Additional Topics

The Gadfly’s "grand swap"

Mike and Rick analyze Senator Alexander’s ed-for-Medicaid trade and critique America’s private-public schools. Amber delves into a startling SIG success story.

Amber's Research Minute

School Turnarounds: Evidence from the 2009 Stimulus

The College Board has grown somnolent and secretive in recent years, raking in huge sums (though it's officially nonprofit) from fees paid to take its well-known tests (APs and SATs above all, as well as sundry other services, such as an online system for matching kids with colleges), while neglecting its social mission, playing little role in the ed-reform wars, and blocking outside researchers from its trove of valuable data. (It much prefers to spin the test results itself.) Enter David Coleman, one of the brighter (and younger) stars in the ed-reform firmament, a major author (and booster) of the Common Core standards, and a passionate, energetic, strong-willed, and persuasive fellow. In October, he'll take the helm of the College Board and, because he can be counted upon to do what he says he's going to do, we can anticipate that "over the next few years, the main thing on the College Board’s agenda is to deliver its social mission. The College Board is not just about measuring and testing, but designing high-quality curriculum.” A worthy change, a smart and timely move, a swell use of the College Board's vast resources, and, potentially, a hefty boost to America's quest to see that its educators have the wherewithal to teach things worth learning. The College Board already contains the means of determining whether the kids have learned it—and considerable capacity to incentivize them to do so.

Backer of Common Core School Curriculum Is Chosen to Lead College Board,” by...


Where are the wild things?

Checker joins Mike on the podcast to recount his recent investigation of Asian gifted education and predict the outcome of California’s waiver gambit, while Amber has some issues with a recent report on the Common Core’s potential.

Amber's Research Minute

William Schmidt Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement - Download the Powerpoint

Boarding my plane from Singapore after a fascinating, whirlwind reacquaintance with that small nation’s remarkable education system, I encountered this Wall Street Journal headline: “Education Slows in U.S., Threatening Prosperity.” Reading on, I learned that Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz have performed a provocative—and seemingly alarming—set of calculations to answer the question: How much more education are Americans getting than their parents did?

There’s still an increment, it turns out, but it’s been shrinking: from two years more schooling (by age thirty) for those born in 1955 down to just eight months more for those born in 1980. The implication, quoth the Journal reporters: “Without better educated Americans, economists say, the U.S. won’t be able to maintain high-wage jobs and rising living standards in a competitive global economy.”

America's tendency to supersize may not be a good recipe for education.
 Photo by velkr0.

This isn’t exactly news. Nor is the Goldin-Katz analysis the first time we have observed that the U.S. is no longer leading the planet when it comes to the quantity of education that its population receives. But is more education—more hours and days, more years and degrees—the cure for what ails us? Or are we already pigging out on the educational equivalent of fast food—fattening but not nutritious—and will supersizing our portions just make matters...


One of the bravest, most astute, and honest scholar/journalists in the land is Naomi Schaefer Riley, who has written brilliantly about such touchy but crucial topics as the harm wrought by professorial tenure and the peculiar world of seriously religious universities. Ms. Riley has just been fired from her "brainstorm blogger" role by the Chronicle of Higher Education because she wrote the truth about another touchy topic, namely what passes for post-graduate scholarship in "black studies" departments on U.S. campuses. You can get some of the flavor of this squalid episode by reading her posts (here and here) and some of the hundreds of comments thereon. You can also read an account of the controversy here and can glimpse a sample of the vitriol heaped on Ms. Riley here. You can read the Chronicle's obsequious apologia on its blog. The editors obviously yielded to the (dare I use this phrase?) mau-mauing they received from commenters and "on-line petitioners." This is a truly reprehensible episode in the annals of American journalism, the more so for an influential and widely read publication that's been around since I was a graduate student myself and that boasts of its "vibrant discussion forums." Wrong. Vibrancy, it seems, has been replaced by political correctness and intimidation....


The Gadfly’s spring line is out!

Janie and Daniela debate designer Kenneth Cole’s foray into education reform and the Department of Education’s CTE overhaul, while Amber examines turnover among charter school principals.

Amber's Research Minute

The State of the NYC Charter School Sector by New York City Charter School Center

With trivial exceptions, Washington does not run schools, employ teachers, buy textbooks, write curriculum, hand out diplomas, or decide who gets promoted to 5th grade. Historically, it has contributed less than 10 percent of national K-12 spending. So its influence on what happens in U.S. schools is indirect and limited. Yet that influence can be profound, albeit not always in a helpful way.

Uncle Sam is dreadful at micromanaging what actually happens in schools and classrooms. What he's best at is setting agendas and driving priorities. Through a combination of jawboning, incentivizing, regulating, mandating, forbidding, spotlighting, and subsidizing, he can significantly influence the overall direction of the K-12 system and catalyze profound changes in it (though the system is so loosely coupled that these changes occur gradually and incompletely).

The Capitol
Washington's influence on U.S. schools is indirect and limited—but it can also be profound, albeit not always in a helpful way.
 Photo by Joe Portnoy.

It's just as well that such big directional shifts don't happen very often, because the change, however gradual, can be wrenching. And it isn't apt to happen much more often in the future, either, because the "federal government" is no single entity. It is, at minimum, three branches, two political parties, 535 members of Congress, innumerable judges, the White House, the Office of Management and Budget,...


The pineapple and the gadfly

Standardized testing, school closures, and a pineapple: Rick and Janie cover it all this week, while Amber wonders whether weighted-student funding made a difference in Hartford after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Funding a Better Education: conclusions from the first three years of student-based budgeting in hartford

A recent Hewlett Foundation study made the surprising discovery that computers are "capable of producing scores similar to human scores" when grading student essays. While no one's calling for R2D2 to teach freshman composition (even supporters acknowledge that computers can't evaluate high-level writing skills), Common Core English standards include an increased emphasis on persuasive writing that could drown teachers in essays that are time-consuming and costly to score. While critics are quick to dismiss the idea, educators should be eager to refine and advance technology that frees them to spend more time on other aspects of teaching.

President Obama met the 2012 National Teacher of the Year on Tuesday, and the White House highlighted all the State Teachers of the Year in an accompanying press release. These fine educators certainly deserve the spotlight—and the case of Massachusetts teacher champ Jason Breslow deserves particular attention. Only two weeks after learning of his award, Mr. Breslow, who taught math at a South Boston high school, lost his job because of his lack of seniority. As much as Mr. Breslow and his fellow honorees merit praise, the system they work in has earned much worse.

Three hundred U.S. school districts have turned to Disney over the last two years, not to book senior trips to Disney World, but for help running their schools. School districts have proven to be top clients for Disney's growing consulting business;...


Streeeeetching the school dollar

Mike and Adam talk space shuttles, vouchers, and how districts can make the most of tight budgets on this week’s podcast, while Amber explains what special ed looks like in the Bay State.

Amber's Research Minute

Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Download the PDF