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For much of the 1970 and 80s, the educational future for black students looked bright: The gap between white and black students’ graduation rates was closing rapidly, dropping from 9.2 to 4.4 percentage points over nineteen years (and due mostly to a rise in black attainment). Had this rate of convergence continued, the black graduation rate would have been level with that of whites by the mid-1990s. But everything changed in 1986. Why? Authors of this recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper blame the “stalled progress” on one social phenomenon: the proliferation of crack-cocaine markets. The authors examine the impact of crack-cocaine markets in fifty-seven metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) on the black-white achievement gap, with a specific focus on the male achievement gap. Crack markets, the authors find, account for between 40 and 73 percent of the decline in achievement among black males by catalyzing a higher murder rate, a greater chance of incarceration, and more opportunities for employment outside of the “formal” sector (reducing the value of their education). Why, then, have achievement gains among black males not rebounded after the decline in crack cocaine-related violence in the early 2000s? The authors speculate that there may now exist a perverse relationship between prison-intake rates and lower educational attainment: while the former originally caused the latter, the latter could now be driving the former by pushing students to crime due to lack of opportunity. Heady research, fodder for much debate, and another example of the social constraints that...


Last week, Fordham and the ESC of Central Ohio welcomed Nate Levenson to the Buckeye State for a series of conversations with district and Educational Service Center superintendents, state policymakers, and education organizations that represent both traditional districts and charter schools. Levenson spoke about his ideas for making special education more efficient and of greater quality, which are laid out in his recent report Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio.

Throughout his time in Ohio, Levenson emphasized the following points:

1. The compliance-driven culture of special education needs to change. Compliance is ingrained deeply into the culture of special education. Because compliance is so worrisome for special education directors, it leads to perverse incentives; for example, the incentive to “over-identify” students as special needs and the incentive for special education training and professional development to focus on compliance rather than pedagogy and actual student learning.

2. Schools could become more efficient and provide higher-quality services by subcontracting special education services. Ohio’s Educational Service Centers, social service agencies, and non-profit and for-profit companies could provide a “dream team” of special education specialists that districts could bid for. Districts would therefore reduce the in-house cost of providing special education services by contracting these services to other partners.

3. Identifying kids as special needs doesn’t necessarily translate to better outcomes. When students are unnecessarily identified as special needs, it lowers expectations and may lead to educational complications, in the long-term. One example...


It is hard to argue against a group of disparate organizations working together to solve a longstanding problem. It suggests a collection of positive behaviors: joint identification of a challenge, consensus that it must be solved, a willingness to sublimate parochial interests for a greater good, and cooperation for the sake of others. Most importantly, it might actually increase the likelihood of success.

It is hard to argue against a group of disparate organizations working together to solve a longstanding problem.

This is the feel-good stuff of “collective impact,” a popular and growing approach to our most formidable and tangled societal puzzles. John Kania and Mark Kramer, both of consulting firm FSG, provide a clear definition and tight and persuasive argument for it in a recent article.

It is more than a consortium or a coalition. The lanes are narrower and the bonds are stronger. They write:

Collective impact (is) the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.

The lion’s share of their article is dedicated to describing the elements of that last sentence, which...


After Chicago: The future of teacher unions

After Chicago: The future of teacher unions

The membership of the Chicago Teachers Union approved a new contract last week but the legacy of the rancorous strike is far from settled. Did the experience prove Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker right? Will unions continue to impede reform—and add to costs—so long as state law gives them expansive collective bargaining and striking rights?

It’s all French to me

Rick and Mike pick apart an egregious example of Continental Achievement-Gap mania and take on differing proficiency goals based on student race and ethnicity. Amber asks if we’d be better off spending our edu-dollars in very different ways.

Amber's Research Minute

How Do Public Investments in Children Vary with Age? A Kids' Share Analysis of Expenditures in 2008 and 2011 by Age Group by The Urban Institute - Download PDF

A recent article in The Atlantic hit close to home, and it’s worth a little meditation from those of us who trade in the world of ideas, particularly in the online marketplace.

