duncan is speaking tomorrow morning, so check back in on Friday for some original reporting from Teachable Moment.

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