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Is American Education Coming Apart? A Lunchtime Lecture with Charles Murray

Is American Education Coming Apart?

For all the talk of gaps in achievement, opportunity, and funding between ethnic and racial groups in American education, a different divide may also be splitting our schools and our future. In his acclaimed and controversial recent book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, scholar/pundit/provocateur Charles Murray describes a widening class schism. On Tuesday, June 26, he will deliver a lecture on what that divide means for U.S. schools and education policy.

What does it portend for student achievement? For diversity within schools and choices among them? Is our education system equipped to serve a society separated by social class?

Curriculum nerds

Kathleen Porter-Magee makes her podcast debut, debating reading requirements with Mike and explaining why the new science standards need improvement. Amber wonders whether upper-elementary teachers outshine their K-2 peers.

Amber's Research Minute

School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School by Sarah C. Fuller & Helen F. Ladd - Download PDF

Much of the focus of contemporary education reform is on helping disadvantaged kids overcome the effects of poverty. This new book, by The Global Achievement Gap author Tony Wagner, doesn’t much go there. Instead, it gives advice to parents (presumably mostly affluent ones) about how to encourage their children’s creative juices. The premise is that America needs to foster more innovation and grow more entrepreneurs—both the STEM and social varieties—to remain globally competitive. Drawing on 150 interviews (and ten case studies of young innovators), Wagner argues that play, passion, and purpose must dominate one’s growth (through childhood and into college). The book is a lively read (helped by its companion videos, which can be accessed via QR codes throughout the text). And Wagner does make some valuable points, mostly aimed at higher education as well as parents. (K-12 education acts as an understudy.) He exalts disruptive innovation, calls for abolishing “publish or perish” tenure determinations for professors, concedes that content cannot be drowned in an effort to boost process skills, and posits an interesting charter-like reboot of college education. All worthy. But Wagner sort of skirts the class issues: The majority of young people profiled in his book have prosperous, supportive, and engaged parents. (He does profile two exceptionally gifted underprivileged youth—both also living in supportive homes.) Waldorf parents, Montessori moms, and Koala dads will find much to agree with in these pages, and...

Bah humbug

Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.

Amber's Research Minute

The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment - National Center for Education Statistics

Catching up on some reading, I discovered some stories that may be old news to some of you, but merit a second look:


Oh, the pineapple.
 Photo by Richard North.

I would like to skip this one, so named for the test question used by a big testing company, Pearson, and subsequently used by a number of states, including New York, for its 8th-grade English language arts exams, that asked kids to analyze a story adapted from one written by popular children’s book author Daniel Pinkwater about a “race” between a hare and a pineapple. Leave it to the intrepid Leonie Haimson, the anti-testing and class size matters pit bull, to uncover this dastardly deed, issue a scathing condemnation that “The ONLY right answer is Pearson; for getting paid $32 million from NY State for these recycled, annoying and pointless exams,” and force the NYS education commissioner to discount the answers on the pineapple test question. The horror of it. Wrote Ms. Haimson a few weeks later, in the New York Times: “…few people who heard about a test question involving a talking pineapple could help but question the judgment of those who would include this material on a standardized test used to determine the future of children and schools.” There is but one reply to Ms....

The other day, I posted a list of the 25 “fastest-gentrifying” zip codes in the U.S.—a list that generated a great deal of commentary. Now I’m back with a new, improved, and expanded list; give it a look and let me know what patterns jump out at you.

Gentrification 2000-2010
* Non-Hispanic White

With the new list, I’ve tried to address several complaints that readers lodged against me (and the post), most of them fair. First, many were upset that I equated “gentrification” with a significant increase in the white share of a neighborhood’s population. In my defense, I did admit that looking at the numbers by race was far from perfect—gentrification is a socio-economic issue—but census income data by zip code are not yet available for 2010. Still, I chose to use the “gentrification” word, and it’s reasonable to point out its inaccuracy. (I didn’t even contemplate using the term “whitened”—what is this, Crest Toothpaste?—as some in the media did.)

Second, I failed to look at the population numbers for these zip codes, and as a result I included several that had tiny populations—phantom zip codes really. That included Columbia (SC)’s 29202, Chicago’s 60604, Roanoke’s 24011, and Dallas’s 75247, all of which had 2010 populations of less than 1,000. That was a rookie mistake.

So with the...

Rick fades in the fourth quarter

Mike and Rick ponder the future of teacher unions and the College Board while Amber provides the key points from a recent CDC study and wonders if the kids are alright after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011 by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Seesawing between sobering and encouraging, this eighth edition of Education Week’s Diplomas Count annual report illuminates the educational attainment of America’s Latino population—a sometimes neglected group with the fastest growing share of our nation’s classroom seats. And it comes none too soon. If public education is to improve over the next ten years, more attention must be paid to the 12.1 million Latino pupils (among 54 million total students) currently in the U.S. schools. (By 2020, Latinos are slated to comprise a quarter of the nation’s school children.) We learn that this group has made noteworthy strides in graduation rates—up 1.7 percentage points from 2008 to 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available) and 5.5 percentage points over the prior decade. Still, despite these big bumps, Latinos’ graduation rate is 10 percentage points lower than the national average meaning that we have a daunting hike ahead. And, as Ed Week’s authors explain, doing ELL education right will offer a big boost up this mountain.

SOURCE: Education Week, Diplomas Count 2012: Trailing Behind, Moving Forward (Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education, June 2012).

A little census data can spark a big conversation. On Monday, Mike Petrilli posted a list of the twenty-five zip codes that saw the greatest increase in the white share of their population between 2000 and 2010. The neighborhoods were located in some of the usual suspects when it comes to gentrification (Brooklyn and D.C), but also included a few surprises (Chattanooga?), and writers have been quick to delve into what’s happening.

The Atlantic Cities’ Nate Berg pointed out that Roanoke, VA’s shift has more to do with development in previously lowly populated areas than gentrification and noted that the Columbus, SC zip code in question was composed entirely of post office boxes. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias discussed the implications of demographic changes for school integration.

While writers in San Diego, Dallas, and St. Paul showed interest in what was happening in their hometowns, most of the conversation centered on the two communities with the most zip codes on the list: Washington and New York. Posts from The Atlantic Wire, New York magazine, Gothamist, Business Insider, and am New York profiled the four Brooklyn neighborhoods Mike highlighted, while Washington Post blogger...

Ed Note (6/14/12): Be sure to see Mike's expanded list, "The 50 zip codes with the largest growth in white population share, 2000-2010"

For the past several years I’ve been obsessed with the issue of gentrification. Mostly that’s because of a book I’ve been writing about diverse public schools. What’s clear is that gentrification—for all of its downsides—is providing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to integrate some of our schools—at least if we don’t let it go to waste.

So I was curious: Which communities in the U.S. are witnessing the greatest amount of gentrification? I started poking around Census Bureau data (with the assistance of some colleagues and the Census Bureau’s excellent help line) and here’s what I found. I looked at zip codes (which isn’t perfect, because boundaries can change) and places with a large increase in the white share of the population (which isn’t perfect, because you’d really want to look at changes in income levels, but those data aren’t available yet for 2010). With those caveats in mind, take a look:

Gentrification 2000-2010
* Non-Hispanic White

† These zip codes had a 2010 total population of less than 1,000. (Updated 6/12/12)

I’m not an expert on gentrification (education policy is my beat) but I was surprised by the list. I expected...