Digital Learning

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesAncient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary War; the American founders; the Lewis and Clark expeditionmovie adaptations of classic children’s books, and American folk heroes.

Understanding outer space is, quite literally, a huge undertaking. Thankfully, Netflix and the other streaming sites are here to help explorers young and old, with tons of great content about this fascinating subject. To infinity—and beyond!

Special thanks to research interns Andrew McDonnell, Elisabeth Hoyson, and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on outer space

The Planets

1. The Planets

This documentary series examines cutting-edge discoveries about the planets, explores the origin of the...

For families seeking more than what their child’s assigned school offers, “school choice” has long been a cherished solution. And it’s made strong headway on the U.S. education-policy front. Millions of girls and boys now enjoy access to a range of educational options thanks to innovative school-choice policies.

Sometimes, however, changing schools isn’t the optimal solution—perhaps because no better options are available within a reasonable commute, because the state doesn’t have a viable choice policy, or because the student’s present school is satisfactory in all but a couple of areas. Enter “course choice,” a strategy for widening the education options available to youngsters. As a new white paper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute argues, it has the potential to dramatically expand access to high-quality courses for many more children from many more backgrounds and locales than we have thus far managed.

Rather than asking kids in need of a better shake to change homes, forsake their friends, or take long bus rides, course choice enables them to learn from the best teachers in the state or nation while staying in their neighborhood schools. It...

After twenty years of expanding school-choice options, state leaders, educators, and families have a new tool: course choice, a strategy for students to learn from unconventional providers that might range from top-tier universities or innovative community colleges to local employers, labs, or hospitals.

In Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice, Fordham’s Michael Brickman outlines policy questions and options to weigh when designing course-choice programs, including issues of student eligibility, course providers, funding, quality control, and accountability.

Spotlight: Course Choice in Louisiana

Louisiana is not the only state with a course-choice program (others include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin), but it is the farthest along in making such options widely accessible—and the way it has handled any challenges posed by these programs make it an ideal exemplar. Read about barriers that State Superintendent John White and other leaders have had to overcome in designing and implementing course choice.

Download the report: Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice...

The digital revolution is sweeping across Ohio. This year, twenty-six e-schools, twelve of which serve students throughout the state, will educate 40,000 or so youngsters. Countless more students will learn in a “blended” classroom or take an online course at their brick-and-mortar school.

One emerging use of technology is to help secondary students recover credit.  At first glance, the flexibility of online learning seems to be tailor-made for students who, for whatever reason, are in dire need of credit recovery. But in her recent Education Next article, journalist Sarah Carr documents a few of the flies in the ointment when it comes to this nascent, computer-based approach to credit recovery.

First, the data and research about online credit-recovery are simply far “too incomplete.” According to an AIR analyst with whom Carr spoke, “Even basic questions are unanswered, like the size of the business [i.e., online learning providers] and the size of the need.” Second, she finds that there is practically no way to determine the quality of an online course provider. In fact, Carr described a New Orleans school where the principal ditched one provider because its courses failed to engage her students and the quizzes...

The goal is innovation and excellence in education, the preferred avenues are digital-learning approaches in any of various forms, and the work is geared toward removing barriers to these approaches: that is the background of Digital Learning Now’s 2013 report card, released last week. The report card measures and grades K–12 education policies in each of the nation’s fifty states against the ten elements that they determined were important to ensure high-quality digital learning (among them embracing new education models, utilizing technology to expand personalized learning, and eliminating barriers to blended learning). The top states this year were Utah and Florida, the only two to get as high as an A–. Ten states were in the B range, and the rest were C+ and below. So, how’d Ohio do? Overall, we scrounged up a D, as did Hawaii and Alaska. We were higher than Pennsylvania and Kentucky but far below Indiana and Michigan. Ohio’s bright spot was in the area of “quality instruction,” for which we received a B+, but that still left us in the middle of the pack, our overall grade pulled down by lack of appropriate funding and less-than-open access to bring that quality instruction equitably across...

