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If you missed “A Back-To-School Conversation About Education” on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show with education secretary Arne Duncan and a panel of experts (including our own Mike Petrilli), here are the key takeaways:

  • Arne Duncan slams U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of U.S. colleges and talks up the Administration’s alternative;
  • Our Twitter klout score is nothing compared to Arne Duncan’s, something I was reminded of when guest host Susan Page asked about Duncan’s Tweet-heard-round-the-world on letting high school kids sleep later;
  • It’s possible Duncan overslept himself, since he was “not familiar” with the DOJ’s lawsuit against the Louisiana voucher program (yeah, right);
  • It’s bipartisan love when Duncan gives a shout out to Mike’s work on diversity in education and Mike is said to be more positive on Duncan than the liberal panelist (Richard Rothstein)
  • Mike gives his view on Common Core: the Feds should stay out, it’s state-led, and content is back, baby!

Listen to the recording here....

Behind the rise of Bill de Blasio in the race for New York City Mayor is his proposal to raise taxes (mainly on the rich) to pay for universal pre-K throughout the city. More schools for toddlers is always a winning campaign promise and, as de Blasio is right to assert, states and cities need to do better at preparing their youngest and most at-risk children to succeed in school. Pre-K today in New York, as in most places, is a fragmented potpourri of private and public programs—some very good, others not so much. For every Abbott Preschool Program, there is a Head Start center that does little to help children once they matriculate into elementary school. (I was once a student teacher at a Head Start site in New Orleans and saw both sides of the coin.)

Bill de Blasio photo from Wikipedia

If the goal of de Blasio is to close the achievement gap, stymieing the gap in a child’s formative years is much more rational strategy than waiting to combat the gap once it exists. For...

Note: This post is part of our Netflix Academy series. See background, and links to other educational videos worth streaming, here.

I love the dinosaur stage. Love, love, love. And when your child is ready to graduate from Dinosaur Train and take in some lifelike depictions of prehistoric monsters, this is where to start.

Walking with Dinosaurs is hard to beat, as are its cousins, Walking with Monsters (pre-dinosaur animals) and Walking with Beasts (post-dinosaur). The entire Walking series has a great narrative and is dominated by lifelike scenes of animals in action. The rest of these shows focus more on modern-day paleontologists—a great window into science but a tougher sell for short attention spans.

If I’ve missed something good that’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime, please let me know in the comments section.

Best dinosaur videos available for streaming

1. Walking with Dinosaurs

Walking with Dinosaurs

Using cutting-edge computer-generated imagery, this Emmy Award–winning series brings to life the Cretaceous, Triassic, and Jurassic periods, focusing on individual dinosaurs, or dinosaur families, to show the ever-changing Earth through their eyes.

Length:...

The rapid gentrification of many large American cities represents a triumph and an opportunity for Republicans—a triumph because it was mainly Republican ideas (welfare reform, aggressive crime-fighting tactics, pro-growth policies) that set the trend in motion, and an opportunity because the wealthier and (frankly) whiter new residents are more likely to vote for the GOP.

Cities are for strivers

Yet a natural Republican constituency—parents with children—continues to exit cities once their kids reach school age. This is bad for Republicans, to be sure, but it’s also bad for cities, as much capital—human, social, and financial—decamps for the suburbs and beyond.

So why are twenty-something, single city-dwellers turning into thirty- and forty-something, suburban moms and dads? It’s education, stupid: the paucity of high-quality urban public schools.

Some hope that current education-reform efforts—raising standards, holding teachers accountable, and creating more charter schools—could help persuade these parents to keep the faith with big cities. And they might, at the margins. But most of these efforts don’t address the fundamental challenge that urban schools face: the diversity of their student population.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean racial or ethnic diversity,...

Amanda Ripley delivers a familiar admonishment to a new generation of Americans: The (mediocre) schools we have are the schools we deserve. In her first—and quite excellent—book on education, Ripley skillfully communicates this message through the experiences of teenaged U.S. exchange students inserted into three countries—Finland, South Korea, and Poland—for one year. All three countries have made recent leaps and bounds in educational achievement, and all three approach education in different ways: Finland’s “Utopia” model relies on highly trained, autonomous teachers and effective school choice. South Korea’s “Pressure Cooker” approach demands hard work in an ultra-competitive environment. And Poland’s “Metamorphosis,” which began in the late 1990s, focuses on rigor; accountability; high expectations; and district, school, and classroom autonomy. So with her veteran-journalist cap firmly in place, the author visits each of the three students in their host countries to compare their experiences—and perhaps gain insight as to why American students have lost ground. According to Ripley, American culture is a root cause of our education failings, including what parents want in a school, what kids learn at home, or officials’ unwillingness (or inability) to change teacher training, accountability systems, and curriculum. For instance, unlike the Finnish, we shield...

