The new "Condition of Education" report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics offers fresh evidence as to why some American kids need more and better preschooling but the "universal" approach is wrong. Fifty-five percent of three- and four-year-olds are already in preschool (2007), up from 47 percent in 1994 (See Indicator 1). Moreover, 33% of four-year-olds are proficient at "letter recognition" and 65% at "numbers and shapes" (See Indicator 3). Thirty-nine percent of four-year-olds are read to daily by a family member--and 50% are sung to (See Indicator 2). Not everybody, it seems clear, needs more than they're already getting. But some do. Among kids in poverty, African-Americans and those whose parents have less than a high-school education,??just one in five is read to at home on a daily basis. And proficient "letter recognition" among four-year-olds ranges from 52 percent for those with a parent who has some graduate education down to 16 percent among those with less-than-high-school-educated parents. This reinforces my contention that intensive but highly targeted pre-school services,??starting very young, is what America needs more of; not more middle-class entitlements for those who are already doing okay....

The Education Gadfly

Don't forget to register for Fordham's upcoming event, "The Cons and Pros of Universal Pre-K", coming up on Thursday, June 4 from 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM. This event coincides with the release of Chester Finn's new book, Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut. Prekindergarten is one of the most hotly contested topics in American education today. Finn's book challenges the orthodoxy of "universal preschool" while explaining the key issues that drive and complicate this contentious debate: Which children really need preschool? How many aren't getting it? Who should provide it--and at whose expense? What's the right balance between socialization and systematic instruction between education and child care? Where does Head Start fit in? What are reliable markers of quality in preschool programs? Finn concludes by recommending a tightly targeted but intensive (and highly cognitive) approach to preschool for the neediest children. The discussants can be expected to take issue with that conclusion.

Finn will present.?? Responding will be Steven Barnett (Co-Director, National Institute for Early Education Research), Neal McCluskey (Associate Director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute) and Sara Mead (Director, Early Education Initiative, New America Foundation).?? Richard Colvin (Director, Hechinger Institute on Education...

Regarding Mike's post below, I'm sure it depends on the type of reform. Firing practices certainly become more relevant in hard economic times, but on the other hand, standards-based reforms may fare better when there's money to pay for them. As the Washington Post reports today, Virginia may join Florida and Georgia in cutting testing budgets:

[Virginia Superintendent Patricia I.] Wright said the $380,000 a year saved through elimination of the [third grade history] exam could be used to construct new kinds of questions for math tests, put fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests online and bolster elementary reading exams.

And Andy points out below that North Carolina is making a similar move, cutting back on tests not required "for high school graduation or by federal law."

Budget woes would seem to give the anti-testing crowd an excuse they can use.

Back in early January, when the full scope of the Great Recession was just starting to become clear, and the stimulus bill was but a glimmer in President Obama's eye, Checker Finn, Rick Hess, and I argued that bailing out local school districts would be a big mistake, because it would forestall opportunities for reform:

There's scant evidence that an extra dollar invested in today's schools delivers an extra dollar in value - and ample evidence that this kind of bail-out will spare school administrators from making hard-but-overdue choices about how to make their enterprise more efficient and effective...Education, then, cries out for a good belt-tightening. A truly tough budget situation would force and enable administrators to take those steps. They could rethink staffing, take a hard look at class sizes, trim ineffective personnel, shrink payrolls, consolidate tiny school districts, replace some workers with technology, weigh cost-effective alternatives to popular practices, reexamine statutes governing pensions and tenure, and demand concessions from the myriad education unions.

Kevin Carey, writing at Quick & the Ed, referred to that as the "school poverty gambit" and later the "Petrilli school bankruptcy theory of education reform." And he...

The Power Point presentation during the release event of the Condition of Education this morning certainly wasn't dramatic--NCES prides itself of just presenting the data, not analyzing it. But don't be fooled; there's very interesting stuff in there. The hard copy version should be required desk-side material for all ed reformers. It's chock full of all of the basics.

Do yourself a favor and spend 20 minutes or so using this accessible online feature to browse your way through it.

TFA's recruiting prowess continues to impress. ????The list of colleges where 10 percent or more of the senior class applied includes????Spelman,????Yale,????Princeton, Wellesley,????Brown, Chicago,????Harvard,????Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Duke,????Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, and William & Mary.

Ed Week's Michele on why some states haven't yet applied for SFSF dollars. This is a very interesting example of why federal policy-making is such uncertain business. Given that stimulus was goal number 1 of the ARRA, why didn't Congress take these state budget issues into account? (I got an email from a staffer for a midwest governor who confirmed that these budget schedules are the hold-up.)

Ed Week's Robelen on Sotomayor and education.

UFT-run charter in NYC both good and lagging?

Lots of discussion about MD's exit exams. ????Should we be happy that so many seniors will still be graduating, or is this a sign that the tests are meaningless?

NC may reduce the number of state assessments....

Alex Klein

If you read your hometown's newspaper regularly, you're bound to see an op-ed or editorial every so often on an educational topic. Today, your odds were much higher--many dailies featured guest opinion pieces on teachers from superintendents, mayors, and wonks, and a few regular columnists chimed in as well. Let's dig in for this first installment of the Ed-Op Round-Up. (We've termed it "Ed-Op" for "Education Opinion"--and because it's kinda neat that it's the inverse of "Op-Ed.")??

Editor's Note: The views of these authors and publications do not necessarily reflect those??of the trustees, officers or staff of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The Tennessean:??This Tennessean editorial looks back to??President Obama's March 10 speech on education??in which he "caught Democratic loyalists off-guard with a strong call" for merit-based pay. It continues:??

This is truly a matter in which teachers and their union should take the lead. Teachers know best the challenges facing education, and they know it would be wrong to base merit pay solely on test scores. But if government officials are offering more money for salaries, professional organizations could set the standard. It requires the courage to take a few risks. ... The key is


Here's some background info on some recent ED appointees. ????Russo weighs in, including a blog critique.

All good things must come to an end, including our illuminating, sometimes raucous, usually respectful debate about whether the Massachusetts Miracle proves teachers unions to be not such a barrier to school reform that some reformers claim. (If you missed it, see each episode, in order, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And don't forget to read the comments, especially from the latest installment.)

I started the debate by pontificating about something Diane Ravitch said, so I'll give her the last word. (Sorry Greg.)

But I can't help but get my two bits in first. What this whole discussion made clear to me is that we need to be very careful about labeling teachers unions (or any opponents or proponents of reform) as "strong" or "weak." There is a widespread impression that Massachusetts has a "strong" teachers union because it is a "strong union" state. Yet we've learned during this discussion that the union got rolled, time and again, in the implementation of the 1993 reforms. They used all of their regular tactics, and lost, because of an exceptional array of leaders willing to take...