One in 10 Rhode Island students was suspended last year, and either sent home or forced to sit in isolated rooms for hours. The Providence Journal looks at who is suspended (disproportionately black students), why (less for violent offenses than for truancy and tardiness), and with what result. You can find this multi-part series at http://projo.com/extra/suspensions/.

The University of Washington's Paul Hill has written a fine short background paper for the Progressive Policy Institute on "charter districts," an idea that has been gaining interest as the charter-school movement has spread. (President Bush, it may be recalled, also proposed a "charter states" program, although Congress knocked the stuffing out of it.) In five pages, Hill explains his version of a charter district, namely a public school district that charters all its schools instead of running any of them directly. (Another concept of a charter district would be one that obtains freedom from state regulations, union contract constraints and other impediments to operating its schools as it thinks best, in return for demonstrated improvements in pupil achievement. One can also envision a hybrid of those two concepts.) He notes that several U.S. school systems are already all-charter, that several more are moving in that direction, and that seven state charter laws would permit any district to do likewise. Appended to this paper is a useful one-page synopsis by Andy Rotherham of Chester-Upland, Pennsylvania's recent move (under strong state pressure) to out-source all of its schools that weren't already public charter schools. You may obtain it from Progressive Policy...

Fresh from Canada, this compact package of ten papers, edited by the Fraser Institute's Claudia R. Hepburn, looks at whether and how competition-based reforms could benefit the Canadian education system. More than a few of its lessons also apply to-indeed, many were derived from research performed in-the United States. The compilation is partly the result of a spring 2000 Fraser Institute conference on school choice. South-of-the-border contributors include our own Checker Finn, with "Reinventing Public Education via the Marketplace" (based on the keynote address he gave at the conference); economist Caroline Hoxby, contributing an eye-opening essay called "Analyzing School Choice Reforms that Use America's Traditional Forms of Parental Choice"; and Jay Greene, providing "A Survey of Results from Voucher Experiments: Where We Are and What We Know," which dispels many common misconceptions about voucher research. From the Canadian side, William Robson offers "Publicly Funded Education in Ontario: Breaking the Deadlock, " which explains why that province could use an infusion of parent-empowering reform, especially to reduce its stubborn achievement gap between poor and wealthy youngsters. The University of Calgary's Lynn Bosetti shares "The Alberta Charter School Experience." (Alberta was the first province in Canada to enact a charter law which,...

Patrick Welsh, a veteran Alexandria, Virginia high school English teacher who often writes for the Outlook section of the Washington Post, describes what a new superintendent faces in Alexandria: "constant negotiations with and back-biting from a crowd of self-appointed community experts who think they know best how to run a school system." No superintendent can survive the minefield of aggressive, well-educated parents together with a divided school board that has strong opinions on everything, Welsh writes, which means that the district will likely face a never-ending stream of superintendents who come in lauded and depart vilified.

"They'll love the new superintendent-until the discord begins," by Patrick Welsh, Washington Post, June 17, 2001

While public discussion of the education bill has focused on such hot-button issues as vouchers, much of the real drama in Washington-"what everybody was E-mailing and voice-mailing everybody else about"-is the "adequate yearly progress" or A.Y.P. formula, writes Nicholas Lemann in a narrative account of the progress of Bush's ambitious education plan through the Congressional gantlet. (Lemann's piece appears in this week's New Yorker.)

As if Lemann were a fly on our wall, a group of us inside-the-beltway types got together the other day to parse some of the perplexing dilemmas that will face Senate and House conferees when they turn to the A.Y.P., testing, and accountability sections of the pending E.S.E.A. bills. The deeper we went, the more alarmed we became at just how knotty some of these issues are. This section of the legislation simply doesn't lend itself to "splitting the difference" or melding rival versions. To have any realistic hope of ending up with something in this area that can actually be implemented without causing untold mischief, the conference committee must, in essence, start afresh. Here are some unsolicited precepts to guide that difficult process.

First, the gold standard for analyzing student achievement is value-added analysis that...

