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A fern between two Mikes: The Vergara fight goes coast to coast

A fern between two Mikes: The Vergara fight goes coast to coast

Fordham's Mike Petrilli and AEI's Mike McShane discuss the growth of Vergara-like fights nationwide and the pros and cons of taking the tenure debate to the courts.

This is the year when nearly every state must begin using assessments aligned to the Common Core, or other “college-and career-ready” standards, Education Week notes. And unlike last year, “this year’s achievement results will be a cornerstone of states’ public accountability reporting.”

The United States ranks third (trailing Switzerland and Singapore) in competitiveness, based on several factors, including “an excellent university system,” according to a new report from the World Economic Forum. In education, the U.S. is seventh (of 144 countries) in higher ed; in primary ed, the U.S. ranks thirty-sixth.

All students in the United Kingdom will learn computer coding as young as age five starting this year due to curriculum changes. In the U.S., “very few elementary age students are learning to code in U.S. schools, though the nonprofit is trying to change that,” reports Education Week.

Heard the one about how U.S. schools have never been more diverse? County-level maps produced by the Urban Institute show schools are actually less likely to be diverse than before. Blame housing patterns.

The New Yorker rediscovers “Up the Down Staircase,” the 1965 best-seller and “the most enduring account we have of teachers’ lives,” and discovers it’s out of print.

Noted Glenn Peters as one of very few male preschool teachers in New York. According to NPR, “barely 2 percent...

  1. College Board Senior Advisor and Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at Fordham Kathleen Porter-Magee talks to the Plain Dealer about the replacement for Ohio’s New Learning Standards as proposed in HB597. Sounds like an inevitable mess should the bill pass. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  2. Week Three of testimony on the aforementioned HB597 begins – and maybe ends? – today in the House Rules Committee. Editors in Canton opine again against the bill, calling the campaign against the Common Core in Ohio “misguided”. (Canton Repository)
  3. Something else that editors in Canton are supportive of: teacher evaluation. (Canton Repository)
  4. Yesterday, we told you of registration problems for dozens of students in Mansfield, an untold number of whom are still sitting at home days after school started. There was a veiled intimation in that piece that a closed charter school was to blame. Today, the veil is off and without evidence or numbers the district blames the charter – which closed back in June – for failing to send complete records. While I am sympathetic to the work that is created by incomplete records, a couple of questions come to mind: 1. How many of these students had their records given to the charter school from the district in the first place? 2. Why is it apparently considered “going the extra mile” to create temporary schedules for such students to get them out of their houses and into school? 3. Why doesn’t the district have a “new
  5. ...

Long before today’s education-reform movement was born, indeed long before A Nation at Risk, there was the Council for Basic Education (CBE), founded in 1956 by such notables as Jacques Barzun, Hyman Rickover, and Mortimer Smith. They believed, as do we, that “there is an intimate relationship between a healthy democracy and the ideal of excellence in education.”

For nearly half a century, CBE fought the good fight for excellence in American K–12 education, for rigorous standards, excellent teaching, and curriculum built upon serious content. For decades, it was very nearly the only voice to caution about the excesses of progressivism, relativism, and equity-at-the-expense-of-quality.

And for more than twenty years, from the dawn of special education to the enactment of Goals 2000, this invaluable organization was captained by A. Graham Down, who passed away on Saturday, a day after celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday at his beloved Cosmos Club.

Equipped with a plummy Oxbridge accent, as befits a superbly educated gentleman—history, music, education, and more—who moved to the U.S. from England at age twenty-five, Graham was as close to a Renaissance man as we have known in person. A dedicated and accomplished musician, widely read in many fields, a devotee of the humanities and the English language, a passionate education reformer, a raconteur and bon vivant, a tireless leader, fine writer, and owner of a grand sense of humor, his long career included stints as head of the College Board’s Advanced Placement program, book reviewer for Education Next,...


Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)

VIDEO: Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)

Elizabeth Green’s new book, Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone), takes a look at the science and art of being and building a great teacher. But policy questions abound: Can teacher-preparation programs churn out the number of effective new teachers our schools need every year? Should it be harder to become a teacher? Is the real issue “teacher quality” or “quality teaching”? And if the latter, what can governors and other policymakers do about it?

This is a conversation and discussion with Green on her new book and on what makes a great teacher—and great teaching.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s offer to subsidize full-day pre-K programs came with a number of strings attached, and many religious organizations are refusing to play along. The city is tying funding to, among other things, regulations on after-meal prayer, displays of religious symbols, and references to religious texts. Many faith-based preschools would, of course, benefit from some extra cash. But perhaps mindful of a certain sacred text’s condemnation of money as the “root of all sorts of evil,” some are advising caution.

Driven by high rates of youth unemployment and the Internet, vocational education may finally be poised for a revolution. Two big changes are eliminating the biggest culprits of stagnation—low status and a lack of innovation. Nineteen-year-old auto mechanics, for example, can out-earn not only college-graduate peers but the median pay of all U.S. workers. And competency-based education MOOCs are allowing prospective laborers to learn skills at their convenience and in whatever order or manner works best for their careers.

Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter, in a New York Times op-ed over the weekend, argued that socioeconomic diversity should be one of the cornerstones on which charter schools are built. Unfortunately, they’re only half right. Sure, we ought to support and encourage socioeconomically diverse charter schools. But defining charter schools by one or two specific characteristics misses the point. Different families have different priorities—and the entire basis of school choice is to give families different choices....


Approximately 1.85 million students—or 57 percent of the U.S. high school class of 2014— took the ACT in 2014. That’s an 18 percent uptick since 2010, despite the overall number of graduates decreasing by 3 percent. Twelve states boast a 100 percent participation rate; yet all of them, predictably, have composite scores below the national average of 21. The highest marks belong to states in which just 20–30 percent of graduates took the ACT: Massachusetts (composite score of 24.3), New Hampshire, and Connecticut (each with scores of 24.2). Diversity is also up. The proportion of test takers who are Hispanic has increased since 2010, while the percentage of white students sitting for the ACT has dropped. College readiness, as measured by the ACT, remains stagnant, and achievement gaps persist. Students who meet at least three out of four of the ACT’s subject-specific college-readiness benchmarks are deemed to have a good shot at success freshman year. In 2013, 53 percent of white students met the math benchmark, compared to a mere 14 percent of African American students and 29 percent Hispanic students. This year, numbers are down one percentage point for both white and Hispanic pupils, while African American kids still register a paltry 14 percent. The numbers are nearly identical for reading, with no more than a one-point change in any of the three groups. Worse yet, the report notes that a significant number of test-takers who say they plan to go to college fail to actually do so. In...


Two new studies add to the growing body of peer effects research that confirms what seems self-evident: learning alongside motivated, smart students enhances student outcomes. The first examines the peer effect on pre-K students diagnosed with a disability. Researchers measured student achievement among 670 students, roughly half with an IEP, in eighty-three classrooms in one Midwestern state, using teacher ratings of students’ language ability gains between the fall and spring of a single school year. IEP students appear apt to languish, language-wise, if enrolled in a low-skilled classroom; they do better when mainstreamed into heterogeneous settings. The second study uses Philadelphia public-schools data on nearly 35,000 elementary-school students who took the Stanford 9 exams during the mid- to late 1990s. The analyst employs a few different empirical strategies to untangle the true peer effect from other confounding factors. The main finding: elementary-school students in this urban district gained significantly when learning in a classroom with high-achieving peers, compared to similar students in an average classroom. The converse also applies. Students lost ground when placed in classrooms of lower average achievement. Interestingly, achievement also significantly increased in classrooms with more girls, even if the girls weren’t higher achieving. Predictably, achievement sank in classrooms containing more children with behavioral problems. As the proverb goes, iron sharpens iron—the research indicates that children stand to benefit when learning with suitable peers. Yet, as Daniel Willingham points out, it’s unclear whether enough well-mannered, high-aptitude students exist for all their peers who might benefit from...


This much-discussed study, published in the current edition of Education Next, finds that “oversubscribed charter schools” in Boston produce strong test-score gains but “do not improve students’ fluid cognitive skills.” Put another way, the study shows high-performing charters are getting great results improving “crystallized knowledge”—but fluid skills, not so much. Crystallized knowledge is prior knowledge—vocabulary, math facts, and bits of mental furniture. Fluid intelligence, in contrast, is your ability to think, reason, and solve problems. The two combine into overall cognitive ability. West and his colleagues report that “effective schools help their students achieve at higher levels than expected based on their fluid cognitive skills.” Bravo, charters. But wait. What does it mean if these putatively high-performing schools aren’t moving the needle on fluid skills? Jay P. Greene describes the finding as “potentially unsettling” and notes that, “if fluid skills really matter, ed reform is in a serious pickle” because reform efforts “appear to be increasingly emphasizing (and measuring) crystallized knowledge to the exclusion of fluid skills.” Enter University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham, who says the results are “fascinating, but they are also easy to misinterpret.” Researchers have long had a hard time finding evidence that fluid intelligence is malleable. It may simply be hard to improve, he notes. “So it’s inaccurate to interpret these results as showing that charters are making kids good at scoring well on math tests, but they haven’t really taught them math because they haven’t improved their cognitive skill,” Willingham writes....


Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham takes a second look at a much-discussed study that seems to indicate charter schools raise test scores, but not “fluid intelligence.” The results are “fascinating, but they are also easy to misinterpret,” he writes.

Boston is getting a “chief of education,” who will cultivate relationships with allschools in Boston—public, charter, parochial, and private—plus Boston’s colleges and universities—“although he will not have direct power over those institutions,” notes the Boston Globe.

Writing at Slate, Dana Goldstein says the school principal “just might be the most important figure in school reform.” But you already knew that.

California parents are deciding against vaccinating their kindergarten-age children at twice the rate they did seven years ago, the Los Angeles Times reports. Health experts say that’s contributing to the reemergence of measles.  

Seattle’s First Place Scholars today becomes the first charter school to open in the state of Washington.

TIME Magazine reports the San Francisco 49ers have a plan to bring in sixty kids a day from Bay Area schools for daylong STEM education programs, focusing on the engineering of stadium construction and the physics of football.

As Lee County, Florida opts out of opting out, Fordham’s Petrilli notes that school boards might take similar “symbolic actions,” but “at the end of the...