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GadflyWhen a Michigan House committee approved a measure that would allow students to skip Algebra 2 if they instead take a technical-education course, the Wolverine State became the latest to question the necessity of that much-debated high school course. Last month, Florida created two paths to a high school diploma, one of which excludes Algebra 2 altogether. The arguments in favor of such moves are persuasive—but what will this mean for Common Core, which requires all students to meet math objectives that include the substance of Algebra 2? This is certainly a matter to watch.

The UFT hosted a veritable panderpalooza last weekend, featuring five Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City taking turns praising the union and blasting charter schools in a shameless effort to win the union’s support. Dennis Walcott, the city’s schools chancellor, announced that he was “appalled” at their remarks. Still, while Gadfly finds such events distasteful, he cannot claim to be surprised when New York politicians resume their traditional habits.

Two excellent Wall Street Journal opinion pieces got down to the core of why conservatives ought to support the Common Core. Edward Frenkel and Hung-Hsi Wu, both professors of mathematics, praised the Core for setting tough benchmarks in that key subject. Sol Stern and Joel Klein commended the standards...

The Obama administration has shown commitment to evidence-based policies through its Head Start reforms, programs to reduce teen pregnancy, and efforts to boost parenting skills; it is time to show the same commitment for college-readiness programs, argues this policy brief. The brief, which accompanies the latest Future of Children journal issue, argues that the federal government’s major efforts to better prepare disadvantaged pupils for post-secondary education have yielded no rigorous proof of success. Yet we annually pump $1 billion into the so-called “TRIO programs” (Upward Bound, Talent Search, Student Support Services, and a few smaller programs). In order to streamline efforts—and to ensure program efficacy—the brief authors suggest that Congress consolidate all federal spending in this realm into a single competitive-grant program and fund a broad variety of intervention approaches (tutoring, counseling, and instruction) run by an array of proven providers. The long-time recipients of TRIO dollars will naturally hate this reform, but what’s the point of programs that don’t accomplish their objectives? A tough-minded approach might finally narrow the vast college-enrollment gap between the nation’s poorest and richest students.

SOURCE: Ron Haskins and Cecilia Elena Rouse, “Time for Change: A New Federal Strategy to Prepare Disadvantaged Students for College” (Princeton-Brookings, The Future of Children Journal, vol. 23: no. 1, Spring 2013)....

Relinquishment is based on three principles: (1) educators should operate schools, (2) families should choose amongst these schools, and (3) government should hold schools accountable for performance and equity.

Outside of these three principles, I hold few ironclad beliefs on education. Yet in conversation, I find that others attribute principles to Relinquishment that I don’t hold. This probably stems from a lack of clear communication on my part, so let me provide additional clarity:

Relinquishment is not anti-union

Relinquishment is a reaction against management, not labor. Admittedly, I disagree with certain policies put forth by unions and their members, but individuals should possess the right to collectively bargain with their employers. Relinquishment only posits that the government should not be a party to the bargain; rather, the bargaining parties should be union and school operator. From here, results will dictate the future of unions. If unionized schools thrive, unions themselves will also thrive. I do understand that, from an organizing standpoint, unionizing decentralized charter schools will be more difficult than signing a singular collective bargaining contract with the district—but I do not believe this issue should trump the more salient issue of academic performance.

Relinquishment assumes equity in access is not the natural state of school systems

People concerned about ensuring that all public school students have equitable access to great schools often suggest that the best solution is to (1) force all kids into one system and (2) have that one operator allocate students to maximize equity. This rarely...

Dear Deborah,

Thanks for inviting me to join you on your blog. Even though we disagree on many issues, I have great respect for you and the work you've done in your career.

As I write this, I'm returning from the Education Writers Association annual conference, held this year at Stanford. I spoke on a panel about the "opportunity gap" with professors Sean Reardon and Prudence Carter. Reardon, as you know, recently published a fascinating but sobering study about the growing income achievement gap. (ASCD's Educational Leadership has an accessible version of the study available online.) And Carter co-edited the new volume, Closing the Opportunity Gap.

What Professor Reardon's research shows is that, over the last 60 years, the achievement gap between the nation's poorest and richest students has widened dramatically. That's true of both test scores and college attainment.

Opportunity gap
It's not that poor children are falling behind the middle class. It's that the richest students are breaking away from everybody else.
Photo by John-Morgan

This finding is not surprising for people who have been paying attention, but what is surprising is where the gap lies. It's not that poor children are falling behind the middle class—they're not. It's that the richest students are breaking away from everybody else.

Why is this happening? Here...

I’m thrilled to announce that next week, I’m launching a new feature called “By the Company It Keeps,” here on Fordham’s family of blogs.

It’ll be a weekly interview series spotlighting the work of some of our field’s most interesting and valuable contributors.  Generally, each week’s Q&A will be based on a recent event, like the publication of a noteworthy study, a significant personnel move, or the announcement of a major initiative.

In short, you’ll get from-the-horse’s-mouth facts on a timely story.

But we’ll quickly veer into other areas. You might see reflections on the subject’s career, a funny revelation, or personal goals. Or something completely different.

One of my objectives—and I suppose this goes for all interviewers—is to straddle the line between informative and entertaining.  We should learn some stuff while smiling along the way.

But I have another purpose, and it’s suggested by the title of this series.

