Category: Voices of the Dropout Nation

Again, All Kids Can Learn

A study published in the April issue of the American Educational Research Journal, for example, finds that kindergarten students learn more when they are exposed to challenging content such as…

A study published in the April issue of the American Educational Research Journal, for example, finds that kindergarten students learn more when they are exposed to challenging content such as advanced number concepts and even addition and subtraction. In turn, elementary school students who were taught more sophisticated math as kindergarteners made bigger gains in mathematics, reported the study’s lead author, Amy Claessens of the University of Chicago.

Another study, published last year by Dr. Claessens with co-authors Mimi Engel and Maida Finch, concluded that as things stand, many children in kindergarten are being taught information they already know. The “vast majority” of kindergarteners have already mastered counting numbers and recognizing shapes before they set foot in the classroom, Dr. Claessens and her co-authors noted, yet kindergarten teachers report spending much of their math teaching time on these skills.

The students don’t gain anything from going over familiar ground: In the article published this month, Dr. Claessens and her colleagues report that pupils do not benefit from basic content coverage, but that all the kindergarteners in the study, regardless of economic background or initial skill level, did benefit from exposure to more advanced content.

Discussions about how to improve learning for young children usually focus on the length of the whole school day or the number of students in classes, but rarely on what is taught during the hours school is in session. Increasing the time kindergarten teachers spend on more advanced math concepts may be a simpler and more cost-effective way to boost learning.

Annie Murphy Paul, in the New York Times, pointing out another reason why arguments against providing all children with comprehensive college-preparatory learning just don’t wash. Every child thrives when given challenging curricula.

The young mother’s voice shook with anxiety. She had just gotten her son’s third-grade test results from his school, and he had scored at the absolute bottom level in reading, and only a little bit higher in math.

“All year,” she said, “my son got mostly B’s on his homework and report cards. I monitored every one. And now I learn that all of that was a lie.”

Like many other low-income mothers of color in America’s urban centers, this Portland mother knew what low performance, especially in reading, meant for her son’s future. She’d even heard that Oregon’s prison planners used third-grade reading test data to determine how many new cells to add.

If she and her son’s school couldn’t find a way to turn those results around — and soon — she feared they amounted to a virtual death sentence.

I hear her words — and remember the fear in her eyes — every time I hear about yet another effort to eliminate the longstanding federal requirement that children in American public schools be tested once per year in grades three-eight and at least once in high school. Proponents of this change argue that students should be tested only once, each during elementary, middle, and high school, if that often.

I can only imagine how frightened that Portland mother would be if she didn’t have an objective check on what her son’s school told her at least by the following year — but, instead, had to wait all the way until he hit eighth grade. In the meantime, all she would have are the grades that research and experience tell us too often paint a too rosy picture of student performance.

Yes, I get that a lot of the anti-testing voices are from affluent parents. Certainly, when the results of state tests just reinforce the message (one they so often get) that their children are sailing along just fine, getting that reaffirmed next year doesn’t seem so important… But that so many policymakers don’t see through all this — and can’t imagine the anxiety of that mother and millions like her who can’t afford to wait five years for an honest evaluation of their children’s preparation for the future — is worrisome.

Education Trust President Kati Haycock, in the Huffington Post, offering a reminder of why testing is so important in helping all children get the high-quality education they deserve.

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Native Kids Deserve Better

I am a proud member of the San Poil Band of the Colville Confederated Tribe. I grew up on a reservation and attended Paschal Sherman Indian School. I have fond…

I am a proud member of the San Poil Band of the Colville Confederated Tribe. I grew up on a reservation and attended Paschal Sherman Indian School. I have fond memories of learning geometry through basket weaving and studying star knowledge as a part of my science curriculum. My school emphasized the importance of aural learning skills and as a child, I developed the ability to focus and recall information as I listened to elders recite descriptive tribal tales. In the classroom, I excelled and worked hard to learn and exemplify the traditions and values of my tribe.

