Assault weapons are out, math is in

On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama recommended a package of national reforms aimed at preventing tragedies like last month’s in Newtown, Connecticut. Amidst the high-profile ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks on all gun buyers, he included a slew of proposals designed to help schools prepare for and respond to violent threats and improve access to quality mental-health services, including new money for new school counselors and training in identifying students with mental disabilities. And the President’s approval ratings leaped in response.

In the least surprising news since the New York Times told us that SAT scores correlate with family incomes, Arne Duncan has announced he will stay on as Secretary of Education during President Obama’s second term. (We can also blame the New York Times for tantalizing us with the faint hope that he would take on a much more surprising role.)

A new study found that students who struggle on college-readiness tests use different brain processes for simple problems than do high-achievers. Researchers asked forty-three students to perform basic arithmetic while having their brains scanned via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It turns out that low-performing students’ brains seemed to be performing calculations to solve the basic problems, while high-performing students appeared to solve the equations by rote memory. To our eye, this research buttresses the Common Core’s call for “automaticity” of math facts in the early grades.

A group of professors at Columbia University’s Teachers College are apprehensive about New York’s participation in the edTPA, a performance-based teacher-licensing test, which—among other things—requires teachers to record and analyze parts of their own instruction. Their concerns were threefold: the privacy of the children in the recordings; that not enough information is currently available on the qualifications of those who would score the exams; and the very notion that Pearson, a for-profit company, was contracted to administer the test. Sounds like sour grapes to us.

After profiles in PBS’s Frontline and the Washington Post, both of which coincided with StudentsFirst’s release of its 2013 State Policy Report Card, Michelle Rhee is squarely in the limelight. And while some love her and some love to hate her, it cannot be denied that her personal celebrity and willingness to play the heavy have helped attract attention to education and its reform. For more on Michelle Rhee, check out this week's Gadfly Show podcast.

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