Ever since the accountability movement gained traction, critics have subjected the public to an endless recital of the ills afflicting schools. In response, reformers have offered their solutions with the zeal of missionaries trying to convert the masses. The latest example was "How to fix our schools: A manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders," which was published in the Washington Post on Oct. 10. Putting aside the emotions their names conjured up, I tried to find something convincing in their remarks. But what they said about charter schools, high-stakes tests, competition, performance pay etc. were assertions. ...


In an investigative report that was supported by charts and graphs, The New York Times on Oct. 11 revealed how New York State officials ignored warnings from experts for more than a decade about the way tests were being misused to create the illusion of progress ("On New York School Tests, Warning Signs Ignored"). The front-page story was a case study of assessment legerdemain in action. What it showed was that a singular obsession with test scores had distorted the entire assessment process, undermining confidence in the claims made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein. In publishing the ...


It's an article of faith among reformers that recruiting teachers from the top tier of their class will assure top performing schools. The latest example of this thinking was an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Oct. 10 ("Why aren't our teachers the best and the brightest?"). Paul Kihn and Matt Miller of McKinsey & Company cited Finland, Singapore and South Korea's policy of drawing 100 percent of their teachers from the top third of their high school and college classes as the secret of their schools' success. By contrast, Kihn and Miller assert that the cause of the sub-par ...


If a judge approves the settlement of a lawsuit proposed by the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, teacher layoffs would be subjected to striking new rules. In a front-page story on Oct. 6, the Los Angeles Times reported that the sacrosanct last-hired, first-fired policy would be replaced by a strategy requiring no school would lose a disproportionate number of teachers ("Settlement limits L.A. teachers' seniority protection"). The tentative agreement does not eliminate seniority entirely in considering layoffs. However, it undercuts the traditional basis for issuing pink slips. The impetus for the change was a lawsuit filed ...


Teachers unions have been cast as the villain for depriving students of a quality education for so long that any attempt now to rebut the charge is probably an exercise in futility. The latest reminder of their alleged pernicious influence was an editorial in the New York Observer on Sept. 28 that recited the usual bill of particulars ("Head of the Class"). But there is another side to the story that needs to be heard. The best way to do so is to look at what would happen if teachers unions were outlawed. Would their disappearance make a significant difference ...


With great fanfare, the George W. Bush Institute announced on Sept. 29 that it plans to mount an ambitious campaign to recruit principals from outside educational circles. The initiative, called the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, will look for candidates with business, sports and military backgrounds in the belief that a new breed of school leadership is sorely needed. School districts are indeed faced with waves of principal retirements, as baby boomers reach the end of their careers. But whether the Bush Institute can produce the 50,000 K-12 principals by its target date of 2020 is doubtful. According to ...


When the Los Angeles Times decided to publish the rankings of 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers based on how much progress their students made in English and math on standardized tests, it rationalized the move by arguing that taxpayers have the right to know the results. On August 30, I wrote that the Times had made a serious mistake ("Why Not Name and Shame Teachers?). But I never imagined for a minute that it would have such a tragic outcome. On Sept. 28, the Times ran a story about the suicide of 39-year-old Rigoberto Ruelas, who taught fifth grade ...


Who would have thought that public schools would be the subject of so many movies released at the same time? I was going to write "star" instead of "subject," but the former connotes admiration and awe, which is hardly what the recent list of films has in mind. On the contrary, their intent is to depict public education in this country as a disaster, with teachers unions as the villain. Documentaries, of course, have always come in many different flavors. But I don't ever recall a spate that is so utterly unnuanced as the present crop. The top contender for ...


Today's reformers rightly demand to know how well teachers are teaching and students are learning. The trouble is that statistics are the only evidence they will accept. Numbers by themselves, however, are not sacrosanct. They are subject to manipulation by special interests and to misinterpretation by unsophisticated readers. I first learned how this is done by a piece that was published in Harper's in October 1964. Otto Friedrich wrote "There Are 00 Trees in Russia." He showed how even "the most careful checking of facts by a platoon of researchers does not necessarily add up to the whole truth." He ...


High school seniors who plan to attend a four-year college or university may want to rethink their choices if getting a job is their primary concern. The Wall Street Journal published the results of its survey of top corporate recruiters in a front-page story on Sept. 13 ("Penn State Tops Recruiter Rankings"). It found that they preferred graduates of state universities over the Ivies and elite liberal arts colleges. Recruiters said that graduates of top public universities possess the practical skills that their corporate employers are seeking. As a result, prospective students are being advised by their counselors to ask ...


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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