I started my career teaching British, American, and world literature to high school kids. So I'm not thrilled to see the steady decline in the number of books read by middle and high school students. We're told that last year, on average, 2nd graders read roughly 46.2 books compared to 4.5 books for 12th graders. That has me depressed. But before I cry in my beer (read: Starbucks Chai Latte Nonfat Extra Hot), I decided to download the study.

Yes, as a former program evaluator (another post-teaching vocation), I actually like to review the methodology of studies as opposed to relying upon the "bottom line" message often reported in the news media. As alluded in the Toledo news report, the study's data are collected from a database at Renaissance Learning, a company that markets Accelerated Reader (AR)--a popular reading program in schools. Turns out, though, that the number of books students read is calculated by the number of quizzes that any particular student completes (each AR book title has an accompanying quiz). A caveat explaining such is included in the introduction to the report, which reads:

Please note: Renaissance Learning recognizes, of course, that not all book reading that happens in or outside of the classroom is captured through the Accelerated Reader software. However, it is reasonable to assume that for users of Accelerated Reader much book reading is captured in this way. AR quizzes number


As lickety-split Liam just mentioned, the latest Education Next just got posted online and includes a short piece of mine examining the editorial board positions of the nation's largest-circulation newspapers on two key policy issues: No Child Left Behind and charter schools. (Click on the thumbnail at right for a bigger chart of the results.) The latter fared much better than the former:

The charter school advantage is clear: 19 papers are somewhat or strongly supportive, versus only 3 that are somewhat opposed. (One is neutral and 2 did not write any editorials about the subject.) Meanwhile, the papers are split on NCLB, with 15 somewhat or strongly supportive, 9 somewhat or strongly opposed, and 1 neutral.

Still, at a time when national audiences erupt with applause when presidential candidates bash NCLB, it's worth noting that a majority of newspapers are remaining steadfast in defending the law. And who knew that charter schools enjoyed such strong support from local papers? Here's hoping they don't all go out of business....

Liam Julian

The newest issue of Education Next is now on newsstands--or on the internet, at least.

Check out Mike's piece, which is a unique look at how the editorial boards of major newspapers present charter schools and No Child Left Behind.

Rick Hess and Paul Peterson's annual look at state proficiency standards is out in the latest issue of Education Next, and the news resembles what Fordham's Proficiency Illusion report found last fall: a "walk to the middle." Standards are slipping, particularly in eighth grade.

Their analysis considers the percentage of students passing state tests and compares that to the percentage of a state's students passing the National Assessment of Educational Progress. From the press release:

Only three states--South Carolina, Massachusetts and Missouri--established world-class standards in math and reading for their students, earning each an "A". Every other state set a lower proficiency standard--some far short of the NAEP standard. Georgia, for instance, declared 88 percent of 8th graders proficient in reading, even though just 26 percent scored at or above the proficiency level on the NAEP. Georgia joined Oklahoma and Tennessee at the bottom of the class, each earning an "F" for their state standards.

You know where this is going... is it so wrong to dream about national standards?...

Liam Julian

We know that the best schools "sweat the small stuff"; they do not overlook untucked shirts, they do not permit poor posture, they do not deign to??hold different students??to different standards of discipline.

Instead of following that model, schools in Anne Arundel County are taking the opposite approach--i.e., "training staff in how to work with people of different backgrounds...."??Consider these??alarming sentences:

Teachers and administrators may misinterpret the body language and occasional confrontational behavior that some African-Americans learn in their neighborhoods and use at school as a way of standing up for themselves, veteran educators say. They will often back down if they're made to feel safe.

Ella White Campbell reinforced such sentiments by telling the Baltimore Sun, "Being rude means one thing to you and another thing to me."

Of course, being rude generally means one thing to employers, which is that he who is rude is not hired. Anne Arundel County wants to lower its rates of suspension of black pupils--rates that, according to the NAACP, indicate "discriminatory treatment." The true discrimination, the soft-bigotry of low-expectations bit, is Anne Arundel's new position of pretending that black children should be held to different standards of discipline than should non-black children.

Liam Julian

So reports Ron Matus in the St. Petersburg Times.

You might not agree with this column's political bent, but Stanley Crouch is right to blast away at anti-intellectualism in American life:

We should be ever suspicious of anyone or any group that scorns education, that pretends to believe that only the simple and the uncomplicated can express the national ethos.

In other words, being well-educated isn't a crime, even if you're running for president.

Anyone who's been following politics lately knows that Senator Barack Obama's relationship with unrepentant bomber and former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers has become a matter of debate in the 2008 campaign.

What's beyond debate, however, is Ayers's connection to Arnetha F. Ball of Stanford University; Nancy Beadie of the University of Washington; Mark Berends of Vanderbilt University; Linda L. Cook of Educational Testing Service; David J. Flinders of Indiana University; Steve A. Henry of Topeka Public Schools; Joan L. Herman of the University of California-Los Angeles; Cynthia A. Hudley of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Carol D. Lee of Northwestern University; Richard E. Mayer of the University of California - Santa Barbara; Patricia S. O'Sullivan of the University of California, San Francisco; Robert J. Stahl of Arizona State University; William G. Tierney of the University of Southern California; Linda C. Tillman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Susan B. Twombly of Kansas University.

That's because these are the members of the Association Council of the American Educational Research Association--a group that Ayers will join next year after his election in March as AERA's Vice President-Elect of Curriculum Studies. (Hat tip to Sol Stern.)

The Council might consider whether it's prudent to allow a former terrorist to join its ranks--particularly a man who said as late as 2001 that "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."


Liam Julian

Standards and accountability hawks (Fordham??swirls among them) have never adequately explained how top-down accountability systems avoid situations such as this. After an exhaustive investigation of Tucson's schools, the Arizona Daily Star reports:

In the 2006-07 school year alone, nine in 10 students were moved to the next grade level, but data show that nearly a third of them failed basic courses in English, math, science or social studies. At least 94,000 students failed essential classes during the past six years.

Our 2007 Fordham Fellows, almost all of whom had spent time teaching, often noted that those in Washington, D.C., and state capitals who write ed policy prescriptions are sometimes blithely ambivalent about their tonics' function at the classroom level. Tucson's problem is of that indicative.

One is forced, after reducing his stock of problems, to see that without an overhaul of the teaching ranks, standards and accountability reforms simply cannot work. Policymakers can write laws and set achievement targets, but for the middle-school educator whose chief incentive is to stay out of trouble, a class, one-third of which cannot read, poses a major problem. This teacher is unconcerned about, say, the state standards but is merely looking for a convenient way to pass a group of??trouble students on to another class. Grade inflation and social promotion??are suitable for his purposes.

Most teachers are not pernicious, and many are simply placed in tough situations. But if these employees are not completely devoted to the tenets of...