Blaming teachers unions for California's fiscal woes is classic scapegoating.


Once considered the most promising way to voluntarily integrate schools while at the same time provide a challenging curriculum, magnet schools have since been eclipsed in popularity by charter schools. What is taking place in Los Angeles is a case in point. Although magnet schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District have been in existence since 1977, they have not been able to keep pace with the growth in charter schools since 1993 when they first started. At present, there are 197 charters, enrolling about 110,000 students - far more than any other district in the nation. This ...


With the fall semester at the mid-term mark, teachers are increasingly using their leave privileges. According to the Center for American Progress, the average absence rate for any given day is 5.3 percent. ("Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement," Nov. 5). This compares with 3 percent for full-time salaried workers. The difference is likely to provide fuel for reformers who point out that teachers already work far fewer days than employees in any other field. But there is more to the story. To begin with, teacher absentee rates vary greatly from district to district. For example, ...


Despite pronounced disaffection with the academic performance of students, 53.9 percent of voters in California approved Proposition 30, a ballot measure that is expected to raise an additional $6 billion a year in taxes to protect public schools and colleges. To achieve this goal, the sales tax will rise to 7.5 percent - a quarter of a percentage point - until 2016, while individuals making more than $250,000 annually will see their income-tax-rate increase by one to three percentage points until 2018. The money will go into the general fund, with the lion's share earmarked for schools. ...


The U.S. has long been uncomfortable with differentiation in education, as Richard Hofstadter made clear in his 1964 Pulitzer Prize-winning Anti-intellectualism in American Life. But things slowly started to change in 1983 with the publication of "A Nation At Risk." Its alarmist indictment about education made elitism seem a bit more acceptable. The result is that 165 public high schools now admit gifted students on the basis of an exam. There is a difference, however, between gifted and genius that is poorly understood in the ongoing debate over how to identify and nurture young people who clearly are in ...


Every profession has practitioners who seem to have been born with the wherewithal to become a success. Teaching is no exception. Jaime Escalante, Frank McCourt and Pat Conroy immediately come to mind. They possessed an uncanny ability to achieve wonders with their students because they followed their inner voice. But there are countless other teachers who deserve equal recognition for performing what I consider to be akin to miracles in the classroom. From time to time, I receive e-mails from former students who thank me for one thing or another, even though they're not sure I remember them. They seem ...


New performance evaluation systems being adopted in school districts across the country are heralded as long overdue. But there's one aspect that is downplayed by reformers: they give principals a rare opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Their prey are veteran teachers who are at the top of the salary scale and who are likely to speak out on issues affecting their school because they have tenure. By rating them as ineffective, principals can get rid of them, in the process improving the district's balance sheet and silencing opposition. Reformers will argue that the scenario I outlined is ...


No, the headline above is not a typo. It's recognition of a strategy that all effective teachers engage in, even though they are reluctant to admit it. The controversy arises from a confusion between teaching to the actual items on a test (indefensible) and teaching to the broad body of knowledge and skills that a test's items measure (sound). The villain is the test itself. If it measures only low-level cognitive standards that are instructionally insensitive, then the results will undermine taxpayer confidence in schools and teachers. But if the test assesses high-level instructional objectives that are instructionally sensitive, then ...


Despite sincere efforts to diversify, private schools have been stymied in making minority students feel included. In the 2011-12 school year, for example, 26.6 percent of students in independent schools nationwide were minority, compared with 18.5 percent a decade before. Yet admitting more students from these groups has not necessarily led to their feeling particularly welcome ("Admitted, but Left Out," The New York Times, Oct. 21). The distinction between admittance and inclusion is largely the result of the attitudes and values that advantaged students bring to school. They are often manifested in "polite indifference, silence and segregation." For ...


The Common Core Standards have intensified the debate about the increased role of nonfiction in the K-12 curriculum. As a former English teacher, I'm frankly at a loss to understand the concern. Guidelines recommend that students get about the same exposure to fiction and nonfiction in the lower grades, and more exposure to nonfiction in high school. Let me explain why that makes sense. The argument is that reading great fiction and writing about it are a prerequisite for success in college. I assume that those who make this claim are referring to English classes, which are almost always devoted ...


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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