Category: Voices of the Dropout Nation

Voices: Math = Freedom

The planet is transitioning from its Industrial Age to its Information Age. The Industrial Age’s mechanized physical labor demanded “citizens” with reading and writing literacy… [and] arithmetic, to drive its…

The planet is transitioning from its Industrial Age to its Information Age. The Industrial Age’s mechanized physical labor demanded “citizens” with reading and writing literacy… [and] arithmetic, to drive its economies. Those denied access to these literacies—like Mississippi-Delta sharecroppers so famously embraced by the Student-Nonviolent-Coordinating-Committee (SNCC)–were Industrial Age “serfs”… Do you all have to master algebra?  Yes, if you all intend to be twenty-first century “Constitutional People” rather than Information Age “serfs”.

Robert Moses, in the Black Star Project’s blog, explaining why all children must learn algebra and other college-preparatory math in order to succeed in the knowledge-based economy. Implementing Common Core’s math standards (the subject of this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast) along with reforms in recruiting high-quality math teachers, is critical to helping our children gain the knowledge they need for success beyond school.

[Former teacher Juliette LaMontagne] concedes that she once knew little to nothing about design or business thinking. But what she did know, deep down, was that our education system is failing the students who find sitting in classrooms all day full-on painful… So she turned education on its head with a project called Breaker. (Yes, an odd name) Home-based in New York City — though with projects elsewhere — Breaker assembles interdisciplinary teams to “drive social innovation and collaborative learning.” Breaker leaders pose social problems, like increasing literacy or inventing urban farming techniques, and invites young people (who apply) to work with experts who have relevant practical skills. Together, the team uses an open-source IDEO design toolkit which lays out a process for collecting information, brainstorming ideas and testing solutions.

The point is to create a sustainable business that solves the problem on an on-going basis, if possible. So instead of a kid learning enough math, engineering, social science, communications skills to build something useful or remarkable later on, maybe, someday in the future, when there’s a job — build now. Learn the necessary skills along the way… Breaker’s problem-solving business is at the center of the work. Actually fix something. Don’t invent a little hands-on project intended to reinforce a lesson. Focus for real on designing a necessary product, service, business…

The question was how to bring more garden space to inner-city areas, so people could grow their own fresh food. The team assembled in Breaker’s New York City space and started collecting data. They discovered that U.S. urban areas have about a million acres of unused land that could be converted into farmland. But lots of these areas are stalled construction projects that lost funding during the recession. So the garden plots needed to be temporary, able to be moved relatively quickly when the owner or the Department of Transportation finally got around to needing the land back. The project became a business called “Farm Blocks,” which manufactures lightweight containers that become modular, raised planting beds…

Currently, Breaker reaches out mainly to 18-24-year-olds, a group whose 15.1 percent unemployment rate is twice the nation’s 7.3 percent rate. But as a frustrated K-12 educator, LaMontagne passionately recommends that schools adopt this go-getter entrepreneurial technique for K-12 kids maddened by educational passivity. “Students say I wish I were out in the real world making something happen. Have students decide what question to ask. The teacher becomes the facilitator. The product is the evaluation.”

Julia Steiny, discussing how relevance and learning can be brought into American public education, and in the process, help kids achieve economic and social freedom for themselves and the communities in which they live.

How America prepares its teachers has been a subject of dismay for many years. In 2005 Arthur Levine, then the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, shocked colleagues (and himself, he says) with a scathing report concluding that teacher preparation programs “range from inadequate to appalling.” Since then the outcry has only gotten more vociferous. This summer the National Council on Teacher Quality described teacher education as still “an industry of mediocrity.” The heartening news is that the universities that have so long resisted pleas to raise their standards are now beginning to have change pushed on them from outside… Philanthropies like the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, which Levine now runs, have been pouring money into reform. And academic entrepreneurs like [Deborah Kenny of the Harlem Village Academies charter schools] are arising to compete with the established schools.

Of all the competing claims on America’s education dollar — more technology, smaller classes, universal prekindergarten, school choice — the one option that would seem to be a no-brainer is investing in good teachers. But universities have proved largely immutable. Educators, including some inside these institutions, say universities have treated education programs as “cash cows.” The schools see no incentive to change because they have plenty of applicants willing to pay full tuition, the programs are relatively cheap to run, and they are accountable to no one except accrediting agencies run by, you guessed it, education schools. It’s a contented cartel.

Among reformers, there is a fair amount of consensus about what it would take to fix things. The first step is to make teacher colleges much more selective. According to one respected study, only 23 percent of American teachers — and only 14 percent in high-poverty schools — come from the top third of college graduates…  Once they are admitted, critics say, prospective teachers need more rigorous study, not just of the science and philosophy of education but of the contents, especially in math and the sciences, where America trails the best systems in Asia and Europe. A new study by the Education Policy Center at Michigan State, drawing on data from 17 countries, concluded that while American middle school math teachers may know a lot about teaching, they often don’t know very much about math. Most of them are not required to take the courses in calculus and probability that are mandatory in the best-taught programs.

