With reformers relentlessly demanding that schools produce measurable outcomes, it's curious that the Gini Index is rarely mentioned. I say that because what Italian statistician Corrado Gini wrote in 1912 has direct relevance to today's debate. Sometimes referred to as the Gini coefficient, it measures the range of income inequality in a society from 0 (no inequality) to 1(total inequality). Sweden, for example, has an index of .23, while Namibia has .7. The U.S. has one of the world's worst Ginis for an industrialized country at .468 in 2009. This is not surprising since wealth is being reconcentrated ...


The appointment of Cathleen Black to be chancellor of the nation's largest school district should come as no surprise to followers of the reform movement. Despite her lack of education experience (except for sitting on the board of the Harlem Village Academy but not yet having attended a meeting), Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose her to replace the departing Joel Klein, who moves on to become an executive vice president at News Corp. The trend of going outside the educational community to run troubled school districts will be applauded by those frustrated and angry at the pace of school improvement. They ...


The U.S. Supreme Court will consider this term whether school tuition organizations that were set up in Arizona in 1997 pass constitutional muster. The law permits residents of the state to contribute up to $500 that they would otherwise pay in taxes to a nonprofit school tuition organization. In turn, the STOs give scholarships to students to attend non-public schools. The only two conditions are that STOs can't award the scholarships to one school, and they must take financial need into consideration. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of taxpayers who challenged ...


With China and the U.S. competing to be the world's superpower, it's a propitious time to take a closer look at the contrasting ways the two countries are attempting to reform schools. Although the U.S. has only 98,000 public schools serving 50 million students, compared with China's 600,000 schools serving 230 million students, both can learn from each other. Schools in China are slowly trying to break away from their emphasis on memorization toward adopting strategies that stress creativity. Until now, schools believed that the former was the best way to score high on the gao ...


Is there another, better way of determining what teachers have taught and what students have learned than the standardized tests presently in use today? There is, but it is almost as controversial as the present approach. It's called performance assessment. It's not exactly new, but it's far more authentic. Performance assessment is applicable to any subject taught. It allows students to demonstrate their creativity and problem-solving ability more comprehensively than the standardized tests currently in use. Here's how it works. English teachers, for example, have students create portfolios of their essays over the semester. The work is initially graded by ...


Spared for years by criticism aimed at K-12 schools and four-year institutions of higher learning, community colleges are now in the dock for failing to perform their missions. The main venue is California, whose Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960 conceived community colleges as an affordable way for students to complete the first two years of college before transferring to a four-year school and for students seeking an associate's degree or career certification. In a report by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy, researchers found woefully low student transfer and completion rates at California's 112 community colleges serving ...


Competition for admission to coveted schools has been so well documented by the media by now that I thought I had seen it all. But a news article in the New York Times on Oct. 28 about the battle for acceptance to private preschools in New York City convinced me otherwise ("For Some Youngsters, a Second Chance at an Exclusive School"). The report described how children from some families are allowed to take the Educational Records Bureau a second time if their score the first time did not make the cut for admission. The E.R.B. is a one-hour ...


When New York City's Education Department announced on Oct. 20 that it intends to release the ratings of 12,000 teachers based on student test scores, United Federation of Teachers immediately said it would seek a court order to block the move. These developments are reminiscent of what took place in late August when the Los Angeles Times published a database of 6,000 teachers in third through fifth grades that ranked their effectiveness relative to their colleagues. The difference was that the Los Angeles Times calculated the value-added after obtaining the data under the state's Public Records Act. In ...


(For my related essay on how teachers are being hamstrung by court decisions, see "Rules for Schools: Dealing with Delinquents" in the Oct. 26 issue of The American.) The latest reminder that freedom of speech for teachers in K-12 is an illusion came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati on Oct. 21. In Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of the Tipp City Exempted Village School District, the court ruled that teachers cannot make their own curricular decisions. The case came about when high school English teacher Shelley Evans-Marshall was fired after 500 parents ...


If the role that poverty plays in student achievement was not already controversial enough, the debate is bound to become even more contentious as a result of renewed interest in the influence of culture on academic performance. The New York Times published a front-page story on Oct. 17 that traced the resurgence of what anthropologist Oscar Lewis called the culture of poverty (" 'Culture of Poverty' Makes a Comeback"). Although researchers have known for four decades that poverty and culture are intertwined, they shied away from the latter as an explanation to avoid being labeled politically incorrect. But as pressure has ...


The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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