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Big changes are on the way for College Board’s SAT college-admission test. The headlines announce that the timed essay will be revamped and become optional, that the scoring scale will return to 1600, and that the test will no longer focus so heavily on “obscure” words (when’s the last time you used “punctilious” in a sentence?). And in an attempt to reduce the power of the test-preparation industry (which some argue has led college-admissions tests to be unequal and unjust), College Board will offer free online test preparation in partnership with the Khan Academy.

On Tuesday, President Obama released his budget request, the theme of which was “equity”: it features a $300 million Race to the Top program aimed at educational equity and a Preschool for All initiative. Conspicuously absent was any funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship, which was found by the U.S. Department of Education itself to be “highly effective in promoting educational attainment for low-income African Americans.” The president’s budget proposal is simply a proposal, and these ideas will not necessarily see the light of day. (Common Core would probably consider the document to be a work of fiction.) Still, look for the budget to be a rallying cry in the upcoming election cycle.

After announcing that it is “time to end the stigma against career education,” Louisiana superintendent of education John White unveiled ...

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The K–12 education world brims with debates and dichotomies that get us into all manner of needless quarrels and cul-de-sacs, thus messing up every reform initiative and retarding progress. In every case, both sides are certain that they speak the whole truth; convinced that opposing views are misguided, perhaps even evil; and insistent that changes the system needs will go awry unless their side prevails.

These philosophical tug-of-wars lead to paralysis akin to what we witness today in Congress and many legislatures. Of them we ask, “Why can’t you compromise, split the difference, make a deal, take the best of both positions, and get something done?”

The ten education dichotomies outlined below should be seen in similar light: neither side owns the truth—and what would do kids the greatest good is an intelligent middle ground that melds the best of both views.

Skills vs. Knowledge

Back in 1987, in What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, Diane Ravitch and I tackled a pair of overlapping “false dichotomies”: skills vs. content and concepts vs. facts. They were prevalent in the education profession then and remain front and center today—indeed, are highlighted by the challenges of implementing (and assessing) the Common Core State Standards, which at first look skills-centric but which also make clear that success hinges on the deployment of a rich, sequential, content-focused curriculum. Already influenced by the analysis of E.D. Hirsch Jr. and the cognitive science that he had exhaustively mined, Diane and I wrote, “It is neither possible nor desirable...

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The Obama administration has just released its 2015 budget proposal. Here are its most notable K-12 edu-features.

  • It leads with the “Preschool for All” initiative, a significant investment in pre-K. It’s worth noting that this is at the front of the request. Pre-K is popular, and the administration is seizing on it. The budget also discusses an “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative,” which would cut across several departments; some of these resources would be applicable to this pre-K initiative.
  • The budget reflects the growing use of the term “equity” in the K–12 debate with the new Race to the Top “Equity and Opportunity” program, which is designed to help close the achievement gap. It’s relatively small ($300m) compared to previous RTT programs, and it’s not totally clear how it would work. It appears that the administration wants to “leverage” existing programs, and it too will be supplemented by the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.” This does, however, continue the RTT brand and is an indication that the administration wanted to show that it listened to the Equity and Excellence Commission.
  • The administration promotes its “most mature” programs: RTT, i3, SIG, TIF, and Promise Neighborhoods. They don’t mention, however, that TIF was created by the Bush administration or that SIG is failing badly. Regardless, four of these five are competitive grant programs (not formula programs), something the administration evidently wants to be remembered for advancing—and for which it deserves credit.
  • The administration still doesn’t understand that it
  • ...
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  • The Cincinnati Enquirer published five op-eds on the Common Core. Chad Aldis argued that the Common Core is the “right thing to do for Ohio schoolchildren.” Mary Ronan, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, was also on point: “Are the new standards good for our students? — my answer and that of most of our teachers is a resounding ‘yes.’”
  • In a cost-saving measure, Columbus City Schools rolled out plans to close seven schools. A boisterous public meeting at East High School drew protests, tears, and pleas to save the schools. We wonder, however, where the outrage was when these very schools received low ratings over the past several years.
  • AP versus dual enrollment takes center stage in Northwest Ohio: Lima High School, Lima Central Catholic, and Memorial High School in St. Mary’s have scrapped their AP courses in favor of dual enrollment, a program whereby high-school students take a college-level course certified by a local college or university.
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“How did we ever lose our way on vocational education? Why did we put it down? Why did we not understand its value?” – Ohio Governor John Kasich, State of the State, February 24, 2014.

As Ohio’s governor rightly remarks, vocational education and the students who participate in it have been second-class citizens for too long. I know that from my own experience attending a Western Pennsylvania high school during the late 1990s, where—permit me to be blunt—our school’s “vo-tech kids” were generally put down, disparaged, and ostracized by other students.