However, when my family and I moved from the reservation to a town an hour south of Seattle, I was faced with a harsh reality. I was nearly three years behind in reading and writing compared to my peers in my new school. Instead of embracing my differences or working with me to overcome my setbacks, many of my teachers decided that there really wasn’t anything they could do to help me. At school, I had few close friends and felt that even they didn’t quite understand me either. When it was time to apply for college, I received minimal guidance or counseling. In fact, I was never asked about my college aspirations, and no one took the time to explain the college or FASFA applications to me. Upon graduation, I had no college plans or a road map for my life after high school.

It was from these experiences that I gathered the determination to succeed, despite the odds, and recognized that the traditions of life on a reservation did not have to determine my ultimate level of achievement…

When I entered the Crazy Horse School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, I knew I would provide a better educational experience for my students than I had received. My teachers looked at my Native culture as a deficit, but I would use my students’ as an asset… I understand how they learn and what obstacles they may encounter along the way, allowing me to exercise their strengths and quell their weaknesses…

I aspire to be a familiar face of hope and an example of promise for students facing adversity. But the work doesn’t end there, because we have so much more to do as a nation to grow culturally responsive teaching of our Native Students. They are diamonds, and they deserve teachers who excavate their strengths and allow them to shine.

Teacher Jamie Gua, on, explaining why we must do more to build brighter futures for Native children — and why we shouldn’t regard any child, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, as not being “college material”.

This March Madness, we’ll be pulling for our favorite teams and celebrating the players for their hard work and commitment – both on and off the court. And, while we may have differences in our final bracket picks, we know one thing is certain: many of the players we’ll be cheering for are student athletes who were given the opportunity to earn a quality education based on their athletic talents… Sadly, in the United States, too many children do not have these same opportunities due to gaps in their educational experience that lead to a lack of fundamental knowledge and skills – those same skills that are necessary to be accepted into college and to succeed in life.

That’s why as we focus our attention on March Madness, I  hope to shed a light on the true “madness” in this country – the fact that every 26 seconds a student drops out of school… To put it into perspective, an estimated 366,369 kids will drop out of high school while we watch the 63 games throughout the tournament. This is madness.

Charter school operator and former NBA star Jalen Rose, a member of the University of Michigan’s legendary Fab Five of the 1990s, pointing out on the pages of RedefinEd why expanding choice is critical to helping children attain brighter futures.

Loads of interesting stuff in this new New America Foundation report on graduate student debt–a major and under-acknowledged contributor to sky-high national student debt levels. But what strikes me is that a lot of the growth in this sort of graduate debt is directly related to public and licensure policies.

Consider: Fully 16 percent of graduate student debt holders hold a master’s degree in education–many as a direct result of certification policies that require individuals to earn such credentials to become teachers through alternative route programs and/or to earn a certain number of graduate credentials every so many years in order to keep their credential. Others earn masters degrees because of the incentive to do so embedded in most teacher collective bargaining agreements. The crazy thing is, research suggests most of these master’s degrees aren’t doing anything to improve their recipients’ actual skills or effectiveness as educators!

Sara Mead, in< Education Week, noting how traditional teacher recruiting and compensation is both costly for kids and teachers, too.

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Peter D. Ford III on What Kids Must Learn

  Last week’s Dropout Nation commentary decrying Thomas B. Fordham Institute boss Mike Petrilli’s call to subject poor and minority children to the soft bigotry of low expectations certainly generated…


Last week’s Dropout Nation commentary decrying Thomas B. Fordham Institute boss Mike Petrilli’s call to subject poor and minority children to the soft bigotry of low expectations certainly generated responses thoughtful and otherwise. At the same time, the piece and the discussion surrounding it is a reminder that far too many adults continue to make artificial distinctions between the knowledge and skills needed for traditional four-year colleges and what is required for technical colleges and internships. More importantly, what is forgotten is that all children need comprehensive curricula that helps them succeed and understand the world in which they live outside of work. In short, there are plenty of reasons why plumbers should be well-versed in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and understand algebra and calculus.

voiceslogoIn this Voices of the Dropout Nation, Los Angeles teacher Peter D. Ford III succinctly explains why all children should get high-quality comprehensive curricula — and what it should look like. Read, consider, and offer your own perspectives.

