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Dear Deborah,

We've been writing about the democratic control of education (or the lack thereof), but let me shift the conversation back to the education of democratic citizens. I strongly agree with those who argue that our current fascination with “college and career readiness” overlooks a third, probably more important, c-word: citizenship. That's public education's raison d'etre, right? To prepare our young people to take their rightful place as voters, jurors, taxpayers, and leaders—to become “the people” that gives our government its legitimacy?

Many people are doing good work on this challenge; let me recommend that you check out the new group Citizenship First, for starters. (Here's a neat idea it is promoting: By 2026, every high school graduate should be able to pass the U.S. Naturalization Exam.)

But I want to put a related issue on the table that rarely gets discussed. It's the most basic requirement of citizenship, a responsibility that we "experts" often overlook in our quest for more ambitious goals: self-sufficiency.

Let me state it clearly: If we haven't prepared our young people to be financially self-sufficient once they finish their educations, we have failed in our most fundamental duty. And the "we" is meant to be inclusive: our education system, our social service agencies, our families, our churches, you, me, and all of us.

Yes, the poor we will always have among us. And there will be times—like these past five years—when the economic situation throws people out of work. We absolutely need a safety...

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 dinosaurs, the American founders, and aquatic life. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

One of my favorite features of the Core Knowledge Sequence, the inspiration for this series, is its focus on rich historical content for young children. While some people think first-graders can’t, for instance, learn about Mesopotamia, E.D. Hirsch has always submitted that little kids are the ideal audience for stories about far-away times and places. That’s surely my experience as a father.

In that spirit, then, I present to you the best streaming videos on Ancient American civilizations. Next week we’ll tackle Native American cultures, and then the Age of Discovery, all part of a “unit” leading up to Columbus Day. Enjoy!

Best videos on the Maya, Inca, and Aztec available for streaming

1. Ancient Civilizations (Episodes 2, 5, and 8)

Ancient Civilizations

Dawn of the Maya: Investigate the rise and fall of one of the world's most mysterious civilizations.

Inca Mummies—Secrets of the Lost World: Trek with archaeologists through the Andes and unearth the secrets of the Inca.

Lost Kingdom of the Maya: An exploration of the mysteries of...

Our country’s urban school systems are broken, and they can’t be fixed: That’s where Andy Smarick begins his book The Urban School System of the Future, and it's the basis for his recent post urging that the Broad Foundation stop giving prizes to urban districts.

The award winners, Andy argues, are better examples of the dismal state of education in urban centers than they are shining examples of what’s possible. And given the eleven years Broad has spent searching for success stories, now is the time to acknowledge the futility of the exercise. “No more blind faith in an institution with a 50-year track record of failure,” Andy writes. “End. The Broad Prize. Now.”

While Andy’s crusade to end the urban school district as we know it could be seen as a challenge to the defenders of the status quo, it’s really more a challenge to fellow reformers working within the existing education system: Stop wasting your time trying to fix the unfixable and focus your efforts instead on something that has some hope of success.

Strands of this argument have been carried forward by others, but Andy pushes them to a stark conclusion: The very structure of the current district system—its focus on continuity, stability, and uniformity—works against the high performance and continuous improvement that are required to meet the needs of our most disadvantaged children.

But the reality, as is often the case, is far less straightforward and involves a messy and often contradictory...

Dear Deborah,

I’m glad you brought up the topic of democracy. In future posts, I plan to explore the habits and attributes we hope to inculcate in our youthful, budding citizens, including a commitment to self-sufficiency. But today let’s continue the conversation about democratic governance of our public schools.

You and I have more in common than we might want to concede, in that we share a somewhat cynical view of politics. Namely, we see most political actors and institutions as acting out of self-interest. You, and many other liberals, are obsessed with “the rich,” worrying that they will buy elections and...

Thanks to the tireless work of school-choice advocates and wise policymakers, millions of U.S. children and their parents now have education options that were not available to them a few short years ago. But the choice picture is sorely incomplete. Consider:

  • Nine states do not allow charter schools.
  • Only ten states and the District of Columbia have school-voucher programs, and five of these confine their vouchers to children with disabilities.
  • Just eleven states offer scholarship tax credits for attendance at private schools.
  • Many states still make it difficult or even impossible to take advantage of public school choice.

Meanwhile,

  • The Republican Party, which
  • ...

