On Thursday, an advocacy group filed a lawsuit challenging New York City’s teacher-tenure laws. (New York Times)
Today, Arne Duncan outlined his fifty-state strategy for enforcing NCLB’s teacher-equity requirement. (Politics K–12)
The Education Department announced a burst of new research partnerships on topics such as D.C.’s IMPACT teacher-evaluation system and support for English-language learners. (Inside School Research)
A New York Daily News editorial argues that Chancellor Fariña should not revive the Balanced Literacy curriculum. (New York Daily News)
Daily Caller: “Common Core Backers Regret Obama’s Involvement
TES Connect: “Want the best? Then pay top dollar

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders; the Lewis and Clark expeditionmovie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesouter spaceand the systems of the human body

Today is the 151st anniversary of Pickett’s Charge, the last Confederate offensive of the Civil War—one that ended in a massive, bloody defeat, now seen as the turning point in that epic conflagration. So it’s as good a time as any to feature educational videos on the Civil War. As has been the case with other historical topics, it’s not easy to find excellent, age-appropriate materials, but we’ve located a few. Of course, because of the nature of the topic, these are surely ones you should watch with your kids. And as always, let us know if we missed some good ones.


Special thanks to research interns Ashley Council and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on the Civil War


Bad ideas in education are like horror movie monsters. You think you’ve killed them, but they refuse to stay dead.

A generation ago, the infamous “reading wars” pitted phonics-based instruction in the early grades against “whole language,” which emphasized reading for meaning instead of spelling, grammar, and sounding words out.

In 1997, the National Reading Panel was tasked to settle the fight once and for all. Phonics won. That should have been the end of it, but whole language never really died. It morphed, grew a new head called “balanced literacy,” and lived on. In New York City, it grew even stronger.

Finally, last year, there was hope: Balanced literacy was left for dead yet when the city Education Department recommended two reading programs for elementary schools as they prepare to meet the rigorous new Common Core State Standards in English: New York State’s Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum and Pearson’s ReadyGen.

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project—the balanced-literacy program developed by Prof. Lucy Calkins, which had dominated city classrooms for more than a decade—notably failed to make the cut.

Why? Under the shift to Common Core standards, reading programs are explicitly expected to teach strong foundational skills, including phonics in the early grades, while building background knowledge and vocabulary, which are especially important for low-income children most at risk of reading failure.

To match the Common Core, reading programs must also encourage students to grapple with challenging texts that are worth reading.

None of these is emphasized in...


The New America Foundation finds that formulas divvying special-education money have not been adjusted in over a decade, which is resulting in smaller districts getting more federal dollars per student and shrinking districts getting more funding than growing districts. (On Special Education)
A MOOC designed to instruct teachers on how to use technology in the classroom is popular with a test group of rural teachers, who often must travel long distances for similar training. (Hechinger Report)
The University of Pennsylvania is launching a four-semester executive program for future charter school founders. (Charters & Choice)
Fourteen diverse charter schools, including NYC’s Success Academy Charter Schools and San Diego’s High Tech High, have together founded the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools, which—among other things—will support research on the best policies an dprograms of diverse schools. (Charters & Choice)
Daily News: “Why Johnny won’t learn to read
New Yorker: “The Limits of Reading Rainbow”...

The early-childhood folks didn’t much like it when I faulted NCES for relying on the Rutgers-based National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) as the source for federal data on “the state of preschool”—and for subsidizing the advocacy work of that organization, which just so happens to be aligned with President Obama’s preschool initiative.

NIEER’s Steve Barnett insisted that the sole-source federal contract pays only for data gathering, not advocacy. And the Department of Education noted that when it had announced its intention of awarding such a contract to NIEER, nobody objected at the time. So why, it implied, was I grumping after the fact?

Talk about splitting hairs. At the receiving end—I speak as the long-time head of a fundraising-dependent nonprofit organization not so very different from NIEER—all money is green, even federal contract dollars that must be accounted for. At minimum, they offset costs that would otherwise be borne elsewhere in one’s budget, thereby freeing up funds for other activities, in this case including advocacy, which is what NIEER is best known for. (OK, data-based advocacy, but limited to the data they want you to see because those are the data that buttress their views and advance their goals.) I don’t know what NIEER’s total budget is—we couldn’t find it in any public source—but the $1.5 million it will receive via this contract (over five years) isn’t chickenfeed. And they can charge to this contract the costs of gathering data they would otherwise have had...