Attending Catholic schools in the 1960s and 1970s, my schoolmates and I received a ‘college prep’ education without realizing it. This education demanded we acquire a body of knowledge and skills that prepared us to seek education and employment opportunities beyond the secondary level. And it is the way it should be.

What we call ‘college prep’ today should be what every child learns from K-12 so as to expand their future academic or occupational options. The goal should not be college and career readiness alone, but to develop knowledgeable, skilled, and participatory citizens in our democracy and marketplace.

From the moment every child enters K-12, they should be reading literature; learning about the history of their community, country, and world; and learning a foreign language (or two). They should be studying and applying mathematics in every grade; studying and applying at least the big three sciences of chemistry, physics, and biology; and participating in art, music, sports, and mechanics. The fundamentals of everything they learn in one course will eventually apply to other endeavors inside and out of school.

We should not just be preparing young people for college, but preparing them to participate and prosper within their community, country, and world.

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Mandela on Education & Freedom

Our fight is against real, and not imaginary, hardships or, to use the language of the state prosecutor, “so-called hardships”. Basically, we fight against two features which are the hallmarks…

Our fight is against real, and not imaginary, hardships or, to use the language of the state prosecutor, “so-called hardships”. Basically, we fight against two features which are the hallmarks of African life in South Africa and which are entrenched by legislation. These features are poverty and lack of human dignity, and we do not need communists or so-called “agitators” to teach us about these things… The whites enjoy what may be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery… The complaint of Africans, however, is not only that they are poor and the whites are rich, but that the laws which are made by the whites are designed to preserve this situation. There are two ways to break out of poverty. The first is by formal education, and the second is by the worker acquiring a greater skill at his work and thus higher wages. As far as Africans are concerned, both these avenues of advancement are deliberately curtailed by legislation… Approximately 40 percent of African children in the age group seven to 14 do not attend school. For those who do, the standards are vastly different from those afforded to white children. Only 5,660 African children in the whole of South Africa passed their junior certificate in 1962, and only 362 passed matric.

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion… When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realise that they have emotions – that they fall in love like white people do; that they want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that they want to earn enough money to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school…

Children wander the streets because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go, or no parents at home to see that they go, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to violence, which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. Not a day goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships [into] the white living areas…

Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society. Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent… Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

voiceslogoFormer South Africa President Nelson Mandela, in a speech during his 1964 trial for attempting to bring freedom and liberty to Africans living under the nation’s apartheid racial segregation regime. The words spoken by the freedom fighter, who died today at age 95, are ones that school reformers should embrace in their efforts to build brighter futures for all of our children no matter the color of their skin or content of character.

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Voices: Power of Accountability

The reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, now overdue and overpoliticized, took another baby step in June when the Senate education committee passed a bill without any Republican…

The reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, now overdue and overpoliticized, took another baby step in June when the Senate education committee passed a bill without any Republican support. In July, the House of Representatives managed to pass a version of a bill that received exactly no Democratic support. And for 16 days in October, we witnessed partisanship at its worst with a government shutdown that doesn’t portend good things for the children of America.
What makes these episodes so discouraging, beyond legislators’ feigning seriousness about what should be a national priority, is that NCLB—the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—is the most progressive development in K-12 education since Brown v. Board of Education. Within its reauthorization rests the fate of 50 million students…
There is a disquieting truth about policy, which is that is does not achieve what it intends; it achieves what it allows. And the simple truth is that education policy prior to No Child Left Behind allowed schools to be evaluated in the aggregate. In this shameful holdover from the separate-but-equal doctrine, the performance of subgroups—including minorities, students with disabilities, students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and girls—was largely ignored. NCLB requires a disaggregation of assessment data and measures improvement not just of the school as a whole, but also of subgroups, heretofore invisible in many schools across the country.
Fast forward to Rancocas Valley Regional High School today—a one-time NCLB school “in need of whole-school restructuring,” the federal label for “failing,” in Burlington County, N.J. In 2013, its 2,200-student enrollment reflects the growing diversity and poverty level in America: Approximately 48 percent of the students are nonwhite, 23 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch, and 19 percent receive special services. In 2005, we received that federal label because of our inability to demonstrate adequate yearly progress for the subgroups on the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment…
To turn this situation around, the school’s leadership team adopted an empirical, data-driven approach to its work, and the faculty redoubled its efforts to reach every child. The faculty created an individualized educational experience for every child, believing in each student’s ability to be successful—as our school, our state, and the federal government define it. And so we evolved. We became a standards-based school, not rhetorically, but holistically. From daily lessons to course maps to common end-of-course assessments, the gap between what was taught and what was measured diminished greatly.
The administration partnered with the faculty to raise standards by eliminating course offerings that lacked rigor, a process known as “detracking.” On-level courses were set at a college-prep level. The career-and-college-prep level, where our faculty and counselors had guided students with academic difficulties, was eliminated. Those same students can now share demanding curriculum alongside stronger students with better parent advocacy… We committed ourselves to equalizing the learning experiences for our regular and special education students. No Child Left Behind’s requirement for highly qualified teachers motivated us to send our special education teachers back to school. They learned subject-area curricula equal to the knowledge of any content-area expert. Our classrooms are co-taught by educators with subject-area and pedagogical expertise…
The result? In 2013, more than 96 percent of our students achieved proficiency in language arts literacy on state assessments. Our students with disabilities achieved 73 percent proficiency. By comparison, in 2008, these numbers were 80 percent and 36 percent, respectively. We narrowed the achievement gap dramatically in the same subject. Our African-American students achieved 96.6 percent proficiency, compared with 68 percent in 2008. Our white students achieved 97.4 percent proficiency compared with 93 percent in 2008. The jump in math was also significant. We reached 93 percent proficiency overall, compared with 72 percent in 2008. Our economically disadvantaged students achieved 78 percent proficiency, compared with 42 percent in 2008.

voiceslogoRancocas Valley Regional High School District Superintendent Jerry Jelig, in Education Week, explaining how the No Child Left Behind Act’s strong accountability measures helped drive the district to transform education for the children in its care. Such successes show why the Obama Administration’s effort to eviscerate No Child will end up damaging all children, including those from poor and minority backgrounds who have benefited (and need the benefits) the most.

Mathematics education in the United States is broken. Open any newspaper and stories of math failure shout from the pages: low international rankings, widespread innumeracy in the general population, declines in math majors. Here’s the most shocking statistic I have read in recent years: 60 percent of the 13 million two-year college students in the U.S. are currently placed into remedial math courses; 75 percent of them fail or drop the courses and leave college with no degree.
We need to change the way we teach math in the U.S., and it is for this reason that I support the move to Common Core mathematics. The new curriculum standards that are currently being rolled out in 45 states do not incorporate all the changes that this country needs, by any means, but they are a necessary step in the right direction…
In mathematics education we suffer from the widespread, distinctly American idea that only some people can be “math people.” This idea has been disproved by scientific research showing the incredible potential of the brain to grow and adapt. But the idea that math is hard, uninteresting, and accessible only to “nerds” persists.  This idea is made even more damaging by harsh stereotypical thinking—mathematics is for select racial groups and men. This thinking, as well as the teaching practices that go with it, have provided the perfect conditions for the creation of a math underclass. Narrow mathematics teaching combined with low and stereotypical expectations for students are the two main reasons that the U.S. is in dire mathematical straights…
An important requirement in the Common Core is the need for students to discuss ideas and justify their thinking. There is a good reason for this: Justification and reasoning are two of the acts that lie at the heart of mathematics. They are, in many ways, the essence of what mathematics is.  Scientists work to prove or disprove new theories by finding many cases that work or counter-examples that do not. Mathematicians, by contrast prove the validity of their propositions through justification and reasoning.
Mathematicians are not the only people who need to engage in justification and reasoning. The young people who are successful in today’s workforce are those who can discuss and reason about productive mathematical pathways, and who can be wrong, but can trace back to errors and work to correct them. In our new technological world, employers do not need people who can calculate correctly or fast, they need people who can reason about approaches, estimate and verify results, produce and interpret different powerful representations, and connect with other people’s mathematical ideas.

