Every May and June hordes of school groups descend on Washington, D.C. Each year, like clockwork, we wonks witness gaggles of tweens and teens take over our commutes. They're marked by a tendency to stand on both sides of the Metro escalator, yell and scream in the Metro tunnels, and cram into the center of the Metro car. They can be a local's worst nightmare. But during my past two commutes, riding the train home yesterday and to Fordham this morning, I witnessed a new kind of school group: the KIPP group.

They appear as a small army of pre-teens in matching t-shirts, standing single-file on the right side of the escalator. Several adults walk alongside various points in the line while one leader holds court at one entry/exit turnstile (leaving the other three or four clear for commuters). He hands out a farecard to each child, who then goes through the gate and returns the card to an adult waiting on the other side. The children continue to the next escalator, remaining in single file...

Republicans should be thankful that, according to Rasmussen,* education ranks only sixth out of ten issues for American voters right now, because Congressional Democrats are opening up a big lead on the issue again--fifteen points in May, up from six points in April. On only "health care" and "government ethics" are Republicans faring worse. Perhaps that's because Republicans aren't talking about the issue, while Democrats (particularly their presidential candidates) are talking about it all the time. To close this gap, the GOP needs a positive agenda on the issue--one that transcends the increasingly unpopular No Child Left Behind Act. That's a job for Senator John McCain--and his colleagues in the Republican Congressional caucus.

* Hat tip to "angryteacher" at the Buckeye State Blog.

Liam Julian

With the release of every new education report, it seems, we hear from commentators that the findings are promising but certainly do not constitute a "silver bullet" or a "panacea" for k-12's problems. No longer. This sounds like a bonafide silver bullet to me.

Liam Julian

The latest issue of Commentary contains a review of Checker's newest book, Troublemaker. It's available here for subscribers.

Baffled by America's arcane process for electing a president, the Edmonton Sun's Edward Greenspan has this to say:

One super delegate is Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina's former education superintendent. That makes her the most super super delegate of all.

Ha! Good one, Edward! Jeff, is this sort of thing that made you want to leave Canada?

Amid all the news of doom and gloom, here's one reason for optimism: America's best spellers appear to be getting better and better. According to the Washington Post, these are some of the words which clinched the National Spelling Bee over the years:

1925: gladiolus

1932: knack

1938: sanitarium

1940: therapy

1956: condominium

1960: eudaemonic

1973: vouchsafe

1980: elucubrate

1991: antipyretic

2001: succedaneum

2004: autochthonous

2006: Ursprache

2007: serrefine

2008: guerdon

"Knack," really? Maybe the "Greatest Generation" (whose members would have been right around 12 years old in 1932) weren't our greatest spellers ever. Or maybe, what with the Great Depression and all, they had other concerns on their mind. Regardless, it's pretty cool that American students (or at least .000001 percent of them) have gotten better at something.

It seems that students at top colleges can't soon shed the feelings of anxiety that accompanied their hypercompetitive high-school careers. Our intern Amy notifies me that the stress that bears down upon aspiring college-goers can manifest itself even more intensely after one matriculates at the university of his or her choice.

Take her high-school classmate, currently studying theater at NYU, who, determined to face his demons, wrote an off-Broadway musical about the dog-eat-dog world of AP testing:


More here.

Jeff Kuhner

In response to Mike's question: "Yes."

Brian Greene, a Columbia professor who wrote two top-selling popularizations of physics, pens a passionate call for American students to rekindle their love affair with science in Sunday's New York Times.

Update: Wow--it's currently the most emailed article on Must have hit a nerve.

My recent post on special education (SPED) had one education scholar emailing me to point out that a perverse financial incentive exists to place students in special education. I agree with that, though it doesn't discredit the influence that special education advocacy and parental groups have exerted on the issue (which others like Wade Horn and Douglas Tynan have also acknowledged).

But I'm also intrigued by some other factors that may be influencing the rise in SPED costs. I'm referring to research in Massachusetts a few years ago which found that cost increases in that state were less a factor of district policy or practice (e.g., inaccurate over identification of SPED students) and more a case of increasing numbers of students with significant special needs requiring more costly service. Specifically, researchers found several major underlying causes of rising SPED costs. One was changes in medical practice that now enable increasing survival rates for premature babies (many, unfortunately, with lifelong developmental and neurological problems); deinstitutionalization (more SPED children once served by state facilities are now served by school systems); and social/economic factors (more children exposed to child abuse, neglect, drug use, and dysfunctional family environments). So it's not just perverse financial incentives or influential SPED advocacy groups that are contributing to rising costs. Given these findings, it may be both our good intentions and our bad ones....