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Traversing the rocky educational landscape? These articles and sites will help

Cultural Jambalaya is a local nonprofit that produces DVDs that offer a glance into the backyards, work lives and rituals of people all over the world.

If you’re anything like me, you deal with the onslaught of interesting, provocative food for thought out there on Ye Olde Internet by opening browser after browser, trying to not lose track of all of those items you can’t finish in one sitting.

Today, in the service of unclogging some of my computer’s memory, I offer you a links roundup. We start in Texas, where the policies that formed George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were birthed.

It would seem that there’s something of a revolt under way, with all kinds of folks protesting the extent of standardized testing in schools. I’ve been watching this one because Texas plays such a unique role in the educational landscape: They are so big that textbook publishers, curricula designers and assessment vendors tend to deliver the rest of us what Texas ordered.

The uprising is mentioned most recently in an Education Week analysis that seeks to assess the intensity of feeling and action that has sprung up around education policy recently. Sayeth the publication: “Not since the battles over school desegregation has the debate about public education been so intense and polarized, observers say, for rarely before has an institution that historically is slow to change been forced to deal with so much change at once.”  

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It’s lengthy, and it’s worth a read. I wish it went further in probing claims made about various parties’ agendas and the unlikely political alliances sometimes inspired.

But if you are at all curious about the flame wars that sometimes break out in the comments threads hereabouts or on our local education conversation websites, where people call each other names like “Rheeformers” or “traditionalists,” it will prove helpful.

One place I really wish it did go further was in explaining the advent of the Common Core Standards. The Ed Week piece leaves the unfortunate impression that it’s another barrage of tests that’s about to be dropped, anvil-like, on students.

Yes, the tests will have to assess for the knowledge contemplated by the standards — which were an effort by state governors to deal with the reality that some states dealt with NCLB’s sanctions for failing to meet standards by lowering theirs. There’s a nice summary in The New York Times.

Minnesota has had relatively high standards since the dawn of the era of accountability. Most of the hand-wringing you’ll hear here is either nattering from those who are upset over the inclusion of such things as evolution or from those hoping to extend the protests to local schools.  

Speaking of standards, if you are a classroom teacher who’s looking to fulfill them in any of a number of subjects, I’m going to re-direct you to one of my favorite local initiatives. Cultural Jambalaya is a local nonprofit that produces DVDs giving middle- and high-schoolers a glance into the backyards, work lives and rituals of people all over the world.

“Windows and Mirrors” uses the extraordinary images compiled by Edina native Gail Shore’s four-plus decades of travel to such remote corners of the world as North Korea, Mali, Syria, Myanmar, Bhutan, Namibia, Cuba, New Guinea and Tibet. The programs are produced by Tremendous! Entertainment, which is also the creator of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.”

Windows & Mirrors: The Middle East Trailer

The series has just won its third Telly Award recognizing excellence in cultural education. The accolades have been granted to its first DVD, “Windows and Mirrors,” to a second focused on the Middle East and last year’s Asia version.

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Cultural Jambalaya last week released its Africa DVD, no doubt destined for the same glory. I met some amazing people at the release party whose stories should find their ways into this space soon.

Where do the standards come in? Shore’s world-class images — we watch them for fun in the comfort of the TV room hereabouts — are accompanied by study and lesson guides that are pegged to curricular standards. You know, like world geography in a box.

Except that as of last week, the boxes are going away. Educators and others no longer need to so much as order the DVDs, which are available for streaming, for free, from the nonprofit’s website.

Finally, but definitely not lastly, comes news that Minneapolis’ Best Academy on Friday will be honored as one of the nation’s best schools for African-American boys. Part of the Harvest Prep family of high-performing charters, Best is one of five schools singled out by the national Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color.

I’m not going to write much about it because the Center for School Change’s Joe Nathan has penned a fine column on the award for Twin Cities Daily Planet. I will simply encourage you to give it a read, too: Not only does it describe a grandfather-nominator’s experience with Best, Nathan called leaders at some of the other schools and outlines the commonalities.