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Sophomoric videos are our thing

Mike and Adam dissect StudentsFirst’s take on the Olympics and debate whether the parent trigger is overhyped. Amber wonders what Maryland and Delaware are doing right when it comes to education.

Amber's Research Minute

Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance - Download the PDF

Despite lackluster achievement on the latest rounds of PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS exams—and despite Fordham’s own premonitions of a new “Sputnik moment” for U.S. education—much complacency still surrounds American pupils’ academic prowess. One oft-cited source of false comfort is the gradual uptick in NAEP math and science scores over the past few years. This latest report from the international-education trifecta of Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludgar Woessmann argues for renewed sobriety. It tracks student-achievement growth in forty-nine countries (1995-2009) and forty-one states (1992-2011). Overall, increases in U.S. student achievement are middling, with twenty-four countries making greater gains. Over the fourteen years analyzed, U.S. students advanced about one year of learning, which is less than half of the achievement gains registered in more than twenty nations (including Hong Kong, Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland, and top-improvers Latvia, Chile, and Brazil). What’s most interesting about the report, though, is the analysis of state improvement over time. Maryland made the most progress, with Florida, Delaware, and Massachusetts following closely behind. Iowa, Maine, and Oklahoma, meanwhile, found themselves at the bottom of the pile. If the U.S. as a whole had equaled the progress made by its top-improving states, we would be on par with Germany and the U.K.—and would find ourselves among the top advancers worldwide. There’s much thought-provoking data to cull here and still more trends and patterns to ponder....


Given that bipartisan agreement went extinct sometime in the previous decade, the fact that conservatives and liberals have both concluded that our country suffers from a troubling lack of social mobility might be reason enough to celebrate. The problem, as I wrote yesterday, is that few commentators on either side of the political spectrum have recognized the obvious: This problem begins with our schools. And it could potentially end there, as well. In my experience with public schools and the culture that surrounds them, we won’t close the social mobility gap unless we recognize three facts:

1. Our schools don’t value merit

The idea of merit implies the idea of non-merit; we can’t all be winners.

As we know, the idea of merit implies the idea of non-merit; we can’t all be winners. Yet, that is exactly the kind of talk I hear in schools all the time: We are all winners. As Thomas Edsall wrote in his Times essay,In the business sector, particularly, other less benign qualities emerge as essential to meritocratic success: aggressiveness, ruthlessness, dominance-seeking, victimizing behavior, acquisitiveness and the disciplined pursuit of self-interest.” How do we possibly reconile the hard-edged reality of merit in the real world with the "all winners" ethos of our public schools? We don't. We have to get real at school and start rewarding merit there. It need not be cut-throat, but it needs to be something better than giving everyone a blue ribbon.

2. Our schools don’t value knowledge



Move to the head of the class

Mike and Rick reunite to talk social mobility, the NEA’s membership woes, and what sequestration would actually mean for schools. Amber explains where parents stand on digital learning.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning in the 21st Century: A 5 Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning - Project Tomorrow

Mike seems to have touched off a flurry of discussion (or at least landed in the middle of it) about meritocracy with his “Can schools spur social mobility?” essay from last week, which was prompted by a recent appearance at Fordham by Charles Murray, to talk about his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Simultaneously, Chris Hayes was getting attention for his new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. There followed two pieces by David Brooks (“Why Our Elites Stink” and “The Opportunity Gap”), a report from the Pew Foundation (“American Dream”), Jason DeParle’s page-one story in last Sunday’s Times (“Two Classes, Divided by `I Do’”), followed by some good piling on by journalism professor Thomas Edsall, also in the Times, who takes out after Mitt Romney for suggesting we have a “merit-based society.”

Shake It, Start Over

I’m sure there was more, but the gist of the current hand-wringing is the news that the nation is no longer the equal opportunity society it once was. The social mobility gap is growing while our faith in boot-strap capitalism, where hard work (i.e., merit) can get you a spot at the table of the elite, is waning. My concern, at least with...


Mike is from Mars; Kathleen is from Venus

Kathleen and Mike wonder how to hold states accountable in twenty-seven different ways and debate whether gender-specific curricula make sense. Amber dives deep into census data on edu-spending.

Amber's Research Minute

Public Education Finances Report - United States Census

Guest blogger Candice Santomauro is a parent of District of Columbia Public Schools students and director of development at GreatSchools.

In 2008, what little I knew about D.C. education came from a Time magazine article, the one with the now-infamous cover featuring Michelle Rhee with a broom. Sitting comfortably in my Florida home with my children safely ensconced in a posh private school, I remember thinking how sad it was that the situation was so dire for the children of our nation’s capital. But we were white, made good money, and lived in the suburbs, and Washington’s challenges seemed a world away.

I remember thinking how sad it was that the situation was so dire for the children of our nation’s capital.

Fast-forward to 2009, our lives turned upside down by the economic tumble, exacerbated in Central Florida by a huge housing bubble having burst and the diminishing space program, we found ourselves relocating to D.C. I accepted a position with a small private school in Southeast Washington, ironically just a few blocks from some of the schools profiled in the Time article.

My then-seven year old would attend there as well, as we had known nothing else but private schools, and her tuition was a perk of working at the school. This private school was different, though, as it was 100 percent African American, attended by many D.C. Opportunity Scholarship recipients and children of low-income families whose tuition was supported by external foundations and private donations.



Is American Education Coming Apart? A Lunchtime Lecture with Charles Murray

Is American Education Coming Apart?

For all the talk of gaps in achievement, opportunity, and funding between ethnic and racial groups in American education, a different divide may also be splitting our schools and our future. In his acclaimed and controversial recent book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, scholar/pundit/provocateur Charles Murray describes a widening class schism. On Tuesday, June 26, he will deliver a lecture on what that divide means for U.S. schools and education policy.

What does it portend for student achievement? For diversity within schools and choices among them? Is our education system equipped to serve a society separated by social class?

Curriculum nerds

Kathleen Porter-Magee makes her podcast debut, debating reading requirements with Mike and explaining why the new science standards need improvement. Amber wonders whether upper-elementary teachers outshine their K-2 peers.

Amber's Research Minute

School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School by Sarah C. Fuller & Helen F. Ladd - Download PDF

Much of the focus of contemporary education reform is on helping disadvantaged kids overcome the effects of poverty. This new book, by The Global Achievement Gap author Tony Wagner, doesn’t much go there. Instead, it gives advice to parents (presumably mostly affluent ones) about how to encourage their children’s creative juices. The premise is that America needs to foster more innovation and grow more entrepreneurs—both the STEM and social varieties—to remain globally competitive. Drawing on 150 interviews (and ten case studies of young innovators), Wagner argues that play, passion, and purpose must dominate one’s growth (through childhood and into college). The book is a lively read (helped by its companion videos, which can be accessed via QR codes throughout the text). And Wagner does make some valuable points, mostly aimed at higher education as well as parents. (K-12 education acts as an understudy.) He exalts disruptive innovation, calls for abolishing “publish or perish” tenure determinations for professors, concedes that content cannot be drowned in an effort to boost process skills, and posits an interesting charter-like reboot of college education. All worthy. But Wagner sort of skirts the class issues: The majority of young people profiled in his book have prosperous, supportive, and engaged parents. (He does profile two exceptionally gifted underprivileged youth—both also living in supportive homes.) Waldorf parents, Montessori moms, and Koala dads will find much to agree with in these pages, and...