Journalist and author Amanda Ripley has received well-deserved attention for her book The Smartest Kids in the World—but we’re not sold on her case against high school sports, which headlines this month’s Atlantic. Check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show for an informed debate.

On Monday, Florida governor Rick Scott issued an executive order withdrawing the Sunshine State from PARCC. Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker—governors of Louisiana and Wisconsin, respectively—have also expressed “reservations” about the Common Core of late. As Margaret Thatcher would say, “This is...

Does school accountability boost students’ long-term prospects? That’s the question this new study by David Deming, Sarah Cohodes, Jennifer Jennings, and Christopher Jencks seeks to answer by examining the impact of accountability pressure in the Texas public high schools in the 1990s. (Jennings, you might recall, once assumed the moniker “Eduwonkette.”) Most agree that the series of tough policies that the Lone Star State instituted during this era, whereby school performance on state tests was made public and tied to various awards and sanctions, was the foundation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The system had several components: 1)...

We all know the story: the team that's always way back in the standings employs a brilliant new strategy to try to close the gap between itself and the wealthy powerhouses. The strategy works, but only briefly, as the well-off teams quickly steal the winning strategies to maintain their advantage. No, this isn’t the plot of Moneyball; rather, it’s the plot of Rick Hess and Max Eden’s case study of Douglas County, Colorado. This sprawling, affluent suburb south of Denver has employed reforms typically found in low-income and urban settings. Specifically, the all-reformer, all-conservative school board created a voucher program, adopted a new curriculum,...

Politics aside, the fate of the Common Core begins and ends with implementation. Particularly during this initial transition, it is critical that educators have sufficient support and guidance to successfully teach these standards. Unfortunately, much existing information focuses on content rather than instructional strategy, leaving educators baffled as to how to navigate the shift to Common Core in their own classrooms. Enter the Achievement Network (ANet), a nonprofit serving low-income schools. (Check out Education Next for great background.) Released as part of a collection of Common Core resources published by the Aspen Institute, this paper was informed by...

Dara Zeehandelaar, author of The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School District Budgets, explains teachers pensions and the difference between defined benefits and defined contribution plans that states offer teachers.

In this week’s podcast, Dara and Brickman tackle Amanda Ripley’s condemnation of the athlete-centric culture in America’s high schools. They also take on GOP governors’ wobbliness on Common Core and the morally bankrupt Philadelphia teacher union. Amber holds us all accountable.

We all know the story: the team that's always way back in the standings employs a brilliant new strategy to try to close the gap between itself and the wealthy powerhouses. The strategy works, but only briefly, as the well-off teams quickly steal the winning strategies to maintain their advantage. No, this isn’t the plot of Moneyball; rather, it’s the plot of Rick Hess and Max Eden’s case study of Douglas County, Colorado. This sprawling, affluent suburb south of Denver has employed reforms typically found in low-income and urban settings. Specifically, the all-reformer, all-conservative school board created a voucher program, adopted a new curriculum, and developed new assessments and teacher-quality initiatives like merit pay. The voucher program, which would have served nearly 500 students if not for a court injunction stemming from an ACLU lawsuit, is especially interesting. Unlike most statewide programs of this sort, Douglas County’s would have used the state charter law to authorize participating private schools as quasi “charter schools.” The “charters,” in turn, receive three-quarters of the students’ state funding towards tuition, while the rest goes to the district. The study draws attention to the false assumption that the average wealthy, suburban school district is fat, happy and complacent, and brings into focus what could happen when districts employ reforms to go from good to great, instead of from poor to passable. Bold reform in even a conservative area like Douglas County is never easy, however, and a separate analysis by Bill Bennett underscores the importance that these reformers...

Journalist and author Amanda Ripley has received well-deserved attention for her book The Smartest Kids in the World—but we’re not sold on her case against high school sports, which headlines this month’s Atlantic. Check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show for an informed debate.

On Monday, Florida governor Rick Scott issued an executive order withdrawing the Sunshine State from PARCC. Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker—governors of Louisiana and Wisconsin, respectively—have also expressed “reservations” about the Common Core of late. As Margaret Thatcher would say, “This is no time to go wobbly!” On the brighter side, earlier today, the Michigan House of Representatives voted 85–21 to adopt a resolution authorizing funding for Common Core implementation.

