Flypaper

Penny Wohlstetter and her coauthors have delivered a terrific new Fordham study, “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice.” It finds a creative, concrete, and unusually useful way to get under the hood and delve into messy questions about the availability of choice, quality control, political support, and the effects of policy environment. The result is exceptionally useful for understanding what individual cities are doing and contemplating how they might do better.

Wohlstetter has powerfully extended an earlier study that I did with Fordham back in 2010, “The Nation’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform.” That study looked at education ecosystems, examining a broad set of variables that included philanthropic support, political leadership, bureaucratic burden, and the talent pool. Here, Wohlstetter looks specifically at the issue of choice, which allows her to go deeper and get more granular. She examines the entire picture of choice in thirty cities, including charter, magnet, and private schools. She finds that New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Denver lead the pack; that New York City is becoming less hospitable to choice under Mayor de Blasio; and that some southern cities are surprisingly strong on choice.

This kind of analysis is invaluable...

If it isn’t already clear, let the Fordham Institute be the first one to state it outright: National School Choice Week 2016 has been a smashing success. The foundational principle of our movement—that every family deserves access to varied and excellent education options—has been expounded by an array of stirring speakers. Students and teachers have stood together in passionate defense of the charter schools they love. Policymakers at the state and local levels have taken vital steps toward dismantling the traditional district school monopoly. And figures of national prominence have gotten involved as well, offering fully developed plans for the expansion of school choice in 2016 and beyond. It has truly been a week to remember.

“But wait,” I hear you protesting, “National School Choice Week doesn’t start until next Monday!”

Ah. Well, that’s true enough. The annual cluster of events doesn’t kick off until January 24, at which time we can expect to be inundated with jaunty yellow scarves, packed street marches, and sensational dance moves. But it’s also fair to say that we could celebrate the accomplishments of this week as much as the next, and with no little legitimacy. All the wonderful things I just...

If you’ve been keeping up with the Common Core scandal pages, you may be wondering who Dianne Barrow is.

Until this month, the answer would have been, “An anonymous functionary scuttling about the publishing behemoth known as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.” That was before Barrow, who now finds herself a cog without a machine, was featured in an eight-minute video produced by Project Veritas and its merry prankster front man James O’Keefe. In it, she explains how entities like HMH and Pearson view Common Core as a chance to sell second-rate books to schools suddenly required to teach from standards-aligned materials. (She also mouths off about home-schoolers, but that’s basically included as bonus content.) “You don’t think that educational publishing companies are in it for the kids, do you? No, they’re in it for the money,” she says.

Take a coffee break and check out the video. Not because it contains any footage of journalistic merit, or because its makers are especially credible. In fact, the opposite is true. O’Keefe is one of those charming types whose mugshot pops up if you google him, a memento of his arrest and guilty plea following a bungled attempt to break into a U.S. senator’s office and tamper with phones....

A new study from the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences provides results for fourth-grade students on the 2012 NAEP pilot computer-based writing assessment. The study asks whether fourth graders can fully demonstrate their writing ability on a computer and what factors are related to their writing performance on said computers.

A representative sample of roughly 10,400 fourth graders from 510 public and private schools composed responses to writing tasks intended to gauge their ability to persuade or change a reader’s point of view, explain the reader’s understanding of a topic, and convey a real or imaginary experience. Students were randomly assigned two writing tasks (out of thirty-six) and were given thirty minutes to complete each one. The study also references results from a 2010 paper-based pilot writing assessment and 2011 NAEP results for eighth- and twelfth-grade computer-based writing assessments—all of which came from different groups of kids. They also present results for an analysis of fifteen tasks that were common to both the paper and computer-writing pilot.

There are five key findings. First, 68 percent of fourth graders received scores in the bottom half of the six-point scoring scale on the computer-based pilot. Second, the percentage of responses...

Urban school governance is a moving target, in part because it’s pretty clear that there’s no best way to handle it and in part because no change in a city’s arrangements ever works as well as its promoters hoped. This inevitably leads to a down-the-road push to change it again or change it back or…well, do something different because we’re not getting the results we need and a lot of people are unhappy.

This short issue brief from analysts at the Pew Charitable Trusts is meant to help the powers that be in their home town of Philadelphia consider the governance options ahead by examining those presently in use in fifteen urban districts.

It seems to have been prompted by the fact that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter are pushing for an end to the fifteen-year-old state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia and a return to some form of local control. It’s not clear that new Mayor Jim Kenney has staked out a position on this issue yet, but citizens indicated in a (non-binding) referendum vote last year that they generally agree with Messrs. Wolf and Nutter.

The most interesting factoid in the...

