Flypaper

Like Mom and apple pie, everyone loves and believes in a well-rounded education. Ensuring that every child gets one, however, has proven to be a challenge of Herculean magnitude—despite compelling evidence that it’s precisely what disadvantaged students most desperately need to close persistent achievement gaps and compete academically with their more fortunate peers. Enter the Every Student Succeeds Act. As this report from Scott D. Jones and Emily Workman of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) notes, while concerns about providing children a well-rounded education “have not received the same degree of attention as hot-button issues like equitable funding and accountability indicators, it could be considered a foundational element of the new federal law.”

Foundational, perhaps. But is it enforceable? Education Secretary John King has lately been using the bully pulpit to promote the virtues of a well-rounded education. “States now have the opportunity to broaden their definition of educational excellence, to include providing students strong learning experiences in science, social studies, world languages, and the arts,” King is quoted as saying by the ECS authors. “That’s a huge and welcome change.”

Yes and no. In truth, states have always had the “opportunity” to broaden their definition of educational...

Last month, on the heels of the Supreme Court's decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, the hashtag ‪#‎BeckyWithTheBadGrades began trending on Twitter. If you're not sure what that phrase means or why it was so hotly discussed on social media, don't despair. You're not poorly educated, misinformed, or illiterate. But you're probably missing a bit of cultural knowledge common among young people, particularly young people of color. The clever hashtag offers a lesson in the value of cultural literacy—often a touchy subject in education—but with a nifty twist: This time, it's our students who got a cultural reference that left many adults scratching their heads.

#BeckyWithTheBadGrades, for the uninitiated, is a reference to a song from Beyoncé's new album Lemonade. Her song "Sorry" ends with the singer telling a faithless lover, "Better call Becky with the good hair." Explains Emma Pettit of the Chronicle of Higher Education: "'Becky' is a term for a stereotypical white woman, and the mention of her "good hair" alludes to society's elevation of whiteness....Thus 'Becky with the good hair' became a succinct phrase on the Internet to call out white privilege." Fisher, who argued that the university denied her admission...

Helping lots more young Americans get “to and through” four-year college degrees is a major goal of public policy and philanthropy. In 2009, President Obama set the target of leading the world in college completion by 2020. The Lumina Foundation aspires to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent over seven years and half a billion dollars on strategies aimed at increasing college completion.

All of this has led to energetic initiatives inside and outside government to reform the higher education system and provide additional supports to first-generation students—the so-called “completion agenda.”

That’s all well and good. But as I’ve argued before, even these heroic efforts are unlikely to add up to much until we dramatically boost the number of young Americans who are ready for college in the first place. The best evidence of this proposition comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which set a “college-prepared” level on its twelfth-grade assessments a few years ago (in addition to basic, proficient, and advanced). Chart 1 displays the percentage of twelfth-grade students nationally who have reached NAEP’s “college-prepared” level in reading and...

M. René Islas

Children with extraordinary gifts and talents experience drastically different needs. We parents, teachers, and advocates often get nervous calling attention to bright children, and we often fall into the trap of working under the radar or even making ourselves invisible.

When we do this, we pull smart kids into the shadows with us. Hiding hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work in the future. A new approach is required to meet the needs of gifted children. We should borrow the strategies and tactics that other movements—such as civil rights protesters, suffragettes, and environmental activists—have successfully used to inspire social change. It is imperative that we emerge from the shadows and work openly on behalf of gifted children.

As advocates, we must try new strategies and tactics to help society fully understand the nature and needs of gifted children, to create supportive environments for their learning, and to implement research-based practices that help them capitalize on their talents.

In short, we must change minds, change policies, and change practice. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) will drive initiatives to accomplish these important goals through our action and collaboration.

Change Minds

The first goal is to dispel common myths, to expand the...

Paul Hill

Editor's note: This is the first entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Mike Petrilli's introductory post is here.

The ongoing exchange about suspensions and expulsions in charter schools needs to be seen from the school’s perspective. As a school of choice, a charter has two obligations: to maintain a climate conducive to learning, as it promises the families who choose it, and to do all it can to meet the needs of the students it has admitted. These can provoke tension when individual children disrupt others' learning or threaten to tear down the norms of diligence that support instructional programs.

