Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise writes today that high schools are scaling back "honors" courses as they boost their AP and IB offerings. Some suspect that Post reporter Jay Mathews's Challenge Index, which ranks high schools based on their participation in AP and IB, is pressuring schools to abandon honors classes for the more rigorous college-prep programs.

Whatever the reasons, critics are probably right that the mid-level rigor of an honors course was a good fit for lots of kids who now will have to either languish in unchallenging lower-level classes or strain themselves in AP or IB. Still, one could argue that the trend is encouraging. First, more college-prep classes mean higher expectations and ultimately, one hopes, higher all-around achievement.

Second, it's great to see schools embodying two simple but overlooked concepts that gave the world unprecedented gains in productivity and prosperity in the last couple centuries: division of labor and comparative advantage. The folks at AP and the folks at IB focus all their time and energy on making rigorous, comprehensive, well-balanced tests and curricula. By employing their services and products, teachers can focus their time and energy on teaching. Maybe critics are right...


Yesterday's Sunday Times (UK) featured a piece on New York City's student pay-for-performance plan, spearheaded by Harvard economist Roland Fryer. The article also explores more generally the latest efforts to solve the crises facing America's black community, contrasting two main approaches with some expressive terminology:

The education initiative has pushed Fryer to the forefront of a national debate that has previously owed more to emotional political bias than scientific rigour. On Fryer's left is the black "ghettocracy", the angry old guard of black liberation. Led by rabble-rousing preachers such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jack-son, it tends to blame everything on racism or white malice.

On his right is the "Afristocracy", the conservative black elite led by Bill Cosby, one of America's most popular comedians, who has repeatedly taken black youths to task for being stupid, ill-mannered slackers. "They think they're hip," Cosby once said. "They can't read, they can't write, they are laughing and giggling and they're going nowhere."

Interesting, as always, to see how we're viewed by our cousins across the pond.

Photo by Fran Collin from The American....


Video games supposedly made America's youth lazy and fat; maybe video games can make them active and lean.

Liam Julian

Flypaper is the source for this Chroncle of Higher Education story, which profiles McCain's education team. We revealed McCain's edvisors last week, here.


With overwhelming votes in its House and Senate, South Carolina is racing to revamp its state assessment system and, apparently, lower its standards dramatically. The Spartansburg Herald Journal says:

The change could drastically increase the number of schools meeting NCLB requirements. Currently, only students who score proficient or advanced attain the proficient level required under NCLB. Under the new system, those who score "met" or "exemplary" would qualify.

It's a shame, but perhaps not surprising, as South Carolina currently boasts some of the toughest proficiency standards in the country. Its legislators are only reacting to No Child Left Behind's perverse incentives. Secretary Spellings: are you willing to let go of the "100 percent proficient by 2014" madness yet?

Liam Julian

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist/political cartoonist??David Horsey comments on the now-disbanded Office of Equity, Race, and Learning Support of Seattle Public Schools.

The director of the office, Caprice Hollins, gained notoriety for a variety of offensive acts. Most noted was the page she put up on the district's Web site that asserted Seattle's public schools bought into the belief that such things as planning for the future, emphasizing individualism and defining standard English were examples of cultural racism.

Horsey has a follow-up blog post here.

Liam Julian

Matthew Ladner writes about how Catholic schools in Arizona are surviving.

Liam Julian

For those??who doubt that competition has positive effects on public-school systems, this article , from the Houston Chronicle , is instructive. The Houston district's enrollment is dropping; meanwhile,??charter schools there, such as KIPP, can't keep up with demand (this is occurring in other cities , too). HISD school board member Diana Davilla told the Chronicle about KIPP, "They're attracting more students than we are. Somewhere, we're missing something because they're building schools and we're closing them." The district hopes to change that:

Leaders said they're also working on ways to use data, including performance pay information, to create a profile of ideal teaching candidates. They plan, for instance, to use the data to determine which universities are producing HISD's best teachers.

Good ideas. None of which would have germinated without healthy competition.


To see but one example of why we can't trust local school boards to lead meaningful reform efforts, see this post from the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Regarding this recent Wall Street Journal article on No Child Left Behind's lack of "bite"* for failing schools, NSBA says:

If the system that judges school performance is innately flawed, should??we be rushing to sanction these "failing" schools or should we be rushing to fix the system? Until NCLB gets its diagnosis right, schools should not be forced to make radical changes that are disruptive to students and their learning environment.

Well, yes, NCLB surely labels some schools as "needing improvement" that are pretty decent, such as those that are succeeding for most of their students but not for kids with learning disabilities, or those that are not up to standards yet but are making big gains over time. But all evidence indicates that the vast majority of "failing" schools are just that, and we shouldn't waste any more time (or come up with any more excuses) before we intervene aggressively in them. NSBA's proposal is a prescription for paralysis. Which is fitting, because most local school boards have...


Plenty of bad ideas make their way from the business world to education, but here's a good one: replicate successful school models via franchising. That's the argument made by business writer Julie Bennett in an essay in the new Education Next.??

In the business world, when the owners of restaurants or retail stores want to expand, they choose between two models: corporate-style growth with central management or franchising. Chains like Starbucks scale up corporately; each of its 7,087 U.S. stores is owned by and managed from its Seattle headquarters. Others, like McDonald's, follow a franchise model. Though they look and feel much the same, the vast majority of the 14,000 McDonald's restaurants in the United States are operated by a founding franchisee. The advantage of franchising is that it allows an organization to grow rapidly without putting its own intellectual and financial capital at risk. While franchisees are building individual units, the central organization can spend its resources on promoting the brand and developing new products and services.

Bennett goes on to explain that KIPP, the Big Picture Company, and EdVisions Schools belong in the franchise bucket, while Lighthouse Academies, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools are closer to...