Years ago, at what I believe was the first or second Yale SOM Education Leadership Conference, I was asked to moderate a panel. I was struggling mightily to come up with some clever or, at very least, amusing icebreaker.

You see, it was all very intimidating. It was Yale, for goodness sake. The audience was chock-full of sophisticates wearing tweed and scowls. My panel was charged with holding forth on some heady topic, the conference organizers were looking on, and—hand to God, this is true—the sharp, take-no-prisoners politico-journalist Alexander Russo was crouched near a wall, hands...

Interval training for ed-policy wonks

Mike and Dara chat about the open-source school district, mayoral hopeful Quinn’s G&T proposal, and teacher equivocation on Common Core preparedness. Amber’s got some bad news about the nation’s community colleges.

Amber's Research Minute

What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? The Mathematics and English Literacy Required of First Year Community College Students by National Center on Education and the Economy, (Washington, D.C.: National Center on Education and the Economy, May 2013)

Should Everyone Go To College?With backpacks full of student debt and too few job opportunities to go around, things are looking bleaker for today’s college graduates. So what to tell the next generation? According to this brief from the Brookings Institution (and some notable others), although college graduates still make more money over their lifetimes than their peers with only a high school diploma, one important fact receives far too little attention: Not all college degrees or graduates are equal. The authors look at variations in monetary returns to education along three dimensions: school selectivity, field of study and career, and graduation rates. The findings? First, selectivity matters; highly selective private schools have high returns on investment (ROIs). But among the less-selective options, public schools are the wiser call (because they are cheaper). Second, the authors highlight the earnings disparities between career tracks, noting that STEM majors far and away outpace others in terms of earnings potential. One telling example: The lifetime earnings of education or arts majors in the service sector are lower than the average earnings of a high school graduate. (Of course, that’s also a sorry commentary on teacher pay.) Third, students who stop along the way and fail to procure a degree incur costs without payoffs. Fewer than 60 percent of those who enter four-year schools end up...

GadflyOur Gadfly readers won’t be surprised that in India, where a quarter or more public school teachers are absent at any given time, the demand for quality education among the poor has created a thriving market of private schools. Some think tanks, such as the Economist-profiled Centre for Civil Society, and provincial governments are running voucher experiments—with encouraging results. But as the Economist points out, the Indian government, which has proven to be innovative in some areas like health care, remains mulish in its opposition to private schools, designing rules apparently aimed at their eradication. For the sake of their nation’s children, we urge them to reevaluate.

A new NCTQ study finds that during the Great Recession, forty of the fifty largest school districts froze or cut teacher pay at least once between 2007 and 2012. Still and all, teacher pay did rise, if only slightly, over that five year period. The trends were “on par with almost all of the comparable professions” they assessed. Fascinatingly, Chicago clocked in with the highest pay raises (6.5 percent).

Christine Quinn, a front-runner for mayor of the Big Apple, has proposed addressing inequities in that city’s excellent but far too small gifted-and-talented program by creating 8,700 new spots over nine years. Additionally, she suggested allowing students from disadvantaged backgrounds to seek admission by way of teacher recommendations, rather than...

Jane S. Shaw

Michael Petrilli is absolutely right that many Pell grant recipients aren’t ready for college and would be better off doing something else. One sign of poor preparation is the need to take remedial classes in college, and Petrilli recommends that students enrolled in such courses not be given Pell money.

The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy (which I head) offers a somewhat different solution to the same problem. We believe that the federal government should inject an element of merit into the selection of Pell grantees. Thus, in a paper on Pell grants, Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston recommend that Pell-grant recipients have SAT scores of at least 850 (verbal and math) and a high school GPA of at least 2.5 (between a C and a B).

“Not only would this save taxpayer money, it would provide a positive incentive for students to do better in school,” they write. “Students with very low high school academic performance are unlikely to graduate from college regardless of financial aid.”

The two solutions are similar, of course. As we see it, the advantage of our proposal is that it’s an objective standard that would be easy to enforce. Under Petrilli’s proposal, I would worry (as he does) about colleges renaming remedial courses as “regular” courses, something that may already be happening.

The SAT score we recommend, 850, isn’t high. According to the College Board, in order to have a 65 percent chance of...

Philly’s Schools Phuture?

During the research for my book, one of the most interesting and depressing tidbits I uncovered was that the handful of high-performing, high-poverty traditional public schools described in No Excuses had not been grown by their districts. The central recommendation of my book is that the “four principles of chartering” should be applied across all three sectors; that includes growing great schools of all types (charter, private, and district). Charter growth has been happening via CMOs for more than a decade now, but the Philadelphia Schools Partnership has found a number of district schools to expand. Interesting development.

Addressing Non-urban Poverty

It appears that, slowly but surely, the education-reform community is paying more and more attention to the needs of low-income kids in rural areas (more on this from Bellwether soon). For years now, the primary focus has been on America’s cities. Maybe it should come as no surprise that Teach for America is stepping forward; TFA has long had a number of non-urban outposts. Its new program is designed to train TFA alum for school leadership positions in rural America. This is a tiny program, at least initially, but it’s a start.  Good luck, and well done.

Impervious to Competition?

Probably the bitterest pill I’ve had to swallow as a conservative ed reformer is that competition (from charters and choice programs) has had a positive but negligible influence on urban school districts. Ten years...

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