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Editor's note: This post originally appeared in slightly different form on the Commentary website.

Given the volatility and sensitivity of “racial profiling” these days, heightened by recent developments in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland and by brand new law-enforcement “guidelines” from the Justice Department, one could be tempted to thank the National Education Association for its recent effort, in league with a bunch of other organizations, to develop curricular materials by which schools and teachers can instruct their students on this issue.

One should, however, resist that temptation. It turns out that, once again, the NEA and its fellow travelers are presenting a one-sided, propagandistic view of an exceptionally complicated issue that elicits strong, conflicting views among adults; that carries competing values and subtleties beyond the ken of most school kids; and that probably doesn’t belong in the K–12 curriculum at all.

My mind immediately rolled back almost three decades, to the days when the Cold War was very much with us, when nuclear weapons were a passionate concern, when unilateral disarmament was earnestly propounded by some mostly well-meaning but deeply misguided Americans—and when the NEA plunged into the fray with appalling curricular guidance for U.S. schools.

Here’s part of what the late Joseph Adelson and I wrote in COMMENTARY magazine in April 1985:

[T]he much-publicized contribution of the National Education Association (NEA), to give but one example, looks blandly past any differences between the superpowers. Its one-page “fact sheet” on the USSR simply summarizes population, land area, and


Following the president’’s executive order providing temporary relief for unauthorized immigrant families, the Los Angeles Unified School District has received roughly 16,000 transcript requests. (The information is necessary to apply for the expanded DACA program.) Yesterday, district officials and union leaders agreed that they would help eligible students to access records to complete their applications.

During an American Enterprise Institute event on Tuesday, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz unveiled her plan to have one hundred charter schools in the Success network within the next ten years. Moskowitz has been dealing with pushback from NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration has thwarted efforts to obtain space for expansion. She claimed that the schools are besieged by “people who are trying to kill us.

President Obama announced a billion-dollar public/private early childhood education initiative. $250 million from the Department of Education will be divided between eighteen states to expand preschool programs, the Department of Health and Human Services has allocated an additional $500 million for daycare in forty states, and private groups have raised another $330 million through the “Invest in US” campaign. The initiative could go a long way to realizing the goal of enrolling every American child in preschool, which was announced in the president’s 2013 State of the Union Address. 

Ed-reform rock star and unofficial Friend of Fordham...

  • Across New York State, 32 percent of would-be teachers were denied certification because they failed to pass a basic Academic Literacy Skills exam, the New York Post reports. Let that rattle around in your head for a moment. The test measures reading comprehension and writing skills and is part of a new battery of tests that the Empire State now requires for people who want to teach within its borders. Shockingly, in many of the state’s teacher-prep schools, a majority of candidates failed the tests. At least one school had no students pass. Schools with low pass rates have to come up with corrective plans, such as improving instruction or denying admission to more applicants. Three cheers for smart policy.
  • Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant is hoping to throw out the Common Core, and educators across the state think it’s a bad idea that threatens to reverse the state’s progress. Indeed. Mississippi has arguably the worst schools in the country—and has for some time. And the CCSS represent a vast improvement over what was previously in place. Worse, during the state’s mostly political discussions about the standards, educators have apparently been largely absent, which is a shame because many of them are optimistic about the Common Core.

Most of us have known students who struggle with non-cognitive skills. Teachers have labored heroically to keep a reserved pupil engaged in group projects; parents have cajoled a discouraged child to keep working through a multi-step equation; even a few education writers, in our misguided youths, put off a term paper or two until the night before the end of the semester (I’m sure it got lost in your inbox, Professor Kaiser). Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund’s new study for the New America Foundation looks at how high-quality early-education programs impart critical, non-content-oriented traits like work ethic, curiosity, teamwork, and empathy—abilities they label “skills for success” and thereafter, somewhat gratingly, refer to as “SFS”—and how those approaches can be replicated and expanded at the K–12 level. Their findings represent a worthwhile and informative new entry into a debate that’s suddenly grown hot. For their part, the authors are quickly forced to address one obvious pitfall: the difficulty of quantitatively determining a student’s progress in attaining better emotional and behavioral habits, other than perhaps locking a four-year-old in a room with a marshmallow and telling him to exercise grit. “It may not currently be possible to assess certain skills well at all,” they concede. What can be assessed, however, are classroom and school environments, which research suggests have an outsized effect on students’ development of skills for success. Using surveys like the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI) and Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), it is possible to measure and...

This study examines the impact of peer pressure on academic decisions. Analysts Leonardo Bursztyn and Robert Jensen conducted an experiment in four large, low-performing, low-income Los Angeles high schools whereby eleventh-grade students were offered complimentary access to a popular online SAT prep course. Over 800 students participated. Analysts used two sign-up sheets, which they randomly varied. One told students that their decision to enroll would be public, meaning their classmates would know they signed up; the other told them it would be kept private. The key finding is that, in non-honors courses, sign-up was 11 percentage points lower when students believed others in the class would know whether they agreed to participate, compared to those who were told it would be kept private—suggesting that these adolescents believe there is a social cost to looking smart. In honors classes, there was no difference in sign-up rates under the two conditions. Because students in honors and non-honors classes obviously differ, to help mitigate selection bias, Bursztyn and Jansen then examined results only from students who took two honors classes—some of whom would be sitting in honors classes when they were offered the decision to participate and some of whom would be sitting in non-honors courses. They found that making the decision to enroll "public" rather than private decreases sign up rates by 25 percentage points when the “two-honors-class” students are in one of their non-honors classes. Yet when students are in one of their honors courses, making the decision public increases sign...

