So much anger aimed at public schools today is based on the assumption that they were far better in the past. It's understandable why this view persists when the media are relentless in their coverage of what seems to be only the most negative examples. The trouble, however, is that there never was an educational Eden in this country. In fact, ever since public schools have existed here, they've been the subject of complaints that sound very much like those heard today. A fast rewind through the decades serves as an instructive lesson, with today's parallels noted in parenthesis. It's ...


As if anyone needs to be reminded, Asian students consistently finish at or near the top on all academic rankings. The latest evidence was Shanghai's No. 1 placement on the Program for International Student Assessment and an article in the Wall Street Journal about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua that triggered more hits on the newspaper's Web site than any other topic in its existence. But what is left out of the overall glowing picture is the heavy price that students in China, Japan and Korea pay. This price shows up in two ways. According to ...


Long considered a monolith, teachers unions are facing a serious challenge from within their ranks. The threat made its first significant appearance in New York City and in Los Angeles, homes of the nation's largest and second largest school districts, respectively. The Los Angeles Times published a column on Jan.16 about the creation of NewTLA in response to frustration with the status quo ("Dissident L.A. teachers want more from their union"). Specifically, NewTLA charges that UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles) refuses to support reform proposals from classroom teachers, including steps to remove ineffective teachers and to implement ...


With pressure mounting to assure that all students have a highly qualified teacher, attention is increasingly focusing on the use of the value added model. Its supporters maintain that since it measures the progress that students make on standardized tests, rather than the proficiency they reach, there is no incentive to teach in affluent suburban schools. In fact, the likelihood of receiving the designation of effective is greater in poor inner-city schools because it is easier for teachers to demonstrate gains for those at the very bottom than for those already at the very top. Nevertheless, a contentious debate is ...


Charter schools have so dominated the news when it comes to parental choice that it's easy to forget about magnet schools. In the 1960s when they began, magnet schools were virtually the only public alternative for parents who were disaffected for one reason or another with traditional neighborhood schools. Since then their popularity has grown, until today about 2.5 million students are enrolled in 4,000 magnets across the country, according to Magnet Schools of America. In a way, magnet schools have been the stepchild of the reform movement. Despite their long record of academic achievement and equity, the ...


It's not often that the effects of a collection of controversial issues are on display all at once in one school. But that's the case at Theater Arts Production Company School in New York City ("City Opens Inquiry on Grading Practices at a Top-Scoring Bronx School," New York Times, Jan. 20). Regardless of the outcome of the investigation into how grades were awarded, it is instructive to take a closer look so that other schools can learn from the missteps. First, the pressure to meet demands for student progress based on course credits earned by students not surprisingly triggered Campbell's ...


With enrollment at for-profit colleges and trade schools now at an all-time high of about 1.8 million - triple the number a decade ago - you'd think that oversight would be indispensable. This is particularly the case since these schools tend to serve poor students whose education is supported by $145 billion in federal aid, nearly 20 percent of the government's education loans and grants. You'd also think so because serious charges have been leveled against these proprietary schools for the quality of their courses and the dubious value of the degrees they confer. Campus Progress, for example, posted ...


It's clear by now that the high school dropout rate has implications for the country far beyond what is immediately apparent. A front-page story in The New York Times provided new details that underscore the concern ("In New York, Mexicans Lag in Education," Nov. 25). According to census data, about 41 percent of Mexicans between ages 16 and 19 in New York City have dropped out of school. To put this number in perspective, no other major immigrant group has a dropout rate higher than 20 percent. (The overall rate for the city is less than 9 percent.) Because Mexicans ...


One of the persistent themes permeating the reform movement is the importance of inspired principals to assure that students receive a quality education. The claim has great intuitive appeal to taxpayers whose patience is running out over the slow progress of school turnarounds. But they may want to rethink their beliefs in light of the remark made in the Boston Globe by the charismatic Stephen Zrike, who overhauled Blackstone Elementary School in the South End, before departing to take a better position in the Chicago public school system ("An untimely turn in a school turnaround," Jan. 6, 2011). To his ...


Forcing schools to compete among themselves is supposed to benefit students. The argument at first seems reasonable enough. If a school can't count on enrolling students because it is the only game in town, then it will either improve or go out of business. The trouble is that in practice competition has not proved to be the panacea it is cracked up to be. Two hard lessons emerge in this regard from California. In Sept. 2004, the California Charter Academy, the largest chain of publicly-financed but privately-run charter schools collapsed because of financial mismanagement ("Collapse of 60 Charter Schools Leaves ...


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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