Even the brightest columnists sometimes reveal their woeful misunderstanding of testing. The latest reminder was Thomas L. Friedman's "Teaching for America," which was published in the New York Times on Nov. 21. He asserted that critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication and ability to collaborate - the skills indispensable for success in a knowledge economy - are measured by the international tests currently in use. He then compounded his error by arguing that the reason other countries such as Finland and Denmark outscore the U.S. is because their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. ...


If any doubt still lingers that public schools have nothing to do with the nation's economic woes, it is dispelled by a scathing essay by Sherwood Ross posted on Nov. 27 ("Why Poverty Spreads Across America"). He shows that today's unprecedented poverty is a cancer that is caused by employers, who have "shown not an ounce of loyalty to their work forces" and by the federal government, which "has lied the nation into costly criminal wars." These are serious charges that demand evidence. Ross is up to the task. He cites Camden, N.J. as a glaring example of what ...


Faced with the daunting task of turning around failing schools, a number of cities over the past 20 years put their mayors in charge of the job. Although this strategy ran counter to a long tradition of school board independence, it was seen as the most effective way to speed up the pace of reform. The most dramatic example was New York City, home of the nation's largest school district. In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg convinced the state Legislature to grant him the power he sought. Whether he has been successful depends largely on who is queried. What is undeniable, ...


Although Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting for Superman" has received the lion's share of media attention, it actually followed in the footsteps of "The Lottery," which was released in May after being shown at the Tribeca Film Festival the month before. Directed and edited by Madeleine Sackler, who was also a co-producer, the documentary focuses on the attempts of four desperate families to get their children admitted to the Harlem Success Academy through the use of a chance drawing. Despite the similarities between the two documentaries, I wanted to give Sackler an opportunity to respond to a series of questions about what ...


Just when it seemed as if vouchers were moribund, the school board in Douglas County, located south of Denver, announced it is considering allowing parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools. What makes the story unusual is that the county is one of the wealthiest in the nation, with median family income of $105,000 and only eight percent of students qualifying for free lunches. Never before have vouchers been attempted in an affluent suburban district with high-performing public schools, according to the Wall Street Journal ("Board Floats Voucher Plan," Nov. 20). To make matters ...


Whether the country is ready or not, parental choice of schools is here to stay. As readers of this column know, I support the policy because I believe that ultimately only parents know what is best for their children's education. But at the same time, it's important to realize the limitations of the strategy. The fate of children whose parents are not involved in their education unfortunately is given short shrift in the debate. If they are considered unavoidable collateral damage, then there's nothing further to discuss. However, I don't think most people will accept that outcome. New Zealand serves ...


With consensus mounting that teachers are the single most important in-school factor in student achievement, it's time to take a closer look at the programs designed to prepare them for the classroom. On Nov. 16, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed on the subject ("Training better teachers") and on the same day the Wall Street Journal ran a news article on the same issue ("Teacher Training Is Panned"). What emerges is a scathing indictment of the nation's 1,450 colleges and departments of education. Specifically, the charge is that too many teacher preparation programs focus far too heavily on ...


Promoted as a way of finally transferring power from school officials and teachers unions to parents where it rightly belongs, California's Parent Trigger Law is unlikely to have the impact its supporters hope. Under the law, if 51 percent of parents in a failing school sign a petition, the result could mean closing a school, firing all the staff and rehiring new teachers and administrators, or turning over the school to a charter operator. Despite the fanfare since the law went into effect in Jan. 2010, few parents have taken advantage of their new leverage to create change. That's not ...


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 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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