Is there really a teacher shortage in this country? The usual data cited are from the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics. It shows that in 1970 there were 2.06 million public school teachers, or one for every 22.3 students. Today, there are 3.27 million public school teachers, or one for every 15.2 students. At first glance, these numbers seem to indicate that there is no teacher shortage and that class sizes are not too big ("The Imaginary Teacher Shortage," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 9). But these conclusions are misleading. First, the ...


The SEC requires investors to be warned in a prospectus that past performance is no guarantee of future results. I think state licensing departments should warn teacher candidates that their past behavior is guaranteed to come back to haunt them. I was reminded of this by the case of Tiffany Webb, a 37-year-old high school guidance counselor in the New York City system who was fired after 12 years of exemplary service because she seductively posed in her undergarments several years before she became a teacher in 1999 ("Manhattan HS guidance counselor stripped of job over steamy-photo past," New York ...


I have great respect for Alfie Kohn, but I disagree with what he recently wrote as a guest blogger ("Do kids really learn from failure? Why conventional wisdom may be wrong," The Answer Sheet, Oct. 4). If I read him correctly, he believes that nothing good comes from failing. "But are we entitled to conclude ... that failure is beneficial, or that parents and teachers should deliberately stand back rather than help out?" The answer to the first question is yes, while the answer to the second question is no. There's a distinct difference between disengagement on the part of parents ...


I thought that the U.S. Supreme Court had made it clear in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1969 that students did not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." Yet on Oct. 2, a 15-year-old high school student in the New York City school system was sent home when she refused to change her T-shirt that said "I Enjoy Vagina" ("School sends home bisexual Queens student who wears 'I enjoy vagina' T-shirt," New York Daily News, Oct. 3). The girl's mother supported her right to wear the T-shirt, ...


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. ...


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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