Stanford University Professor Jo Boaler, in the Atlantic Monthy, explaining how Common Core’s math standards can help children develop the habits of mind needed to both master algebra and think through the abstractions that underlie daily life. This is a point made by Dropout Nation last month in the second podcast in the series on Common Core. Listen to the third Dropout Nation Podcast in the series.

My son, William, is a young man whose direction in life changed because of school choice. [School choice works]… our entire family benefited.

Virginia Walden Ford, whose proto-Parent Power activism in Washington, D.C., spurred reforms that are benefiting kids in the District three decades later, on Twitter, explaining why expanding school choice and Parent Power helps children and the families who love them.

I wrote the nation’s first parent-trigger law. I acted because I understood that education is the civil rights issue of our time and the key to the American dream. I’m the daughter of a mother who attained only a 6th grade education, but who understood that education is what lifts us out of poverty. As a Democratic senator representing the diverse, heavily Latino East Los Angeles-eastern Los Angeles County community and the chair of both the state Senate’s education and prison oversight committees, I understood that if we do not educate, we will incarcerate. California locks away a disproportionate number of Latino and African-American youths, and, nationwide, nearly 70 percent of inmates are high school dropouts.
For years, California’s education department routinely released data on schools with disturbingly high—indeed, morally shameful—percentages of children who fail to score at even basic levels of academic proficiency. These are schools identified as chronically underperforming and in need of intervention, but all too often they were simply ignored, forgotten on bureaucratic lists. Nothing was ever done for them. Ironically, many of these schools were named for civil rights heroes, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. Nonetheless, they were left to languish year after year, most parents unaware of their status. In the 15 years since I was first elected to the legislature, some of those same schools have appeared on the lists again and again.
I am a product of the civil rights movement. I graduated from a high school where I was “counseled” that college was beyond my reach—after all, I lived in one of those zip codes, at the end of a dead-end road in a mostly rural county. But with a mother who had faith and inspiration drawn from the late John F. Kennedy, a farmworkers’ movement, and an intense love of learning, I rose to become the Senate majority leader of the state of California…
In no other part of American life do we tie parents to the land, define them by zip code, and empower government officials who are strangers to families to make fundamental, life-altering decisions on behalf of their children based on five digits of geographic identity. The zip code has become the definitive great divide, a profound separation between high-poverty, minority youths and the American dream.
Undoubtedly, if sweetheart contracts didn’t enable effective teachers to bypass struggling neighborhood schools, and if bureaucrats actually used the federal laws at their disposal to transform such schools, I never would have had to write the parent-trigger law. But that was not the case. Lists of failing schools, representing hundreds of thousands of kids in California, were simply released and promptly ignored. Few people even knew about the lists, and those who did weren’t outraged. So I looked back to the foundations of our democracy and gave parents the right to take on their own government when it refused to act on behalf of their children.

Former California State Senator Gloria Romero, who now runs the Foundation for Parent Empowerment, reminding all of us why Parent Trigger laws and other Parent Power measures are critical to breaking the cycle of educational abuse and neglect heaped upon so many of our children.


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Voices: Banish the District

A few years ago I sat with a group of urban district leaders in a noisy L.A. restaurant, leaning forward to hear every word from the new Los Angeles Unified…

A few years ago I sat with a group of urban district leaders in a noisy L.A. restaurant, leaning forward to hear every word from the new Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent, John Deasy. Deasy had, admirably, given up a comfortable job at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to get back into the fray to try to tackle one of America’s most impermeable school districts. Deasy had the support of the mayor and a couple of years of opportunity. He was optimistic about the task ahead: creating hope, erasing inequity, professionalizing teaching, holding adults accountable, giving families choice.