Like any relic of the industrial revolution, it’s time we took a wrench to the American education system. Or a bulldozer, argues Glenn Reynolds, distinguished professor of law at the University of Tennessee and InstaPundit blogger. In this book, he contends that the system will soon break down and reform will be unavoidable. In the first half of the book, he focuses on higher education, while in the second he touches on the K–12 bubble. Reynolds points out that the cost of education rapidly ballooned over the past few decades, while the substance diminished in value. College tuition has increased 7.45 percent per year since 1978, even outstripping the cost of housing (4.3 percent per year). Meanwhile, the real cost of K–12 education nearly tripled in that time. For all that expense, K–12 test scores have flat lined since 1970, and a study featured in the book Academically Adrift found that 36 percent of students demonstrated no academic improvement after four years in college. Meanwhile, society teaches teenagers to be infantile consumers of an inherently valuable education and blinds them to their potential value as skillful producers. Reynolds concludes that advances in technology and innovations in choice will bring...

In the last hundred years, the base of the United States economy has shifted from industry to knowledge—but the average American classroom operates in much the same way it always has: one teacher, up to thirty same-age students, four walls. This report from StudentsFirst argues that this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t cut it in the modern world, in which mastery of higher-order knowledge and skills ought to matter more than time spent in front of a teacher—and that what we need is competency-based education. This approach, also known as the “personalized model,” is characterized by advancing students through school based on what they know and can do, using assessments to give them timely, differentiated support, made easier by the introduction of learning technology. The authors highlight the Chugach School District in Alaska as a leader in personalized learning: it replaced grade levels with ten performance levels, requiring all students to demonstrate a minimum proficiency of 80 percent of the material before moving to the next level. With these innovations in place, Chugach surged from the twentieth percentile in reading to the eightieth on the nationally normed California Achievement Test. Its system inspired the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) model, which is used...

Class size is an incessant policy issue—something like a leaky faucet. The din of the class-size debate drips in the background while the thunderclaps roar (Common Core! Charters!). Many parents and teachers drone on about class-size reductions; fiscal hawks want class-size increases. Meanwhile, wonks have observed America’s shrinking teacher to pupil ratio, with trivial achievement gains to boot.

Education reformers—including Fordham (see our excellent, brand-new Right-sizing the Classroom study)—have urged commonsense policies that put a school’s best teachers in front of more students. Doing this may boost student achievement—perhaps, as we found in our study, more so in upper-grade levels than elementary. But oftentimes this means the scrapping maximum class size mandates etched into teacher contracts or state law, a difficult task. Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, articulates this position well, saying, “Ideally, schools would focus on increasing the number of students their best teachers have responsibility for.”

But it is MOOCs (“Massive Open Online Courses”) that have the potential to stretch the class-size debate the furthest. MOOCs could put the nation’s best teachers—not just a school’s best teachers—in front of more students. Presently, these online courses run the gamut, from an advanced high-school/freshman college...

Dear Deborah,

A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences.

In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in our larger social policies—to empower individuals who are working hard to climb the ladder to success. In other words, we need to spur on the strivers.

Let me explain some of my assumptions.

  1. As we've been discussing, I still believe in the promise of upward mobility. I don't buy into the dystopia of some on the left that pictures a future with an eviscerated middle class, opportunities only for the elite, and a vast dependent population. Times are tough now, but economic growth and jobs will return; the American Dream will be back.
  2. But I'm no utopian. Not all children born into poverty are going to make it out by adulthood. Most face powerful disadvantages—dysfunctional families, substance abuse, crime, segregation, broken economies, bad schools, etc.—and not everyone will be able to overcome them. Surely, though, we can do better than our current track record, which is to lift roughly half of all poor children into the working or middle class by the age of 25.
  3. Climbing the ladder of opportunity takes effort—by individuals and by their families. And it often requires help. I'm not arguing for a pure "bootstraps" approach to fighting poverty—poor children need all manner of supports in order to make it—but no one is going to succeed unless they want to go after the prize themselves.

A good many of our policies and programs, then, should be designed to help people with the drive, work ethic, tenacity, and motivation to rise. We should clear any obstacles in their path. We should empower them with opportunities. And, at all costs, we should avoid undercutting their efforts. In short, we should bring an ethos of meritocracy back to our anti-poverty efforts—the same ethos that still works relatively well at the top of our social structures and could work equally well at the bottom.

