Top Stories 1 | 14–20 | 2014

Letter from the Birmingham Jail.… Poverty, inequality, and social mobility… Lots of Universal Pre-K news…. Obama on college opportunity…. Jeb Bush on immigration….  State news from Alaska to Kansas…. And Carmen Farina too….


In Honor of MLK: Letter from the Birmingham Jail


Poverty, Inequality, and Social Mobility

Is Inequality the Wrong Windmill to be Tilting At?

Suddenly, it seems that everyone is talking about income inequality, especially at the New York Times, and debating how best to help those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder. Disagreements abound, but there’s one thing that almost all agree on: education is key to social mobility.

Can Upward Mobility Be Bad for Your Health?

“Resilient” children—disadvantaged youngsters who surmount the odds— often end up paying a little-known price: “Success at school and in the workplace can exact a toll on the body that may have long-term repercussions for health,” Gregory E. Miller and Edith Chen, professors at Northwestern University, and Gene H. Brody, a professor at the University of Georgia, write in the New York Times. By age 19, they are more likely than their less successful peers to suffer from obesity, high blood pressure and higher levels of stress hormones.

Structural Poverty

Why have decades of educational reform measures failed to produce meaningful results? The fundamental problem lies not within the classroom, but in society, says Jack Rothman, professor emeritus at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, in the Huffington Post. “Liberal educational reforms that focus on correcting in-school problems—but avoiding confronting the broader, deeply-rooted reasons for our education failures—are a flimsy effort,” he writes. “Without a vision for a better society, any talk of reform is empty verbiage.”

Helping Poor Kids Graduate from College

Alan Greenblatt of NPR reports on “the dirty little secret of American higher education”: that most colleges do not actively recruit students from low-income families. Bryn Mawr College, located outside of Philadelphia, is one of the few that does. Bryn Mawr typically admits 10 low-income students from the Boston area each year, providing them with financial assistance and introducing them to one another in hopes that they will form a network of support as they navigate their college years. “We’re particularly interested in reaching women who might not otherwise attend a place like Bryn Mawr,” Kim Cassidy, the college’s president, told NPR. 

Education Trust Has Some Advice 

New from the Education Trust: (1) Lessons learned from eight institutions of higher education on improving student retention; and (2) How California State University-Northridge nearly doubled its graduation rate in 10 years.

Do the Poor Have Equal Access to Effective Teachers?

A new evaluation brief, synthesizing evidence from three recent studies, sheds light on the extent to which disadvantaged students have access to effective teaching. The studies, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, show that, on average, disadvantaged students receive less effective teaching than their peers based on “value added” measures. (“Value added” is a teacher’s contribution to students’ learning gains.) This difference is equivalent to about four weeks of learning for English language arts and two weeks for math.

Universal Pre-K Could Close Achievement Gaps

New research suggests that providing high-quality early childhood education to all American children from birth to age three could potentially close the achievement gap between high- and low-income kids at ages three and five, Think Progress reports. It could also cut the achievement gap in half for children at age eight. However, according to a report by the Center for American Progress, the U.S. lags far behind much of the developed world when it comes to enrolling children in preschool programs.

To Track or Not to Track

Gifted students are a “national treasure” who would be squandered by the elimination of honor classes, opines Walt Gardner, a former Los Angeles public school teacher and lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education in Education Week. “In an ideal world, all students would possess equal aptitude and equal motivation. But in public schools, this is not the case,” Gardner writes. “But what about students who have demonstrated their academic wherewithal? Don’t they also deserve the opportunity to blossom fully?”  


A New Federal Budget

More Money For Gifted Ed and Early Childhood Learning

The federal budget bill, unveiled last week by Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, is being lauded by early childhood education supporters for its large boosts to Head Start. The bill is also receiving praise from gifted education advocates for restoring funding to the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act, which was defunded by Congress in fiscal 2011, reports Christina Samuels in Education Week. Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, hails the measure. “Early childhood education overall was increased by over $1 billion, making it one of the biggest winners in the spending deal,” Perry said in a statement on the $1 trillion spending deal.


