May 2012 Archives

Despite the guarantee of what most state Constitutions define as a basic education (or words to that effect) for all students, the commitment has largely fallen by the wayside because of the protracted recession ("Albany's Unkindest Cut of All," The New York Times, May 25). Yet the situation is not altogether new. Adequacy lawsuits began to make their presence felt some 25 years ago. Since 1989, states have been overruled by margins of more than 2-to-1 by their highest courts on the basis that poor students have been shortchanged. Leading the fight over the years has been The Campaign for ...


Taxpayer patience is slowly running out for the 5,000 persistently failing schools across the country that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has identified. Before writing these schools off as hopeless, however, I think it's important to take a closer look at the reasons. One example is Jordan High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Located in Watts, the school has an appalling track record. Only 3 percent of students are proficient in math and only 11 percent in English. More than half drop out between 9th and 12th grades ("Can Jordan High's experiment work?" Los Angeles Times, May ...


Professors in colleges and universities are better known for the quality of their research than for the quality of their instruction. But the approach taken by a Boston University biomedical engineering professor stands out as a notable exception ("Feedback From Students Becomes a Campus Staple, but Some Go Further," The New York Times, Mar. 29). Rather than wait until the semester is over, Muhammad Zaman asks his students to rate his instruction anonymously on a scale of one to five every other Monday. He prepares a graph of the responses and sends out an e-mail to all students in the ...


Programs designed to redirect public funds to religious schools are effectively using tax credits to skirt the requirement separating church and state ("Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools," The New York Times, May 22). Despite its transparent nature, the strategy has succeeded so far because it is supported by donations collected and distributed by nonprofit groups. Although the details differ somewhat, the programs are operating in eight states. The practice first passed legal muster in April 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling held that Arizona's private-school tuition tax credit program could not be ...


In football, it's called piling on, and it draws a penalty. But when a similar tactic takes place in education, it rates an op-ed. I'm referring to an essay by Troy Senik, a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom who attacked the California Teachers Association for all the ills afflicting public schools in the state ("The teachers union that's failing California," Los Angeles Times, May 18). Senik asserts that the Rodda Act, which allows teachers to bargain collectively, is the culprit. Passed in 1975, the law touched off dramatic growth in the number of local chapters of CTA, ...


It's easy to dismiss what transpires in the nation's largest school district as an aberration because of its sheer size. But I believe that the latest remarks by Mayor Michael Bloomberg happen to have relevance to districts across the U.S. For the second time in a year, he suggested that some parents don't understand the value of education ("Mayor Michael Bloomberg says many parents don't know or don't care that their kids skip school," New York Daily News, May 11). The irate reaction was swift. Critics charged that Bloomberg's cuts to the school budget resulted in fewer guidance counselors ...


The latest chapter in the book on the best way to teach reading was a study of 1,000 students at 20 schools in New York City that was released on Mar. 12. It found that children who were taught to read by the strategies advocated by the Core Knowledge Foundation outperformed children who were taught by the methods embodied in balanced literacy ("Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds," The New York Times, Mar. 12). Specifically, scores were five times higher in kindergarten. By the third year, the differences were still wide, although not as great. To understand the ...


When a ninth-grade science teacher in Florida placed a "cone of shame" on students who arrived late or misbehaved in class, she immediately put her job in jeopardy ("Florida teacher faces firing for placing 'cone of shame' on students," New York Daily News, May 10). The object in question is a plastic collar that veterinarians use to prevent animals from licking their wounds after surgery. The story predictably set off a series of heated responses from readers who questioned the teacher's fitness for the classroom. But if the teacher, Laurie Bailey-Cutkomp, has otherwise demonstrated her effectiveness, I think the punishment ...


No matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary, reformers persist in the fiction that a college-preparatory curriculum is the best way to prepare students for the future. By refusing to acknowledge reality, they are doing a terrible disservice to countless students whose talents and interests lie elsewhere. In the process, they're aiding and abetting educational suicide. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the prime offender in this regard. Beginning in the fall, all students will be required to take and pass a college-prep course of study designed for admission to a four-year state university ("All L.A. Unified ...


At a time when public schools can't seem to do anything right, it's welcome news that the fourth edition of the rankings of the Best High Schools in the country by U.S. News & World Report awarded 500 gold medals ("U.S. News Ranks Nation's Best High Schools," U.S. News & World Report, May 8). This compares with 100 in 2009. California is home to the largest number (97), as well as the largest number of schools receiving gold, silver or bronze medals (577). In light of this improvement that was based on data from nearly 22,000 public high ...


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 ...


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