One of the persistent assertions made by reformers in the U.S. over the years is that a strong educational system is indispensable for economic prosperity. They maintain that if schools are sub-par the nation can't possibly compete in the global marketplace. This is a seductive argument, but it vastly understates the role that governmental policies play. Japan, whose students perform near the top on international tests, sees things far more realistically. In a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal on March 1, Masaaki Shirakawa, governor of the Bank of Japan, not once mentioned schools as a factor in ...


Teachers have long maintained that they can't do their job if students don't do theirs. But their complaint has largely fallen on deaf ears until recently. Now, thanks to Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift (University of Chicago Press, 2011), the issue is finally coming onto center stage where it belongs. What the two academics underscore is the importance of "shifting attention from faculty teaching to student learning... ." This argument is long overdue. The best teachers can do only so much to inculcate knowledge and skills in their students. Unless they actually perform the hard work assigned, ...


It may be a small point in the larger scheme of things, but the way the media treat education news is worthwhile looking at more closely. The Los Angeles Times serves as an instructive case study. On Mar. 15, the Times published a story about Granada Hills Charter High School, which won the state Academic Decathlon ("Granada Hills Charter High School wins California Academic Decathlon"). After a year of hard work and two days of fierce competition, the school took the title and advanced to the national level. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, took the ...


It's tempting for teachers to gloat when evidence does not support claims made by outsiders regarding school policies. But doing so would only exacerbate the resentment that too many taxpayers already feel about the profession. Take the debate over merit pay for teachers. Despite what reformers maintain, teachers have long argued that it will do little, if anything, to improve student achievement. The latest evidence that teachers were right all along came from a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. It concluded that student achievement actually declined in schools participating in New York City's $75-million teacher incentive plan that ...


With thousands of teachers across the country facing layoffs at the end of the spring semester because of daunting state budget shortfalls, it may seem irrelevant to consider the issue of license reciprocity. But I think this is precisely the right time to do so. Even during these hard times, the law of supply and demand has not been repealed. It continues to affect school districts. In fact, it is arguably more important than ever today because there is total agreement that highly qualified teachers are the single most important in-school factor affecting student performance. As a result, we need ...


Education free marketeers are relentless in their campaign to get K-12 schools to recruit and retain the best and the brightest college graduates. To achieve this goal, they are willing to pay top dollar to top talent as long as the results are there for all to see. Yet when schools post stellar outcomes, these same reformers are quick to lash out at the salaries. It seems that schools can't win, no matter how well they perform. The latest example is a New York Post story about the Syosset Central School District located in Nassau County on Long Island ("She's ...


Public schools in the U.S. have long been overly hospitable to educational trends that eventually run their course and disappear. But the one that has managed to maintain its hold the longest is self esteem. I reject the use of the word "fad" to describe self esteem because it is a worthwhile goal as long as it does not become the end-all and be-all of what transpires in the classroom. Unfortunately that has not been the case. In Everyone's a Winner (University of California Press), sociologist Joel Best describes how a "congratulatory culture" in this country explains the obsession ...


At a time when a bachelor's degree is considered indispensable for a successful future, it's troubling to read about the dark side of a college "education." The latest example is Coastal Carolina University located near Myrtle Beach, S.C. In a detailed article, the New York Times explained how David DeCenzo, the school's president, embarked on a risky program to make Coastal Carolina a brand name ("Coastal Carolina Struggles on Way to Tournament," Feb. 25). But instead of academics, he chose athletics to do so. That was his first mistake. There are already far too many colleges and universities that ...


Just when it appeared that Bill Gates had finally learned a lesson in humility, he put his foot in his mouth once again. In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Feb. 28, Gates argued that student achievement has remained virtually flat over the past four decades despite doubling per-student spending in K-12 schools because teaching is the one profession that has no clear indicators of excellence ("How teacher development could revolutionize our schools"). His solution is to "identify great teachers, find out what makes them so effective and transfer those skills to others so more students can enjoy top ...


Facing mounting criticism that they prevent even the worst teachers from being fired, teachers unions are taking steps to streamline the dismissal process. No doubt their actions are hastened along by their realization that they are at risk of becoming an anachronism. But there's more to the story than mere self-survival. In late February, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union, proposed a plan that would give tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory by their principals a maximum of one year to improve ("Leader of Teachers' Union Urges Dismissal Overhaul," New York Times, Feb. ...


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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