Immigration, Education, and College Opportunity

Jeb Bush Takes on Immigration and Education in Florida Speech

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talked about immigration, education and the plight of youth in a speech last week, the Florida Times-Union reports. “We have an education system designed for a completely different era and it’s time we changed that,” he said. He also cited literacy as a major issue holding back young people. “Illiteracy destroys lives,” he said, claiming that 85 percent of kids who entered the juvenile justice system are illiterate.

Obama addresses college leaders

President Obama brought together more than 80 higher education leaders last week for a White House summit on expanding college success for low-income students, reports Joanne Jacobs on her education blog. “We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America,” the president said. “If we as a nation can … reach out to [low-income] young people and help them not just go to college, but graduate from college or university, it could have a transformative effect.” To view a video of the president’s speech, click here.

Charters, Choice, and Vouchers 

Rolling Out Charters in Phoenix

Until recently, the charter school movement in Arizona has been largely a suburban affair,  reports Fernanda Santos in the New York Times. Now, for the first time, charter schools are expanding into this city’s most impoverished areas, “starting, in effect, an experiment in urban education,” writes Santos, the Times’ Phoenix bureau chief. The goal, she says, is to open 25 high-performing schools over five years.

Goodwill Runs Charter Schools For Dropouts in Indianapolis

Goodwill—a charity primarily known for reselling donated goods—is now operating a network of nine Excel Center charter schools in central Indiana, PBS reports. The schools, which allow students to learn at their own pace, are designed to lure dropouts back into the classroom. Since 2010, when the first school opened, more than 400 adults have earned their diplomas through the program.

Bad Voucher Schools Are a Problem

“Bad schools happen… in the public sector, the charter sector and, yes, the private sector,” writes Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which released a policy “toolkit” last week to help with the design of strong outcomes-based accountability in private-school-choice programs. “The answer cannot be ‘let the market figure it out,’” Petrilli says, “because it hasn’t, and it won’t—and somebody must.”

Moment of Truth For NYC Charters

New York City’s “once-mighty charters”—they currently number 183, according to Ben Chapman in the New York Daily News—have fallen sharply out of favor post-Bloomberg. New mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to charge them rent, threatening their ability to survive. But, Chapman contends, charter schools won’t go down without a fight.

Charters Get It Done

Jay P. Greene, the endowed professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, discusses a novel study that examined the long-term effects of charter schools on earnings in young adulthood. Students studied were from Chicago and Florida who had attended eighth grade at charter schools. The researchers found that those who went on to attend charter high schools had a $2,347 increase in annual earnings by age 25, compared with those who matriculated to a traditional high school. “Test scores are supposed to be an indicator of how kids will fare later in life,” Greene writes in his blog. “Now we have another piece of school choice research finding that test scores missed the true positive impact that schools (and choice) had on kids.”

From the Archives

In the first year of tests aligned to the Common Core Standards in math and English language arts, New York City and State test results dropped dramatically in grades 3-8, according to a report released last summer by the New York City Charter School Center. This was true in both charter schools and other public schools. While the results were disheartening, they can serve as a new baseline from which to judge students’ learning.

Universal Pre-K

Getting Pre-K Right

While quality pre-K can make a huge difference—delivering tremendous benefits to kids, their families and to the wider economy, according to the New York Daily News—“the distance between its promise and its practice is wider than most politicians, de Blasio and Cuomo included, acknowledge.”

