Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The hiatus extends

Dear JIS Topics reader,

You may have noticed that what started as a holiday hiatus from blogging has lingered. I've decided to take a more permanent break from daily posting. Honestly, my family needs more of my attention at the moment. And honestly, JIS Topics didn't work out as I had hoped. There wasn't a return on investment, so to speak, that justified the proverbial blood, sweat and tears (other than that I learned a great deal about education policy from great thinkers who write for newspapers, magazines, ed-policy organizations, and blogs).

So I'm hanging up my blogger hat.

Thank you so much to you for stopping by to JIS Topics, and if you shared a comment or two during its run, you have my deepest appreciation. Dialogue is one of the best ways to grow as a thinker because it requires thoughtfulness, empathy, and consideration of both sides of an issue. I learned so much from those who commented on JIS Topics.

And if you're not an educator or policy maker but would like to stay on top of the issues, opinions and dilemmas in education, then may I suggest that you sign up for a Bloglines account. Bloglines lets you set up a virtual mailbox, which will collect and display the daily feeds of blogs and news outlets that you choose.

To give you an idea of how it works, here's my Bloglines "mailbox," into which I receive daily news from 32 different education news sources. It takes me about 15 minutes a day to read through the postings, (sometimes longer if it's a busy news day). These are 15 minutes well spent, as I get to read and consider the thinking of the best minds in education, including:

  • Ken DeRosa at D-Ed Reckoning (amazing writer and no-nonsense guy)
  • Alexander Russo at This Week in Education (a big gun)
  • Andrew Rotherham (aka "The Eduwonk" -- and a potential candidate for the Secretary of Education post in the future)
  • Ms. Cornelius and TMAO, two teacher-bloggers recognized by Jay Mathews (the Washington Post's education guru) as among the best in the blogosphere. Both have brought tears and goosebumps with their postings
  • Joanne Jacobs, a fantastic journalist who's chronicled the journey of struggling schools trying to go from bad to great
  • The anonymous Education Wonks, the grand-poobah of the weekly Carnival of Education
  • Ryan Boots, the smart, thoughtful writer and editor at
  • The team of writers at Kitchen Table Math -- the site that inspired me to dive into the world of blogging.
If you have a child at the Jakarta International School, I encourage you to review the new online curriculum pages available through the JIS ParentNet. The school has worked hard to get this information on the internet, and it's worth your effort to take advantage of its work by learning what your children are studying.

If you're from (or will be moving to) the United States, you can compare the JIS curriculum standards and benchmarks to those being used in your state. You'll find a complete listing of state standards at this website. It can be an eye-openning experience to see what your kids' friends back in the States are learning. (But remember, not all standards are created equal. The Fordham Foundation analyzed standards from all 50 states, and named only three as outstanding. I use those states -- California, Maryland, and Indiana -- as my gold standard.)

So thanks again for your support and kind words over the past 10 months. I'll continue to advocate for better education on behalf of all children, and I hope you will too, in your own ways.

As they say in Holland, Tot Ziens....

UPDATE: Shortly after hanging up my blogger hat, the van Tilburg family gave up on the Jakarta International School. We decided to "put our money where our mouth is," and leave a country that we love deeply in search of a stronger educational experience for our two children.

We moved to Singapore so that our kids could attend the Singapore American School. SAS is not perfect (no school is!), but it's been a good move for the kids. We're very cognizant that our decision to move isn't an option for very many expats. We were very lucky. But as I've said innumerable times on this blog -- getting a good education shouldn't come down to luck. It should be something that every family can depend on, no matter where they live.


At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take my hat off to your blogger hat, Cheryl.

You've written with such intelligence, energy, wit, and high purpose these many months -- synthesizing (in bite-sized or otherwise digestible forms) issues and ideas that not only are among the most important and critical in the field, but also relevant to JIS.

We've had this discussion before and I know you disagree, but I'm convinced the blog has had an impact at JIS -- helping to create a more open culture and changing how parent involvement is viewed.

So though the blog may not have turned out as you planned, I salute your achievements.

Thanks also for the gold in your final posting. I plan to explore the links and go on discussing education with you IRL.

Catherine Quoyeser

At 10:25 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Dear Catherine,

You're so kind, and I so admire your optimism. There IS much to be positive about at JIS lately. I believe the school is on the road to better things.

But the frustration of hearing "these things take time" and "you can't change an organization like this overnight" has worn me weary. As short-term expats in Jakarta -- just the type of family that JIS' mission statement says it serves -- we're out of time, defeated by a system that has just waited us out.

Actually, things at schools CAN change quickly -- particularly in the areas of curriculum, accountability, and professional supervision. (Anybody who's survived through the NCLB period in the US or followed the birth of KIPP schools knows that's true!)

Good schools constantly tweek (or even revamp) curriculum on the fly. World-class academic standards already exist, ready for adaptation. Administrators can, in a matter of months, establish a measurement system to gage student achievement and improvement. Great professional supervision programs can be found already at other international schools in our region. No one has to recreate the wheel. Great programs (JIS often refers to them as "Best Practices") already exist. The next step is the political will to implement them.

But the fear of unanticipated consequences and unmanaged expectations (and the semi-mythical mantra of collaboration) has frozen JIS into a culture of paralysis. It will literally be YEARS before substantive changes filter down to a level that will positively impact student performance. (And even people who currently believe JIS is already doing a great job couldn't help but support the goal of improved performance for all our students.)

But we short-timers don't have the luxury of that kind of patience. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my middle-schooler has been taught THREE NOVELS TOTAL over the THREE YEARS of middle school and written almost NO graded expository essays. It's only one example, but one that really sums it up for our family -- we'll never get those years back.

(That being said, I think it's also important to mention that we have seen occasional moments of greatness at JIS, such as our 8th-grader's brilliant math teacher, who uses amazing differentiated instruction, and our 5th-grader's unbelievably excellent teacher, who's gone above and beyond the call of duty with him. We are in debt to these people, and others at JIS, who are great educators. But even these professionals' heroic efforts can't overcome the more system-based problems that we believe haunt the school.)

Anyway, thanks again, dear friend, for your unwavering support and kind words. The blog will remain up and at your disposal -- you're way smarter than I am, so maybe you can figure out a way to make it work!

Robert always says you and I are like ying and yang, or two sides of the same school improvement coin. Here's hoping that your positive ying prevails over my cynical yang!


At 11:12 PM, Anonymous Barry Garelick said...

I will miss JIS topics but have gained a friend in Jakarta. Please let me know if you're ever in the Washington DC area. Good luck to you and your family.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Awwww, you gave me insight into a little corner of Indonesia. And thanks so much for the kind words.


At 1:50 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Dear Barry and Ms. Cornelius,

Thank to YOU. You both are a credit to the education profession -- keep up all your good work on behalf of children!

At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always make sure your words are day you may have to eat them.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

I hear what you're saying, and I thank you for the reminder.

But like so many maxims, it's not really that simple, is it.... Even a novice baker knows that pastry needs a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness. And what would a great curry be without the fiery chili pepper?

My guidelines are that my words be honest, supportable, and focused on what serves students and their families. My opinions may be wrong, and I stand ready to eat my words if they are proven counter to the best interests of kids.

I always try to be kind (and at times have failed). But sometimes truthful words, delivered directly, can sting the recipient. And sometimes that's the only way to move the conversation forward.

That said, I appreciate the wisdom of your comment, and I thank you again for the reminder.


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