What would that mean, exactly? Here are some suggestions focused on education.

  1. Schools must be orderly, safe, high-expectations havens. There's a movement today to make it harder to suspend or expel disruptive children or to chide charter schools that enforce strict norms of behavior. That's a big mistake. To be sure, we should use discipline programs that are effective, and sky-high expulsion rates are often the sign of a poorly run school. But we should be at least as concerned—if not more concerned—about the students who are trying to learn and follow the rules as we are about their disruptive peers. If suspending (or relocating) one student means giving 25 others a better chance to learn, let's do it.
  2. High achievers must be challenged and rewarded. As Tom Loveless has shown, the anti-tracking craze that swept through our schools in the 80s and 90s left many suburban schools untouched but wreaked havoc in our poorest urban communities. While the impulse might have stemmed from concerns over "equity," the result was that high-achieving poor kids forfeited the opportunity to be in "gifted-and-talented" classes, honors tracks, or fast-moving Advanced Placement courses. As all of these programs were democratized or washed away, needy high achievers were forced into classrooms with lower-performing peers, which almost surely slowed their achievement and immersed them in a culture in which being smart wasn't cool. These policies, too, need to be reversed, particularly in high-poverty schools. While no one should be placed irrevocably in a dead-end "low-level" track, we absolutely need classrooms—or whole schools—where needy, bright, motivated youngsters can be challenged and can learn side by side with others who share their thirst for knowledge.
  3. The strivers should get their fair share of the resources. A common mistake in education policy is to think that equity demands a near-exclusive focus on the very most disadvantaged students, the toughest cases, the absolutely lowest performing pupils. Surely they deserve help, and No Child Left Behind appropriately shined a spotlight on their needs. But let's not overlook their slightly less disadvantaged peers—the boys and girls who come from low-income but perhaps not as dysfunctional homes and who aspire to graduate from college and enter the middle class. How could we help them? In higher education, for example, we should set academic standards for receiving Pell Grants. Only young people who are ready for college-level work—or perhaps just a notch below—should be eligible. And they should get grants that are much higher than what we offer today, along with all manner of supports. But we should also be willing to tell other students who are far below college-readiness levels—say, those reading or doing math at an eighth-grade level or lower—that college isn't for them. Instead, we spend billions of Pell Grant dollars on young people who toil in remedial education and almost inevitably drop out.

If some of these policies sound familiar, it's because once upon a time we embraced them—and they worked. Have you read the new book by Alison Stewart called First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School? In a new Education Next book review, AEI's Michael McShane explains that D.C.'s Dunbar, circa 1920,

  1. Was selective of the students that it allowed in—Dunbar required passage of an 8th grade exit exam or a high school placement test for students from outside the district;
  2. Had an unbelievably strict discipline system—The student handbook covered topics ranging from grooming requirements (daily baths and thrice daily tooth brushing) to recommending types of friends that students should have. ("Girls and boys who fail in lessons, who are unsatisfactory in deportments or careless in their habits, should not be chosen as companions.") The handbook told students how to walk down the street and reviewed proper dancing protocols ("Boys, after dancing thank your partner and escort her back to her seat") and how to sit, walk, and function within the school.
  3. Set an "astronomically" high academic standard for its students—For example, the Board of Education had to intervene to lower the amount of homework to one hour per subject per night.
  4. Flunked out a large number of students—Stewart quotes a report from the 1920s that stated "thirty-seven left the first semester, the majority of these being self-supporting pupils who lacked the courage and finance to continue the work"
  5. Tracked its students into different academic levels—Taking it a step farther, it even tracked students into the more vocationally oriented Cardozo High if they couldn't cut it at Dunbar.

And the results?

Though relegated to second-class status and stifled at every turn, Dunbar produced a coterie of graduates that the most elite schools in the country would envy.  Doctors, lawyers, Ivy League professors, generals, and titans of business all graced and were graced by Dunbar's faculty and community.

And this, of course, was in the Jim Crow era.

