When Head Start began in 1965, its purpose was to prepare low-income children for school by developing their social, emotional and physical skills. Although math and reading readiness was a focus, Head Start was never intended to be primarily academic. This mission is important to bear in mind now because the Obama administration has identified 132 Head Start programs out of the approximately 1,600 across the country as deficient, meaning that they will be required to reapply for their share of $7.6 billion in federal funding ("Head Start Faces a New Test," The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 27). ...


Teacher Appreciation Week begins today and ends on May 11. It's the one time of the year that is officially designated to remember teachers who for one reason or another have played an important role in our lives. It's easy to dismiss the occasion as just another sop thrown to those in the front of the classroom. But I don't think most people realize how much teachers welcome being recognized for their accomplishments. Teachers may not admit it openly, but a note from a student or parent thanking them for what they have done makes their lives seem worthwhile. This ...


Schools are constantly under attack for graduating students who are ill prepared for college and career. There is much truth to the criticism. Yet one aspect has been less explored. It has to do with protecting young people from disappointment. The most recent example was on display in New York City's elite prep schools ("NYC prep schools institute dress codes, Facebook guidelines about college acceptance," The New York Post, Apr. 22). With college letters of acceptance or rejection now in the hands of seniors, these schools are attempting to minimize the fallout by rules designed to teach the appropriate way ...


It's not often that intellectual heavyweights disagree so fundamentally about the same issue in commentaries published days apart in the nation's two most respected newspapers. I'm referring to Paul Krugman, whose column "Wasting Our Minds" appeared on Apr. 29 in The New York Times, and to George P. Schultz and Eric A. Hanushek, whose essay "Education Is the Key to a Healthy Economy" appeared in The Wall Street Journal on May 1. The subject was the relationship between educational outcomes and economic growth. Let's start with Schultz and Hanushek. They wrote: "Over the past half century, countries with higher math ...


A new report by the Schott Foundation documents policies and practices of the New York City Department of Education that create and reinforce unequal opportunities to learn ("A Rotting Apple"). It maintains that what is taking place in the nation's largest school district amounts to no less than education redlining because the census tract in which students live determines the quality of education they receive. It's a provocative argument. But there's another side of the story that needs to be told. In an ideal world, there would be equal opportunities to learn by all students regardless of the location of ...


The debate pitting supporters of discovery learning against supporters of fully guided instruction seems finally settled. "Decades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance" ("Putting Students on the Path to Learning," American Educator, Spring 2012). I agree with the conclusion. But I hasten to point out that there will always be students who, for one reason or another, possess advanced knowledge or are self-directed. Teachers who happen to inherit a class of these students will post impressive results in spite of - not because ...


Every subject taught in high school has its unique downsides. But as a former English teacher for 28 years in the same high school, I'd argue that grading student compositions has to be the most arduous in terms of time and effort. That's why I was elated to hear about computer scoring because its designers claim "virtually identical levels of accuracy" as essays graded by teachers. But a closer look dampened my initial enthusiasm. According to Les Perelman, a director of writing at MIT, automated readers are easily gamed ("Facing a Robo-Grader? Just Keep Obfuscating Mellifluously," The New York Times, ...


Even in a behemoth like Texas, cuts of roughly $5.4 billion to public schools made during the last legislative session to balance the state's two-year budget can't be ignored. They've resulted in larger class sizes, more layoffs of teachers and support staff, and fewer services and supplies ("At Texas Schools, Making Do on a Shoestring," The New York Times, Apr. 9). But the factors surrounding the cuts are less known. That's unfortunate because they have application to other states as well. First, the Texas Supreme Court in 2005 ruled that a cap on local school taxes amounted to an ...


When Milton Friedman wrote in 1955 that the best way to improve schools was to empower parents, he planted the seed of a movement that is now bearing fruit. But it is turning out to be a disappointing harvest, as events in New Orleans and New York City illustrate. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 initially was a blessing in disguise for Friedman acolytes because almost all public schools in New Orleans reopened as charter schools. These new schools have posted impressive academic outcomes, but the trouble is that demand continues to outstrip supply even after seven years. ...


The call for schools to turn out students who can succeed in the 21st-century economy is so familiar by now that it hardly seems worthwhile revisiting the issue. But reading an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by a former high school teacher changed my mind ("Educating the Next Steve Jobs," Apr. 14). Tony Wagner argues that young people in this country become innovators in spite of their schools - not because of them. Although he cites a few notable exceptions, the message is quite clear: most schools are designed and operated to penalize failure. Yet unless students are allowed ...


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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