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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

...

On Tuesday night, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was a featured guest on The Colbert Report. While some of us were expecting a little more oomph from Duncan’s responses, Stephen Colbert luckily kept us laughing with these education-themed zingers:

  • In honor of Constitution Day, Colbert started off with a little quiz of Duncan’s founding document knowledge: “Which of the following is not mentioned in the Constitution? The Department of Education or…it was the first one. Why do we have a Department of Education?”
  • Delving into Obama’s goals for education, Colbert quipped, “What is Race to the Top? And why does everything have to be about race with this guy?”…“As we race to the top, are we still leaving no child behind? Or do we have to cut them loose because they can’t race?”
  • Shifting gears to the Common Core State Standards, Colbert enquired about some of the potential instructional changes, namely students reading manuals and memos in lieu of literature. When Duncan was slow to take the bait, Colbert joked, “That was like pulling teeth without an instruction manual.”
  • When Duncan argued we need to invest in going digital over purchasing textbooks, Colbert retorted, “When I was in high school the only thing that kept me from being stuffed into my locker on a daily basis was that it was full of books!”
  • To close out, Colbert asked about universal preschool, demanding, “Why do you
  • ...

Crayons versus Tablets?

In this week’s podcast, Michelle defends Toni Morrison, Mike laughs social-emotional learning out of the room, and both consider the possibilities of the “tablet revolution.” Dara takes us all on a field trip.

Amber's Research Minute

The Educational Value of Field Trips,” by Jay P. Greene, Brian Kisida, and Daniel H. Bowen, Education Next 14 (1).

This study reports on the first large-scale, randomized-control trial measuring the educational value of field trips. In 2011, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Arkansas and, because of the high demand for tours, the authors were able to randomly select student groups to go. They matched participating groups with control groups based on similar grade level and demographics. In total, almost 11,000 students in grades K–12 at 123 schools were involved. About half of the students took a field trip to the art museum. They received a one-hour tour in which they viewed and discussed about five paintings. (Some had additional time in the museum.) Several weeks later, the authors gave a quiz to both the participating and control groups. Even after such a modest exposure to art, the results were pretty staggering: First, participating students were able to recall a great deal of information from their tour, showing that exposure to art and culture can be an important tool to relay content information to students. Second, participants demonstrated a greater ability to think critically about art—the authors showed students a painting they had never seen before and asked them to write about it. Third, they showed greater historical empathy and tolerance (measured by asking the child questions about whether he or she imagines what life was like in the past or tries to imagine what a figure in a painting is thinking) than the control group, concepts not necessarily related to art alone. Finally, participating students...

Education Next

It’s not exactly news that America’s education system is mediocre and expensive in international comparison. What’s less well known is that our schools’ ineffectiveness and inefficiency could have big implications for the country’s economic growth in decades to come. In a new book from the Brookings Institution Press, three of the world’s leading education scholars explain that nothing short of America’s prosperity is at risk due to our educational underperformance.

In today’s Education Next book club, Mike Petrilli speaks with all three authors—Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann—about the evidence they bring to bear in Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School.

Additional installments of the Ed Next Book Club podcast can be heard here.

This post originally appeared on the Education Next blog. Check out the Education Gadfly Weekly for a short review of the book.

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