Additional Topics

Mike seems to have touched off a flurry of discussion (or at least landed in the middle of it) about meritocracy with his “Can schools spur social mobility?” essay from last week, which was prompted by a recent appearance at Fordham by Charles Murray, to talk about his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Simultaneously, Chris Hayes was getting attention for his new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. There followed two pieces by David Brooks (“Why Our Elites Stink” and “The Opportunity Gap”), a report from the Pew Foundation (“American Dream”), Jason DeParle’s page-one story in last Sunday’s Times (“Two Classes, Divided by `I Do’”), followed by some good piling on by journalism professor Thomas Edsall, also in the Times, who takes out after Mitt Romney for suggesting we have a “merit-based society.”

Shake It, Start Over

I’m sure there was more, but the gist of the current hand-wringing is the news that the nation is no longer the equal opportunity society it once was. The social mobility gap is growing while our faith in boot-strap capitalism, where hard work (i.e., merit) can get you a spot at the table of the elite, is waning. My concern, at least with...

Mike is from Mars; Kathleen is from Venus

Kathleen and Mike wonder how to hold states accountable in twenty-seven different ways and debate whether gender-specific curricula make sense. Amber dives deep into census data on edu-spending.

Amber's Research Minute

Public Education Finances Report - United States Census

Guest blogger Candice Santomauro is a parent of District of Columbia Public Schools students and director of development at GreatSchools.

In 2008, what little I knew about D.C. education came from a Time magazine article, the one with the now-infamous cover featuring Michelle Rhee with a broom. Sitting comfortably in my Florida home with my children safely ensconced in a posh private school, I remember thinking how sad it was that the situation was so dire for the children of our nation’s capital. But we were white, made good money, and lived in the suburbs, and Washington’s challenges seemed a world away.

I remember thinking how sad it was that the situation was so dire for the children of our nation’s capital.

Fast-forward to 2009, our lives turned upside down by the economic tumble, exacerbated in Central Florida by a huge housing bubble having burst and the diminishing space program, we found ourselves relocating to D.C. I accepted a position with a small private school in Southeast Washington, ironically just a few blocks from some of the schools profiled in the Time article.

My then-seven year old would attend there as well, as we had known nothing else but private schools, and her tuition was a perk of working at the school. This private school was different, though, as it was 100 percent African American, attended by many D.C. Opportunity Scholarship recipients and children of low-income families whose tuition was supported by external foundations and private donations.


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