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GadflyWhen a Michigan House committee approved a measure that would allow students to skip Algebra 2 if they instead take a technical-education course, the Wolverine State became the latest to question the necessity of that much-debated high school course. Last month, Florida created two paths to a high school diploma, one of which excludes Algebra 2 altogether. The arguments in favor of such moves are persuasive—but what will this mean for Common Core, which requires all students to meet math objectives that include the substance of Algebra 2? This is certainly a matter to watch.

The UFT hosted a veritable panderpalooza last weekend, featuring five Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City taking turns praising the union and blasting charter schools in a shameless effort to win the union’s support. Dennis Walcott, the city’s schools chancellor, announced that he was “appalled” at their remarks. Still, while Gadfly finds such events distasteful, he cannot claim to be surprised when New York politicians resume their traditional habits.

Two excellent Wall Street Journal opinion pieces got down to the core of why conservatives ought to support the Common Core. Edward Frenkel and Hung-Hsi Wu, both professors of mathematics, praised the Core for setting tough benchmarks in that key subject. Sol Stern and Joel Klein commended the standards...

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GadflyOur Gadfly readers won’t be surprised that in India, where a quarter or more public school teachers are absent at any given time, the demand for quality education among the poor has created a thriving market of private schools. Some think tanks, such as the Economist-profiled Centre for Civil Society, and provincial governments are running voucher experiments—with encouraging results. But as the Economist points out, the Indian government, which has proven to be innovative in some areas like health care, remains mulish in its opposition to private schools, designing rules apparently aimed at their eradication. For the sake of their nation’s children, we urge them to reevaluate.

A new NCTQ study finds that during the Great Recession, forty of the fifty largest school districts froze or cut teacher pay at least once between 2007 and 2012. Still and all, teacher pay did rise, if only slightly, over that five year period. The trends were “on par with almost all of the comparable professions” they assessed. Fascinatingly, Chicago clocked in with the highest pay raises (6.5 percent).

Christine Quinn, a front-runner for mayor of the Big Apple, has proposed addressing inequities in that city’s excellent but far too small gifted-and-talented program by creating 8,700 new spots over nine years. Additionally, she suggested allowing students from disadvantaged backgrounds to seek admission by way of teacher recommendations, rather than...

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Should Everyone Go To College?With backpacks full of student debt and too few job opportunities to go around, things are looking bleaker for today’s college graduates. So what to tell the next generation? According to this brief from the Brookings Institution (and some notable others), although college graduates still make more money over their lifetimes than their peers with only a high school diploma, one important fact receives far too little attention: Not all college degrees or graduates are equal. The authors look at variations in monetary returns to education along three dimensions: school selectivity, field of study and career, and graduation rates. The findings? First, selectivity matters; highly selective private schools have high returns on investment (ROIs). But among the less-selective options, public schools are the wiser call (because they are cheaper). Second, the authors highlight the earnings disparities between career tracks, noting that STEM majors far and away outpace others in terms of earnings potential. One telling example: The lifetime earnings of education or arts majors in the service sector are lower than the average earnings of a high school graduate. (Of course, that’s also a sorry commentary on teacher pay.) Third, students who stop along the way and fail to procure a degree incur costs without payoffs. Fewer than 60 percent of those who enter four-year schools end up...

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Community colleges, which educate 45 percent of the country’s college students, are a key source of vocational education and a launching pad for students headed off to four-year institutions—and according to this report from the National Center on Education and the Economy, they are in crisis. A group of English language arts and math experts examined course materials (including syllabi, textbooks, graded exams, and assignments) in seven randomly selected community colleges in seven states. The authors found that most programs demand little to no use of math—and when they do, the math is almost exclusively at a middle school level. This finding flies in the face of the common reckoning that Algebra 2 is a prerequisite for success in college and career. They also find that instructors in applied math programs frequently devise their own materials, since students are so often not taught in elementary or secondary schools the specific skills needed to succeed in those courses. Further, math tests mainly focused on mastery of facts and procedures, rather than applying concepts and thinking mathematically. The ELA findings were equally grim: While the reading complexity of texts used in introductory courses hovers around the eleventh- and twelfth-grade level, these courses have high failure rates, suggesting that these texts are still too complex. What’s more, the instructors make little use of the texts verbatim, opting instead to use videos, outlines, and PowerPoint presentations to convey the critical points of the texts. Students are asked to do very little writing; and when...

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Few school systems have embraced the opportunity presented by crisis quite like the one in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Just five years ago, when the economy collapsed, the Reynoldsburg district was cutting deep into its staff budget and establishing buffers such as a $500 pay-to-play activity fee for families. Exasperated parents fled to neighboring districts, and voters repeatedly rejected the district’s levy requests. Pupil enrollment fell by 10 percent from 2008 to 2012, and once-crowded schools found themselves with extra space.

Reynoldsburg’s leaders responded to hardship with innovation
Reynoldsburg's leaders responded to hardship with innovation

But while many other districts succumbed to hand wringing at similar moments of despair, Reynoldsburg’s leaders responded with innovation. They slashed central-office staff and sent more resources to individual schools, empowering principals with key decision-making authority. They developed “themes” at schools, with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and they established more charter schools and enhanced school choice throughout the district. Most unusually, they bartered with a community college, a hospital, a preschool, and a dance company to utilize its extra space in ways that benefitted its own students.