When we share, it’s actually self-serving.

The Selfish Meme reports on recent research that suggests that humans get a “neurochemical reward from sharing information, and a significantly bigger reward from disclosing their own thoughts and feelings than from reporting someone else’s.”

The part of the brain long known to respond to food, sex, and money also lights up when we, well, talk about ourselves and our views on the world.

The troubling paradox, of course, is that when we share (ostensibly a magnanimous act), it’s actually self-serving. I think I’m helping you, but I’m actually the one benefiting.

Interestingly, we talk about ourselves more when on online—via Facebook or Twitter, for example—than when we’re face-to-face. As one researcher pointed out, when we’re with someone, we can receive social cues (eye rolling, ending eye contact) telling us to cut it out, stop focusing on ourselves. But when you’re on a computer program that allows you to be on “transmit” instead of “receive,” you can publicly look inward with impunity.

The article ends with another unexpected paradox, that this mirror-gazing behavior might actually have both social and evolutionary utility. Yes, demonstrating naked self-fascination is personally pleasurable, but it also helps strengthen interpersonal bonds and enables others to learn information they might not come across otherwise.



Two Fordham Institute authors have new books out this fall and a pair of recent articles provided previews of these page-turners.

The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools

Diverse Schools Dilemma

Should middle-class families “flee to the homogenous suburbs for excellent schools or stay urban for diverse but often struggling schools?” That’s the “Diverse Schools Dilemma” at the heart of Mike Petrilli’s new book, profiled in today’s Washington Post. Mike argues that gentrification provides a unique opportunity to integrate America’s inner-city schools as families that once might have moved to the suburbs look to stay in the city when their children reach school-age. The article describes how Mike’s expertise as an education analyst and personal experience as a D.C.-area parent led him to grapple with the dilemma through the book, now available on Amazon.

Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools

Exam Schools

The Wall Street Journal reviewed Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica Hockett’s introduction to America’s “exam schools,” the 165 academically selective public high schools that enroll more than 100,000 of...


1984 in 2012?

Aaron Churchill drops by to explain Ohio’s attendance foibles and debate the merits of another kind of student tracking. Amber asks if super sub-groups are all that super.

Amber's Research Minute

Shining a Light or Fumbling in the Dark? The Effects of NCLB’s Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Student Achievement by Douglas Lee Lauen & S. Michael Gaddis for EEPA

Hi, my name is Andy. It’s been a while, so please allow me to introduce myself. I’ve got a feeling that with the proliferation of bloggers and tweeters since my departure, a quick recap is in order.

He's back...

When we first met, I was a relatively recently married young guy with no kids, living a quiet, happy life near Annapolis, Maryland. I used to do a little education policy stuff here and there. Then I took a break, and did a bit of thinking and research for a couple organizations, including here at TBFI. Spent lots of time at coffee shops with a laptop and headphones.

I also had this small side project that took a little time and is finally about to bear some fruit.

Then I went away for a couple years. Now I’m back on the scene, crispy and clean.

So, if you don’t mind, allow me to reintroduce myself.

I’m now a thirty-six-year-old father of three, including a two-year old and four-month-old twins. I have a minivan. I wash a lot of bottles. I am told by a little voice at my knee every time a truck drives by. Or the mailman. I’m also excellent at reading books...


After Board’s Eye View bid adieu last week, rumors have been swirling about who might be buzzing around Fordham’s blogs next. Well, the wait is almost over: On Monday, Gadfly’s latest blogger will debut (again?). A few hints about the mystery man's identity:

  • He’s a self-described sucker for charter schools, scatter plots, Google docs, and good Race to the Top analysis
  • No one does the education news roundup better
  • Who introduced the “nuclear option” to federal-education policy?

Give up? Come back Monday to find out.