GadflyWith just a few hours left before automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts take effect, the odds seem slim that Congress will pull a rabbit out of this hat. But despite the Obama administration’s doomsday rhetoric (40,000 teacher layoffs, a huge blow to Head Start, and seven of the ten plagues), the reality seems—if not optimal—manageable. School nutrition programs, Pell Grants, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families won’t be cut, and most school districts won’t feel the pinch until the beginning of the 2013–14 school year. And when they do, it will be minor (perhaps 2 percent of their budgets in most cases). In other words, it’s a great opportunity to stretch the school dollar.

On Monday, President Enrique Peña-Nieto signed Mexico’s most sweeping ed-reform bill in seven decades into law. Mexico will now use uniform standards for hiring teachers, require merit-based promotions, and enjoy the ability to draw the first census of Mexico’s education system (because the 1.5 million-member-strong teacher union controlled the system, no one knew exactly how many schools, teachers, or students existed). One day later, police arrested Elba Esther Gordillo, the powerful head of said union, for embezzling as much as $160 million from union coffers. Did we mention that Peña-Nieto is from the PRI, the party that has leaned on the teacher union as a pillar of support for decades? President Obama’s got nothing on this guy!

Washington, D.C., has a thriving school-choice marketplace, with only a quarter of students attending their assigned neighborhood schools. But according to the Washington Post, some parents are overwhelmed by the multitude of options—and while a few can afford to pay for personalized advice, most cannot. That’s no reason to freak out, though. Andy Smarick reminds us that school choice turns parents into smarter consumers—and that the tremendous good that choice can do outweighs the temporary costs.

English and U.S. History remain the most popular Advanced Placement courses, according to the most recent data from College Board. Conversely, only half of those who took the AP History tests achieved a passing score, while Calculus and Physics saw much higher pass rates. With steep prerequisites for most of these advanced STEM courses, kids appear to know what they’re getting into—a point made by Kathleen Porter-Magee in this week’s podcast.

According to a new report, the United States is gaining consistent ground in high school completion and is on track to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, if current trends continue. That’s a big “if.” Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core standards so far, whose assessments (and cut scores) could make it more difficult for students to graduate. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) For more, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

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