Our own Diane Ravitch has edited the third in her series of these thick but valuable volumes, this one based on a May 2000 Brookings conference devoted to academic standards in the U.S. Weighing in at 414 pages, this is indispensable for any serious follower of (or participant in) standards-based education reform. It consists of 7 main papers (one by yours truly and Fordham research director Marci Kanstoroom on "State Academic Standards") with commentaries on each. Other authors and topics include John Bishop and associates on end-of-course and minimum competency exams; Julian Betts and Bob Costrell on the interplay of incentives and equity in a standards regime; David Grissmer and Ann Flanagan on indirect evidence of state reform efforts; and Mark Reckase on the controversies triggered by the standards set by the National Assessment Governing Board. For information or copies, contact Brookings Institution Press, 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; phone (202) 797-6258 or (800) 275-1447; e-mail bibooks@brook.edu; or surf to www.brookings.edu.

This flagship monthly publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) is intermittently interesting, though its basic orientation is progressivist and constructivist. The May 2001 issue is better than most, particularly for those interested in teachers. In fact, the focus of the entire issue is "Who is teaching our children?" It includes 17 articles pertinent to that subject, some swell, some appalling-a typical ASCD mixed bag. They include an upsetting piece on out-of-field teaching by Richard Ingersoll, a rant about alternative certification by Barnett Barry of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and a swell piece on teacher attitudes by Public Agenda's Deborah Wadsworth. You'll also find several pages by Kathy Madigan (of the National Council on Teacher Quality) and yours truly on "removing the barriers for teacher candidates," which outlines the deregulatory strategy that we believe has greatest promise for improving teacher quality in the U.S. while also easing the quantity problem. You can find the whole table of contents on line at http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/0105/frame0105el.html, though to access many of the articles you will probably need to become an ASCD member. The ASCD can be found at 1703 N. Beauregard Street, Alexandria VA 22311, phoned at 703-58-9600, e-mailed at el@ascd.org, or tracked through the website given above.

Richard J. Coley of the Educational Testing Service, the author of this 51-page report, concludes that, with a few exceptions, gender differences on most academic outcomes do not vary much across racial or ethnic groups. This includes gender gaps in scores on a wide range of tests (NAEP tests, undergraduate and graduate admissions tests, AP exams) as well as high school course-taking patterns, AP exam participation, educational attainment, and earning and employment. For some indicators, however, there are no gender differences at all. Since gender differences do not vary much by race or ethnicity, Coley concludes that policies to remedy educational inequalities should treat gender, and not just race and ethnicity, as a crucial factor, but he stops short of making specific recommendations for closing the gaps that concern him. Copies can be ordered for $10.50 each from Policy Information Center, Mail Stop 04-R, Educational Testing Service, Rosedale Road, Princeton, NJ 08541-0001; Tel: (609) 734-5694; Fax: (609) 734-1755. Copies can also be downloaded as a PDF file from www.ets.org/research.

If you share our concern about whether the forthcoming E.S.E.A. amendments can successfully be implemented, this report tells a cautionary tale. Published by a (left-leaning) private outfit called the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, it is subtitled "a preliminary report on state compliance with final assessment & accountability requirements under the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994." In other words, it reports on implementation of the previous round of E.S.E.A. amendments, enacted just before the 1994 election. And it's hardly encouraging. At the end of the 2000-01 school year, i.e. six and a half years after President Clinton signed this legislation, a period during which all states were required to install academic standards, aligned assessments and accountability systems based on those assessments, here is what the Citizens' Commission found: Just 11 states have in place assessment systems that meet all Title I requirements. Twenty states were granted "partial approval" by the federal Education Department and told to correct deficiencies in their systems. Three states had plans so "out of line with Title I requirements that they will need to enter into compliance agreements" with Uncle Sam. And eighteen more states had assessment systems that the Education Department hasn't yet managed to finish reviewing. That's the same Department, of course, that will be charged with implementation of the 2001 amendments. This report is full of other alarming details that you may want to see for yourself. You can contact the Citizens' Commission at 2000 M Street NW, Suite 400, Washington DC...

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) sometimes does good work. And then sometimes it makes you want to throw up. This particular task force report makes one good point: states are in the education policy driver's seat. Then it argues that state policy makers aren't very good at driving. (The task force has a stunningly one-sided view of what's good and bad; for example, it trashes Massachusetts's plucky approach to standards-based education reform, apparently basing its judgment the views of a single Bay State dissenter.) Then it empathizes with state education departments, which it finds underfunded, understaffed, etc. Then it issues a huge number of utterly unmemorable recommendations for various state-level constituencies, including such gems as "get advice from more than one source," "develop processes that will ensure strong performance," and "engage all 'stakeholders.'" To think that trees were sacrificed for this banal document! To avoid sacrificing more, perhaps you should view it on-line (if you want to bother at all). Surf to www.iel.org/staterole.pdf, phone Mary Podmostko at (202) 822-8405, x 31, write her at IEL, 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 310, Washington DC 20036, or e-mail podmostkom@iel.org.

A new analysis of state testing data by the Council of the Great City Schools finds that many of the nation's urban schools are posting significant gains in math and reading and reducing achievement gaps between white and minority students. Twenty-three urban districts are making faster gains in math than the state average in at least half the grades tested, and 17 cities posted reading gains that exceeded the state average. The report highlights three urban districts that have produced impressive gains-Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC), Houston, and Sacramento-and notes that they are aggressively pursuing sound standards-based reform strategies.

