I still don't like the snarky title of Mark Bauerlein's new book on how technology is blunting our reading and comprehension skills, but a recent piece in the Atlantic persuades me that he's at least right to claim that computers are changing how we think.

What's really great about the article, though, is that writer Nicholas Carr seriously wrestles with the question of what these changes mean for individuals and for society:

In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue's characters, "cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful".... Socrates wasn't wrong--the new technology did often have the effects he feared--but he was shortsighted. He couldn't foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom)....

Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive,


Al Sharpton has already turned heads by pairing with Pat Robertson to promote Al Gore's new environmental organization. Now he's taking on failing urban schools with his preferred enemy in that field, New York schools chancellor Joel Klein. Way to go, Al.

Photo by Flickr user hellochris.

Education Week reports today that data collected from the states by the U.S. Department of Education show the percentage of core classes in the nation taught by highly-qualified teachers is around 94 percent for 2006-2007. The numbers for high-poverty schools are slightly lower, but still pretty high--illustrating once again that the gaping loophole in the teacher quality provision known as HOUSEE invites states to game the system. North Dakota, for instance, boasts a full 100 percent of its core-subject classes taught by highly-qualified teachers. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's 100 percent in high-poverty schools, low-poverty schools, elementary schools, and secondary schools--every single core class taught by a highly-qualified teacher who demonstrates content knowledge expertise.

Others have already spoken about this problem quite eloquently. And though we admit to spotting a silver lining in here for charter schools, the fact remains that these latest overinflated data are just downright silly. Barnett Berry at the Center for Teaching Quality says as much:

The way states define highly-qualified teachers and what counts and doesn't count varies, ... rendering cross-state comparisons useless.

True, and the same adjective applies to the data themselves....

Liam Julian

The Weekly Standard looks at the Obama-Ayers connection.

The California Charter Schools Association published an important study yesterday that's making news today . Its findings from Los Angeles are consistent with previous charter research : L.A. charter schools tend to outperform similar, nearby public schools; "mature" charter schools outperform start-ups; and charters are particularly effective for African-American students.

What was refreshingly different was the local district's reaction. Consider this from the Los Angeles Times :

Ramon C. Cortines, L.A. Unified's newly appointed senior deputy superintendent, said the report pointed to how traditional schools could learn from charters--a strikingly different attitude from that typically expressed by district officials.

"I think that what it says is that they have some best practices, and those should be replicated in the district in all schools," he said. "I would say the same about islands of excellence in the Unified district.... We need to each learn from each other."

He said the district Monday held the first in a series of meetings that will bring together principals from charters and traditional schools to discuss how they can learn from one another.

I'm not going to presume that these meetings are going to...

Liam Julian

Mike is too gentle with this broader, bolder initiative. First, a chicken and egg problem arises. Improving education is generally touted as the seminal route by which the nation can decrease social and economic inequality--but the bolder, broader folks think that decreasing social and economic inequality is crucial if America is to improve k-12 education. Puzzling. And then there's all this:

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that policies aimed directly at education-related social and economic disadvantages can improve school performance and student achievement. The persistent failure of policy makers to act on that evidence--in tandem with a school-improvement agenda-is a major reason why the association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong.

Note the part I've bolded. What does it mean? Are readers to believe that the "association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong" because policy makers haven't confronted every type of inequality at the same time, in tandem with school-improvement agendas? While we're at it, perhaps the authors can go even broader by adding some foreign affairs components and connecting the whole, overarching scheme to a plan to provide housing for every family and daisies...

Apparently tired of being called defeatist defenders of the status quo, the Economic Policy Institute (home of Lawrence Mishel and Richard Rothstein) just released a policy statement calling for a "broader, BOLDER approach" to education. It's a smart and savvy strategy: they go out of their way to say that school improvement matters, but they also want a focus on other social issues:

Education policy in this nation has typically been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status on learning. Schools can--and have--ameliorated some of the impact of social and economic disadvantage on achievement. Improving our schools, therefore, continues to be a vitally important strategy for promoting upward mobility and for working toward equal opportunity and overall educational excellence.

Evidence demonstrates, however, that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite the impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can close these gaps in a substantial, consistent, and sustainable manner.

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that policies aimed directly at education-related social and economic disadvantages can

Liam Julian

Washington, D.C.'s Thurgood Marshall Academy charter school is featured in today's Wall Street Journal.

Liam Julian

Kevin Carey expounds upon the reasons that research doesn't always or even often make it to policymakers and into their policies. His suggested remedies are fine, especially the appeal for better writing. And yet, conspicuously absent from his piece is that research--at least education research--is rarely conclusive, and sometimes mere weeks pass between the publication of two different studies of the same topic that unearth about that one topic two utterly different and opposed findings.

Rarely addressed is the mutability of education research; certainly, reports can be tweaked in one way or another to reveal the data the authors desire. Furthermore, how many of such reports end with the limp, depressing words, "More research on this topic is needed"? (The practical reader??wonders: "Well, why??didn't you do it, then?") Policymakers generally have ideas about education that they've formed from their own experiences, listening to their constituents, or considering political ramifications. They use studies not to form their opinions but to bolster those they already harbor--and maybe, in rare instances, to??develop an area in which their opinions are not yet fully formed. Who can blame them, though? Were they to predicate every decision on the conclusions of the extant research,...