New York State’s Pre-K Report is Out

With a new Quinnipiac poll showing that 74 percent of New York City voters support Mayor de Blasio’s plan to tax the wealthiest New Yorkers to fund universal pre-K, hundreds of activists from UPKNYC—the Universal Pre-K campaign run by de Blasio’s NYC—have hit the streets of Gotham to drum up support; the group also released a video. Meanwhile, a long-awaited report by an education panel appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was finally released last week. The panel addressed some of the obstacles Cuomo will face in trying to bring full-day pre-K to scale—“most notably an inadequate supply of certified teachers and effective providers, a lack of systems of accountability to ensure the quality of programs, the need for capital and infrastructure enhancements to accommodate such programs and the economic reality of funding a statewide program in times of fiscal constraints.”

Will de Blasio Need Charter Help to Get His Pre-K Done?

If New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is successful in finding the money to provide full-day pre-K for all four-year-olds in the city—estimated at $530 million a year—he’ll quickly need to find classroom space in one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets, says Javier C. Hernandez of the New York Times. A panel advising Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on education reform has recommended that state leaders amend a law prohibiting charter schools from offering pre-K. When asked about the report, Hernandez says that de Blasio suggested he was open to the idea of working with charter schools.


The Common Core

Common Core’s Slippery Slope

It’s time to stop the “state-led” rhetoric and admit that the Common Core effort “greatly opens the door to increasing Washington’s say over schooling,” writes American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess in Education Week. In recent years, “the Obama administration has used its ability to issue ‘waivers’ from NCLB to push states to adopt the Common Core, sign onto certain tests and evaluate teachers in specified ways. There’s much precedent for worrying about slippery slopes.”

“Better Lessons” for the Common Core

The National Education Association and Better Lesson, an online platform for teachers to create, organize and share high-quality curriculum, have launched a new websiteto help educators implement the Common Core Standards. The site features more than 3,000 classroom-ready lessons, written by 130 “Master Teachers,” that can be integrated into any math or English language arts curriculum. Alex Grodd, a former teacher and the site’s co-founder, told Education Week, “We want this to be the definitive body of knowledge of what effective teachers are doing in implementing the Common Core.”

Common Core Curriculum in a Box

Mike Goldstein, founder of the Match Charter School in Boston, predicts that blue states like Massachusetts will likely stick with the Common Core Standards this year, while more red states will abandon them. 


New York City

A Debate Over de Blasio’s Schools: Ravitch v. Fuller

The appointment of Carmen Farina as New York City schools chancellor signals a “sharp departure” from the education policies of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says the New York Times. Diane Ravitch, author and education historian, and UC-Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller debate whether or not Farina is what city really needs.

Dear Carmen Farina

“Of all the things I’ve read about your return to NYC’s schools, I find your commitment to joy most striking and welcome. In particular, I appreciate the choice of the word joy. As you have no doubt seen, the absence of joyful, rigorous learning is one of the saddest features of so many schools that serve our most disadvantaged youth,” writes Lisa Hansel, communications director at the Core Knowledge Foundation, in an open letter to the newly appointed New York City Schools Chancellor. “To bring joy into such an environment, we have to meet the children where they are and very quickly give them everything they need to tackle grade-level work without fear.”

Carmen Farina Front Page

Carmen Farina, who has spent over 40 years working at virtually every level of the New York City’s school system, is known for her no-nonsense approach. “I’m not a Mary Poppins kind of person,” she said recently, according to New York Times reporters Javier C. Hernandez and Al Baker. “We can fix things, but not if everyone’s afraid to say what’s really not working.”

Farina Gives First Interview

In an interview with WNYC, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said she supports some of Michael Bloomberg’s reforms and plans to put more focus on classroom instruction than her predecessors. She also told WNYC that she stands by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to charge rent to some charter schools.

Farina’s “Upside-Down” Philosophy

Sol Stern, contributing editor of City Journal and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, takes on Carmen Farina for her support for the “balanced literacy,” which Stern says “has no track record of raising the academic performance of poor, minority children.” Writing in the New York Daily News, Stern says: “If she really is committed to changing the tale of two cities as she and the new mayor claim to be, one way to start would be to cast aside ideology and judge whether those Core Knowledge classrooms, drenched in ‘mere facts,’ are actually the key to narrowing the devastating knowledge gap between middle-class kids and poor children.”