Diallo Dphrepaulezz's new report for the Pacific Research Institute tells the story of San Francisco's Edison Charter Academy, which made sizable gains in test scores after being taken over by Edison Schools, but which was nonetheless notified by the San Francisco Board of Education in March 2001 that its charter was about to be revoked. In one school year, the Academy's test scores rose faster than those at every school in the district but two. African American students' scores rose 25% over the previous year, and Latino students' scores rose 15%. Why would a school like this lose its charter? Many charges were leveled at the school by opponents, including allegations that the school had a very high teacher turnover rate, and that it had encouraged low-income and African American students to leave. Dphrepaulezz debunks each claim, then goes on to describe a "grassroots movement mounted by parents in an attempt to save their charter school" which was outgunned by a bureaucracy that seemed to fear looking bad by comparison and so went to great lengths to destroy the school. Copies of the briefing may be obtained by calling (415) 989-0833 or by surfing to www.pacificresearch.org and clicking on...

If you read the Washington Post, you may already have seen reporter Jay Mathews' article about the Saxon math program, which helps children learn but which the powers that be in most school districts refuse to adopt. Also worth your while are two recent pieces that the prolific Mathews wrote for the Post's web site, one analyzing complaints by teachers about test-driven instruction, the other proposing that districts allow schools to be exempted from testing programs if parents in the school reject the test. (The latter poses a neat dilemma for those who favor both test-based accountability and parent empowerment!)

"Not on the same page" (on Saxon math) by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, June 19, 2001

"From teachers to drill sergeants," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, June 19, 2001

"Parental influence on annual tests," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, June 12, 2001

Much ink has been spilled over the alarming estimate that our schools will need upwards of 2 million new teachers by 2010. Some U.S. schools are already experiencing a teacher shortage. Many districts have responded by ratcheting up their recruitment efforts, including developing programs that encourage paraprofessionals, retired military personnel, and career-switchers to enter the classroom, as well as seeking teachers overseas. While some of these recruitment programs are successful, few have undergone evaluation. The DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, however, is now four years into a six-year evaluation of its Pathways to Teaching Careers Program, which aims to identify and prepare high-quality nontraditional candidates for careers in public education. It has largely achieved these goals at each of its 42 sites, according to researchers Beatriz Chu Clewell of the Urban Institute and Ana Maria Villegas of Montclair State University. (This report does not, however, supply hard evidence.) To assist others in replicating this kind of program, Clewell and Villegas have compiled a "handbook." They stress the importance of building "ongoing partnerships between teacher education institutions and school districts," rather than vilifying teacher colleges and plotting their demise. The handbook includes chapters on creating such bonds, as well as recruiting and...

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) is becoming a steadily more useful source of interesting and worthwhile education data, much of it contained in the now-annual publication named Education at a Glance. Though thick (400 pages) and (if you get a hard copy) pricey ($49), you can get country-by-country education comparisons here that aren't available anywhere else. The recently released 2001 edition contains some especially tantalizing facts, including these:

  • Though older Americans (ages 55-64) are better educated than their contemporaries in other lands, when you look at the 25-34 population you find that the U.S. has been outstripped in educational attainment by five countries if judged by high school completions and by two (Japan, Canada) if gauged by college completions.
  • In at least 6 countries (including the U.S.), more than 30% of funding for higher education comes from private sources.
  • More and more countries are also turning to the private sector for school management. This is most definitely not a uniquely American phenomenon. Across the OECD, an average of 13.5% of children are enrolled in privately operated schools. In most of those cases (not including the U.S., of course) the majority of those privately operated schools
  • ...

Not all charter school news is good, in part because not all the schools are good. Recent state proficiency test scores for many Ohio charters, for example, were pretty disheartening. Everyone knows that Texas has a handful of inadequate charter schools. So are a few in the nation's capital. The time has surely come for charter fans and devotees to get harder-nosed about school quality, effectiveness and value added. It's no longer sufficient to suggest that any charter school is inherently better than no charter school. That stance is unhelpful to the long-term vitality of the charter movement. More importantly, it's unhelpful to kids who need good schools. We must insist that charter schools deliver solid results for children and cost-effectiveness for taxpayers.

But there's a lot of good charter news, too, and some illuminating recent studies. The Goldwater Institute's sophisticated examination of Arizona charters found mostly solid results. So did the Texas Public Policy Foundation's study of Lone Star State schools, especially the "at risk" charters serving the neediest kids.

This month, the U.S. Department of Education issued two long-in-the-making charter studies, both spin offs of the Congressionally mandated National Study of Charter Schools. These are important both because...