If there's one thing guaranteed to grab the public's attention, it's a crisis. In this regard, few subjects are better candidates than schools. Reformers claim that what takes place in the classroom is directly responsible for what takes place in the economy. But a closer look at China, which is America's most formidable competitor, calls into question this assertion. The future of young people in China is almost totally dependent on how they perform on the gaokao. This nine-hour exam administered over two days assesses their knowledge of a variety of subjects. Psychometricians say it makes the SAT seem like ...


Long considered an educational backwater, Louisiana is now in the vanguard of the school reform movement. Two recent events there have implications for other states that are grappling with persistently failing schools and budget shortfalls. In April, the state Legislature put in place one of the nation's largest voucher programs by offering 320,000 poor and middle-class parents the means to send their children to any school of their choice in the fall ("School Vouchers Gain Ground," The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 11). It also made Louisiana one of a small number of states to adopt a parent trigger. Then ...


One of the more effective propaganda techniques is the half-truth. It works so well because there are just enough facts to appeal to the unsophisticated. A case in point is "Why Charter Schools Work" (The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 25). As readers of this column know, I support parental choice, including charter schools. But in order for choice to work the way it is intended, parents need to know all the facts. So let's take a closer look at the writer's argument to see where she comes up short. In what seems more like an advertisement than an essay, Deborah ...


Reformers confidently assert that reducing the number of days students spend in school will be a disaster. Since most states define a school year as consisting of 180 days of learning, they charge that anything fewer will shortchange students ("Shorter school year is a nonstarter," The Sacramento Bee, Jun. 24). I'm not convinced. Rather than automatically assuming that school time per se is the issue, I think it's how the time is spent that is crucial. In fact, more time alone is likely to be counterproductive under the present antiquated timetable. During the 28 years that I taught in the ...


The school year is finally over, but the summer will not be the idyllic time of yore for many students. Their days will be spent prepping for either the SAT or ACT, which still remain the gatekeepers for most marquee name colleges and universities. When I was in high school, the SAT had the entire market to itself. But in 1959, the ACT was founded and slowly began to make headway. It was originally most popular in the South and the Midwest. But by 2008, the geographical distinction had largely disappeared. Nationwide that year, 1.4 million students took the ...


If there's one constant in the debate over how to improve failing schools, it's the demand to get rid of bad teachers and replace them with good ones. After all, the argument goes, it's their job to teach students, and if they can't produce evidence to support their effectiveness, then it's time to sack them. I admit that the argument is alluring. But like so many controversies, there's another side to the story. It has to do with the reality of the classroom. Specifically, it's about the unprecedented challenge facing teachers today. I'm talking about the pressure to boost standardized ...


The preparation of doctors and teachers is moving in opposite directions, even though both professions have the same goal of serving their patients and students according to the highest standards. This paradox is evident in the new Medical College Admission Test, which places less emphasis on basic science and more emphasis on humanistic skills ("Pre-Med's New Priorities: Heart and Soul and Social Science," The New York Times, Apr. 13), and in the new teacher licensing exams, which downplay pedagogy and stress subject matter. Driving the 2015 revision of the MCAT is the belief that mastery of core science is not ...


When I first heard about education management organizations, I have to admit that I was intrigued. But the more I learned about them, the more I became convinced that they can never deliver what they promise. I thought of my initial reaction after reading that Christopher Whittle is once again trying to sell for-profit preparatory schools to a gullible audience. For those with a short memory, Whittle is indelibly associated with Edison Schools Inc. In the early 1900s, Whittle became convinced that he could succeed in providing a quality education and make money in the process. He based this delusion ...


Competition is supposed to bring out the best in students by making them take their studies more seriously. But there is a downside that deserves far greater attention. It involves the use of prescription stimulants to give them an edge ("Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill," The New York Times, Jun. 10). Driven to excel in the college admissions game, students are turning to such drugs as Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin and Focalin to get a leg up on tests. It's impossible to know with certainty how prevalent the practice is, but the New York Times estimates that between 15 and ...


From time to time, college professors weigh in on ways to improve public schools. It always amazes me that their views are taken so seriously. I say that because what passes for sound pedagogy in higher education in all likelihood would be a total flop in K-12 classrooms. The latest evidence for my skepticism is a piece written by Gary Gutting, a professor at Notre Dame University ("Who Should Teach Our Children?" The New York Times, Jun. 7). He maintains that "a high level of intelligence, enthusiasm for ideas and an ability to communicate" assure effective instruction. His reason is ...


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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