This tension is inherent to K–12 schools (even advantaged private ones). Some private schools protect their overall climate by quickly suspending or expelling kids who get out of line. But most, committed to the kids they have admitted, act much more deliberately. They give students help and many chances. Suspensions are never ruled out because they are very effective in getting some parents’ attention. But because they are understood as harmful, suspensions are brief and seldom repeated. If parents don’t respond the first time, the school tries something else.

Expulsions are never totally off the table for...

At the National Charter Schools Conference last week, Secretary of Education John King challenged U.S. charter operators to rethink their approach to discipline and “lead the way on professional reflection and growth.” Though I’ve frequently expressed my worries about the rush to reform the nation’s approach to school discipline, the secretary’s comments were measured and constructive. I was particularly struck by his insistence that there not be any “hard and fast rules or directives.” (He might want to share the speech with his own Office for Civil Rights, which could be renamed the Office for Hard and Fast Rules and Directives.)

Helping charter schools examine and improve their discipline practices is praiseworthy; making them change their approach via top-down dictates is not. (Though I’m really talking about suspensions; expulsions are a different matter, as we do need to worry about open-enrollment public schools pushing kids out.) In my view, it’s totally inappropriate for regulators—especially the feds, but also school authorizers—to get heavy-handed on the suspensions issue, for at least five reasons:

  1. The school discipline data collected by the Office for Civil Rights are notoriously fishy; attaching stakes to them will make them even more so because people work to report the data
  2. ...

With her nonstop knack for making waves, getting noticed, and possibly even advancing the interests of her members, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten is now on the warpath against hedge fund managers. “Why,” she asks, “would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?” So her union is discouraging teacher pension funds—which invest many billions—from doing business with hedge funds led by people who do things she disapproves of. Those include supporting charter schools and pushing lawmakers to reform public sector pensions and expand the tax deductibility of donations to private schools.

As with the squalid crusade on some college campuses and churches to make endowment managers stop investing in firms that do business with Israel, one must ask whether the political ends being pursued justify investment portfolio changes that may diminish future returns. One hedge fund chieftain likened the Weingarten campaign to “hiring a dentist because of their political beliefs. You may see eye to eye on politics, but you may not have great, straight teeth.”

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, one of the AFT’s largest locals remains at war with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, waging a strike on April Fool’s Day. Farther west, the United...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the second half of a two-part interview (the first half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: Mike Feinberg had started KIPP as a kind of “classroom-within-a-school” program, and he needed support to expand and grow. There is a story of him sitting on your car and grading while he asked you for more space to grow his program. What did he say to you to convince you that you should invest in him—and that it wouldn't be a disaster?

Rod Paige: Well, there were two Teach For America teachers, Mike Feinberg and David Levin, both teaching in elementary schools in the east part of the city. They had provided a lot of innovative programs and activities for the students in their fifth-grade...

Editor’s note: This interview was originally posted on June 19, 2013, two and a half years into Kaya Henderson’s successful tenure as chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. She announced her resignation yesterday, and you’ll read many articles detailing her numerous accomplishments as helmswoman of the city’s school system—and rightly so. Yet she also ought to be honored for the kind of person she is, and this interview does just that.

For this week’s BTCIK, I wanted to celebrate the close of another school year by shining light on a true school leader—someone who’s taught, supported teachers, supported schools, and run schools.

Kaya Henderson District of Columbia Public Schools

So we’re lucky enough to have as a guest Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Like so many involved in this work, she is a passionate advocate for the interests of kids in need. But she’s been able to turn that commitment into a number of groundbreaking accomplishments—growing TFA, launching TNTP, crafting and implementing IMPACT, and more.

There’s no doubt that were she to decide to hang up her ed-reform cleats now and apply her talents elsewhere—God forbid!—she’d be a first-ballot Hall of...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the first half of a two-part interview (second half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: The first charter law was passed in 1991, and Texas's charter law passed in 1995. When you were the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, do you remember the first time you heard about charter schools and what you thought about them?

Secretary Rod Paige: A couple of years before that, I read about charter schools in the press, and the idea impressed me even before the Texas legislature started to talk about it. I was excited about the idea because I thought it was a way to increase innovation in schools, a way to unleash the ideas that a lot of teachers...

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