Nothing in life is truly free—but don’t tell that to dogmatic liberals and their pandering politicians, who would turn the first two years of college into a new universal entitlement. This idea has the same fatal flaws as universal preschool: a needless windfall for affluent voters and state institutions that does very little to help the needy.

Start with the expense. Today, millions of families save their own pennies and dollars to pay for kids’ college. While they would surely love to slough this burden onto taxpayers, doing so would probably shift billions of dollars every year from programs that help talented poor kids access higher education and improve our schools. In a time of scarce resources, why is this a priority?

Nor would it help disadvantaged students. Most “free college” proposals focus on community colleges, turning them into “grades thirteen and fourteen” of a new public education system. Yet these schools have the worst track record with poor kids, especially those with exceptional academic promise. (They’re also already “free” to poor students today, thanks to federal Pell grants.) We know from a ton of research that these students do best at more challenging state schools and private colleges.

Yes, it...

George Betts

The presumption that individuals of one racial group are smarter than others is a myth and stereotype. Even efforts in the early twentieth century to align high intelligence with the majority or white culture were refuted. The groundbreaking work of Martin D. Jenkins, who studied and published papers telling descriptive stories of highly intelligent black children that he had worked with as early as 1934, provided more than sufficient evidence of the intellectual capacity of black students. Historical archives over time and across cultures provide substantive evidence of the multiple ways that people from all ethnic groups have demonstrated their "smarts" in the sciences, humanities, and through great works of literature, art, and music. Being smart is not just the purview of any one group of people.

Last month we read a very disturbing article written by parents of two girls who obviously were able to demonstrate how smart they were in the home environment, even in school. But, due to identification protocols that rely too heavily on one piece of data or information, their children were not eligible for the school’s gifted programs.

Unfortunately, this story could have come from many, many parents in almost any school district...

Education reform has been a specialty of Jeb Bush’s, and his track record on this issue in Florida is unbeatable. He knows the topic up, down, and sideways. But he’s never had to deal directly with federal policy before, so I picked up his “education vision” paper with interest to see how he and his team would approach it.

In my view, it deserves at least two and a half cheers—which is a cheer or two more than any other candidate has earned on this issue, mute as they’ve been on the topic. He has perfect pitch on K–12 issues and the (limited) federal role therein. Here and in the pre-K realm, the quality of what kids end up getting will depend—as it must—on how states manage their newfound authority and how well parents select among the choices before them.

On the post-secondary side, Governor Bush has made some smart and creative suggestions, such as replacing student loans with lines of credit that college-goers pay back over time with a set share of their future income, as well as eliminating defaults and collection agencies by using tax withholding to collect repayments. I applaud his wisdom in looking beyond...

Nearly thirty years ago, a then-obscure University of Virginia professor named E.D. Hirsch, Jr. set off a hot national debate with the publication of Cultural Literacy. The book was an out-of-nowhere hit, spending six months on the New York Times best seller list on the strength of its list of five thousand people, events, books, and phrases that Hirsch declared "every American should know."

Eric Liu, the executive director of the Aspen Institute's Citizenship and American Identity Program, wants to revisit Hirsch's list. Building on his recent essay, "How to Be American," Liu argues that the United States needs such common knowledge more than ever, but that “a twenty-first-century sense of cultural literacy has to be radically more diverse and inclusive.” Liu has launched an intriguing effort to crowd-source a 2016 version of Hirsch's famous list—which, in retrospect, was a double-edged sword: It made Cultural Literacy a best seller, but it also resulted in the book becoming what Dan Willingham has called "the most misunderstood education book of the past fifty years." It also came out the same year as Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, an equally unlikely success. Both were tarred with a "conservative" label. (For his part, Hirsch recently insisted, "I'm...

In a perfect world, all children would have access to an inspiring, well-rounded education, especially in pre-K and elementary school. They need a solid grounding in history, science, art, music, and literature. This is the period when their minds, like little sponges, are most receptive to learning about faraway times and places, hearing the classic stories from cultures around the world, understanding how the universe works, and unleashing their mini-Picassos and Beethovens. Plus, cognitive science tells us, these “extras” help our kiddos become excellent readers to boot—setting them up for a successful academic career from pre-K to college. (That’s because, along with learning to decode the English language, their reading ability is mostly determined by their store of vocabulary and content knowledge.)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of American elementary schools continue to eschew the type of well-rounded education that builds children’s knowledge. They see such an education as prioritizing “mere facts” at the expense of play, “natural learning,” or social and emotional development. That’s wrongheaded thinking. Studying topics like ancient Egypt, the constellations, or Greek myths provides ample opportunity for lessons on feelings, fun, play, and the ethical treatment of others. Lessons in these areas never have to consist only of...

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