Additional Topics

Perhaps it’s in the air, like the flu bug.  But I’ve noticed a rash
of hacking statements of late, made by adults, that makes me wonder who
among our edu-cators and -crats need a refresher course in critical
thinking skills.

Here’s one from Michael Powell in the New York Times,
rebutting Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion that we cut the number of
teachers in half and pay the remaining ones twice the salary:

In fact, studies show class size makes a substantial
difference in lower grades. Studies are more ambiguous about higher
grades. Prof. Aaron M. Pallas of Teachers College at Columbia University
says no academic study has explored the effects of doubling the size of
a public school classroom.

Is that a string of non-sequitors or what?  Powell goes on
to tell stories about his sons and a friend who teaches in Brooklyn
Technical High School. But the subject of “studies” that do and don’t
show something  — anything! — is dropped.

Here’s one from Tom Ash,
legislative director for the Buckeye [Ohio] Association of School
Administrators, speaking about international test results and what makes
some countries more successful:

It’s not just the number of facts you can regurgitate, it’s whether you have developed the ability to learn.”

Why does vomiting facts suggest an inability to learn?  What if we
merely wrote the facts?  Slowly spoke them?  What is...

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A couple months back, a friendly
event
at Fordham catalyzed a heated debate over the merits of narrowly focusing
on the achievement gap
. (Isn’t it possible that all the hullabaloo over the
achievement gap detracts from the teaching
of high flyers
, we asked?) Still, we are not blind to the issue, nor are
other conservatives. This piece from the National
Review
argues that, if we don’t bring up the bottom, we stand to lose
trillions of dollars in economic growth by 2050. Demographic shifts (especially
the surging Latino population) are mushrooming the ranks of traditionally
under-performing populations. And our labor markets aren’t ready to absorb them
all. As the authors observe, “The achievement gap is not new, but its impact on
U.S. economic performance is growing.” We’d better start doing something about
it.

Closing
the Achievement Gap
,” by Reihan Salam and Tino
Sanandaji, National Review, November
14, 2011.

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hammer photo

If I had a hammer...
Photo by TheFixer

Newt Gingrich has issued some crazy statements
since he first took public office in 1979. Yet his latest claim—that we shouldn’t
be “entrapping kids in…child labor laws, which are truly stupid”—isn’t one of
them. In a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Gingrich suggested a “work
study” program for K-12 education: Students could provide low-cost alternatives
to unionized janitors, giving these youngsters work experience, money, and
pride in their schools. This proposal to slacken child-labor laws has drawn
plenty of headlines, and even
more scorn
. But there’s something to his logic. Nonprofits like YouthBuild and the ISUS charters in Dayton, OH, in
which students work to complete high school while learning construction skills, already
offer successful models of dual academic/job-training programs. The Cristo Rey network
of Catholic schools allows their low-income students to offset tuition
costs—and gain practical job skills—through once-a-week corporate internships. These
models provide more than a paycheck and some on-the-job carpentry or accounting
skills: They give students a better sense of the working world than any personal-finance
or economics course ever could. Gadfly isn’t advocating for eight-year-olds to
don hard hats on Alaska’s oil pipeline—and...

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Most of the time,
Congressional hearings on federal education research are just an opportunity
for various interested parties to plead for more money. A couple of weeks back,
however, Rep. Duncan Hunter and the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood,
Elementary, and Secondary Education held an unusually candid and (I hope)
fruitful review of this crucial but not-very-sexy policy domain. Terrific
witness list—ISUSand an outstanding testimony by former IES director Russ Whitehurst,
now of Brookings, who did more than defend his own solid track record in that
role. He pulled no punches regarding research quality (needs to be raised, not
lowered), the American Educational Research Association (another
self-interested and greedy lobby), the (complex but crucial) relationship
between IES and the rest of the Education Department, and the hopelessness of
the regional education laboratories. He also urged Congress not to “try to
dictate how states and LEAs should use findings from research,” about which he’s
mostly right. What he might not be right about are the late, lamented Reading
First program and the future relationship between IES and the National Center
for Education Statistics. Have a look for yourself.

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Testimony
on the Federal Role in Education Research: Providing Relevant Information to
Students, Parents, and Educators
(Washington, D.C.: Brookings, November
16, 2011).

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Though I would much prefer to write about “democracy,” which is the
hot topic these days, or even mention our pilgrims progress, those
pioneers who survived rough winters and stopped to appreciate their
bounty, I must interrupt this program to urge Flypaper fans to cozy up to ednext.org and be thankful for the new issue of Education Next.  Cover-to-cover, it’s a blessing.