The Washington Post (and many others) roundly decried the Department of Justice’s petition to disallow Louisiana from awarding vouchers to students in public schools under federal desegregation orders. Surely it’s folly to block students (mainly black and all poor) from escaping failing schools to which they would otherwise be condemned—and it’s outrageous to claim that this is good for civil rights. As 90 percent of the kids benefiting from Louisiana’s voucher program are African American, Gadfly cannot help but suspect political motives. We join the chorus: Shame on the Department of Justice for standing between disadvantaged children and their education dreams.

Massachusetts, with the nation’s highest-performing school system, models the power of comprehensive standards-based reform. As noted by the New York Times, the Bay State’s standards—like the Common Core—refrain from prescribing curriculum and pedagogy, meaning that teachers decide how to get their pupils across the finish line. There’s far more to the Massachusetts story, of course, including a higher bar, more money, charter schools, individual student-level accountability and tougher requirements to enter teaching. But it’s a story worth telling and retelling.

As the time...

Always a bridesmaid edition

Mike and Michelle join the WaPo in decrying the DOJ’s anti-voucher antics and debate who’s worse: private school parents or those who settle for failing schools. With Amber off saying “I do,” Dara takes over the research minute with a tale of unfair teacher-pension policies.

Amber's Research Minute

Better Pay, Fairer Pensions: Reforming Teacher Compensation by Josh McGee and Marcus A. Winters, Center for State and Local Leadership, Civic Report No. 79 (New York, NY: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, September 2013).

Want to turn TV time into learning time? As I explain in greater detail below, free streaming videos from services like Netflix and Amazon are a boon to parents committed to a well-rounded education for their children—and not opposed to a little screen time on occasion.

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For the past several months I’ve been curating the best kid-friendly movies and shows available on major educational topics. Check them out and let me know what you think. (If there’s no link, it means that topic is still coming.)

Science

  1. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals
  2. Fish and other aquatic animals
  3. Insects
  4. Frogs and other amphibians
  5. Reptiles
  6. Birds
  7. Mammals
  8. Human evolution
  9. Earthquakes and volcanos
  10. Outer space
  11. Systems of the human body

Literature

  1. Classic children's books (movie adaptations)
  2. American folk heroes

U.S. History

  1. Native American cultures
  2. Age of exploration and discovery of America
  3. Colonial America and the revolutionary war
  4. George Washington and other founders
  5. Lewis &
  6. ...

If you’re itching for some edu-reading over the long weekend (what else would you do while grilling?), here are some suggestions.

I admire my Fordham colleagues because they have a way of coming up with the most interesting subjects to study, and they often come up with unintuitive findings. Such is the case with their latest report, What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs. You really ought to give this a read. There’s big overlap among parents’ interests, but not surprisingly different types of parents have different interests. TBFI was able to flesh out some market niches—parents who prioritized preferences that other parents found less important. If you’re a parent of a school-aged child or plan to be some day, you’ll almost certainly find the study illuminating (my wife and I took the quiz to make sure we’re aligned…whew, yes!). One big takeaway for me is that our longstanding system of residence-based school assignments just doesn’t make sense. If we want to address the interests and needs of students and their families, we need a system of schools where parents can choose from an array of options.

If you care about systemic reform in urban schooling, you have...

Preschool policy is a fragmented hodgepodge, writes Andrew Karch, as he traces early-education policy since the 1970s. He starts with President Nixon’s veto of the Comprehensive Child Development Act—for some, a missed opportunity; for others, the beginning of the private and public program-mix we have today. Karch doesn’t focus on the effectiveness of this patchwork system (for that, read Reroute the PreSchool Juggernaut), but he’s not surprised that policymakers remain dissatisfied. The current system is the result of stakeholders protecting their entrenched interests and the status quo. True, they support tweaks—just as long as their own policy sphere is not changed; so most reforms efforts—a la President Obama—run amuck and we are left with the stasis we have today. (This more-than-obvious explanation could be used to describe any policy debate underway in Congress and many of our state houses.) Still, readers interested in early education or public-policy development at large would be wise to peruse this book for its insight into how we got the policies we have today and why we see so much paralysis in attempts to reform them.

SOURCE: Andrew Karch, Early Start: Preschool Politics in the United States (Ann Arbor, MI: University...

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