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The Philanthropy Roundtable's generally praiseworthy magazine hits a number of topical education-policy issues in its Fall 2013 issue. The first profiles Eli and Edythe Broad's Superintendents Academy—which, since 2002, has produced “150 alumni...[including] Los Angeles superintendent John Deasy and state superintendents of Louisiana (John White), Maryland (Lillian Lowery), New Jersey (Christopher Cerf), and Rhode Island (Deborah Gist).” (Then there’s Broad’s Residency in Urban Education program, which seeks to transform private-sector leaders into future heads of schools or school systems.) The second notable article highlights the Relay Graduate School of Education, an alternative teacher-prep program in New York started by Norman Atkins of Uncommon Schools, Dave Levin of KIPP, and Dacia Toll of Achievement First. With backing from the Robin Hood Foundation and others, the school focuses on pragmatism over theory and insists that, before receiving a master's degree, teachers show that their students are achieving at least a year's worth of academic growth each school year. A third education item comes from Fordham blogger Andy Smarick's new bookClosing America's High-achievement Gap: A Wise Giver's Guide to Helping Our Most Talented Students Reach Their Full Potential. Smarick argues, as we often do at Fordham, that we must also help high-ability youngsters to succeed and not focus exclusively on those with low-achievement issues. In his words, “while America's most at-risk kids deserve all the help they can get, we ought to also give increased attention to our potential top achievers—both for our own sake and the nation's.” Whether you’re a veteran philanthropist or a philanthropist-in-training, give this issue...

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; aquatic life; insects; the Maya, Inca, and Aztec; Native American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; the American foundersmovie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

Perhaps it’s a sign of my middle age, but I can’t recall learning a thing about ancient Asian civilizations until college, when I happened to take an Eastern Civilizations course. What a shame. Just as the histories of the Egyptians, the Maya, and the Mesopotamians are chock-full of fascinating stories and characters, so too is the history of China, India, and the rest of Asia. Enjoy these movies and shows that bring them to life.

The best streaming videos on ancient Asian civilizations

1. Secrets of the Dead: China's Terracotta Warriors

Secrets of the Dead: China's Terracotta WarriorsThis episode of PBS’s “Secrets of the Dead” explores the origins of 8,000 lavishly painted terracotta warriors that guard the tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor.

Length: 53 minutes

Rating: TV-PG


Louisiana State Superintendent John White continues to impress. Check out this really interesting attempt to create new options for the state’s kids—it’s called the Call to Action. Educators and a range of organizations get the chance to submit proposals in a number of areas—charters, nonpublic, leadership development, early childhood, and more. It’s totally fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what becomes of this.

I’ve worked for five different government bodies now. Those experiences, I think, have grounded me, helping me understand how to actually get things done instead of just talking about pie-in-the-sky ideas. So I was a bit surprised to be cast as an unrealistic ideologue in this post by CRPE’s Robin Lake. But maybe I have bad self awareness—you make the call! Either way, Robin and Paul Hill continue to deserve enormous credit for their groundbreaking ideas about public education delivery and their dogged work to implement them.

There’s a new, interesting research paper out called “Student Achievement within a Portfolio Management Model: Early Results from New Orleans.” If you follow NOLA developments and/or the broader discussions about portfolio districts and TUSSotF, you’ll find it worthwhile. You’ll learn more about the general landscape of schools (district vs. RSD; direct-run vs. charter) as well as the differences in performance. I was surprised to see such positive results from the district’s schools—heck, there’s an RSD because Orleans Parish was so dysfunctional. But after checking in with a NOLA expert,...

This report by Kalman “Buzzy” Hettleman reviews the One Year Plus policy currently being implemented in Baltimore City schools—a program built on the premise that high expectations will lead to strong outcomes in special education, just as they would in traditional education. The report is divided into five parts, with the first three explaining the theory and premise behind the program, the fourth discussing implementation, and the fifth describing the difficulties of special-education reform. The One Year Plus program requires that all students on a diploma track (i.e., those who are not severely cognitively disabled) see at least twelve months of academic progress in twelve months of instruction. Students behind grade level are expected to catch up. While some might find these goals overly ambitious (“Isn't the point of special education to help children with difficulty learning?”), skeptics are generally driven by a misunderstanding of the breadth of disabilities covered by IDEA and special education. Indeed, many of these students would have never needed special-education services in the first place had they received the right supports early on. By pairing high expectations with research-based interventions and supports (as well as extensive training and a revamped monitoring system), the program is an unprecedented overhaul of special education in an urban setting. Note, however, that this report represents more of a description and argument for the program than an evaluation, as the program is too young for a scientific analysis. The first significant sample of outcome data will be available in mid to late 2014.

SOURCE: Kalman...

With the polls closed and votes counted, the most interesting school district in America will remain interesting: Douglas County, Colorado—which had four of seven seats up for election on Tuesday—maintained its pro-reform edge, with two incumbents reelected and two reform-y newcomers taking seats at the table. Well done—and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.

By a margin of 4 percentage points, State Representative Martin Walsh has become Boston’s first new mayor-elect in twenty years, beating out City Councilor John Connolly for the mayorship of Boston. Walsh—whose campaign, according to Politico, received a fair amount of funding from the unions—has underscored his support for universal pre-Kindergarten. Connolly—a former teacher backed by Democrats for Education Reform—had supported reducing the district bureaucracy and improving career and technical education. However, both candidates supported lifting the state cap on charter schools and lengthening the school day.

