Additional Topics

Universal pre-Kindergarten programs, beloved by many education advocates and policy wonks, also have some critics (ourselves included). The critics aren’t anti-kid or unworried about Kindergarten readiness. Rather, they argue that states should target their limited resources at pre-K programming for youngsters truly in need. This CALDER study, which examines the impact of such a program in Texas between 1990 and 2002, backs that assertion. Drawing upon a huge sample of “at-risk” children, analysts compared those who participated in Texas’s PreKindergarten Early Start (PKES) program to those who didn’t. They found that PKES participation was linked to higher academic achievement in reading and math and lower likelihood of being held back or receiving special-education services. Two more items of note: These achievement data were collected in third grade, showing the staying power of the PKES program (positive effects of Head Start begin to fade after first grade). And the PKES program’s per-pupil cost is less than half that of Head Start in Texas. The report concludes, “Even modest programs can achieve important gains” for disadvantaged youth. A question naturally arises: What is the PKES program doing differently than its counterparts, many of which have been found wanting? We think we’ve found the answer: In Texas, even pre-K has standards and curriculum—and they’re aligned with those of the K–12 system.


Rodney Andrews, Paul Jargowsky, and Kristin Kuhne, The Effects of Texas’ Pre-Kindergarten Program on Academic Performance (New York, NY: National Center...

Tony Bryk, Paul Hill, Terry Moe, and Paul Reville (among others) contribute to this wonk-studded volume, which was borne of a four-year Harvard working group and starts from the premise that today’s incremental reforms will not effect lasting change for K–12 education; rather, we must think bigger. To that end, the collection offers six provocative essays. While several extend current reform ideas (moving to a mixed model of government and market-based providers; addressing the disadvantages of poverty through social reform and wrap-around services; copying successful strategies of countries that improved rapidly), others are unique visions for the future. One would professionalize teaching through “network improvement communities” that allow educators to share research, instructional materials, and pedagogical insights across sites. Perhaps the most radical vision for change suggests that education tomorrow will not be synonymous with schooling, as access to knowledge from outside the classroom increases and youth engage in “lifewide” learning. (We would argue, further, that “schools” in the traditional sense might not even be the best vehicle for education delivery in years to come.) Taken together, the essays present a refreshing and forward-thinking design for education reform and reformers.


Jal Mehta, Robert B. Schwartz, Frederick M. Hess, eds. The Futures of School Reform (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2012)....

Vigil for Sandy Hook
I can’t get Sandy Hook out of my mind—nor, in one sense, do I really want to.
Photo from the International Business Times.

That it’s taken me five days to write about the horrific acts of violence perpetrated on Newtown, Connecticut, is one indication of how torn up I’ve been about it. As the father of two small boys, this one really hit home. May God bless the children, their educators, and their families.

When we—the Fordham team and many of Flypaper’s readers—pick ourselves up and turn back to our day jobs, the work of school reform, there is an unavoidable question: What does Sandy Hook mean for that work? For our mission of bringing excellence to America’s schools and ramping up opportunity for all children? For the public discourse in which we engage?

One possible answer: nothing. As tragic an event as it was, it’s only loosely related to education policy. A deranged man with access to high-powered weapons chose an elementary school as his target. He might have chosen a hospital, a summer camp, or a circus performance. As Americans, it’s absolutely appropriate to debate whether stricter gun controls or reforms to our mental-health system or greater security barriers might help to reduce the likelihood of such awful events occurring in...

Hard on the heels of the AFT's proposed for a "bar exam" for teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers has come forth with a sober, comprehensive, and exceptionally well-thought-out set of recommendations for fundamentally revamping the preparation and licensure of both teachers and principals. This 38-page blueprint contains ten big recommendations that, if put into practice by states, would indeed be transformative.

Cast in straightforward, non-rabble-rousing language, in some respects doesn't go as far as it could. It does not, for example, do away with state-level certification of educators on grounds that research has found no link between such credentials and actual effectiveness. But it does seek to make certification meaningful by building exacting standards into the process, standards that rely on evidence of knowledge and performance rather than a checklist of courses taken. Also tucked in the recommendations are such bold ideas as serious acceptance of alternative pathways and "residency"-style preparation; insistence on real standards for entering prep programs and getting certified; the demand that prep programs respond to K–12 education's actual supply-demand numbers rather than enrolling as many people as possible (thus probably killing the proverbial ed-school "cash cow" within universities); and tracking the performance of those emerging from various prep programs and institutions—and actually closing those that don't produce successful professionals.

Underlying all this is the fact that states have plenty of leverage that could be used to boost the quality and effectiveness of the education workforce and most of them haven't been using much of it. Of course they should. And this proposal shows how....

Tony Bennett

There is very little to be added to what's already been said about Friday's horrendous murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School—President Obama has eloquently expressed the heartfelt feelings of millions, myself included.

But there is one small education point worth noting: Sandy Hook is a terrific school. Check out its solid "10" from GreatSchools, based on its as-good-as-any-in-the-state academic achievement. Read the glowing comments you will find there from half a dozen parents. You can also read the school's "core character attributes" in the school’s mission statement. And you will say to yourself, as I did, that this is the kind of school anyone would be satisfied indeed to have one's daughter or son attend. May those who perished rest in peace. And may Sandy Hook, in time, resume its outstanding education record.

