A new analysis of state testing data by the Council of the Great City Schools finds that many of the nation's urban schools are posting significant gains in math and reading and reducing achievement gaps between white and minority students. Twenty-three urban districts are making faster gains in math than the state average in at least half the grades tested, and 17 cities posted reading gains that exceeded the state average. The report highlights three urban districts that have produced impressive gains-Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC), Houston, and Sacramento-and notes that they are aggressively pursuing sound standards-based reform strategies.

Meanwhile, parents in Scarsdale and other affluent areas are protesting state tests and the whole idea of a "one-size-fits-all" curriculum. Are we then to conclude that standards-and-accountability is a reform strategy that helps poor kids but hurts schools in wealthier communities? Or are affluent parents driven by other motives to reject standards and tests?

A story in the March 2001 issue of The Washington Monthly examined how urban districts in Massachusetts have seized upon that state's demanding achievement tests "their ticket to higher expectations, tougher standards, and better results," while white, affluent communities are up in arms over it. "Yet for all of the...

Co-authors Jeffrey Henig, Thomas Holyoke, Natalie Lacireno-Paquet and Michele Moser of the Center for Washington Area Studies at George Washington University present a comprehensive status report on the D.C. charter scene in this crisp and readable evaluation. Washington has one of the nation's strongest charter school markets, so charter advocates and detractors alike closely monitor its development. This report offers both groups some ammunition, but mostly it makes clear that definitive conclusions about the accomplishments and promise of D.C. charter schools would be premature and presumptuous. Since the charter school law was enacted in the nation's capital in 1995, some 33 of them have opened their doors, now enrolling approximately 13% of all D.C. public school students. According to "Growing Pains," while the schools are undeniably popular (judging from their waiting lists) the rate at which new schools are opening is itself slowing, likely due in part to the mounting difficulty of acquiring viable, affordable facilities. Indeed, according to the report, "facilities obstacles might soon set an effective ceiling on the potential entry of new charter schools." Other tough challenges include staff turnover and perceived lack of academic progress vis-??-vis traditional public schools, while some of the positive charter school...

Authored by Stanford education professor Michael W. Kirst, this 24-page report is the latest in the "Perspectives in Public Policy: Connecting High Education and the Public School" series, published by The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) and The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Professor Kirst examines the economic and social costs of the high school "senior slump," during which many 12th graders view their final months prior to graduation (and sometimes their entire last year of high school) as an opportunity to goof off. This de-emphasis of academic work in high school has boosted rates of remediation in college; has worsened the drop-out rate among college students ill prepared for college-level work; and contributed to poor academic skills among high school graduates who move directly into the workforce or military. Highlighting various disjunctures between the K-12 and postsecondary education systems, Kirst lays the blame on both for failing to provide incentives for high school seniors to work hard. The report offers practical recommendations aimed at increasing coordination between the two sectors, including strengthening the high school curriculum and linking it to the requirements of the first year of college; recognizing various achievement levels on statewide K-12 assessments...

The Dallas Morning News ran a series on dropouts last week which included 19 stories under five headings: how big is the dropout problem?; why do kids drop out?; the Latino dropout problem; one problem, many solutions; and finding the will to solve it.

The series is Written Off: Texas' Dropout Problem.

" L.A. Superintendent Roy Romer may be the most talented man ever to run a big-city school district. He is also bound to fail. There's a lesson in that," writes Matt Miller in the latest Washington Monthly. And it's one we think is worth reading although, as you will see, it's not too clear how to solve the problems Miller describes. You can find the story at:

"The Super," by Matthew Miller, The Washington Monthly, June 2001

In case you thought mauling President Bush's ESEA plan was the only education business facing the 107th Congress, think again. A big sign belongs over the Beltway saying "Caution: Special Ed Ahead." By October 2002, Senate and House are supposed to reauthorize the expiring portions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which drives most special education policy in the U.S. (though many states have also enacted their own laws). As with ESEA, the big question is whether policymakers will opt for tweaking the status quo or for making the fundamental reforms that it sorely needs.

Now a quarter century old, IDEA and its antecedents have done great good in reducing discrimination against disabled youngsters and providing them with a "free appropriate" education in the "least restrictive environment," those being the program's core precepts.

Yet this program is also beset by serious failures, archaic assumptions and troubling side effects. The problems you're most apt to hear discussed-they have lately obsessed governors and Congressmen-involve its high cost (driven largely by federal mandates although Washington reimburses only a small fraction of the expense) and its "double standard" for student discipline. But those are just the tip of this iceberg. Consider, too,...