Dunbar later became a regular, de-tracked, "comprehensive" high school—and started its long slide. Would anyone argue that Washington, D.C., is better off as a result?

Our message to young people, especially those growing up in poverty, should be clear: If you're willing to do the work, we'll clear your path to the middle class.



This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli is debating Deborah Meier.

As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-entrance test of the same name, judges only one-quarter of its test-takers to be fully ready for college-level academics, and the College Board is not much cheerier. In releasing SAT results for the 1.6 million members of the high school class of 2013 who took the test, the board estimated that just 43 percent met its benchmark for college and career readiness—a score of 1550 or better (out of 2400), which translates to a 65 percent chance of having a B-minus (or better) GPA during the freshman year in college.

And that’s among those who stick it out and graduate from high school. Millions of young people drop out. School discipline remains appalling, with gangs, metal detectors, and violence the norm in many places.

The basic institutional structures for high school that former Harvard president James B. Conant described and recommended in an influential 1959 book remain pretty much unchanged a half-century later. The rest of the world has not been idle, however. Our competitors, rivals, and allies have all upped their games—graduating more of their young people, sending more to universities, and boosting their scores on various international measures. On the OECD’s PISA test, for instance, which compares a careful statistical sampling of students from around the world, twenty-two countries surpassed the U.S. in 2009 in the percentage of fifteen-year-olds reaching the “proficiency” level in math. (The test is administered every three years; results for 2012 will be out in early December.)

And while once upon a time American high schools had the world’s highest graduation (and college-going) rate, that’s no longer true. Writes Harvard education economist Richard Murnane, “Between 1970 and 2000, the high school graduation rate in the United States stagnated. In contrast, the secondary school graduation rate in many other OECD countries increased markedly during this period. A consequence is that, in 2000, the high school graduation rate in the United States ranked thirteenth among nineteen OECD countries.” Although the U.S. rate rose during the next decade, “graduation rates in other OECD countries also increased…As a result, the U.S. high school graduation rate in 2010 was still below the OECD average.”

Other countries’ high schools are different, too. Amanda Ripley’s acclaimed new book The Smartest Kids in the World recounts the experiences of three American teens who spent an exchange year overseas—in Finland, South Korea, and Poland—and were surprised and challenged by what they found: not a lot of bells and whistles—few computers, for example—but a culture of serious study and hard work. In her words,

[H]igh school in Finland, Korea, and Poland had a purpose, just like high-school football practice in America. There was a big, important contest at the end, and the score counted. Their teachers were more serious, too: highly educated, well-trained, and carefully chosen. They had enough autonomy to do serious work…The students had independence, too, which made school more bearable and cultivated more driven, self-sufficient, high school graduates.

Better teachers. A clear focus on learning. Higher expectations—and higher stakes for kids. Such basic alterations would reform U.S. high schools more surely than a dozen elaborate policies and government programs. But obstacles to such changes abound, rooted in present-day politics, the weak preparation of many students in the middle grades, and widespread complacency.

Because it’s so difficult to launch a frontal attack on structures and practices as deeply ingrained as those of the American high school—where often the biggest policy debate is about starting the day later so teenagers can stay in bed longer—the most promising path to change is working around the system. New institutional forms are emerging as alternatives to Conant’s “comprehensive” model (which envisioned an enrollment of at least one thousand students of varying abilities, receiving instruction in a wide range of subjects distributed among several “tracks”). Specialized “early-college” high schools enable motivated students to speed up, earn as much as two years’ worth of college credits, and improve what would otherwise be a boring senior year. Dual-enrollment programs also allow high school students to earn university credits, and access to Advanced Placement courses is increasing. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) schools appeal to young people with a keen interest in those fields, while career/technical schools (sometimes in league with community colleges) help others prepare for gainful employment after graduation.

Virtual schools—often in the charter sector—make it possible to take courses anytime, anyplace, which is especially valuable for those who are homebound, already working, burdened with family responsibilities, or keen to study subjects not available in their local high school. “Drop-out-recovery” schools—again, often charters—and “credit-recovery” options (which may also be online) create options for those who quit or flunk, then think better of it.