Meanwhile, Gotham voters eagerly elected Bill de Blasio as their mayor on Tuesday; he famously pledged to tax the rich in order to pay for his universal preschool program. Colorado voters, on the other hand, rejected a $1 billion tax increase for education by a two-to-one margin (while adopting a new tax on marijuana). Voters in Columbus, Ohio (Fordham’s home state), also rejected a local levy by a lopsided margin. The lesson: Education taxes on the one percent (and on weed) are popular. Taxes on the middle class? Not so much....

The follicly defeated edition

Mike and Brickman celebrate the miraculous survival of skydivers whose plane crashed in midair—but they were never in any danger, since the hot air emanating from Bill de Blasio’s campaign would have saved them anyway. Safely on the ground, they discuss the future of the Common Core in Florida and Mike’s anti-poverty strategy, while Amber considers the merits of bribing teachers to retire early.

Amber's Research Minute

Early Retirement Incentives and Student Achievement,” by Maria D. Fitzpatrick and Michael F. Lovenheim, NBER Working Paper No. 19281 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, August 2013).

Bill de Blasio’s public-education agenda consists of seven boasts (things he says he’s already done, part of his record as public advocate) and nineteen plans for future changes (“policies, agendas, and programs” that he promises to “work tirelessly to implement”). Minus the overlap, they add up to two dozen ideas. Here’s how I score them:

Potentially worthwhile, but over-the-top or unaffordable: These five notions include his preschool promise. The problem? Preschool could do considerable good for some very needy kids, but the universal version he’s espousing is a costly, unnecessary windfall for hundreds of thousands of middle-class parents and apt to result in a program that’s too skimpy to really benefit the children who need it most. (Note, too, that the city’s current pre-K programs are under-enrolled.)

Much the same can be said for universal after-school programs for middle schoolers, considering that plenty of parents already have this worked out. A serious education reformer would instead expand learning time by lengthening the school day and year. But the unions won’t like that.

As for universal school breakfasts and arts education, believe it or not, a lot of kids really do get fed before leaving for school, and art, worthy as it is, mustn’t crowd out the three R’s before children have mastered them.

Overdue reforms (if he puts teeth in them): I count two here.

Getting every child to read by...

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 foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; and movie adaptations of classic children’s books. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

One reason I love the Core Knowledge Sequence is because of its commitment to building a common American culture. Even pop culture isn’t so common anymore, what with our ever-splintering media environment. But surely all American kids, no matter their backgrounds or zip codes, should learn about our country’s folk heroes: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Annie Oakley, and many more. Here are some videos and movies to get you started.

The best streaming videos on Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley, and other American folk heroes

1. Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer

Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer

Daniel Boone leads settlers into Kentucky, but he must battle Shawnee Indians who have been persuaded by a French renegade that Boone and the settlers are there to kill them and steal their land.

Length: 85 minutes

Rating: PG

2. Daniel Boone & The Wilderness


Dear Deborah,

Thanks for the opportunity to debate the critical issues in education and social policy with you. You are an icon and a hero, and it's been a true honor.

Someday I'd like to write a book on anti-poverty efforts, and I hope it might have the title above. Understanding that my knowledge about this vast topic is still limited, here's a first cut at the basic outline. I think you'll agree that there are quite a few items on the list about which we can agree.

Introduction: A smart anti-poverty strategy starts with three principles:

1. Think intergenerationally.

We'd all like to see greater social mobility in America, but we need to be realistic about what's achievable. It's never been the case that many of the poorest Americans have gone from rags to riches over the course of their own lives. More common has been an intergenerational story: The penniless, uneducated immigrant arrives through Ellis Island and lands in an urban slum. But then, via hard work and sacrifice (and, in some cases, help from the government or from trade unions), he gets a foothold in the economy, makes sure his own children learn English and do well in school, and ensures they make it into the great American middle class. And the third generation climbs even higher.

Poverty, by this telling, isn't such a problem if it's temporary....

Taiwan (a.k.a. the Republic of China or Chinese Taipei) has much going for it in the education realm, particularly its sky-high results on international assessments, but it also has plenty of problems in this sphere. Some came as no great surprise when I visited. The country has too many universities, for example, especially as the population shrinks, plus a fixation on everybody attending them even if their life plans don’t require it. That government schools charge tuition, however modest, for compulsory education, strikes an American visitor as peculiar and slightly unfair. I surely don’t love the practice of letting teachers select their schools with the principal having almost no say in the process. Even worse: It’s all but impossible to redeploy, reassign, or dismiss teachers, however inefficient or ineffectual (or just plain unnecessary) their present roles. It also struck me as questionable to lump gifted students into special education—but then give nearly all the dedicated resources to the disabled kids who share that overarching designation. Gifted education ends up getting short shrift.

All worrying, yes, and definitely worth reforming, but not mind-bendingly unexpected. Here’s what was: Besides its influential teacher union, Taiwan has a powerful parent union that now appears to cause at least as much harm as it does good. (In private, the educators I met all agreed with this judgment.)

Walk through the front door of a Taiwanese public school—the door I first walked through belongs to one of the most respected high schools in the land—and one...