Meanwhile, parents in Scarsdale and other affluent areas are protesting state tests and the whole idea of a "one-size-fits-all" curriculum. Are we then to conclude that standards-and-accountability is a reform strategy that helps poor kids but hurts schools in wealthier communities? Or are affluent parents driven by other motives to reject standards and tests?

A story in the March 2001 issue of The Washington Monthly examined how urban districts in Massachusetts have seized upon that state's demanding achievement tests "their ticket to higher expectations, tougher standards, and better results," while white, affluent communities are up in arms over it. "Yet for all of the noise these activists have made about the MCAS," reporter Georgia Alexakis writes, "when pressed to show some evidence that suburban students are really suffering, they come up empty. Some of the reasons behind suburban resistance to MCAS, it seems, are ideological. It's a bit of postmodernism mixed in with upper-class...

Co-authors Jeffrey Henig, Thomas Holyoke, Natalie Lacireno-Paquet and Michele Moser of the Center for Washington Area Studies at George Washington University present a comprehensive status report on the D.C. charter scene in this crisp and readable evaluation. Washington has one of the nation's strongest charter school markets, so charter advocates and detractors alike closely monitor its development. This report offers both groups some ammunition, but mostly it makes clear that definitive conclusions about the accomplishments and promise of D.C. charter schools would be premature and presumptuous. Since the charter school law was enacted in the nation's capital in 1995, some 33 of them have opened their doors, now enrolling approximately 13% of all D.C. public school students. According to "Growing Pains," while the schools are undeniably popular (judging from their waiting lists) the rate at which new schools are opening is itself slowing, likely due in part to the mounting difficulty of acquiring viable, affordable facilities. Indeed, according to the report, "facilities obstacles might soon set an effective ceiling on the potential entry of new charter schools." Other tough challenges include staff turnover and perceived lack of academic progress vis-??-vis traditional public schools, while some of the positive charter school developments involve progress in serving special education students and increased access to resources. For the full overview of the D.C. charter scene visit www.gwu.edu/~cwas/publications.htm and click on Occasional Papers no. 20, or contact Christie Fanelli at the Center for Washington Area Studies at (202)-994-5780....

Authored by Stanford education professor Michael W. Kirst, this 24-page report is the latest in the "Perspectives in Public Policy: Connecting High Education and the Public School" series, published by The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) and The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Professor Kirst examines the economic and social costs of the high school "senior slump," during which many 12th graders view their final months prior to graduation (and sometimes their entire last year of high school) as an opportunity to goof off. This de-emphasis of academic work in high school has boosted rates of remediation in college; has worsened the drop-out rate among college students ill prepared for college-level work; and contributed to poor academic skills among high school graduates who move directly into the workforce or military. Highlighting various disjunctures between the K-12 and postsecondary education systems, Kirst lays the blame on both for failing to provide incentives for high school seniors to work hard. The report offers practical recommendations aimed at increasing coordination between the two sectors, including strengthening the high school curriculum and linking it to the requirements of the first year of college; recognizing various achievement levels on statewide K-12 assessments that meet college or university standards; improving college admissions and placement priorities; and assigning responsibilities for K-16 issues to a single entity in each state. As of the Gadfly's press time, this report was not yet available as a PDF file on the IEL website, www.iel.org, but it's expected...

The Dallas Morning News ran a series on dropouts last week which included 19 stories under five headings: how big is the dropout problem?; why do kids drop out?; the Latino dropout problem; one problem, many solutions; and finding the will to solve it.

The series is Written Off: Texas' Dropout Problem.

" L.A. Superintendent Roy Romer may be the most talented man ever to run a big-city school district. He is also bound to fail. There's a lesson in that," writes Matt Miller in the latest Washington Monthly. And it's one we think is worth reading although, as you will see, it's not too clear how to solve the problems Miller describes. You can find the story at:

"The Super," by Matthew Miller, The Washington Monthly, June 2001

In case you thought mauling President Bush's ESEA plan was the only education business facing the 107th Congress, think again. A big sign belongs over the Beltway saying "Caution: Special Ed Ahead." By October 2002, Senate and House are supposed to reauthorize the expiring portions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which drives most special education policy in the U.S. (though many states have also enacted their own laws). As with ESEA, the big question is whether policymakers will opt for tweaking the status quo or for making the fundamental reforms that it sorely needs.

Now a quarter century old, IDEA and its antecedents have done great good in reducing discrimination against disabled youngsters and providing them with a "free appropriate" education in the "least restrictive environment," those being the program's core precepts.

Yet this program is also beset by serious failures, archaic assumptions and troubling side effects. The problems you're most apt to hear discussed-they have lately obsessed governors and Congressmen-involve its high cost (driven largely by federal mandates although Washington reimburses only a small fraction of the expense) and its "double standard" for student discipline. But those are just the tip of this iceberg. Consider, too, that many of IDEA's beneficiaries are poorly served by it; that the number of those beneficiaries has doubled in recent years; that it's entangled in ungodly red tape; that it's adversarial and litigious, often more lawyer friendly than child friendly; that it focuses more on difficult, costly "compensatory" and "accommodation"...