The steady advance of school choice at the state and local level—via vouchers, charters, virtual options, home schooling, and diverse forms of public-sector choice—has helped liberate young people from neighborhood schools that are unsatisfactory for a host of reasons. Indeed, choice works best at the high school level, because teens are more mobile and independent than their younger siblings and are also beginning to specialize. There’s a powerful civic and cultural argument for having everyone learn essentially the same things in elementary and middle school, but people naturally head in different directions during high school.

In New York City, for example, every eighth-grader—some 90,000 a year—must rank up to a dozen preferences among the city’s 400-plus high schools and programs. A computerized “matching” system, like the one used for medical residencies, then sorts them out. Though an applicant may put the closest school to his home at the top of his list, nobody is stuck in the neighborhood high school for lack of alternatives. (Whether the next mayor will keep this and other Bloomberg-era education innovations is doubtful. Front-runner Bill de Blasio is likely to follow the lead of Gotham’s powerful teacher union, which is no friend of school choice or most other innovations.)

Other changes underway in U.S. public education are likely, over time, to spread their effects to high schools. The Common Core academic standards for English and math, though controversial, are rigorous and substantive. If properly implemented—and attached to a bona fide accountability system—they’ll yield more high school graduates who are prepared for college-level work (and modern jobs) and fewer who need costly, discouraging “remediation.” That’s essentially what has been done in Massachusetts, the one state with high school graduates who can fairly be termed “internationally competitive.”

Also inspiring hope is a slow but steady move toward viewing education and the institutions that provide it as a continuum from Kindergarten (or earlier) at least through twelfth grade, and often through college, rather than a series of disconnected institutions that follow different rules and norms. The Common Core standards, for example, are carefully sequenced and cumulative from K–12. Our most celebrated charter schools—the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which now has well over a hundred schools across nearly half the states—began with the middle grades but came to realize that, particularly for disadvantaged youngsters, they had to start younger and stick with the kids longer. Visit Houston today and you will find twenty KIPP schools spanning the grades from pre-K through 12, plus an earnest new effort (“KIPP Through College”) to continue advising and encouraging these young people after they graduate. Meanwhile, in Ohio, KIPP Columbus (a non-profit organization) is constructing a five-school campus on a former golf course. KIPP and other feisty charter organizations are truly circumventing the traditional system—not just its high schools—and creating full-fledged alternative paths to a quality education for kids who need it, most of them in urban America.

That’s harder to do in communities that don’t know they need it and are content with what they’ve already got, even though they shouldn’t be. But there’s a glimmer of hope there, too: Individual high schools can now take part in the PISA-exam system, which gauges the reading, science, and math abilities of fifteen-year-olds and can thereby compare their students’ performance with that of their peers around the developed world. (Individual schools’ voluntary participation is not included in the national averages that were discussed above.) When the well-regarded high schools of Fairfax County, VA, got their PISA results from a 2012 pilot run, for instance, it turned out that students in plenty of other countries had higher scores.

Will information lightning bolts such as that, plus mounting demands from employers, outrageous and costly remediation rates in college, and all sorts of new organizational and technological options for getting a better education, turn all of us into more demanding consumers of education? That’s the surest way to break through the mediocrity of far too many of our high schools.

This article originally appeared in the October 28, 2013, issue of the National Review.

The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly schools until the teacher union agreed to major concessions, including a pay cut. But on Wednesday afternoon—with the union unwavering and civil-rights groups beginning to circle (and after the tragic death of young girl from asthma at a school that, due to budget cuts, did not have a nurse)—Corbett relented, arguing that he was satisfied with the other reforms made by the district. Which was probably the right call.

We know this much: Moody’s investment analysts don’t much care for parental choice, but they are concerned about the credit-worthiness of school districts. The latest Moody’s report shows that as charter schools gain public school market share in cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C., they’re putting financial stress on their local school systems, which have ended up with a negative credit outlook due to the students they’ve lost. But are charters really to blame? Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says many of these cities were distressed long before charters arrived. She’s right. What’s more, though, putting financial stress on districts is part of the whole idea: If districts can win back their customers to their own schools, they’d be doing fine financially. Maybe Moody’s analysts would feel differently if they had to send their own children to Detroit Public Schools. 