It’s been nearly fifty years since the publication of “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” remembered by history simply as “the Moynihan Report” after its author, future United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1965 was an assistant labor secretary. The report detailed the decay of the black two-parent family and the concomitant social and economic problems. In this article in Education Next, the first in an entire issue dedicated to the Moynihan Report, Princeton professor Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks of Harvard’s Kennedy School ask, “Was Moynihan right? What happens to the children of unmarried mothers?” Note the race-neutral formulation. The authors aren’t attempting to avoid an inflammatory question. Rather, they’re addressing a problem now far more widespread than it was when Moynihan wrote. The rate of unmarried births among whites today is considerably higher than the 1965 rate among blacks, which troubled Moynihan enough to issue his bombshell report. Indeed, an estimated half of all children in the United States live with a single mother at some point before they turn eighteen. This portends many different outcomes, none of them good. The authors cite a recent review of forty-five studies using quasi-experimental methods, which find that growing up apart from one’s father reduces a child’s chances of graduating from high school by about 40 percent. Interestingly, the absence of a biological father has not been shown to affect verbal and math test scores. The disconnect seems to be attributable to another ill effect of a...

At a news conference Monday, Greg Abbott, the Governor-elect of Texas, said that he was disturbed by “the fact that five of the top ten public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas.” Abbot asserted that improving the state’s public education would be his top priority, specifically pointing to early childhood education and postsecondary opportunities as areas with room for improvement.

Despite the ongoing legal battles between Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White over the use of Common Core-aligned tests, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Louisiana a No Child Left Behind waiver extension. It appears that Jindal’s political stand against standards did little to hurt the state’s chances of receiving an extension.

It may come as a surprise, but many preschool students receive less than one minute of math instruction each day. In a new $25 million study funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, researchers will set out to see if introducing a new math intervention in preschool will have long-term effects on graduation rates. The study is based on previous research indicating that early math skills may be the single strongest predictor for high school graduation, and they support other development including verbal and meta-cognitive skills.

In yet another successful melding of...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above.

Most will agree that some teachers possess specialized knowledge that may be more valued in the external labor market (i.e., in non-teaching occupations). Consider Miss Jones, a high school math teacher: It is plausible that she could compete for a well-paying job at, say, Battelle. Assuming her school wants to...

The charter school sector in the United States encompasses forty-two states and the District of Columbia, with 6,400 charter schools serving 2.5 million students. More than 1,000 authorizing entities oversee these schools, working under state laws that (ideally) balance the twin goals of school autonomy and accountability for results. This report, produced by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), examines the quality of those laws. NACSA has identified eight policies that facilitate the development of effective charters, including performance management and replication, default closures, and authorizer sanctions. States are awarded points based on the strength of each of these policies in their charter school laws. Since each state has a unique charter-authorizing landscape, NACSA has divided the states into three groups based on their similarities and then ranked states within each group. The groups are: 1) district authorizing states, 2) states with many authorizers, and 3) states with few authorizers. Ohio—with its 70 authorizers—was placed in group two along with four other states (Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Michigan). NACSA awarded Ohio a score of 18/27, enough to tie for third in its group (along with Missouri). While Ohio earned top marks for its default closure policies and its (relatively new) authorizer sanctions, it received zero points for its charter-renewal standards. More specifically, current law allows “reasonable progress” to be sufficient evidence for an authorizer to renew a charter. This low standard is particularly worrisome given Ohio charter schools’ “documented history of poor performance.” The report also notes...

Cheers to Springfield’s Global Impact STEM Academy, an early college high school which draws students from nearly a dozen districts in its region. The school is prepping to move into a new, larger facility next school year, and is looking to recruit around one hundred new students to help fill it. This is another example of an education option that doesn’t have to divide a community. Instead, all districts with kids in the school can be proud of their students earning college credits while being challenged with a strong STEM curriculum.

Jeers to seemingly unquenchable bias in education reporting.  What do you call a charter school that manages to tick every box in the “wow” column (inner-city location, focus on special-needs students, strong arts program, dazzling tech component, on-target for enrollment, leader with solid school-district credibility, fiscally sound, sponsored by the state, managed by a local nonprofit)? If you’re not biased against charter schools, you call it awesome. If you are, then you call it a product of “divine intervention,” reducing to insignificance the hard work of the dozens of dedicated professionals who created and run it every day.

Cheers to Sciotoville Community School senior Taylor Appling, one of six Scioto County winners of the Honda/OSU Partnership Math Medal Award. Fordham sponsors SCS, and so we applaud Taylor, his teachers, and his school administrators.

Jeers to the persistence of an archaic school transportation model in Ohio. Amid reports of continuing bus driver shortages in Dayton City...