In nearly any other sector, a man like Deasy—who is able to articulate a strong vision of change and pursue it relentlessly—would be able to get people to follow him and accomplish most anything. But this was LAUSD, where for decades strong leaders were eaten alive by the politics of race and unions and poverty and rampant district dysfunction.

Deasy came out strong in his new position, making aggressive moves toward a new teacher evaluation system that included value-added measures of effectiveness… But more than anything, it was impossible to make challenging policy decisions and maintain the support of LAUSD school board members, who—as in other cities—are influenced by community politics and stakeholder interests, rather than acting like they should, as a governing body that oversees a long-term civic vision and strategic plan…

If you are honest with yourself (and older than 20), you may find yourself believing that if a leader like John Deasy can’t make real progress, the urban superintendency truly is an impossible job. We need to stop relying on heroism and instead start dismantling special interest-captured school boards and other governance structures that get in the way of school improvement for urban students. We need civic leaders to commit to a long-term vision of institutional change that will weather the leadership shift of the moment.

I’ve seen the L.A. story often enough now that it’s starting to feel like a bad video game that you play over and over, always with the same result… If and when Deasy, yet another promising superintendent, leaves, the conversation should not be—as it usually is—about the man. It needs to be about the systems that stood in his way.

voiceslogoRobin Lake of the Center for Reinventing Public Education, noting a point made by Dropout Nation this weekend about the need to move away from the traditional district model. It’s better to move away from old-school models that breed dysfunctional bureaucracies than to keep them around to do further damage to children.

“I’m just not a math person.” We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.

Is math ability genetic? Sure, to some degree. Terence Tao, UCLA’s famous virtuoso mathematician, publishes dozens of papers in top journals every year, and is sought out by researchers around the world to help with the hardest parts of their theories. Essentially none of us could ever be as good at math as Terence Tao, no matter how hard we tried or how well we were taught. But here’s the thing: We don’t have to! For high school math, inborn talent is just much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence…

So why do we focus on math? For one thing, math skills are increasingly important for getting good jobs these days—so believing you can’t learn math is especially self-destructive. But we also believe that math is the area where America’s “fallacy of inborn ability” is the most entrenched. Math is the great mental bogeyman of an unconfident America. If we can convince you that anyone can learn math, it should be a short step to convincing you that you can learn just about anything, if you work hard enough…

Is America more susceptible than other nations to the dangerous idea of genetic math ability? Here our evidence is only anecdotal, but we suspect that this is the case. While American fourth and eighth graders score quite well in international math comparisons—beating countries like Germany, the UK and Sweden—our high-schoolers  underperform those countries by a wide margin. This suggests that Americans’ native ability is just as good as anyone’s, but that we fail to capitalize on that ability through hard work. In response to the lackluster high school math performance, some influential voices in American education policy have suggested simply teaching less math—for example, Andrew Hacker has called for algebra to no longer be a requirement. The subtext, of course, is that large numbers of American kids are simply not born with the ability to solve for x.

We believe that this approach is disastrous and wrong. First of all, it leaves many Americans ill-prepared to compete in a global marketplace with hard-working foreigners. But even more importantly, it may contribute to inequality. A great deal of research has shown that technical skills in areas like software are increasingly making the difference between America’s upper middle class and its working class. While we don’t think education is a cure-all for inequality, we definitely believe that in an increasingly automated workplace, Americans who give up on math are selling themselves short.

Miles Kimball and Noah Smith, in Quartz, essentially explaining why all children should get strong, college-preparatory math needed for success in an increasingly knowledge-based world.

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Numerous commemorations will be held, and meritorious amongst these should be a focus on his advocacy for mental health and the rights of the disabled, providing an eloquent voice on these major health, social and economic issues. Ultimately, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted by Congress in 1975.

Yet, this week’s scheduled court proceedings for a youth in Riverside County will shed light on how effective – or ignored – Kennedy’s advocacy has been on California’s compliance in protecting the rights of children covered by that landmark legislation. A judge will decide where Joseph Hall will be placed for shooting to death his abusive father, a state leader of the neo-Nazi movement, when the boy was 10 years old. A judge earlier this year convicted Joseph, now 13, of second-degree murder for shooting his father, Jeffrey Hall, while he slept on a couch May 1, 2011, despite history of physically abusing the boy and his other children.

