Although the primary election on Sept. 14 in Washington D.C. was billed as a contest between Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray, in actuality it was a referendum on Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. That's because the differences between the two candidates on the ballot ultimately came down to their views on her leadership of the troubled school district. Rhee made this clear when she unabashedly campaigned for Fenty, who had appointed her soon after he was successful in getting legislation passed that eliminated D.C.'s elected school board and gave him full control on June 1, ...


In theory, parental choice of schools is supposed to assure educational equity. But in practice, the strategy has not always worked out that way. Reports from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York City, for example, illustrate why the devil is always in the details. For starters, the system is terribly confusing to even the most sophisticated parents. In an attempt to provide all parents with the opportunity to enroll their children in schools that best meet their needs and interests, officials have created rules worthy of a Solomon to decipher. Los Angeles uses a points system for parents ...


An experiment that allows teachers to run schools as they see fit is slowly gaining traction across the country. A front-page story on Sept. 7 in the New York Times described the latest effort taking place in Newark N.J. ("In a New Role, Teachers Move to Run Schools"). If the strategy succeeds in turning around failing schools, it will likely encourage more teachers to throw their hats into the ring. That's because schools that are run by teachers report higher morale, less turnover and greater motivation to improve, according to Education Evolving, a St. Paul policy group specializing in ...


It's easy to forget at the start of the fall semester that private schools enjoy certain advantages over their public school counterparts. I was reminded of this difference by the Little Lake Free School in Ann Arbor, Mich. that opened its doors on Sept. 7. It is the antithesis of the standardization of education that is sweeping the country. First, the school's curriculum is determined by what students want to learn, rather than what teachers tell them to learn. The idea is that their natural curiosity will lead them on the road to discovery. The responsibility of teachers, therefore, is ...


To date, reformers have focused almost exclusively on the performance of teachers in an attempt to improve educational quality. But education is not their sole responsibility. I wrote about the crucial role that parents play in the process ("The Untouchables in School Reform," Sept. 3). Now it's time to examine the performance of principals. The latest reminder of how principals can poison the learning atmosphere comes out of Washington D.C. Jay Mathews, education columnist for the Washington Post, exposed the risk that even the best teachers run when they criticize their principals ("Transfer of D.C. teacher Erich Martel ...


If the new standardized tests slated to make their debut in the 2014-15 school year turn out as their designers promise, classroom instruction will enter a new era. Until now, teachers have argued that the tests in wide use largely measure achievement of low-level cognitive goals. As a result, even if teachers were able to post impressive gains for their students, educational quality was unavoidably sacrificed in the process. But the two groups responsible for creating the new instruments in English and math (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) have ...


Right now, teachers are under the microscope in an attempt to identify which ones are effective based on the value-added model. There's no question that better ways need to be developed and implemented to make that determination. But what is lost in the debate is the role that other figures play in educational outcomes. Strangely, parents have so far evaded similar scrutiny. This oversight is cause for deep concern as the new school year begins. Parental involvement in the achievement of students is well supported by a broad body of empirical evidence. The most recent data come from the Harlem ...


President Obama's proclamation that "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world" reignites the long-simmering debate about the issue. To achieve this objective, an additional 375,000 students a year would have to graduate with at least an associate's or bachelor's degree. This number represents a 42 percent increase over today's output. At present, the U.S. ranks ninth in the proportion of young adults age 25-34 with college degrees among the countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. At first reading, Obama's goal makes sense. The benefits of ...


Education Secretary Arne Duncan's speech delivered in Little Rock, Ark. put an end to any doubt about the Obama administration's position on full disclosure of teachers who fail to boost their students' standardized test scores. In unambiguous language, he declared: "The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter." So let's take a closer look at the "truth" as Duncan sees it. What is the ostensible purpose of publishing the names of teachers whose students do not make progress on these closely watched tests, as opposed to publishing the names of teachers ...


Since I wrote about the decision by the Los Angeles Times to publish its ratings of 6,000 elementary school teachers based on the value- added model, the debate has heated up ("How Not to Win Support for Teachers Unions," Aug. 18). In a series of front-page stories under the heading of "Grading the Teachers," followed by op-eds and letters to the editor, the Times has focused national attention on the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest. Although the LAUSD is not the first district to be associated with the controversial metric, it is being closely watched ...


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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