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Behind the rise of Bill de Blasio in the race for New York City Mayor is his proposal to raise taxes (mainly on the rich) to pay for universal pre-K throughout the city. More schools for toddlers is always a winning campaign promise and, as de Blasio is right to assert, states and cities need to do better at preparing their youngest and most at-risk children to succeed in school. Pre-K today in New York, as in most places, is a fragmented potpourri of private and public programs—some very good, others not so much. For every Abbott Preschool Program, there is a Head Start center that does little to help children once they matriculate into elementary school. (I was once a student teacher at a Head Start site in New Orleans and saw both sides of the coin.)

Bill de Blasio photo from Wikipedia

If the goal of de Blasio is to close the achievement gap, stymieing the gap in a child’s formative years is much more rational strategy than waiting to combat the gap once it exists. For this reason, pre-K programs offer a great return on investment—if structured around improving cognitive functions, supplying essential knowledge and skills, and targeting the youngsters who are least likely to acquire those things at home. But that’s not exactly what de Blasio is proposing.

De Blasio proposes expanding access...

Note: This post is part of our Netflix Academy series. See background, and links to other educational videos worth streaming, here.

I love the dinosaur stage. Love, love, love. And when your child is ready to graduate from Dinosaur Train and take in some lifelike depictions of prehistoric monsters, this is where to start.

Walking with Dinosaurs is hard to beat, as are its cousins, Walking with Monsters (pre-dinosaur animals) and Walking with Beasts (post-dinosaur). The entire Walking series has a great narrative and is dominated by lifelike scenes of animals in action. The rest of these shows focus more on modern-day paleontologists—a great window into science but a tougher sell for short attention spans.

If I’ve missed something good that’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime, please let me know in the comments section.

Best dinosaur videos available for streaming

1. Walking with Dinosaurs

Walking with Dinosaurs

Using cutting-edge computer-generated imagery, this Emmy Award–winning series brings to life the Cretaceous, Triassic, and Jurassic periods, focusing on individual dinosaurs, or dinosaur families, to show the ever-changing Earth through their eyes.

Length: Six 29-minute episodes

Rating: TV-G

  

 

2. Allosaurus: A...

The rapid gentrification of many large American cities represents a triumph and an opportunity for Republicans—a triumph because it was mainly Republican ideas (welfare reform, aggressive crime-fighting tactics, pro-growth policies) that set the trend in motion, and an opportunity because the wealthier and (frankly) whiter new residents are more likely to vote for the GOP.

Cities are for strivers

Yet a natural Republican constituency—parents with children—continues to exit cities once their kids reach school age. This is bad for Republicans, to be sure, but it’s also bad for cities, as much capital—human, social, and financial—decamps for the suburbs and beyond.

So why are twenty-something, single city-dwellers turning into thirty- and forty-something, suburban moms and dads? It’s education, stupid: the paucity of high-quality urban public schools.

Some hope that current education-reform efforts—raising standards, holding teachers accountable, and creating more charter schools—could help persuade these parents to keep the faith with big cities. And they might, at the margins. But most of these efforts don’t address the fundamental challenge that urban schools face: the diversity of their student population.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean racial or ethnic diversity, which is a huge plus for everybody—the students, the parents, and society at large. Nor is it exactly socioeconomic diversity. The big challenge is academic diversity: Students are coming into school with vastly different levels of academic preparation. Finding a way to make sure that everyone gets what they need—including...

Amanda Ripley delivers a familiar admonishment to a new generation of Americans: The (mediocre) schools we have are the schools we deserve. In her first—and quite excellent—book on education, Ripley skillfully communicates this message through the experiences of teenaged U.S. exchange students inserted into three countries—Finland, South Korea, and Poland—for one year. All three countries have made recent leaps and bounds in educational achievement, and all three approach education in different ways: Finland’s “Utopia” model relies on highly trained, autonomous teachers and effective school choice. South Korea’s “Pressure Cooker” approach demands hard work in an ultra-competitive environment. And Poland’s “Metamorphosis,” which began in the late 1990s, focuses on rigor; accountability; high expectations; and district, school, and classroom autonomy. So with her veteran-journalist cap firmly in place, the author visits each of the three students in their host countries to compare their experiences—and perhaps gain insight as to why American students have lost ground. According to Ripley, American culture is a root cause of our education failings, including what parents want in a school, what kids learn at home, or officials’ unwillingness (or inability) to change teacher training, accountability systems, and curriculum. For instance, unlike the Finnish, we shield our children from failure and we don’t train our teachers like we train doctors, with ultra-selective schools, challenging graduate programs, and commensurate pay. And unlike all three of the nations featured, we lack a sense of urgency and the conviction that effective, rigorous education is the only thing...

The Washington Post (and many others) roundly decried the Department of Justice’s petition to disallow Louisiana from awarding vouchers to students in public schools under federal desegregation orders. Surely it’s folly to block students (mainly black and all poor) from escaping failing schools to which they would otherwise be condemned—and it’s outrageous to claim that this is good for civil rights. As 90 percent of the kids benefiting from Louisiana’s voucher program are African American, Gadfly cannot help but suspect political motives. We join the chorus: Shame on the Department of Justice for standing between disadvantaged children and their education dreams.

Massachusetts, with the nation’s highest-performing school system, models the power of comprehensive standards-based reform. As noted by the New York Times, the Bay State’s standards—like the Common Core—refrain from prescribing curriculum and pedagogy, meaning that teachers decide how to get their pupils across the finish line. There’s far more to the Massachusetts story, of course, including a higher bar, more money, charter schools, individual student-level accountability and tougher requirements to enter teaching. But it’s a story worth telling and retelling.