Don’t just take my word for it, however. Surveys call attention to the negative perception of vocational education (a.k.a., “career-and-technical education” or CTE). A study in 2000 found that the “underlying theme” voiced by those in vocational education was the need to “change the perception that CTE offers an inferior curriculum, appropriate only for those students who cannot meet the demands of a college-preparatory program.” Similarly, research for the Nebraska Department of Education in 2010 concluded, “Substantial proportions of Nebraskans believe that CTE students are not respected as students who take more traditional academic courses.”

Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy casts some historical light on the demise of vocational education, particularly as it pertains to urban school systems:

Prior to that decade [the 1970s], most medium and large cities had vocational high schools for the trades, many of which were highly regarded selective institutions. . . . But, in...

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Last week, in response to a tumultuous debate over the Common Core State Standards, the Indiana Department of Education released the first public draft of its new K–12 expectations for English language arts and math. And according to standards expect Kathleen Porter-Magee, not only are the new ELA standards less specific, less coherent, and harder to navigate than the Common Core—but they’re inferior to the state’s old standards, too!

Experimental research out of Stanford confirms that the language gap between rich and poor kids emerges early, with significant differences between high-SES and low-SES infants in both vocabulary and real-time language processing efficiency already evident age 18 months old. But they also discovered that a parent-education intervention—in which low-income, Spanish-speaking mothers were taught to speak more frequently to their children—had great preliminary results. The lesson for policymakers: targeted interventions like these might have a much bigger impact than “universal” preschool.

And now, an international perspective: one of the UK’s biggest chains of academies (analogous to charter schools) is set to have control of ten of its schools taken away by the state due to academic performance. The academy provider had faced criticism last year for its “culture of extravagant expenses.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the first time ever, has issued guidelines regulating how food is marketed in schools, with the intention of cracking down on widespread junk-food advertising and teaching kids to make healthier eating choices. In...

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Japanese classroom by Angie Harms

Rationalizing America’s lackluster academic performance is something of a cottage industry. One of the most popular ways people explain away our low test scores is to claim that they don’t matter much anyway. “Let others have the higher test scores. I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people,” says Diane Ravitch. Or there’s Alfie Kohn’s take: self-disciplined students are “likely conflicted, unhappy, and perhaps less likely to succeed (at least by meaningful criteria) at whatever they’re doing.”

But what if these rationalizations are questionable? Or worse, what if they’re simply bunk? What if super hardworking students in, say, South Korea and Japan are scoring worlds better than us on international tests and are more innovative and happy?

In a sobering twist, that might be the case.

Bloomberg News recently published its 2014 list of the most innovative countries in the world. Seven weighted factors go into the metric.* Here are the top five nations, along with their scores:

  1. South Korea (score: 92.10)
  2. Sweden (score: 90.80)
  3. United States (score: 90.69)
  4. Japan (score: 90.41)
  5. Germany (score: 88.23)

The chart-topper is a real doozy. South Korea—often ridiculed for working its students too hard and robbing them of creative, independent thought—might be the most innovative country in the world. Japan, subject to...

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Dara and the Following

Dara’s taste in TV shows is questionable, but her ed-policy knowledge is not. She and Michelle dish on Common Core implementation, student-data privacy, and marketing in schools. Amber gets pensive about pensions.

Amber's Research Minute

Missouri Charter Schools and Teacher Pension Plans: How Well Do Existing Pension Plans Serve Charter and Urban Teachers? by Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, Michael Podgursky, and P. Brett Xiang, (Kansas City, MO: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, February 2014).

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansAncient Asian Cultures; the early American civilizations; Ancient Greece; Native American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; Colonial America and the Revolutionary War; the American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes.

If you’ve got little kids, you won’t take much convincing that reptiles are just plain cool. Alligators! Crocodiles! Snakes! And cute turtles, to boot! Not only are these animals an important part of our biological heritage (been in touch with your reptilian brain lately?), but they are also major players in our cultural heritage, from the Garden of Eden to Aesop’s fables and classic children’s literature. So enjoy these videos with your kids, which help our reptile cousins come alive. (Note: videos about dinosaurs are available here.)

The Best Streaming Videos on Reptiles

1. Nature Adventures: Behind the Scenes at Reptile Gardens

Nature AdventuresTerri and Todd visit the Reptile Gardens, where they go behind the scenes and get “hands on” with various reptiles, including alligators, crocodiles, a timber rattlesnake, and more!

Length: 27 minutes

Rating: NR

PBS

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Frustration and misinformation on the Common Core State Standards abound. But two cheers for Fox News for featuring Fordham trustee Mike Kelly to set the record straight.

Kelly not only quizzes Fox commentators on their math skills, but also makes it clear: The standards are not the problem; it’s implementation that’s messy. Some districts are choosing bad textbooks; some teachers aren’t communicating the changes as effectively as they could be. Of course, that’s all been true since the beginning of time. (Stay tuned for a report coming Wednesday that looks at these sorts of district-level Common Core challenges.)

And yes, Kelly stuck around to chat on Facebook.

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