An even-handed New York Times editorial urged Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio to think rationally about the city’s charter school sector. The Grey Lady makes two main points: First, New York has “one of the nation’s most successful charter school systems.” Second, the next mayor can make the system even better by shutting down poor-quality schools, allowing only groups with proven track records to open new charters, and ensuring that colocations only occur in buildings large enough for all students to fit comfortably. We hope de Blasio takes the Times’s advice, if no one else’s.

Common Sense Media, an advocacy outfit that rates children’s videos and apps for age appropriateness, has issued a challenge to the educational-technology world: Come up with a national safeguard for students’ personal data. Ed tech, from assessment software to learning apps, has the potential to transform education fundamentally, but parents’ concerns for their children’s privacy are also well founded. Now is the time for red lines to be drawn with regards to student data.

The Star-Ledger ran a two-month investigation into New Jersey private schools that specialize in serving severely disabled children using public dollars (via so-called “private placement”). The laundry list of questionable financial practices—from blatant nepotism to the purchasing of expensive cars—while not an uncommon story in government contracting, particularly in the Garden State, was surprisingly widespread and quite sobering. But the question of how to improve these services is thorny. It is telling that the investigation did not even attempt to address whether the children are being provided quality services; while it may not be a stretch to guess that they are not, the issue remains that quality in the SpEd world is a tricky thing to measure. 

It’s well known that graduating from high school is generally insufficient preparation to be competitive in today’s economy. Reformers hope, however, that higher standards through the Common Core might, in time, improve the value of the diploma. But what about those who don’t even graduate? As a new radio documentary, Yesterday’s Dropouts, from D.C.’s WAMU radio station shows, a GED is far from sufficient to get America’s thirty million high school dropouts back on track. In fact, the piece cites research by James Heckman and Tim Kautz that found that only 1 percent of GED earners went on to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years! The piece is at its best when reminding us just how dire a situation we face, as students continue to drop out of high school and into an economy that simply isn’t creating good-paying jobs for low-skilled workers. Kavitha Cardoza does a fine job narrating the piece and provides some thought-provoking insights into Washington State’s I-BEST program, which helps adult learners earn job skills and is now being emulated elsewhere. Overall, though, the piece borders on outright advocacy at times—and while it is presented as a neutral exploration of the issue, it sure seems to have started with the “right answer” in mind and worked backwards. Still, workforce-development efforts for high school dropouts are vitally important, and the idea of moving to a more diverse set of credentials for these workers is certainly worth the in-depth treatment.

SOURCE: Kavitha Cardoza (host), Breaking Ground: Yesterday’s Dropouts (Washington, D.C.: WAMU, 2013).

Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known architect of the country’s burgeoning “academy” sector (what we would call “conversion charters”), built in reaction to high failure rates among non-selective public schools (over 50 percent were deemed to be failing in the 1990s). By the time Adonis left office in 2008, 133 academies were open and another 300 were in the pipeline. The book offers up both a history of England’s recent education-reform movement and a compelling personal account—followed by the author’s “Manifesto for Change,” a twelve-point plan for continued ed reform. Among these is a call for every underperforming public school to be replaced by an academy and for programs such as Teach First (the British counterpart of Teach For America) to be expanded.

SOURCE: Andrew Adonis, Education, Education, Education: Reforming England's Schools (London: Biteback, 2012).

Mirroring their favored baseball teams, Mike and Dara duke it out over Philly school reform,  “private placement” in special education, and the pros and cons of tracking. Amber makes old news fresh.

What (ed-reformer) parents want. Read What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs and take the quiz to see if you fall into one of our parent categories.

The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly schools until the teacher union agreed to major concessions, including a pay cut. But on Wednesday afternoon—with the union unwavering and civil-rights groups beginning to circle (and after the tragic death of young girl from asthma at a school that, due to budget cuts, did not have a nurse)—Corbett relented, arguing that he was satisfied with the other reforms made by the district. Which was probably the right call.

We know this much: Moody’s investment analysts don’t much care for parental...