But perhaps most importantly, write Ellen Belcher and Terry Ryan in their informative profile of the district for the Fordham Institute, Limitless, Education, the Reynoldsburg Way, the 6,300-student district embraced a much-discussed but seldom-practiced...

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The Fordham team has been involved in a variety of discussions and events during the past few weeks. Here's a recap of the latest Fordham highlights:

Fordham's Checker Finn discussed Conservatives and the Common Core in a recent blog. Terry Ryan was quoted in a Columbus Dispatch article about Common Core critics.

Terry Ryan testified May 7 at the Senate Finance Committee with high achieving charter school leaders. Read his testimony and a recap of the event.

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Introduction

One of the most exciting developments in American education during the last decade has been the reconceptualization of school districts and how they should be organized and managed. Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, describes this as a movement of “relinquishers.”¹ Relinquishers, according to Kingsland, are superintendents who use their authority to transfer power away from the central office to individual schools – and, most important, to their principals and teachers.

Education researchers Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross at the Center on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle have written for more than a decade about “portfolio school districts.” Like Kingsland’s relinquishers, portfolio school district leaders see their role not as running the schools, but rather as creating the conditions for a “tight-loose” system of school management – “tight” as to results, but “loose” with regard to operations. Superintendents are no longer owner-operators of schools, but rather “quality control agents” for portfolios of different types of schools in their districts.

Portfolio school district managers, according to Hill and his colleagues, think like savvy financial managers who build a diverse portfolio to ensure overall financial success even if parts of the portfolio underperform. A successful portfolio manager:

…avoids betting everything on one investment, knowing that some holdings will perform much better than expected and some much worse. This manager is agnostic as to which companies are represented but knows that diversity is key...
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Philanthropy, Spring 2013 from Philanthropy RoundtableThe Philanthropy Roundtable publishes a fine magazine for its members, addressing many aspects of philanthropy and often paying special attention to education, a major realm of interest and activity for the organization, as well as (obviously) for U.S. philanthropists. Never, however, in my long relationship with the Roundtable, has this been done more thoroughly and imaginatively than in the Spring 2013 issue of Philanthropy, commencing with a superb lead article by Christopher Levenick on how those who are serious about policy reform in education need to go beyond traditional “C-3” work. Also of value are Naomi Schaeffer Riley on citizenship education, Liam Julian on the philanthropic backdrop of the Common Core, Andy Smarick on badly needed governance changes, Laura Vanderkam on the potential of blended learning, and a swell interview with Betsy Devos. Check it out—and, if by any remote chance you happen to be a philanthropist who doesn’t already belong to the Roundtable, consider joining, too!

SOURCE: Philanthropy Roundtable, Philanthropy, Spring 2013 (Washington, D.C.: Philanthropy Roundtable, Spring 2013).

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After decades of fretting over girls’ academic opportunities and achievement, it seems the worm has turned with a vengeance. MIT economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, using Census data from 1970 to 2010, studied differences among males and females in educational attainment and economic well being. They emerged with two main findings. First, while girls are gaining ground in high school and college-graduation rates, boys are slipping. Among those aged thirty-five in 2010, the female-male gap in college-going rates was 10 percentage points, while the gap in four-year college-completion rates was 7 percentage points. Second, men’s wages are faltering: Between 1979 and 2010, the real earnings growth for males with less than a four-year degree declined between 5 and 25 percent (the steepest such fall was found among the least-educated and youngest males). And though tough economic times have also taxed women, their earnings did not decline as far; in fact, the earnings of highly educated women have risen sharply since the late 70s, with the gender earnings gap among older workers (ages 40-64) narrowing from 60 percent in 1979 to 20 percent in 2010 for those with a post-college education. The analysts’ search for the root of these trends escorts readers through a review of shifting family structures: Over the last thirty years, the proportion of births accounted for by unmarried women has more than doubled, rising from less than 20 percent in 1980 to over 40 percent in 2009. What’s more, these trends were not driven by teen...

Is College Worth It? by William J. Bennett and David WilezolThis readable, provocative, and exceptionally timely book by former U.S. education secretary Bill Bennett (and his young but astute coauthor) will rock the complacent aspiration of “college for all.” Intended more for students and parents than for policymakers and propeller heads (and equipped with a short, well-chosen list of “colleges worth attending” and a dozen “hypothetical scenarios” by which to make decisions about college enrollment), its fundamental argument is that much of contemporary U.S. higher education is a waste of time and money, that many people emerge from the campus with more in debts than in rewards, that there are plenty of viable and rewarding alternatives (especially to the classic “four-year bachelor’s degree”), and that big changes are afoot in the postsecondary realm—technology above all—that many who inhabit that realm seem all but blind to. He rebuts the contemporary dogma that “returns on higher education are higher than ever” by showing that, for many students (and of course millions of taxpayers), the costs outweigh the benefits. Right on, Mr. Secretary!

SOURCE: William J. Bennett and David Wilezol, Is College Worth It? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, April 2013)....

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