As the time draws closer for Congress to focus on reauthorizing the federal Institute of Education Sciences, the New York Times did a decent job of profiling the difference that it has made, particularly its emphasis on randomized studies—i.e. research based on clinical trials that test, for example, whether particular education...

Always a bridesmaid edition

Mike and Michelle join the WaPo in decrying the DOJ’s anti-voucher antics and debate who’s worse: private school parents or those who settle for failing schools. With Amber off saying “I do,” Dara takes over the research minute with a tale of unfair teacher-pension policies.

Amber's Research Minute

Better Pay, Fairer Pensions: Reforming Teacher Compensation by Josh McGee and Marcus A. Winters, Center for State and Local Leadership, Civic Report No. 79 (New York, NY: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, September 2013).

Want to turn TV time into learning time? As I explain in greater detail below, free streaming videos from services like Netflix and Amazon are a boon to parents committed to a well-rounded education for their children—and not opposed to a little screen time on occasion.

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For the past several months I’ve been curating the best kid-friendly movies and shows available on major educational topics. Check them out and let me know what you think. (If there’s no link, it means that topic is still coming.)

Science

  1. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals
  2. Fish and other aquatic animals
  3. Insects
  4. Frogs and other amphibians
  5. Reptiles
  6. Birds
  7. Mammals
  8. Human evolution
  9. Earthquakes and volcanos
  10. Outer space
  11. Systems of the human body

Literature

  1. Classic children's books (movie adaptations)
  2. American folk heroes

U.S. History

  1. Native American cultures
  2. Age of exploration and discovery of America
  3. Colonial America and the revolutionary war
  4. George Washington and other founders
  5. Lewis & Clark and westward expansion
  6. Civil War and reconstruction
  7. Immigration and citizenship

World History

  1. Early Asian civilizations
  2. Early American civilizations
  3. Ancient Egypt
  4. Ancient Greece
  5. Roman Empire

My Rationale

Skeptics of educational technology like to quote mid-century...

If you’re itching for some edu-reading over the long weekend (what else would you do while grilling?), here are some suggestions.

I admire my Fordham colleagues because they have a way of coming up with the most interesting subjects to study, and they often come up with unintuitive findings. Such is the case with their latest report, What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs. You really ought to give this a read. There’s big overlap among parents’ interests, but not surprisingly different types of parents have different interests. TBFI was able to flesh out some market niches—parents who prioritized preferences that other parents found less important. If you’re a parent of a school-aged child or plan to be some day, you’ll almost certainly find the study illuminating (my wife and I took the quiz to make sure we’re aligned…whew, yes!). One big takeaway for me is that our longstanding system of residence-based school assignments just doesn’t make sense. If we want to address the interests and needs of students and their families, we need a system of schools where parents can choose from an array of options.

If you care about systemic reform in urban schooling, you have to read New Orleans-Style Education Reform: A Guide for Cities, Lessons Learned 2004–2010.  Published in 2012, this report, produced by NSNO’s Neerav Kingsland and the good folks at Public Impact as part of the dissemination requirement of the former’s federal i3 grant, recounts the evolution of NOLA’s brilliant post-Katrina...

Preschool policy is a fragmented hodgepodge, writes Andrew Karch, as he traces early-education policy since the 1970s. He starts with President Nixon’s veto of the Comprehensive Child Development Act—for some, a missed opportunity; for others, the beginning of the private and public program-mix we have today. Karch doesn’t focus on the effectiveness of this patchwork system (for that, read Reroute the PreSchool Juggernaut), but he’s not surprised that policymakers remain dissatisfied. The current system is the result of stakeholders protecting their entrenched interests and the status quo. True, they support tweaks—just as long as their own policy sphere is not changed; so most reforms efforts—a la President Obama—run amuck and we are left with the stasis we have today. (This more-than-obvious explanation could be used to describe any policy debate underway in Congress and many of our state houses.) Still, readers interested in early education or public-policy development at large would be wise to peruse this book for its insight into how we got the policies we have today and why we see so much paralysis in attempts to reform them.

SOURCE: Andrew Karch, Early Start: Preschool Politics in the United States (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, April 2013).

The fight for civil rights and empowerment didn’t happen overnight, but rather one lunch counter at a time, reminds reverend H.K. Matthews in an editorial supporting the new Alabama Accountability Act.

The Justice System petitioned a judge to stop Louisiana’s voucher program in thirty-plus districts operating under federal desegregation orders. This move is folly—and could have major implications for other modes of choice, including charter schools.

Original recipe?  The newly created Kentucky Charter Schools Association, along with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Democrats for Education Reform, the Black Alliance for Education Options and senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul are teaming up to bring charter schools to the Bluegrass State.

The teachers union in Mexico has “wreaked chaos” in the nation’s capital, “blockading roads and setting up a tent city in the city's colossal main square” to protest recent education reforms, writes the Wall Street Journal.

Former Chicago public schools chief J.C. Brizard is making headlines in Chicago again—this time for a By the Company It Keeps interview with Andy Smarick, where Brizard says he underestimated the power of the teachers union and calls Rahm Emanuel a micromanager.

The Onion takes on Teacher For America and asks for real teachers who have “an honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application.” Required reading for The Onion staff includes NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review 2013....

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