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While this weekend had plenty of noteworthy education news, today I would like to note the passing of a friend of mine, Staley Keith, who made me understand something about schools and racism. He died just after the Center for Civil Rights Remedies released a troubling study on race and school suspensions and would have nodded knowingly had he seen it. Writes Gary Orfield, head of the Civil Rights Project, which published the study,

The findings in this study are deeply disturbing. Students who are barely maintaining a connection with their school often are pushed out, as if suspension were a treatment. The statistics on the use of suspension for African American and special education students are cause for great concern. We already know that African American males are disproportionately placed into categories of special education that are associated with extremely poor outcomes. We now see that these same students face incredibly high rates of suspension. Every dropout costs society hundreds of thousands of dollars over the student’s lifetime in lost income, and removing a large number of students from school undermines a community’s future. In a society that is incarcerating a large number of African American young men, with terrible consequences for their families and communities, these results are simply unacceptable. We can and must do better for young people whose future is at stake.

As Mike pointed out the other day, the report, called “Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion...

Flying squirrels!

After a week’s hiatus, Mike and Rick catch up on the Romney-Ryan merger, creationism in voucher schools, and the ethics of school discipline. Daniela explains teachers’ views on merit pay.

Amber's Research Minute

Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession by Sarah Rosenber and Elena Silva with the FDR Group - Download the PDF

Mitt Romney stirred a sleepy August news cycle into action on Saturday with his introduction of Congressman Paul Ryan as running mate. The choice awakened the blogosphere, recharged the mainstream media, and enlivened policy wonks across the political continuum. By allying with an unapologetic champion of smaller government—and deep budget cuts for practically everything that Washington has undertaken—Romney has rewritten the narrative for the rest of this election cycle. As Rick Hess notes, “selecting Ryan signals that the Romney campaign, by choice or by necessity, is going to wind up talking ideology.” It also means that education could yet play a more central role in this election than previously assumed. Consider Obama’s initial response, listing numerous education programs (including Head Start and college aid) that would be cut under the Ryan (now Romney-Ryan) budget. Hess further explains: “Education is where Obama can most cleanly argue that he’s for smart ‘investments’ and not just more borrowing and spending”—and where he can highlight bipartisan support for Race to the Top and his stance on charter schooling. The economy is still the diva of this election cycle. But education—which has been a sixth-tier understudy to date—now has a greater chance of seeing some stage time during the fall campaign.

SOURCE: “Ryan’s VP Nod: What’s It Mean for Education?,” by Rick Hess, Rick Hess Straight Up!, August 13, 2012.

You may also be interested in..."Paul Ryan and the education lobby's suicide march to fiscal oblivian," by Michael J. Petrilli...

Last week the Civil Rights Project reported that black students—especially those with disabilities—are suspended at much higher rates than their peers. But does this mean, as Arne Duncan has intimated, that these youngsters are victims of discrimination? The study found that black students were 3.4 times more likely to be suspended than white students. Jarring indeed. But consider this: Black adults are 5.8 times more likely to be in prison than whites. Yes, you can make a case that our justice system is also racist. But even if that’s so, nobody would argue that eliminating racism and discrimination would remove the disparity entirely. We understand that all manner of social pathologies—poverty, single parenthood, addiction, etc.—disproportionately impact the black community. Turning that situation around is the focus of many school reformers and other social entrepreneurs. In the meantime, however, we are not wrong to expect that those pathologies will lead to higher levels of crime. So it is with school discipline. Considering what many poor, black children are up against, is it really hard to believe that they might be 3.4 times more likely to commit infractions that carry a penalty of suspension from school? As the Civil Rights Project report itself admits, the data do not “provide clear answers” to the question: “Are blacks and others misbehaving more or experiencing discrimination?” That’s an important caveat that Secretary Duncan would be wise to remember.

A version of this analysis appeared on the Flypaper blog.

SOURCE:“Opportunities Suspended: The...

Much research contributes to the education-policy debate by adding insights on a particular topic. This latest from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center, on the other hand, is interesting for what it doesn’t say: notably, that compulsory school attendance (CSA) has any bearing on graduation rates. Authors compared states with a CSA age of eighteen to those with a CSA age of sixteen or seventeen. Overall, the latter group boasts a graduation rate 1 to 2 percentage points higher than the former—findings that hold when controlling for demographic factors as well. What’s more this slight advantage tracks over time as well: Between 1994-95 and 2008-09, states with a CSA age of sixteen or seventeen moved their graduation rates by 3 percentage points. Their counterparts with a CSA age of eighteen saw no improvement in grad rate. (Remember, these are correlated data: They don’t factor in exit-exam difficulty, graduation requirements, etc.) Further, from a policy perspective, the authors find that few states are able to ensure compliance with mandated changes to CSAs. Which makes one wonder: If compulsory school attendance doesn’t move the needle on graduation rates (and, in fact, is associated with states with lower rates of high school completion) and it isn’t feasibly enforced, why have policymakers—President Obama included—made it such a focal issue?

