On May 23, 2001, the New York Times ran three major stories demonstrating cognitive dissonance about educational approaches. On the front page, we learned about Ms. Moffett, a first-year teacher assigned to a low-performing school who is extremely frustrated because she is required to follow lesson plans instead of doing what she wants, which is to demonstrate her creativity. Her mentor teacher advises her to adhere to the instructions that come with the "Success for All" reading program, but Ms. Moffett clearly feels cheated, and the story line implies that it's unjust to bar this novice teacher from "doing her own thing" with students.

The nearby column by Richard Rothstein, the newspaper's regular commentator on education, warns that homework increases the gap between students from middle-class and low-income homes, because advantaged parents can help their children. Rothstein warns that it is "unconscionable for educators to exacerbate inequality by assigning homework" unless government first supplies afterschool study centers.

To complicate matters, a news story on the same day contradicts both Ms. Moffett's yearning to be creative and Mr. Rothstein's dire warnings about the deleterious impact of homework done at home. Kate Zernike writes about the stunning success of public schools in...

In a sideshow to the main debate over ESEA, the Senate passed an amendment on May 3 that would add $18.1 billion to the federal budget for special education over the next 10 years and would change special ed funding into an entitlement that Congress would be required to fund regardless of budget considerations.  This measure has drawn criticism from the White House and others for not addressing the need to reform special ed before pumping more funds into it. 

What would "reform" of special ed look like? Rethinking Special Education for a New Century, a new collection of 14 papers released last week, catalogues the most pressing problems of the federal special ed program and offers some principles to guide the program's reauthorization in 2002. Published jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the Progressive Policy Institute, the report recommends—among other things—that Washington make IDEA performance-based rather than compliance-based and focus on prevention and early intervention wherever possible.

 In a New York Times article on May 13, Kate Zernike shows how the Greenwich, CT school district has done similar things, balancing its special ed budget and bringing the percentage of children in special education down from 17 to...

Thirty percent of students surveyed in grades 6 through 10 have been involved in either bullying or being bullied themselves, according to a study released by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) earlier this month. Widening concern over bullying in schools has its roots in school shootings, many of which were conducted by students who had been the victims of long-term bullying, notes Ben Soskis in this week's New Republic, but the anti-bullying movement may be overreacting. When does behaving childishly (or like a teen-ager) become bullying? The NICHD study itself includes in its definition of bullying all sorts of things that ordinary kids do, such as spreading rumors and shunning other children.  

The same inability to distinguish between childish behavior and the homicidal tendencies has fed a growing movement among phys ed teachers to ban dodge ball, based on evidence from a recent symposium about the game that appears in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, a movement that has been mocked by liberals and conservatives alike in the past week.  Banned in Austin (Texas), dodge ball has been relegated to the "physical education hall of shame," joining musical chairs and duck, duck,...

The Education Trust's newsletter, Thinking K-16, is usually worth a look. The Winter 2001 issue is especially fine, being devoted almost entirely to a careful but exceptionally lucid discussion of U.S. high school results during the period since the Nation at Risk report of 1983 and the declaration of national education goals in 1989. How have we fared? ask authors Kati Haycock and Sandra Huang. Their one sentence summary: "In general, the data suggest an object at rest in a world that is rapidly rushing by." Data from an array of sources are here compiled, analyzed and presented in exceptionally concise and clear ways. You'll want this one. Phone (202) 293-2605 or surf to www.edtrust.org.

Wendy Kopp

Like many skillful leaders whose successes throw them before the public's eye, Wendy Kopp has her share of detractors, including some within the ranks of the unique teaching corps she created. She has been criticized for never having taught herself and for placing inexperienced, uncredentialed teachers in classrooms all over the country (even though most principals adore their Teach for America teachers and are begging for more). And despite the fact that she has nearly single-handedly funneled more than 5,000 high-achieving college graduates into some of the most troubled schools in America—and consequently created a group of devoted advocates for equity in education (the author included)—Ms. Kopp nonetheless gets harangued for her reluctance to add herself to the already-crowded arena of education talking heads opining on innumerable policy issues.

Thus, her new book, which is heavy on the Teach for America story but light on policy talk and personal opinions about education reform, has been criticized for not taking a strong stand on the day's hot-button issues. But this book is vintage Kopp and provides the reader with an interesting glimpse into this reticent but supercharged leader.