A Wall Street Journal editorial blasted Philadelphia’s teacher union for dragging its feet on Governor Corbett’s proposal to bail out the failing district, which—if accepted—would be conditional on the elimination of teacher seniority rights and basing future pay increases on achievement-based teacher evaluations. (For more on the roots of Philadelphia schools’ sticky financial situation, see Paying the Pension Price in Philadelphia.) In this week’s podcast, Dara urges Philly’s teacher union, and unions everywhere, to take a more active role in pushing teacher quality....

High school sports and other misadventures

In this week’s podcast, Dara and Brickman tackle Amanda Ripley’s condemnation of the athlete-centric culture in America’s high schools. They also take on GOP governors’ wobbliness on Common Core and the morally bankrupt Philadelphia teacher union. Amber holds us all accountable.

Amber's Research Minute

School Accountability, Postsecondary Attainment and Earnings,” by David J. Deming, Sarah Cohodes, Jennifer Jennings, and Christopher Jencks, NBER Working Paper No. 19444 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, September 2013)

I stared at the tweet, dumbfounded.

Houston: 2013 Broad Prize finalist?

That can’t be.

I had recently dug through old city-level NAEP results. They were all terribly depressing. 

But Houston’s stopped me cold.

Somehow it had won the 2002 Broad Prize (for supposed urban district excellence) despite dreadfully low performance.  Worse, its scores are virtually unchanged nearly a decade later.

It’s being honored again?

This is what earns an urban district Broad Prize–finalist status?

San Diego is also a finalist and also participates in TUDA. So off I went searching for its data.

Maybe it will be better; Houston was probably just a mistake.

San Diego’s overall scores are slightly better than the appallingly low “large-city” average (8th reading, 27 percent vs. 23 percent). But it has considerably fewer low-income students than other participating cities: 61 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch; in Cleveland it’s 100 percent; Dallas, 85 percent; Chicago and Baltimore, 84 percent.

Hmm. Does San Diego still have an advantage if we compare similar cohorts of students?

No. Its performance is as heartbreakingly low.

In Houston and San Diego, about one in ten African American eighth graders can read proficiently. Their low-income students do only the smallest bit better.

This is what earns...

If you missed the Emmy’s (what’s up with Kevin Spacey NOT winning for his role in House of Cards?), here are the top takeaways from education’s own big awards ceremony—the Policy Innovators in Education Network’s Eddies—and rest of the PIE Network meeting.

1.     Massachusetts’ education-reform community is gearing up for a big fight to lift the arbitrary charter school cap, something Fordham supports, especially in light of the latest CREDO study. This legislative session might be the year it happens, thanks to a strong coalition led by Stand for Children Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

2.     A+ Education Partnerships, a PIE Network group that won the award for “best ensemble cast” (as did Advance Illinois) launched Alabama Graduate Ready Impact Tomorrow (GRIT). GRIT is doing a ton of great work in the Heart of Dixie. From defending the Common Core to fighting for school choice, the GRIT team is a group to watch, as is A+ Education Partnership. They just may be up for the Game Changer award next year.

3.     Humor and education reform should go hand-in-hand. My favorite jokes from the PIE Net team included calling for Michael Petrilli to write a book about diverse schools and calling for Rick Hess to leave AEI to be a superintendent in a wealthy suburb (#cagebusting).

4.     Suzanne Tacheny Kubach, PIE Network’s executive director, rocks. She’s an excellent writer and communicator, asking tough questions of panelists. If you’re not familiar...

Note: This post is part of our "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming" series. Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs and the American founders.

We’re three weeks into our series on educational videos available to stream from Netflix or Amazon. Already one thing is clear: Content on science is a whole lot easier to find than good stuff on history, at least for the elementary school students who are my focus.

So it is with streaming videos on aquatic life (no pun intended!), with a lot of great choices for families.

Best videos on aquatic life available for streaming

1. Oceans

DisneyNature's Oceans

Dive into Oceans from Disneynature, the studio that brought you Earth, for a spectacular story about remarkable creatures under the sea. Stunning images await as you journey into the depths of a wonderland filled with mystery, beauty, and power.

Length: 85 minutes

Rating: G

 

2. The Blue Planet: A Natural History of the Oceans

The Blue Planet: A Natural History of the Oceans

David Attenborough narrates this definitive exploration of the marine world, from the familiar to the unknown, revealing the

...

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