The caveat that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is has particular relevance to education. I'm talking specifically about parental choice of schools. I've long supported the policy, but at the same time I've cautioned about expecting too much from it. New York City, home of the nation's largest school district, serves as a cautionary tale. According to the Department of Education, waiting lists for elementary school for the fall semester are longer than they were last year ("Kindergarten Waiting Lists Get Longer," New York Times, Mar. 30). There are 3,195 children who find themselves ...


In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on April 4 held that state tax credits for donations to organizations offering scholarships for private schools, including religious schools, do not violate the First Amendment's establishment clause ("Supreme Court upholds tax break for Arizona religious schools," Los Angeles Times, Apr. 5). The ruling in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn is another step in weakening the separation of church and state, no matter how it is being rationalized. To understand why requires stepping back to 1997 when Arizona allowed private citizens to set up charitable organizations known as school ...


In the midst of the debate about how to identify the best teachers and reward them, it's easy to forget that students themselves can be reliable judges. A study of six urban school districts by Thomas Kane of Harvard University found a strong correlation between student perception of teacher quality and student academic growth ("Too much jargon, too few fixes," Boston Globe, Mar. 22). Within the last week or so, former students have weighed in on this subject. Now a famous novelist, Marie Myung-Ok Lee pays tribute to her high school English teacher who recognized her latent talent and encouraged ...


When students get out of control and make the news, it's inevitable that a vocal group of fed-up taxpayers want to bring back corporal punishment. But despite widespread belief, paddling never went away. It is still permitted in 20 states, according to the Center for Effective Discipline. Granted this number is miniscule compared to a quarter of a century ago when all but a few states allowed its use, but it is still significant. The question is whether there isn't a better way of addressing the issue of unacceptable behavior. The latest focus is Witchita Falls, Texas, where an 11th ...


When I received word that my op-ed about merit pay for teachers was accepted for publication in The Guardian (London), I eagerly looked forward to the reaction of readers in order to see if their views would be different from readers' views here on the same subject ("No merit in merit pay for teachers," Mar. 27). Based on the first 181 comments posted as I write this column, however, there is a remarkable similarity. What emerges is the belief on the part of most readers that any attempt to explain is seen as an attempt to excuse. This same reaction ...


With so much attention focused on the need to graduate more students in STEM, it's disheartening to learn how the first "S" in the acronym is being undermined. The results of a survey of more than 900 public high school biology teachers published in the Jan. 28 issue of Science found that only 28 percent consistently follow the recommendations by the National Research Council to teach evolution. Contrary to popular belief, teachers who most enthusiastically support creationism are scattered across the country. This data are deep cause for concern. Biology is science, not religion. Although federal courts have ruled time ...


When I was a child, I remember a sign posted on the wall behind the cash register of a small retail store saying: "Value is remembered long after price is forgotten." I thought of those words after reading about a new law in Florida that will determine how teachers are rewarded and fired ("Florida House Approves Ending Tenure for New Teachers," New York Times, Mar. 16). Starting in July, new teachers in Florida will be given one-year contracts, effectively ending tenure. Beginning in 2014, contracts will be renewed according to a formula that counts test scores for half of evaluations. ...


If there's one thing that defines today's accountability movement in education, it's the sanctity of measurement. Reformers relentlessly demand hard data that students are learning. Without objective evidence, they claim that schools will never improve. They point to business as a model. But despite what is widely assumed, numbers are rarely the sole consideration in evaluating employees in the private sector. When they are, they result in collateral damage in the form of depersonalization throughout the ranks and a false sense of assurance in the executive suite. The latest to address the issue was Samuel Culbert, professor of management at ...


One of the persistent assertions made by reformers in the U.S. over the years is that a strong educational system is indispensable for economic prosperity. They maintain that if schools are sub-par the nation can't possibly compete in the global marketplace. This is a seductive argument, but it vastly understates the role that governmental policies play. Japan, whose students perform near the top on international tests, sees things far more realistically. In a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal on March 1, Masaaki Shirakawa, governor of the Bank of Japan, not once mentioned schools as a factor in ...


Teachers have long maintained that they can't do their job if students don't do theirs. But their complaint has largely fallen on deaf ears until recently. Now, thanks to Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift (University of Chicago Press, 2011), the issue is finally coming onto center stage where it belongs. What the two academics underscore is the importance of "shifting attention from faculty teaching to student learning... ." This argument is long overdue. The best teachers can do only so much to inculcate knowledge and skills in their students. Unless they actually perform the hard work assigned, ...


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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