New York City’s budget oversight agency finds that the Big Apple’s schools are becoming more congested, that funding has slumped, and that the number of kids in “temporary housing situations” has increased sharply. (New York Times)
In response to the Education Department’s review of whether states are complying with federal SPED laws, the District of Columbia is considering an overhaul that would include speeding the delivery of services and giving families new tools in disputes with schools over services for their kids. (Washington Post)
As Mayor Bill de Blasio pushes his preschool-for-all plan, experts are arguing that more needs to be done to ensure that youngsters in informal pre-Kindergarten settings are getting a solid foundation. (New York Times)
In light of the recent Vergara case, the Hechinger Report has published some nifty infographics mapping the percentage of California’s teachers with tenure by county. (Hechinger Report)
U.S. News: “Supreme Court Ruling Could Give Strength to Teacher Suit
Heartland: “Wyoming Continues Battle Over Science Standards”...

After nearly a decade of research, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) released in May the first outcomes of its efforts to use the results of the 2013 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to report on the academic preparedness of U.S. 12th graders for college. It found that only 38% of 12th graders meet its preparedness benchmark in reading, and 39% meet its preparedness benchmark in math. NAGB’s efforts to track college readiness in the United States is uniquely important as it has the only assessment program that reports on the academic performance of a representative national sample of high school students.

That said, the group that issues the Nation’s Report Card deserves a grade of “Incomplete” for its work. Reading and math are obviously necessary indicators of academic preparation for college and careers after high school, but higher education and employers say it’s not enough. When it comes to the ability to complete college level work (and to being career ready), writing skills are essential. Yet, despite the fact that NAGB also administers a 12th grade writing test, it inexplicably chose not to include writing as an indicator of readiness.

If NAEP wants to remain the “gold standard” for assessment, NAGB must remedy this situation quickly. Postsecondary institutions and systems throughout the nation assess writing in order to determine whether students have the academic skills to succeed in first year courses. According to ACT, approximately one third of ACT test takers do not meet its readiness...

Bravo to Fordham’s original gadfly!

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools yesterday inducted Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. into its Charter School Hall of Fame—established to honor pioneers in the development, growth, and innovation of charter schools.

At its annual conference in Las Vegas, Checker was lauded for his long track record of support and hailed as one of the “intellectual godfathers” of the charter school movement. He was inducted along with Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund.

“Hall of Fame members include school teachers and leaders, thinkers, policy experts, and funders that have paved the way for the success and growth of public charter schools. They have strengthened public charter schools nationwide and inspired us to do more for our nation’s students,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance.

Checker is among twenty-six individuals and organizations named to the Hall of Fame since 2007. He joins U.S. senator Lamar Alexander, the KIPP Charter Schools, Joel Klein, and Chicago mayor Richard Daley, among others.

Check out this short video on Checker’s contribution to the charter school movement.


On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that home healthcare workers in Illinois can’t be compelled to pay union dues. While this ruling was limited to home health aides, some argue that the ruling has set the stage for other rulings on union dues, such as one pending in California that pertains to public school teachers. (Washington Post)
In response to a recent New York Times article that listed reasons that parents are faltering with the Common Core, Curriculum Matters asks, “Should instruction stay the same simply so parents can help kids with their homework?” (Curriculum Matters)
Seventeen out of thirty-four states that received NCLB waivers have not followed through on their promise of turning around the schools performing in the bottom 5 percent. (Politics K–12)
A Gallup/Education Week survey finds that two-thirds of district superintendents believe that the Common Core will improve education in their communities. (Education Week)
Daily Caller: “Harris Decision Bad But Not Fatal For Teachers Unions
National Journal: “Principal Woes
Reporter-Herald: “Colorado teacher evaluations still face major hurdles after first year”...

Last Friday, I laid out policy scenarios that might result from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn. To recap, the case involved plaintiff Pam Harris and other Illinois home-healthcare workers whom public-employee unions had successfully organized (with the help of their allies in the Democratic political establishment). The problem was that Harris and others didn’t want to subsidize the union, didn’t think they were even public employees, and simply wanted to go back to providing healthcare services to their patients, who were often sick family members.

I theorized that the Court would either (a) side with the unions and tell healthcare providers to take it up with the state legislature, (b) side with the healthcare providers but limit the decision to them alone, or (c) extend the decision broadly to say that all public employees needn’t pay union dues or “fair share” payments if they did not want to subsidize the union’s activities. Option “c” is a doomsday scenario for public unions (the unions’ “gravest threat” in the eyes of one commentator) and would effectively prohibit “fair share” payments for workers nationwide.

Why this would cripple the unions isn’t hard to figure out. Last year, the Wisconsin Education Association Council reported a nearly 30 percent drop in membership in the two years since the Act 10 collective-bargaining law took effect. (Act 10 eliminated “fair share” payments, though it also limited collective bargaining, which the doomsday scenario would not do.)

On Monday, the Court ruled decidedly...