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Liam Julian

The Wall Street Journal ran today an article about Portugal's rickety educational system and how it has affected the nation's economy: Portugal is the least educated country in Europe, and it is also the poorest. ?Without budget cuts,? the Journal reports, ?Portugal is almost certain to need an international bailout. It will run out of money this year without fresh cash . . . .? The plentiful, inexpensive, manual labor that once sustained the country's textile industry has ?vanished to Asia,? and skilled jobs have left for former Eastern bloc countries, where salaries are lower and the people better-educated. One need not be a soothsayer to predict what this article will work: Ominous warnings from the usual suspects about the parlous condition of the American educational system, whose failings will soon deplete the U.S.'s economic output. But consider: According to the Journal, ?just 28% of the Portuguese population between 25 and 64 has completed high school,? while in the U.S. the figure is ?89%.? Furthermore, in Portugal it was mandatory until the mid-1970s to complete only three years of schooling. There are sundry other obvious differences between America, a behemoth, and Portugal, a relative Lilliputian. Beware simplistic comparisons.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow ??

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Liam Julian

Readers will recall the appearance, in the summer of 2008, of an article in the Atlantic by a pseudonymous Professor X [insert X-Men joke here to flaunt pop-culture cred] that relayed his experience teaching basic English courses at two colleges, one a four-year, private institution and the other a community college. Professor X found his students deficient in?primary information?they can't spell, can't form a coherent sentence on the page, and make fundamental mistakes (e.g., confusing Hamlet, the character,?with Shakespeare, his author) that many elementary-school students would not.?X's point was that too many students who are in college shouldn't be. The piece caused enough controversy that a publisher thought it should be expanded to 240 pages. Coming next week to Amazon.com on a computer screen near you: In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, the book. One thing to say about it is that this Professor X can write. His sentences are invigorating even when his content is plodding.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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NPR's Morning Edition has been running a series on youth violence in Chicago ? this morning's story is here.? And it's worth paying attention to. ?I just finished a story for Ed Next on two new charter schools in the badlands of Chicago's Westside (Catholic Ethos, Public Education) and know that if there's any single challenge that defies a quick fix in our inner city schools, it is this: violence.?

I have, over the years, done a great deal of reporting on childhood violence (see my book Death of Innocence), meeting my share of horror along the way.? It is not a continuum; it is a swamp.? (The book I wanted to write on the subject is called The Triple A of Childhood Violence: Armed, Angry and Amoral.) There is nothing worse than seeing a child arrive at school in the morning?bearing the scars of such terror -- these kids are victims.? (I have met kids who, academically, are reading two grade levels ahead of their peers, but who are unable to eat lunch using a fork and spoon.) But I can't help but looking at these kids and thinking, `They are learning the ways of violence.' ?And though there is plenty of research linking environmental and domestic victimization of children -- sexual abuse is a terribly underreported story here -- to future behavioral problems (that's the anger part), I'm sure anyone who has ever worked in a school in a violent neighborhood knows the scene.?...

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Liam Julian

Today, Vice President Joe Biden will formally announce another round of competitive, federal education grants, this time for colleges. According to the New York Times, the grants are designed to help the administration ?meet its goal of adding eight million college graduates by 2020? and making the U.S. the nation with the highest percentage of its population in possession of college degrees. ?Sounds fine, but ?as has been noted many, many times, there are many, many ways to increase graduation rates, most of them meaningless. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said yesterday that ?the best jobs and fastest-growing firms will gravitate to? places ?with a highly qualified work force.? A diploma does not necessarily equal highly qualified, of course.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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Liam Julian

Bob Herbert writes about race and schools in today's New York Times, specifically, about how ?poor black and Hispanic public school students? will never receive decent educations until the ?toxic concentrations of poverty? that exist in their schools are dispersed. But it is the students themselves who, together, form such ?toxic concentrations,? and thus it is the students themselves who must be dispersed. This is only sensible, writes Herbert, because ?the best teachers? won't teach in ?toxic? settings, where ?expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement.? Send the black and brown kids to schools with white and yellow ones, or bring the yellow and white ones to the places where the black and brown ones spend their days, Herbert writes, and the black and brown pupils will absolutely learn more and become better people. But unfortunately, he continues, ?despite all the babble about a postracial America,? such racial shuffling of students ?has been off the table for a long time.? Herbert is mixed up, because it is precisely in a ?postracial? society that race-based school assignments would be ?off the table.? If the hypothetical society in question is ?postracial? it cannot obsess over or even consider race in school-zoning questions.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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Liam Julian

Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was on the Washington Post's op-ed page, pouring cold water all over America's March Madness excitement. He wrote that ?10 of the 68 men's teams in the NCAA tournament are not on track to graduate half of their players,? and he blamed both the individual schools?for ?trotting out tired excuses for basketball teams with poor academic records and indefensible disparities in the graduation rates of white and black players??and the NCAA, for ?handsomely rewarding success on the court with multimillion-dollar payouts to schools that fail to meet minimum academic standards.? A discussion of the issue ensued on NPR's Tell Me More. It all comes down to money, of course: The schools make money, the NCAA makes money, the coaches make money, and the players don't . . . and after the arenas empty, many of them walk away from the court without even a diploma.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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Amy Fagan

In case you missed it, our president Chester Finn moderated a very interesting panel discussion last month (February 21, 2011) in Atlanta. The topic of the forum ?-- sponsored by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the Atlanta Business Chronicle -- was ?Education Leadership for the 21st Century.? The event was part of the AMBFF Speaker Series.

Here you can watch?a few?highlights of the discussion:

Part I

Part II

--Amy Fagan...

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The latest results from the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA) garnered all the usual headlines about
America’s lackluster performance and the rise of competitor nations. And to be
sure, the findings—that America’s fifteen-year-olds perform in the middle of
the pack in both reading and math—are disconcerting for a nation that considers
itself an international leader and prides itself on home-grown innovation,
intellect, and opportunity.

But the headlines—and national averages—don’t tell the whole
story. Particularly among other industrialized and advanced nations, the United
States still has the upper hand in one critical measure: size. With over 300
million people, the U.S. ranks as the third most populous country in the world,
behind China and India. Sure, Finland—a country of 5 million people, barely more
than live in Los Angeles—might produce more high-achieving students per capita than any other nation on
earth. But is it reasonable to worry that high-achieving Finns will flood the
international job market to the exclusion of high-achieving Americans? In terms
of human-capital output, where does America stand among the world’s advanced
nations?

Fordham’s new report,
American Achievement in International
Perspective
, offers some insight. The report looks at international
achievement on the 2009 PISA among member countries of the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), analyzing the data in three ways:
First, it ranks proficiency rates to find the proportions of each country that are high-...

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The latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) garnered all the usual headlines about America’s lackluster performance and the rise of competitor nations. And to be sure, the findings—that America’s fifteen-year-olds perform in the middle of the pack in both reading and math—are disconcerting for a nation that considers itself an international leader, priding itself on its home-grown innovation, intellect, and opportunity.

But that’s not the entire story. Particularly among other industrialized and advanced nations, the U.S. still has the upper hand in one critical measure—size. In this brief analysis, we analyzed the data to compare the PISA performance of the U.S. and thirty-three other nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Among the findings:

  • In raw numbers, the U.S. produces many more high-achieving students than any other OECD nation—more high-achievers than France, Germany, and the UK combined (both in reading and in math).
  • On the downside, in raw numbers, the U.S. also produces many more low-achieving students (both in reading and in math) than any other OECD nation, including Mexico and Turkey.

There are a number of other interesting tidbits as well.

Liam Julian

Let kids run their own schools. This is the reduced-to-essence message of author Susan Engel's?contribution to?today's New York Times. She writes about the Independent Project, in which eight high-school students in western Massachusetts designed and operated, from September to?January, their own school. There were no grades, of course, only "evaluations," and?the kids created their own curriculum and taught it to?each other?basically?the blind leading the blind, which, as Jesus once told somebody, isn't good. At the end of the term, the pupils ?embarked on a collective endeavor? that, they all agreed, ?had to have social significance.? Of course it did. So they made a film about how they started their teenager-run school and how other teens could start one, too.

Look, high school stinks, its current one-size-fits-all tack idiotic. But it's foolish?worse, really?to think that because a few kids in Massachusetts who got to?read?Faulkner to each other for eight weeks had some sort of kumbaya experience schools across the nation should institute student-led classes teaching student-formed curricula. ?Schools everywhere could initiate an Independent Project,? Engel writes, because if ?the Independent Project students are any indication, participants will end up more accomplished, more engaged and more knowledgeable than they would have been taking regular courses.? Evidence for these claims (besides ?more engaged?): lacking.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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