An Embarassment of Riches: This Week in Education

Indeed, the week was packed with scholarship, with fascinating essays by David Brooks, Jay Greene, and Carol Jago, with Rick Hess’ list of the top “edu-scholars,” Chicago gangs, and a high-profile story about the lack of diversity in gifted-and-talented programs in NYC…. and much more….


Gifted and talented versus separate and unequal

This front-page New York Times story is as important for what it doesn’t say as for what it does say.  We learn that the Bloomberg administration changed the rules for gifted and talented programs in the city in 2008, introducing two “high-stakes tests given in one sitting” as the sole criteria for gaining admission to such programs. (Prior to that, as the Times reports, each of the city’s 32 school districts “could establish the classes as it saw fit and determine its own criteria for admission.”)  And we also learn that whites are much more likely to gain access to the G&T programs.  What is all but ignored in the story is what exactly the difference is between the general classroom and the G&T classroom. The word “curriculum” is used only once in the story.  Ellis Close, an African-American, author of The End of Anger, and a parent of child in a G&T program, is quoted as saying that the “system can never work if the objective is diversity….  The only way it even conceivably can work is to give young poor kids the same sort of boost up that young affluent kids get….”

Chicago school closures delayed by the threat of gangs,0,4887651.story?track=rss

Facing a billion-dollar deficit and serious underenrollment, the Chicago Public Schools district received a report from a special commission studying school closings recommending that no high schools be shut down. Why?  Doing so, according to the Chicago Tribune, “would endanger students by forcing them to cross gang boundaries or move to schools where rival gangs hold sway.”  What is the world coming to? Another report is due out in March.

 Stark findings about adolescent health

After years of watching our students fall behind those in other industrial countries in reading and math, America now faces the news that its adolescents die sooner and are in poorer health than teens in other developed countries.   “Something fundamental is going wrong,” Dr. Steven Woolf, chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University and head of a panel convened by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council to study adolescent health, told the New York Times. “This is not the product of a particular administration or political party. Something at the core is causing the U.S. to slip behind these other high-income countries. And it’s getting worse.”   American men ranked last in life expectancy among the 17 countries in the study, and American women ranked second to last.

Is ed policy based on the “crudest possible psychological guesswork”?

New York Times columnist David Brooks has a way of drilling to the heart of the matter on just about any subject.  And in this essay he takes on the habit of people, including very smart people, to make assumptions about how the world works – and how wrong they can be.  Do longer prison terms deter crime?  Is grief counseling right after a traumatic event a good thing?  Does telling people about the low voting turnout increase voting turnout?  Without giving away the answers, we can says that Brooks writes that “These are three examples of policies and practices that are based on bad psychology.” The list could go on, says Brooks, who points out that “we spend trillions of dollars putting policies and practices into place, but most of these efforts are based on the crudest possible psychological guesswork.” What’s a policymaker to do?  Read the new book, Brooks suggests, The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy.

Who’s the best education scholar?

Or, as Rick Hess calls it, the “edu-scholar public presence rankings.”   This is the third year that Hess, who heads up education matters at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, set out to recognize “university-based academics who are contributing most substantially to public debates about K-12 and higher education.”  Over 170 edu-scholars are represented on the list, rated with metrics that include Google Scholar mentions, highest Amazon ranking, Congressional Record mentions, and Klout points.  “The rankings offer a useful, if imperfect, gauge of the public impact edu-scholars had in 2012,” says Hess, who excluded think-tankers like himself from the rankings.   It’s a fascinating view of education at the intersection of academic research and public policy.

Grading schools

“Schools long have graded students,” reports the Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Banchero and Caroline Porter. “Now they are being graded themselves, as a growing number of states assign them A-to-F scores to evaluate their performance.” In a trend started by Jeb Bush when he was Governor of Florida, in the past two years, at least 10 states, from Arizona to North Carolina, began handing out letter grades to schools and, in some cases, districts.

Do the poor get the poorest teachers?

Yes, concludes this report by StudentsFirstNY, the New York State chapter of the organization founded by Michelle Rhee (see next item). Poor and minority students in New York City are more than twice as likely to be taught by failing teachers than other students, according to the report. As the Wall Street Journal points out, “The findings come a week before the city and the teachers union are supposed to agree to a new evaluation system.”

Curious about Michelle Rhee?

This is a good profile of the Time magazine cover girl (sweeping up as chancellor of District of Columbia public schools) and founder of StudentsFirst.  “In just six years, she has rocketed from obscurity to the kind of fame that turns heads at the airport,” writes Washington Post education reporter Lindsey Layton.

Defending K12 Inc.

Matthew Chingos, a fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, analyzes a report by Gary Miron and Jessica L. Urschel for the National Education Policy Center called “Understanding and Improving Full-Time Virtual Schools: A study of student characteristics, school finance, and school performance in schools operated by K12 Inc.”  The “fatal flaw” of the report, which is critical of K12 Inc, says Chingos,  is that its performance measures “are based primarily on outcomes such as test scores that may reveal more about student background than about the quality of the school, and on inappropriate comparisons between virtual schools and all schools in the same state. What parents and policymakers need to know about a school is how much its students learn relative to what they would have learned at the school they would otherwise have attended.”

Fiction or nonfiction, that is the question for the ELA Common Core

According to Catherine Gewertz of Education Week, a set of “action guides,” written by several education policy and practicioner groups, are meant to calm the controversy surrounding the Common Core’s ELA standards, which call for reading of more “informational” texts.  Such texts don’t have to displace fiction, the guides say, according to Gewertz, “if the overall amount of reading students do increases `dramatically.’”

“A shift to more informational text does not mean an abandonment of nonfiction or literature,” the guides say. “Because literacy is now a shared responsibility among all teachers, reading should dramatically increase in all content areas. While English teachers may use more informational text, students may actually read more literature not less.”

 Another opinion about Common Core ELA

A thoughtful essay on the subject from Carol Jago, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English associate director of the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA. She is also the author of “With Rigor for All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature and Classics in the Classroom.”

Have the METs struck out?

Jay Greene, a consistent critic of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s high-profile Measuring Effective Teachers Project, is back this week to welcome the third and final round of MET reports:  “So the folks at Gates have been trying to scientifically validate a teacher evaluation system that involves a mix of test score gains, classroom observations, and student surveys so that they can overcome resistance to centrally imposed, mechanistic evaluation systems.  If they can reduce reliance on test scores in that system while still carrying the endorsement of `science,’ the Gates folk imagine  that politicians, educators, and others will all embrace the Gates central planning fantasy.”  Harvard education economist Martin West and Fordham Institute policy analyst Daniela Fairchild offer more sober views of the MET.

Quick Takes

A win for parent trigger proponents

Teaching and learning math

17th edition of Quality Counts

MOOC mania

Information and college access: a new study

The writing teacher: a profile of Judith Hochman


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