I've been enjoying the print media's and blogosphere's reactions to our new report, High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB. Most of the commentary is entirely predictable. For instance, the Education Trust expresses discomfort with us even raising the issue. From this morning's New York Times story:

Amy Wilkins, a vice president at Education Trust, which lobbies for policies to help close the achievement gap, said the gains by low achievers should be applauded. "My concern is that this report makes it seem like we have to choose between seeking equity and excellence," she said. "We need to strive for both."

Susan Traiman, the Business Roundtable's education policy director, goes a bit further:

We're producing progress at the bottom, and we need to maintain that," Ms. Traiman said, "but we need to ratchet up the performance of students at every achievement level if we're going to be competitive."

That's exactly right. But the award for truth-telling goes to Eduwonk Andy, who acknowledges that educators, at least, have to make difficult choices about how to allocate their time and attention.

There is also a belief that schools can do everything at once: That they can close achievement gaps, raise overall achievement, stretch high performing students and help struggling ones all at the same time. As Rick Hess and I wrote in PDK in 2007 all of these pressures create an untenable situation for educators.

We put this directly to...

Too swamped today to dig into Fordham's new report, High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB? Check out this PowerPoint presentation to get the highlights.

Liam Julian

Find the op-ed here .

Ten years ago, New York joined the charter school revolution by passing a law to allow these innovative public schools to open. Today there are nearly 100 charters in the state and dozens more in the pipeline.

But now, thanks to the state's Department of Labor and a labor-friendly state judge, building a new charter school just got a lot harder and a lot more expensive.

That's the question posed by Fordham's latest report, High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB. (Check out the full report or the one-page summary.) It contains two separate studies examining the status of high-achieving students in the No Child Left Behind era. The first, by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless,??concludes that the nation's top pupils have "languished" academically while the lowest-performing youngsters have gained dramatically. The second, by the Farkas Duffett Research Group,??finds that most teachers feel pressure to focus primarily on their lowest-achieving students and neglect the high achievers, even though this offends their sense of fairness. Both studies make clear that if we want our top achievers to make progress, too, we'll need to rethink NCLB's accountability measures.

The report's getting lots of attention in the media; see coverage from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, Education Week, and Chronicle of Higher Education. ...

Nearly missed this article from the latest Economist on Swedish private schools, probably beceause it was in the business section. A bit of background: A 1994 law made it so that

pretty much anyone who satisfies basic standards to open a new school and take in children at the state's expense. The local municipality must pay the school what it would have spent educating each child itself-a sum of SKr48,000-70,000 ($8,000-12,000) a year, depending on the child's age and the school's location. Children must be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis--there must be no religious requirements or entrance exams. Nothing extra can be charged for, but making a profit is fine.

Since the law was passed, the proportion of school-age Swedes attending private schools has jumped from less than 1 percent to about 10 percent, spurred more by the growth of private school networks than by mom-and-pop operators. (USA Today comments today on a similar phenomenon with charter networks in the U.S.) The article compares the biggest such operator, Kunskapsskolan ("Knowledge Schools"), to IKEA:

Like IKEA, a giant Swedish furniture-maker, Kunskapsskolan gets its customers to do much of the work themselves. The vital tool, though, is not an Allen key but the Kunskapsporten ("Knowledge Portal"), a website containing the entire syllabus....

Again like IKEA, no money is wasted on fancy surroundings. Kunskapsskolan Enskede, a school for 11- to 16-year-olds in a suburb of Stockholm, is a former

Gadfly Studios

Mike and Christina discuss Fordham's new report on how high-achievers have fared as educators have turned their focus toward closing the achievement gap.


Checker laments in today's Ohio Education Gadfly that policymakers in Fordham's home state have gone soft on education.

Congress looks set to grant D.C.'s voucher program a one-year reprieve. (You have to scroll down a bit to see the story.)

As if teachers unions haven't caused enough headaches for charter schools, now labor unions are getting in on the act. An op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, written by a New York charter school president and a representative of the New York Charter Schools Association, talks about the interference of labor unions in one school's quest to expand its facilities. In New York, charter schools are supposed to be exempt from a state law requiring "prevailing wage" (in other words, charter schools don't have to pay union workers at union rates). This exemption saved some organizations, like the Brighter Choice Foundation, millions of dollars when they built a new KIPP middle school ($7 mil for the charter school, while the Albany school district spent $40 mil on a new middle school).

Apparently the labor unions weren't happy, because last fall the state labor commissioner told charter schools that they too had to pay union rates. Not only was the big boss in blatant disregard of state law, but then a state judge upheld the commissioner's decision. Now, thanks to union greed, a school like Buffalo's Tapestry Charter School is looking at inflated construction costs of nearly $1.5 million to accommodate workers' wages.

I'm not sure what's more absurd: yet another union caring about its own interests before that of children, or a judge legislating from the bench. Neither entity has any business overruling state law, but both are seriously hindering the progress and autonomy of charter...

Check out this Education Week article for a preview of Charles Murray's latest book, Real Education. Want a glimpse? Referring to college-level textbooks, Murray argues that "We're talking about material that only about 10 percent of high school graduates can understand."

He calls that speaking "truth." We call it fatalism. Yes, Dr. Murray, asking schools to achieve universal proficiency in reading and math is stupid, but so is settling for the results our education system is currently attaining. As a wise philosopher once said, there must be a middle way.