Joseph, seemingly, had been placed on a fast track to a long stay in California’s notorious, troubled juvenile prison system until a team of lawyers and advocates intervened to challenge his treatment by county and education officials as emblematic of yet another “throwaway kid” in California’s penal system, where too few lawyers and judges are trained in understanding the 1975 federal law. His team wants him placed in a residential treatment facility.

Beyond the sensationalism of the murder case itself, Joseph’s team argue that his rapid conviction and denial of timely and essential emotional and disability diagnostics, treatments and placement considerations is an opportunity to actually shine a spotlight on how youth – like Joseph – with emotional and disability needs are too easily locked up and then discarded because of heightened costs associated with providing appropriate treatments for emotionally abused and disabled kids. Joseph’s advocates are challenging state and local juvenile, probation and education agencies, which, they allege, acted in their own fiscal interests while circumventing justice for Joseph….

They allege that California has a disturbing and blemished record of compliance and advocacy on behalf of disabled and abused children – particularly those who find themselves in an otherwise obscure and barely understood juvenile justice system. In Joseph’s case, they contend that the Riverside County juvenile hall and its Office of Education have callously and consistently violated laws in a blatant calculation to shave costs by expediting and shifting Joseph to the state youth facility without securing mandated provisions for his behavioral, mental health, educational and rehabilitative needs. Undoubtedly, major changes must be made in this Dickens-like juvenile justice underworld out of sight from most Californians if we will ever live up to [Kennedy’s] vision and challenge.

Former California State Sen. Gloria Romero, now founder of the Foundation for Parent Empowerment, in the Orange County Register, pointing out that juvenile justice is often anything but.

What matters?” This is the question Charles Krauthammer, psychiatrist turned Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist, asks as the first sentence of his new book, a memoirish collection. The book is called Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics. He explains that the working title for the book had originally been There’s More to Life than Politics and that it was going to include just about everything but politics. Naturally, though, a man who “left a life in medicine for a life in journalism devoted mostly to politics” decided that he couldn’t disengage. Thanks be to God.

There is, of course, much more to life than politics. Particularly if by politics what you mean is the ups and downs, the ESPN SportsCenter–like media coverage of Washington maneuvering and campaign “horse races.” But as Krauthammer points out, there is actually no escaping politics. Nor should we seek to. “Politics, the crooked timber of our communal lives, dominates everything,” he writes, “because, in the end, everything — high and low and, most especially, high — lives or dies by politics. You can have the most advanced and efflorescent of cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933.”

If we start thinking that we are above politics, we need to remember that if we don’t get our hands dirty paying attention to who it is we are electing, and to policy and pending decisions, we are shirking a responsibility. Disengagement is dangerous. Engagement is our civic duty. How do you get your politics right? There is a synergy, a symbiosis between right living and a healthy politics. Our politics reflects our individual and community lives. Matters of character are matters of politics.

The media thrive on conflict and scandal, and so it’s often the worst of political life that we focus on. But politics is necessary. “Politics is,” Krauthammer explains, “the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians. Fail to keep them at bay, and everything burns”. “First and above all else,” he continues, “you must secure life, liberty and the right to pursue your own happiness.” The “glories yielded by . . . successful politics lie outside itself. Its deepest purpose is to create the conditions for the cultivation of the finer things”…  The alternatives, Krauthammer writes, are things like the “deranged Stalinist politics” of North Korea, creating “a land of stunning desolation and ugliness, both spiritual and material.” Or “Taliban Afghanistan, which, just months before 9/11, marched its cadres into the Bamiyan Valley and with tanks, artillery and dynamite destroyed its magnificent cliff-carved 1,700-year-old Buddhas lest they — like kite flying and music and other things lovely — disturb the scorched-earth purity of their nihilism.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review, on why all of us, including families and school reformers, must be fully engaged in politics to help everyone, especially our children, have better lives.

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