Gadfly Studios


Liam Julian

The Wall Street Journal examines why Finland's laid-back education system leads the world. Long story short, nobody knows. Students in Finland have smaller classes, don't do a lot of homework, don't start school until age seven, and don't move on to new academic material until everyone in their class has mastered the current lesson (therefore, the country has a tiny gap between its highest- and lowest-performing youngsters). The Finns are also a rather racially and economically homogeneous group and Finnish teaching positions are incredibly competitive--two facts that contrast sharply with the United States.

Funny thing is, a lot of what occurs in Finnish schools seems to undermine the prevailing educational wisdom. The country has self-guided student learning, starts students at a relatively late age, doesn't focus energy on high-performing kids, has little standardized testing, and separates high-schoolers into different tracks (vocational and academic). Kids can even walk around in their socks during class. Perplexing.


An interesting press release popped up in my inbox today. An excerpt:

With 13 million children living in poverty in the United States, US Airways has made a bold step to help end the cycle of poverty through a new cause partnership with Reading Is Fundamental. Today, US Airways and RIF are launching the ???Fly with US. Reading with Kids."

Here are a few highlights about the campaign:

  • Inflight Customized Books ??? For the month of March, a customized Maisy children's book will be in the seatback pocket of every domestic flight. With half storybook/half activity book, passengers will be encouraged to take the book and share it with a child.
  • Lending Libraries ??? Customized, aviation-themed children's libraries (75 books) will be set-up in all 21 US Airways Clubs where children can read while they wait for their flight. The Maisy book will also be distributed in 2008 in all kids' activity packs.
  • Read with Kids Reading Challenge ??? Customers and employees will log on to to track the hours they read for a chance to win US Airways' travel prizes like a Disney Vacation. It's a great site with a variety of inactive games and activities for
Jeff Kuhner

Are we rearing a nation of ignorant students? This is the question posed in the latest report, Still at Risk, by Fordham's sister organization, Common Core. Its answer: yes, and we better start doing something about it. Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, one in four said Columbus sailed to the Americas some time after 1750, not in 1492, and-most shocking of all-nearly one in four did not know who Adolf Hitler was. It is an education tragedy that a quarter of U.S. teens have no clue about the most dangerous mass murderer of the 20th century, whose call for a new Aryan racial order resulted in 6 million Jews being thrown into gas ovens and nearly 50 million dead due to his plunging Europe and America into a destructive world war.

The survey results, released at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, demonstrate what Common Core says is the "stunning ignorance" of many teenagers when it comes to history and literature. The organization rightly blames President Bush's education law, ...


It may not be simply that they study harder (though anecdotal evidence suggests they do). In this week's New Yorker, Jim Holt profiles Stanislas Dehaene, a young French neuroscientist investigating how our brains handle numbers. According to Deheane's research, we think about numbers in three distinct ways, each of which developed at a different point in human evolution.

The number sense is lodged in the parietal lobe, the part of the brain that relates to space and location; numerals are dealt with by the visual areas; and number words are processed by the language areas.

This last way of thinking about numbers poses problems for English-speakers:

Today, Arabic numerals are in use pretty much around the world, while the words with which we name numbers naturally differ from language to language. And, as Dehaene and others have noted, these differences are far from trivial. English is cumbersome. There are special words for the numbers from 11 to 19, and for the decades from 20 to 90. This makes counting a challenge for English-speaking children, who are prone to such errors as ???twenty-eight, twenty-nine, twenty-ten, twenty-eleven.??? French is just as bad, with vestigial base-twenty monstrosities, like quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (???four

Liam Julian

Update: The NBA's number 1 draft pick is against???i.e., not supportive of, never has been and never will be, how dare you think I might have been or could possibly be???vouchers.


David Hoff reports that Senators Clinton and Obama are calling for new kinds of tests under No Child Left Behind. Obama has more steak to Hillary's sizzle on this one, saying in his education plan that he will support "funds for states to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students' abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas. These assessments will provide immediate feedback so that teachers can begin improving student learning right away."

In fact, that might be too much detail. How is an assessment going to measure all of those worthy attributes while also providing feedback to teachers immediately? This isn't just hope-mongering, it's decision-blurring. Either you can provide feedback quickly, but have to stick to easy-to-measure things like reading skills, or you can offer information about critical thinking and the rest, but have to wait for real people to score the tests. (Unless you're comfortable with this Third Way solution.) It's a multiple choice test, Senators, and you can only choose one answer....


As a college freshman in an introductory sociology class, I was assigned the book There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. This story of two young boys trying to survive one of Chicago’s most impoverished and dangerous housing projects is absolutely heart wrenching.

I won’t forget the book’s emotional grip, but equally influential to my intellectual development was the policy and political backstory that explained how the boys’ toxic surroundings came to be.

Nearly two decades later, I’m still chastened by the book’s central lesson: A government policy developed by mostly-benevolent leaders hoping to improve the lives of the disadvantaged—in this case, by razing old, low-income, ostensibly decaying neighborhoods in favor of gigantic public-housing skyscrapers—did incalculable harm to those it was designed to help.

This has been on my mind in recent weeks, as the national school-closure conversation has flared. Much of that conversation is familiar, but one assertion made by critics, namely that school closures destabilize entire neighborhoods, raises a question that hasn’t been discussed nearly enough. And though some might wave it away as irrelevant or worse, the lessons of the Kotlowitz book force me to take it seriously:

Can a bad school be good for...