Four Things On My Mind

There is so much going on these days I cannot limit this commentary to just one thing. So, from where I sit, here are some things that I am thinking about:

Thank goodness for the so-called fiscal cliff.  Lame duck sessions of Congress, or any other body for that matter, always worry me.  It is the crazy season when unaccountable legislatures do silly stuff in a race out of the door. (Ohio's lame duck session, for example, is considering new school report cards that will make accountability rules for electronic charter schools different from those for all other schools.) Let's count our blessings this holiday season that the bickering in Washington over the budget has pushed education off the stage for the time being.

High-quality Preschool Ed a Research-Based Policy Winner

by William J. Mathis, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado Boulder, November 2012  

Publicly supported, high-quality preschool education is among the most successful and well-documented of education reforms.  Four out of every five states provide preschool in some format or for some students, and nearly 75% of four-year-olds and just over half of three-year-olds have some form of preschool experience, ranging from day-care to high quality educational programs.  However, in inflation-adjusted dollares, overall funding per child served is lower than a decade ago.

There is near-universal agreement that high-quality preschool programs more than pay for themselves in economic and social benefits.  In reviewing the various cost-benefit studies, the RANS Corporation found that preschool education returns as much as $17.07 for each dollar invested, although the size of the return varies based on the nature of the program and how costs and benefits are calculated.

Standing Up for Schools and Kids

A couple of recent events, one on the state level and one very local, have given me hope and point out the way each and every one of us can stand up for our public schools.

First, three superintendents and their school boards have decided to stand up publicly against the ill-conceived 'Third Grade Guarantee' here in Ohio.  If you missed it, last spring the Ohio legislature, prompted by Governor John Kasich, decided that no child would be promoted to fourth grade unless they could read by third grade.  Further, at each grade level, kindergarten through third, children had to be tested with standardized instruments to see if they are 'on-track' to read by age eight.  If not, an individualized program was to be designed and carried out for each individual student.

Of course there is no funding for the program, just the advice that schools can use their federal dollars for it and that there would be, sometime in the future, grant funds available. The law, passed in May, had to be implemented by September even though the Ohio Department of Education did not inform school districts of what tests they could use until August.  As of September 13th, the policies to be followed were still changing.

Back to School 2012-13: Giving Our Schools More Hope

by Forum Convener Dr. Larry Myatt

It's back-to-school time for many over the next few weeks.  What do most public teachers and students across the nation have to look forward to as they head back for the 2012-13 school year?

Balancing the Education Equation

by Pedro Noguera and John H. Jackson

(The Answer Sheet, The Washington Post, May 16, 2012)

If it takes a village to raise a child, the same village must share accountability when many children are educationally abandoned. In New York City, the nation's largest schools system, on average, student outcomes and their opportunity to learn are more determined by the neighborhood where a child lives, than his or her abilities.

Confronting challenges of American education, 'civil rights' issue of our time

by Pedro Antonio Noguera

Special to CNN 'In America' blog May 24, 2012

For the Past 25 years I have been working as an educator, researcher and policy advocate.

I am also the parent of four children who have attended public schools.

In each of these roles I have tried to improve public education and advance the educational rights of children, particularly those who have historically been poorly served.

Given my background, I was pleasantly surprised by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's recent assertion that education was "the civil rights issue of our time".

Romney is only the most recent politician to connect changes in education to civil rights.  Similar remarks have been made by President Obama as well.

Education and the Income Gap

by Linda Darling Hammond

There is much handwringing about low educational attainment in the United States these days.  We hear constantly about U.S. rankings on assessments like the international PISA tests:  The United States was 14th in reading, 21st in science, 25th in math in 2009, for example.  We hear about how young children in high-poverty areas are entering kindergarten unprepared and far behind many of their classmates.  Middle school students from low-income families are scoring, on average, far below the proficient levels that would enable them to graduate high school, go to college, and get good jobs.  Fewer than half of high school students manage to graduate from some urban schools.  And too many poor and minority students who do go on to college require substantial remediation and drop out before gaining a degree.

Sign the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing

This resolution is modeled on the resolution passed by more than 360 Texas school boards as of April 23, 2012.  It was written by the Advancement Project, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, FairTest, the Forum for Education and Democracy, MecklenburgACTS, Deborah Meier, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., National Education Association, New York Performance Standards Consortium, Tracy Novick, Parents Across America, Parents United for Responsible Education-Chicago, Diane Ravitch, Race to Nowhere, Time Out From Testing, and the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

Sign the resolution as an organization or as an individual at:  timeoutfromtesting.org/national resolution/

What U.S. Can't Learn From Finland

by Pasi Sahlberg

As the United States is looking to reform its public school system, education experts have increasingly looked at other countries for examples of what works and what won't.  The current administration has turned its attention to strong performing foreign school systems.  As a consequence, recent education summits hosted in the United States have given room to international education showcases.  This commitment to think outside of the box was illustrated two years ago, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked for a report titled "Strong Performers and Successful Reforms:  Lessons from PISA for the United States," prepared by a team of analysts -- I was one of them --with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  One of the strong performers that is gaining increasing interest in the United States is my home country, Finland.

Read entire article in The Washington Post or on Pasi Sahlberg's blog

The Pattern on the Rug: The Toll of School Reform

by Diane Ravitch

(Education Week's "Bridging Differences" blog, March 27, 2012)

There comes a times when you look at the rug on the floor, the one you've seen many times, and you see a pattern that you had never noticed before.  You may have seen this squiggle or that flower, but you did not see the pattern into which the squiggles and flowers and trails of ivy combined.

In American education, we can now discern the pattern on the rug.

Consider the budget cuts to schools in the past four years.  From the budget cuts come layoffs, rising class sizes, less time for the arts and physical education, less time for history, civics, foreign languages, and other non-tested subjects. Add on the mandates of No Child Left Behind, which demands 100 percent proficiency in math and reading and stigmatizes more than half the public schools in the nation as "failing" for not reaching an unattainable goal.