Odds & Ends

An “Hour of Code” is a Hit

To encourage U.S. schools to teach computer science, Hadi Partovi and his twin brother Ali lauched “Hour of Code,” a website that offers free hour-long tutorials in computer coding for students in kindergarten through high school, as well as a campaign featuring celebrities like President Obama and Ashton Kutcher. The Washington Post reports that the results have far exceeded the Partovi brothers’ dreams: More than 20 million people around the world have tried “Hour of Code,” 17 million of them in the U.S. What’s more, girls make up half the participants.

Why Does School Reform Have to be So Complicated?

Most everyone agrees that simple is usually better. Yet “no enterprise is more crippled by complexity than school improvement,” writes author, speaker and consultant Mike Schmoker. “For every major initiative, a common theme emerges: There is simply too much to do, and most of it is maddeningly ambiguous and confusing.”

The Ed Next Poll: How Information Changes Opinions

According to the 2013 Education Next poll, nearly half of Americans believe their local public schools deserve a high grade, but only about one-fifth say the same for the nation’s public schools as a whole. However, when respondents were told how students within their local district compared to students internationally, their willingness to give their own schools an “A” or “B” grade slipped to 35 percent. Information about local district rankings also increases public support for school choice programs—especially, making school vouchers available to all families. Learning the truth about local schools helps the school reform cause, says Harvard University’s Paul E. Peterson in Education Next: “To act locally, you need to think globally, but you also have to know what is in fact happening nearby.” For full survey results, click here.

Catholic School Closings in Buffalo

Ten struggling suburban Buffalo Catholic elementary schools will close in June, it was announced last week. None of the schools is located within the city of Buffalo itself. “The possibility of students seeking transfers out of failing city public schools and ending up in Catholic classrooms encouraged diocesan educators to keep open their five elementary schools in Buffalo. In addition, the diocese wants to continue its mission of offering education in low-income neighborhoods,” writes Jay Tokasz, a staff reporter for the Buffalo News. The school closings will affect 1154 students and 195 faculty and staff, according to WKBW News in Buffalo. For the list of the schools, click here.


The States

School Accountability Database for the States

The database for Education Commission of the States database documents how states measure student achievement, what gets reported and the type of systems state use to rate schools.

Standards “by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers”

Will Indiana become the first state to leave the Common Core initiative? Last week, in his State of the State address, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence indicated that he wants to step away from the nationally-crafted Common Core. Pence, a Republican, said: “When it comes to setting standards for schools, I can assure you, Indiana’s will be uncommonly high. They will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers and will be among the best in the nation.” But Michele McNeil of Education Week notes that “any big changes would have to be approved by the feds.”

Tests by Alaskans, for Alaskans

Alaskan education officials have hired a new group—Assessment & Achievement Institute—to create its English language arts and math assessments, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports. Alaska had been a member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium since April, but decided to go with a company that will tailor assessments specifically to new state standards, which vary from Common Core Standards used by the consortium.

What’s Wrong with Kansas?

In 2009, Kansas, like other states, slashed school funding. Now, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators are waiting for a Kansas Supreme Court to rule on whether the state is spending enough money on its public schools. In the New York Times, David Sciarra of the Education Law Center and Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights outline what’s at stake and the potential consequences for public education in America.

 Or, What’s Right with Kansas?

Andy Smarick of Bellwether Education Partners is “impressed” by a proposal from Indianapolis-based CEE-Trust and Chapel Hill, NC-based Public Impact to dismantle the long-struggling Kansas City Public School District and replace it with a system of nonprofit school operators. “What they’ve come up with is revolutionary. Should the state board of education adopt it, Kansas City will soon rival New Orleans as the most exciting and important city for K–12 education,” enthuses Smarick in Education Next. To read a draft of the proposal, click here.



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