The growing popularity of parental choice is having unintended consequences for school finances. The situation in Inglewood, California is a case in point. The school district there has experienced a 20 percent overall decline in enrollment since 2006, creating a fiscal emergency ("Jerry Brown's School Bailout," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 2). But school districts by law cannot declare bankruptcy. Instead, they are taken over by a state-appointed receiver who operates the schools while attempting to balance the books. (I wrote about the subject in "When States Seize Schools: A Cautionary Tale," Education Week, Jun. 12, 2007.) The reasons for ...


"Won't Back Down," the new movie financed by billionaire Philip Anschutz, is cited by reformers as an example of the power of teachers unions to obstruct efforts to improve failing schools. When reminded that the film is fiction even though it claims to be "inspired by true events," they are quick to point to Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California to make their case. It was there that parents petitioned the school board to convert the school into a charter under the state's parent trigger law. But events that followed are not what reformers maintain about teachers unions. Despite ...


The field of education is known for its lofty mission statements that have great intuitive appeal. The problem too often, however, has been in their execution. Christopher Whittle serves as an instructive case study. As readers will remember, Whittle first came into prominence with Edison Schools in 1992. He is once again in the news because of the opening of Avenues: The World School ("Chris Whittle Seeks Global Reach in Private School Venture," Education Week, Sept. 25). I want to be fair in my remarks, but I would be remiss in omitting Whittle's track record (The Edison Schools, Routledge, 2005). ...


Educational reform varies greatly across the country. What is seen as transformational in one place is regarded as insignificant in another. The settlement of the teachers strike in Chicago this month, for example, contrasts dramatically with the referendum on the ballot in Idaho in November. Yet both come under the same umbrella. Karen Lewis and Randi Weingarten claim that Chicago serves as a case study of moving past "random acts of 'reform' that have failed to move the needle and toward actual systemic school improvement" ("A Gold Star for the Chicago Teachers Strike," The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 24). They ...


The fall semester is just a few weeks old, but already the craziness to get into marquee-name schools is in full bloom. I was reminded of this after reading questions submitted by readers to Janet Rapelye, the dean of admissions at Princeton University ("Guidance Office | Ask Princeton's Dean About College Admissions," The New York Times, Sept. 19). There is a sense of desperation that I have never seen before and that I cannot understand. Let me begin by stating that I received a B.A. from an Ivy League university with distinction. I say that upfront to dispel any notion ...


At a time when seldom is heard an encouraging word about education in this country, exam schools stand out. These are public schools that are characterized by their highly selective admissions policies and their outstanding academic results ("Exam Schools from the Inside," Education Next, Fall 2012; "Young, Gifted and Neglected," The New York Times, Sep. 18). I'm not calling into question the achievement of students in these schools. On the contrary, I salute their impressive performance. But at the same time, I have to ask how much of the success of the 165 exam schools that Chester E. Finn Jr. ...


Now that the fall semester has begun, schools will be faced with deciding where to draw the line on their students' right of free speech on the Internet. I'm not talking now about student-on-student cyberbullying, which is outlawed by nearly every state. Instead I'm referring to postings that slander teachers. Recognizing the harm done to the reputation of teachers, North Carolina has made comments that "intimidate or torment" teachers a misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $1,000 and/or probation ("Teachers Fight Online Slams," The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 18). Critics maintain that the law infringes on the free ...


One of the advantages of charter schools in the minds of their supporters is the absence in most cases of teachers unions. Without them, principals have far more freedom to fire those who are ineffective. But there is a price to be paid, as was seen at Philadelphia's Delaware Valley Charter High School on May 31 ("Philadelphia Charter School Teachers - And Their Union - Stand Up to Management," In These Times, Aug. 2). What happened serves as a rebuttal to those who believe that teachers unions are interested only in protecting their members to the detriment of students. In ...


During the 28 years that I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I participated in three strikes. No one who hasn't taught can understand how truly conflicted teachers are about striking. Despite what many commentators have opined, teachers feel guilty about abandoning their students and going on the picket line. That's because they never chose teaching in search of fame, fortune or power. They did so because they believed that they could make a small difference in the lives of young people. I realize that's a platitude, but it cannot be denied. So when teachers go out on ...


It sometimes takes a celebrated author to bring to the public's attention an issue that teachers have long known. I have reference now to Paul Tough's new book How Children Succeed. His thesis is that non-cognitive skills matter more than cognitive abilities in determining how a young person's life will turn out. Tough acknowledges that skills and knowledge (cognition) are important, but he believes that "persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence" (non-cognition) have been given short shrift ("Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race,' " The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 8). What to make of Tough's view? Frankly, I'm ...


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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