Ms. Kopp conceived of Teach for America during her senior year at...

by Craig Jerald, the Education Trust (published by the Business Roundtable)

On the campaign trail, Governor George W. Bush touted the "Texas education miracle"--in which the Lone Star State's poor and minority children made huge gains in test scores--as evidence that academic standards and accountability could generate significant improvement in student achievement.  Now that Mr.  Bush is in the White House, supporters and critics alike have taken a closer look at the Texas record. 

Published last month by The Business Roundtable, this latest report describes what's known about the effects over the past decade of Texas efforts to raise academic standards, measure student performance, and increase accountability via consequences for results.  Author Craig D. Jerald, senior policy analyst at The Education Trust, explains that, among the 50 states, Texas has made one of the most concerted and long-running attempts to raise student achievement.  The Texas strategy is successful, Jerald argues, because it is balanced, blending an unusually strong measure of both optimism--setting high standards for all students--and pragmatism, i.e. setting reachable goals that are raised incrementally.  Critics often claim that Texas's tough policies have led to higher dropout rates, a narrowed curriculum, and inordinate focus on "low-level" skills measured...

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) recently released the results of the 4th grade reading assessment conducted in 2000. (By NAEP standards, alas, this is speedy: data available just a year after the test was given!) The news is not good: average scores were essentially flat across the 1990's. That would be okay if they were flat at a high level but they're flat at a woefully low level. Almost 2 fourth graders in 5 are "below basic" and only one in three is "proficient" (or better). When the data are disaggregated, the results become even more alarming: among black and Hispanic youngsters, roughly three-fifths don't reach "basic" and fewer than one in six is proficient. (This is also true for low-income children.) Though black youngsters fared slightly better in 2000 than in earlier years, the gains are meager compared to the gap that remains. The Nation's Report Card: Fourth-Grade Reading 2000, April 2001. The publication number is NCES 2001-499. Copies can be obtained by phoning (877) 433-7827, ordered on-line at www.ed.gov/pubs/edpubs.html or downloaded from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard....

Can a new breed of superintendents--drawn from outside the ranks of traditional educators--transform urban school systems? asks the cover story of the June 2001 issue of the American School Board Journal.  While such "outsiders" are the exception, it is surely no coincidence that the nation's three largest urban districts--New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago--are today run by noneducators.  The six-page article profiles the leaders of these three school systems as well as San Diego, highlights the challenges they all face (e.g. whether to delegate responsibility for improving instruction, managing relations with mayors, etc.), and analyzes the likelihood that each leader will succeed. Not yet available online (http://www.asbj.com/).

For a sharp analysis of the efforts of former U.S. Attorney Alan Bersin's efforts to revitalize the San Diego school district, see "A Noneducator Pulls Off the Impossible: Urban School Reform," by Larry Cuban and Mike Usdan, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2001.

White House aides have grown testy about the education bill, unwilling to acknowledge that the compromises Congress has forced upon it have sorely weakened George W. Bush's fine reform plan. Presumably because they assented to those compromises, they feel obliged to insist that the plan remains largely intact.

Would that it were so. After thirty-six years of dashed hopes and wasted billions, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) sorely needs a complete overhaul. President Bush's proposal went at least 80 percent of the way. True, it was a tad light on school choice, but it envisioned a sizable voucher demonstration program and would give "exit vouchers" to low-income children stuck in awful public schools.

The Bush plan also mandated testing every child in grades 3-8, with serious consequences attached for schools - and states - that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" in narrowing the rich-poor achievement gap. Also promising in the original plan were the consolidation of innumerable tiny programs and freedom for interested states to decide how and where to spend their federal dollars.

Then the status quo struck back. The public school establishment fought every significant reform. Incredibly, many state education leaders eschewed new flexibility for themselves....

The Council of the Great City Schools deserves plaudits for its ever-greater willingness to speak candidly about educational achievement (as well as its vigorous efforts to boost that achievement). Recently, the Council released a quartet of reports on how America's urban schools fare on four widely used and keenly watched external benchmarks: The SAT I test, the ACT tests, Advanced Placement exams, and the Stanford Achievement Test. Although no district-level data are provided (except for some ACT results), there's a wealth of information here about how America's urban schools and students are faring on these indicators and a lot of very interesting analysis, some leading to familiar results, some to less obvious conclusions. (Forthcoming on May 22 is yet another report from the Council on how urban districts are doing on state achievement tests.) For copies or additional information, contact the Council at (202) 393-2427 or surf to the press release, readable at http://www.cgcs.org/services/media/4_27_01.htm