January 2011 Archives

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 ...


If there's one thing the Great Recession has taught this country, it's that the protracted pain is not equally felt. While millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet at one end, wealth is concentrating in the hands of the upper one percent of the population in a way not seen since 1928, the year before the stock market crashed. The gross disparity between the polar opposites, however newsworthy, has distracted attention away from the plight of the middle class. It's their existence that has long provided equilibrium in the U.S. by holding out the promise of a better ...


One of the most important principles of successful instruction is providing students with practice that is designed to help them develop the knowledge and skills called for in a stipulated objective. This involves identifying the desired outcome and giving students feedback. Yet sometimes even experienced teachers mistakenly assume that the activities they structure with great care are appropriate for the goals they have established. An experiment that took place at a public middle school in New York City's Harlem involving 48 mostly Hispanic and black students illustrates how complex the principle of appropriate practice can be ("Socrates' New Students," Miller-McCune, ...


An interview with Craig Brandon, whose book the The Five-Year Party offers an unvarnished but balanced look into the value of a college education.


When reformers talk about how to improve public schools, one of their favorite solutions is competition. They maintain that forcing schools to vie with each other to attract students will by necessity improve educational quality. They claim that's how private schools have been able to post their impressive outcomes. But what they avoid mentioning is that private schools operate under a completely different set of rules. Not only do they admit only those students they deem a good fit, but they also retain the right to remove students for any number of reasons. To most people, the latter strategy is ...


In a column-one, front-page story on Dec. 8, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gov. Jerry Brown of California replaced virtually all members of the state Board of Education ("Many see influence of teachers union in Gov. Jerry Brown's shakeup of California Board of Education"). What makes the move - one of his first official acts - noteworthy is that those who were sacked were all strong supporters of charter schools, teacher accountability and parental empowerment. It's too soon to know if Brown's decision indicates the start of a major pushback against the reform agenda of the Obama administration. But ...


The controversy surrounding the appointment of Cathleen Black to be the new chancellor of New York City schools despite her failure to meet the stipulated requirements for the job has been so well covered by the media by now that little more can be said. But like so many contentious issues in education, the fallout is not limited to the immediate venue. On the first day that Black assumed her duties of the nation's largest school district, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that he intends to try to convince the state board of education to jettison education experience as ...


At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, I have to take issue with the latest alarmist depiction of public education. The New York Times published a news story about the Program for International Student Achievement. The article said that the rankings of American students posed a direct threat to this country's competitiveness in the new global economy ("Shanghai Schools' Approach Pushes Students to Top of the Rankings"). Arne Duncan called the results a "wake-up call." The trouble with this assessment is that it is hardly new. Taxpayers were exposed to similar hyperbole before in, of all place, a feature ...


Teachers opt to teach in religious schools for reasons known only to themselves. But I wonder if they fully understand what they give up when they decide to do so. Two cases now before the courts illustrate the issue. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC , the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 applies to teachers who also perform religious duties in church schools ("Washington Wants a Say Over Your Minister," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 5). Specifically, the leaders of the Hosanna-Tabor church in Redford, Mich. tried to force ...


Asking if money affects student performance is a little like asking if gravity affects inanimate objects. The answer in both cases is more nuanced than it initially seems. Let's begin by looking at the numbers. We spend $11,749 per student in public schools annually (Statistical Abstract of the United States). To put this into context, between 1970 and 2005, inflation-adjusted per-student spending increased by more than 100 percent (Digest of Educational Statistics). In actuality, spending on public schools per student is probably considerably higher because school districts ordinarily don't include debt service, employee benefits and transportation costs. But I'll ...


They say if you live long enough, you get to see it all. So I wasn't surprised to read that the District of Columbia has implemented Impact Plus, the nation's most advanced merit pay system for public school teachers ("In Washington, Large Rewards in Teacher Pay," The New York Times, Jan. 1). What distinguishes Impact Plus from performance pay strategies in other cities is the amount of money that teachers who are rated "highly effective" for two consecutive years can earn. One special education teacher saw her annual salary increase by 38 percent, from $63,000 to $87,000. The ...


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