Mike Antonucci's Education Intelligence Agency is not only the nation's invaluable source of otherwise inaccessible information about teacher unions; it is also, increasingly, a useful producer of interesting education data. This short (30 page) report on school spending, staffing and teacher salaries, presented mostly in state-by-state tables, includes some fascinating relationships (and the absence thereof). We see, for example, that the number of classroom teachers per district-level administrator ranges from 205 (Utah) down to 17 (North Dakota); that the difference-Antonucci calls it the "climb"-between starting teacher salaries and average teacher salaries varies from 23 percent (Alabama, Oklahoma) to 75 percent (Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Rhode Island); and that teachers as a fraction of the total public school work force range from less than 45% (Michigan, Kentucky) to almost 69% (Arkansas). And so forth. We found it interesting and often provocative, including the author's brief closing essay on the interaction of teacher quality and salaries. For a copy, surf to http://hometown.aol.com/educintel/eia/Tributex.html, contact Education Intelligence Agency, P.O. Box 2047, Carmichael, CA 95609; phone (916) 422-4373; fax (916) 392-1482; or e-mail [email protected].

The indefatigable John Marks has been one of the closest and most critical observers of British education. This report from the London-based Centre for Policy Studies is an informed critique of British education standards and performance. It includes an interesting comparison between the "selective" system of Northern Ireland and the "comprehensive" system of England. (Guess which does better?) It suggests that academic standards have actually been lowered over time. And it recommends a variety of reforms. Ninety pages long, it can be obtained (for a fee) from the Centre for Policy Studies, 57 Tufton Street, London SW1P3QL. You can phone 020-7222-4488. You can e-mail [email protected]. Or you can surf to www.cps.org.uk.

Education Week's annual assessment of technology and education holds few surprises, but it does highlight an interesting shift in the terms of the education technology debate, from an emphasis on how many computers can be found in each classroom to how well (and for what) they are being used. No longer does the issue of access separate the technology haves and have-nots; today, poor classrooms are nearly as likely to be wired as wealthier classrooms. Today's inequities are more apt to arise from the way in which technology is incorporated into the curriculum. The report's analysts found that many students--especially the poor, girls, low achievers, the disabled, children in rural areas, children learning English, and minorities--are not benefiting much from their classroom computers. The machines are only as good as the programs, technical support, and training that accompany them, and too often, these children are being taught by teachers who have not mastered the technology themselves, using outdated or broken equipment and basic skills-based software instead of the more sophisticated computers and programs used elsewhere. A student survey found that computers are often used in ways that add little value to lesson plans, something policymakers would be wise to note...

National Academy of Sciences

It exaggerates only slightly to say that, whenever the august National Academy of Sciences turns to testing (which is often, as sundry federal agencies keep commissioning studies in this area) it finds that no existing test is good enough to be used for any real-world purposes in this lifetime. The Academy's approach to testing resembles the search for the Holy Grail or for intelligent life in outer space: a continuous quest toward a worthy end that is never actually attained. This solemn, bulky (300-page) new report from the Academy's "Committee on the Foundations of Assessment" will probably be read only by psychometricians and cognitive scientists. But you might want to have a look. Though the authors do indeed take a dim view of most current testing, they set forth a coherent theory of testing, a reasonably intelligible model of testing, and a useful explanation of trade-offs that get made due to the multiple uses we make of tests. Also helpful is some of the discussion about technology-based opportunities for improved testing. The central message, however, recalls a gazillion earlier Academy reports on testing and assessment. It contends that today's testing doesn't incorporate modern advances in...

Learning First Alliance

The Learning First Alliance has produced this 39-page guide as a follow-up to its 1998 publication, Every Child Reading: An Action Plan, which set as a goal that virtually every healthy child born in the 21st century should read well by age 9. Containing consensus recommendations from the dozen education groups that comprise the Alliance, this guide is meant to assist planners of professional development for reading and language arts educators to set goals, select viable programs, and allocate resources wisely. Most useful are charts detailing concepts (teacher knowledge), practices (teacher skills), and possible professional development experiences that yield success in eight components of effective, research-supported reading instruction for the primary grades. The guide (and other Alliance publications) can be found at www.learningfirst.org/publications/html. Hard copies may be purchased for $3 plus shipping and handling from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development by calling 1-800-933-ASCD ext. 2.