Okay, I’m a dying breed. I carried the print version of the Winter
2012 issue around most of the last several days – scribbling in the
margins, spilling coffee on the pictures, throwing pages on the
passenger seat, breaking the binding back and perching the salt shaker
on it at breakfast – I guarantee you this is a  Thanksgiving feast. 
Even online! (Full disclosure, I am a contributing editor at the
magazine, have a story in the issue (see below), and am biased.)

But I guarantee you, you won’t leave this issue hungry:

Play Ball!
This June Kronholz cover story takes us curriculum afficianados to a
new playing field. “There’s not a straight line between the crochet club
and the Ivy League,” writes Kronholz, “[b]ut a growing body of research
says there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from
high school, going to college and becoming a responsible citizen.”

This story sets us on a trajectory of common sense that is much
needed in our polarized and partisan education policy...

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The Education Gadfly

Who knew democracy could be such a sensitive subject? When Mike wondered
whether union clout has corrupted the progressive ideals of school
boards and local control on Monday, he touched off a flurry of posts in
the ed reform blogosphere over the interplay of politics and education.
Here’s a quick recap:

Local control, teacher unions

Photo by Justin Mitchell

Randi Weingarten asked whether Mike’s real agenda was “getting rid of democratic principles” and Diane Ravitch warned
that “it’s pretty radical to go to the extreme of eliminating 15,000
school boards and centralizing everything in the big state bureaucracies
in the hope that this will suffice to silence the teachers’ unions.”
Mike responded that it was actually union-controlled school boards that were a “perversion of democracy,” and the debate was on.

On Flypaper, Choice Media founder Bob Bowdon accused
teacher unions of corrupting the democratic process through hefty
campaign contributions and serial legal challenges to popular reforms,
although Rutgers professor Bruce Baker questioned his logic and choice of examples. Over at Dropout Nation, Rishawn Biddle took issue with Ravitch’s depiction of NYC’s school reform, and Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute concluded that democracy really doesn’t belong in education governance. In the latest...

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The Education Gadfly

Would you like to work at the forefront of national education policy? Are you passionate about school choice and knowledgeable about education reform? A brilliant writer? Energetic, organized, imaginative, and outgoing? A leader as well as a team player? If so, you might be perfect as the director of Fordham's new program on parental choice. Visit our careers page to learn more about the position and apply.

-The Education Gadfly

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In
kicking off Education Trust’s annual conference, Kati Haycock said that we
can’t let “bad parenting” be an excuse for poor educational results. She’s absolutely
right, of course. It’s not like our schools are running on all cylinders
(especially schools serving poor kids), and if only parents were doing their
jobs, too, achievement would soar. Sure, we’ve got several examples of school
models that are making a tremendous
difference

in educational outcomes for kids, regardless of what’s happening at home.

That
said, it strikes me as highly unlikely that we’re ever going to significantly
narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor unless we narrow the “good
parenting gap” between rich and poor families, too. (And yes, I know I’m going
to catch a lot of grief for saying that.)

We're never going to significantly
narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor unless we narrow the
'good parenting gap' between rich and poor families, too.

 
   
 

Let’s
admit it: The Broader/Bolder types are right when they say that a lot of what influences student achievement
happens outside of schools and before kids ever set foot in a Kindergarten
...

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  • To avoid a court
    injunction, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has
    pulled back the reins
    in his plan to lengthen the school day in the
    Windy City. The thirteen schools that
    have already agreed
    (thanks to a monetary incentive) to up their
    school day by ninety minutes will keep their current bargain. But no other
    schools will be able to join that group. Just one more example of politics
    taking precedence over children.
  • Courtesy of the Center
    on Education Reform’s new district survey
    , we learn that half of
    districts eligible for school-improvement grants find it “inappropriate”
    to ask a district to turn around a failing school in three years. Of course
    this begs the question: What is an appropriate amount of time? Five years?
    Ten? Closing
    these schools may yet be the better option
    .
  • As the Common Core train races toward full
    implementation there are two potentials that might derail it: political
    backlash and cost. Kudos to California for thinking through the latter. According
    to a new analysis
    , CCSS implementation could run the Golden State $800 million.
    A hefty price tag, but remember: Divided among the 6 million-plus students in
    CA, and that figure represents around 1 percent of CA’s education spending.
  • Charter-school enrollment
    in D.C. leaped
    9 percentage points over the past year
    —nudging District charters up to
    41 percent market share. If
  • ...
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