Newark unfriends reform?

After a rancorous mayoral race, the city of Newark has elected Ras Baraka—a decision surely to hold repercussions for the city’s ambitious education reform agenda. With perfect timing, the New Yorker this week published a clear-eyed long-form article on the history of these reforms, spearheaded by former mayor Cory Booker and governor Chris Christie and funded (in part) by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame. All signs indicate that these reforms will soon go the way of MySpace.

Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann published an Education Next/PEPG studythis week examining whether U.S. educational challenges are concentrated among students from less-educated families. Turns out, they aren’t. The authors found that, regardless of parent education level, advantaged and disadvantaged U.S. students both earn low scores, compared to similarly situated international peers. In fact, advantaged U.S. students (those with college-educated parents) might be doing comparatively worse. Their math proficiency rates ranked twenty-eighth out of thirty-four OECD countries; disadvantaged U.S. students (those with lower levels of parental education) fell in at twentieth. Stay tuned for next week’s Gadfly, where we’ll review this apologist-busting study in greater detail.

Earlier this week, the New Republic ran Professor Jeffrey Aaron Snyder’s strong criticism of KIPP’s character-education model, in which he argued that the charter group’s method of teaching attributes like “grit” does not actually accomplish the job—and is amoral, to boot. Snyder points out that while research on the “science of character” may be becoming increasingly cogent, there exists “no science of teaching character,” and he calls out KIPP’s “character growth card”—analogous to a report card—as being superficial in its measurements and, by avoiding measures of morality, missing the point almost entirely. KIPP deserves credit for paving the way in this nascent field, but their approach also warrants this kind of scrutiny.

Today, the National Assessment Governing Board—following its Grade 12 Nation’s Report Cardrelease last week—unveiled its first-ever analysis of what NAEP data tell us about college readiness (they had hoped to include analysis of career readiness, but NAGB chairman Dave Driscoll told Curriculum Matters that the research on that front isn’t clear). The preliminary estimates are that just 39 percent of students scored at or above the math cutoff score (163 out of 300), and 38 percent scored at or above the reading cutoff (302 out of reading)—though white students scored far closer to the cutoff (162 on average), while black and Hispanic students struggled (scoring on average 132 and 141, respectively).

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