Everyone and their mothers are talking about the so-called “fiscal cliff”—the automatic budget cuts and tax increases that will affect all federal discretionary spending programs, cut you off in traffic, steal an old lady’s handbag, and wreak general havoc if lawmakers don’t come to a deal on the national debt soon. Will it destroy Head Start and special education? Will it disproportionately harm poor schools? But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us, federal contributions to education are peanuts compared to the amount the feds contribute to Medicare, Medicaid, transportation, and the like—cuts to which will leave big holes for states to patch, perhaps by raiding K–12 funding. And it’s these possible indirect cuts to education that will hurt on the way down.

After channeling Jeb Bush during his job interview, Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett was chosen to be Florida’s new state superintendent. We extend hearty congratulations. Florida’s teacher unions are none too happy with his appointment; but they’re not exactly winning the war in Florida, so Bennett may not need to sweat it.

Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, says he intends to overhaul that country’s flagging school system. First stop? Take down the juggernaut teacher union—led by Elba Esther Gordillo, referred to as La Maestra for her political prowess and shady dealings. We’ll be watching.

The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education has identified the five education issues that were most covered...

This latest “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation delivers some depressing news: Youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II. Tracking data from the 2011 Current Population Survey, as well as recent Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the foundation reports that only half of people ages sixteen to twenty-four held jobs in 2011; among the teens in that group, 13 percent of sixteen to nineteen year olds and 20 percent of twenty to twenty-four year olds are both out of school and out of work (what the authors call “disconnected” youth). And still more striking, within this group of disconnected young adults, over a fifth are parents themselves. According to analysts, this stark trend is caused by stronger competition for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs—and may cause these disconnected youth to eventually become a cost to taxpayers. The report then breaks employment data down by state: For twenty- to twenty-four-year-olds, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have the highest employment rates. Mississippi and New York have the lowest. While the report’s message is bleak, it offers at least one redeeming data point: For young adults (ages twenty to twenty-four), college-enrollment rates rose from 31 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2011, with some who would have entered the workforce now seeking postsecondary education. (The quality of those programs is not discussed in the report.) The authors offer a host of recommendations, including...

Diverse Schools Dilemma

Both Brooklyn, NY, and Northwest D.C. are home to emotionally charged, racially tinged fights over neighborhood school boundaries. Urbanists beware: As the “great inversion” continues and our cities gentrify, this is a sign of things to come.

In Brooklyn, the fight is focused on two elementary schools in Park Slope. One of these, P.S. 321, is overcrowded, the result of a baby boom in its increasingly affluent community, as well as of a school-system policy that allows students to stay at the school even after their families move elsewhere in the city. To deal with the crowding, officials plan to shrink its attendance zone, which means redistricting some children into a new school to be opened a few blocks away.

That second school stirs anxieties among many middle-class parents because it will be more socioeconomically diverse. As Naomi Schaefer Riley opined in the New York Post,

Aren’t Park Slopers looking for diversity? Writing at Park Slope Patch last year, neighborhood resident Louise Crawford asked parents and leaders “What Matters to Park Slope.” From the president of the Park Slope Civic Council to the head of the advocacy group Park Slope Neighbors, diversity topped nearly everyone’s lists….
Matthew Didner, the acting chair of a group of parents whose kids are now zoned for the new school, tells me that diversity is very important...
Diverse Schools Dilemma

Modern urban parents face a quandary: Will the public schools in their walkable, socioeconomically diverse communities provide a strong education for their kids? Mike Petrilli shed light on this question in his book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma. Here’s a roundup of recent and forthcoming media attention that Petrilli’s book has garnered.

Reviews and articles

In his second review of the Diverse Schools Dilemma (you can read the first here),  the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews expounds on Petrilli’s insights into parenting-style variance: “If middle class and low-income parents have different methods with their kids and different expectations for their schools, how do principals and teachers serve both populations?” (11/29/12)

Rick Hess, writing for his Education Week blog Straight Up, calls Petrilli a “model of perpetual angst himself when it comes to [choosing schools for his kids]” and the book a terrific blend of “personal anecdotes, surprising evidence, and conversations with researchers and parents.” (12/7/12)

Mike Petrilli was quoted in a New York Post article on the school boundary controversy raging in Brooklyn’s Park Slope: “He says upper-class parents ‘like racial diversity because they want their kids to be comfortable in a multiracial society, but they are not excited about socioeconomic diversity’ because it will start to affect the quality of the education.” (12/6/12)

The Diverse Schools Dilemma is featured...

A widely-noted  Government Accountability Office (GAO) report back in June found that charter schools serve a disproportionately low number of special-education students, feeding concerns that these schools discriminate again special-needs (and ELL) youngsters. This latest from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) adds much-needed nuance and should quell some of the concern. CRPE analysts examined 2011-12 special-education enrollments across 1,500 district and 170 charter schools in New York State, finding that aggregates in that state mask important differences across grade band, location, and authorizer. At the middle and high school levels, New York special-education enrollments are nearly identical in the district and charter sectors, with the only variance—albeit sizable—occurring at the elementary level. (The authors offer a few suggestions as to why, including that charter elementaries are less likely to label students special-needs as they have more effective behavior-management systems, smaller classes, or a general insistence on “individualized” education for every pupil.) From these findings, the researchers draw cautionary policy recommendations, urging against the adoption (or continuation) of blanket special-education-enrollment requirements. (New York has such a law; more on this on our Choice Words blog). Not a bad first step, considering that such requirements often lead to over-identification of students as disabled.  But let’s also recall the larger question: Why should a single school—charter or otherwise—be expected to appropriately serve all students?


Robin Lake, Betheny Gross, and Patrick Denice, New York State Special Education Enrollment...