SOURCE: Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst and Sarah Whitfield, Compulsory School Attendance: What Research Says and What It Means for State Policy (Washington, D.C.: Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, August 2012)....

Almost anyone in the field of education can tell you improving the quality of life for children is a multi-faceted endeavor. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book is testament to that fact. It explores four dimensions of child well-being at the national and state level: economic, education, health, and family and community. This year’s data book methodology expands last year’s, and divides it into the four dimensions to allow a closer look at education and family and community factors.

In the aftermath of “the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression,” the authors provide some interesting discoveries about our nation’s children. Overall national trends suggest that despite the impact of difficult economic times on children in the United States, things are slowly improving. Both child health and education have seen overall improvement. For child health, the number of children without health insurance has decreased by 20%. In education, areas such as 4th and 8th grade proficiency and on-time high school graduation have improved in recent years at the national level. 

Expectedly, economic well-being decreased for children after the recession, but initiatives like Race to the Top’s (RTTT) Early Learning Challenge and local programs that support children are attempting to curb the damage in my opinion. Specifically, Ohio’s $70 million RTTT initiative focuses primarily on kindergarten readiness and high quality, accountable programming. The Data Book ranked Ohio 18 of 50 states in its education factors; an encouraging point for our recent wave of policy changes. However,...

The U.S.A. is having another great Olympics, with ninety medals so far, thirty-nine of them gold—best in the world in both categories. Only curmudgeons and cynics shrink from feeling pride and patriotism when watching so many young Americans on the podium, singing along to the Star-Spangled Banner.

At the same time, the comparison to America’s lackluster academic performance is almost irresistible—witness Michelle Rhee’s cheeky TV ad or Bob Wise’s coverage from London and Singapore (or, yes, Fordham’s own “Education Olympics” stunt from four years ago).

But there’s a flaw of logic in such comparisons. It’s not exactly fair to contrast the performance of our elite athletes—the .0001 percent—with the performance of our students as a whole (the 100 percent). We should either compare elite athletes to elite students, or our average athletes to our average students.

I’m not sure how you’d do the latter (though I find it hard to believe that Americans in general would do well in an international ranking of physical fitness). But here’s a crack at the former.

First let’s show the Olympic medal count:

Source: ESPN

And now let’s show international rankings for the percentage of students scoring at the most advanced level of the PISA. (This is from Fordham’s 2011 report, American Achievement in International Perspective.)

So there you have it: As suspected, America’s elite athletes are among the world’s best, and our elite students are...

Regular readers know that I’m a father of two young boys—and that my adventures in parenthood have changed more than a few of my views on education reform. (This appears to be a common experience among policy wonks.) Well, here’s another shift: I used to agree with George Will and other small-government conservatives that Uncle Sam has no business subsidizing children’s television on PBS. But no longer. If anything, I’ve come to believe that is a sweet spot for federal involvement in education.

Nick Jr. and Disney Jr. offer mostly burgers and fries; PBS provides a tasty spinach salad.

Will’s argument is straightforward: The market is more than capable of providing children’s programming on its own—just look at Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. But there’s the rub: Stack those commercial stations up against PBS Kids and there’s no contest when it comes to academic content and quality. Nick Jr. and Disney Jr. offer mostly burgers and fries; PBS provides a tasty spinach salad.

The best PBS shows in my view—and my elder son’s!—actually teach something. Not something vague like “reasoning skills” but something concrete like science! Yes, his favorite shows are Sid the Science Kid and Wild Kratts, a very clever program about wildlife. At four and a half, he can’t read yet, but he can learn a ton about our world—and with his curiosity on overdrive, he’s eager to learn and learn and learn.

Other PBS shows are strong on content knowledge too, especially Dinosaur Trains...

When Jesus said (according to Matthew), “the poor you will always have with you,” he might have added, “and so too the debate about whether schools can educate them.” Paul Peterson has written one of the better essays on the seemingly interminable battle between those who believe that you have to cure the poor before you can educate them and those who believe that educating the poor will help cure poverty.

But there is some good news to report: The pendulum might be swinging, ever-so-slightly, toward the believers (in school).

The pendulum might be swinging, ever-so-slightly, toward the believers (in school).

First, Del Stover reports that a summer session of the Council on Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) concluded that “[t]ending to children’s social, emotional needs [is an] important part of delivering education.” It’s the “part of” part that is encouraging; the source of the problem of educating the poor may be outside the schools, but the solution is inside the schools. The CUBE seminar, according to Stover, included a presentation by Barbara Cavallo, head of Partnership with Children, a New York City social services agency. Cavallo described the many challenges (to learning, to life, to everything) faced by poor children—and what schools could do to overcome them. Cavallo’s counselors, according to Stover, “work with teachers and principals to develop a school-wide plan to create a safe and supportive school climate.”

And, according to Stover, the training is paying the kind of dividends that school reformers have...

Winning the gold for gab

Mike and Rick ponder public perceptions of education spending and whether it’s Rick—not teachers—who needs a dress code. Amber explains why penalty pay works.

Amber's Research Minute

Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment by Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Steven D. Levitt, John List, and Sally Sadoff - Download the PDF