Former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller pointing out an underlying reason why so many kids are condemned to economic and social enslavement: The shoddy recruiting and training practices of our nation’s university schools of education.

In statehouses across the country, school children deserve to have the Winston Churchill-types in charge. Instead, our statehouses today host too many Neville Chamberlains. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s lack of strong leadership on education, declared one of his top priorities, has caused a stalemate that has embarrassingly failed to achieve any significant reform despite his party’s full control of both houses of the state legislature… Gov. Bob McDonnell campaigned as the education-reform governor of Virginia, but despite his parting shot of securing state-takeovers of failing schools and allowing Teach for America into the state, he still governs a state where a 15-year-old charter school law is so restrictive that only two of these innovative public schools are operating despite the overwhelming evidence that good charter schools can achieve dramatic success with students. The list goes on.

Allegiance to party over principle and the ultimate goal of securing higher political office surely is driving some decisions by governors to avoid fighting the tough fights. But a willingness to do battle, even at the cost of one’s own political longevity, is what marks a truly courageous and effective leader…

To be sure, some of today’s governors hold the promise of becoming tomorrow’s education reform leaders. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker looked teachers’ (and other) unions in the eye and didn’t blink when reform was needed, and along the way expanded that state’s voucher law and strengthened its charter school law. Mike Pence in Indiana and John Kasich in Ohio have built on the reforms they’ve inherited without apology, even acting so bold as to expand school-choice voucher programs. Delaware’s Jack Markell seemingly has unleashed a no-nonsense education secretary with a directive to expand choice and seriously increase accountability of schools, despite his own hesitancy to put on the “reformer” mantle. And Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal has set records for positive education reform lawmaking in education in a state where a devastating and unwelcome storm served as a catalyst for a new public education landscape. Even in these states, however, parents are wondering whether it’s just another round of wasted potential and foregone opportunity, or if the current generation of school children really will be better-schooled than the last.

Former Center for Education Reform President Jeanne Allen, in the Huffington Post, pointing out the need for governors who will work strongly to advance systemic reform on behalf of all children. Schoo reformers must build the grassroots and political base needed to give such governors the support needed to transform American public education.

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The Need for Courageous Reformers

When Cory Booker commenced his stately coronation march toward the late Frank Lautenberg’s U.S. Senate seat last Spring, pundits dismissed his GOP opponent Steve Lonegan as a hapless also-ran, unlikely…

When Cory Booker commenced his stately coronation march toward the late Frank Lautenberg’s U.S. Senate seat last Spring, pundits dismissed his GOP opponent Steve Lonegan as a hapless also-ran, unlikely to sway blue-ish Jersey towards his reactionary Tea Party platform. But with the October 16th election just one week away the race is tightening and, according to one recent poll, Booker, remarkably, is only 13 points ahead. While the Newark mayor will almost certainly win, his victory margin will be far slimmer than earlier projections despite the gulf between Lonegan and the political views of most New Jerseyans…

Last week, in a sign of desperation, Mike Bloomberg made an emergency drop of $1 million to buy TV ads to bolster Booker’s vapid campaign. On Friday Booker will begin a five-day bus tour across the state to muster support. Some cakewalk. It’s not what Lonegan’s doing right. It’s what Booker’s doing wrong…

Take the candidates’ dispute over the Common Core, the state-driven set of academic standards developed by the National Governors Association intended to ensure that all American children, regardless of place of residence, have equal access to a rigorous curriculum. Lonegan’s against it, of course. The Common Core, he insists, is merely federal interference (never mind that it’s state-led) and a violation of states’ rights (never mind that each state’s participation requires legislative approval). At a recent news conference in Trenton, Lonegan (clearly a “Walking Dead” fan) told reporters, “[w]e should not allow the federal government to take over the control of our children’s minds.” One of his compadres at the presser described the Common Core as politically comparable to Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany…

Everyone knows that the Newark Mayor is an ardent supporter of the Common Core, as well as other local and national efforts to promote educational equity for all kids. Yet here he’s transparently underplaying his passion for urban education, creating the impression of equivocation. He sounds weak. In turn, Lonegan sounds strong.

voiceslogoLaura Waters of NJ Left Behind, taking aim at the Democratic candidate for the Garden State for his weak defense of systemic reform. Which raises real questions about whether Booker will be a reliable ally of reformers if he wins the seat formerly occupied by Frank Lautenberg. This is why reformers must continually advocate (and play stronger roles in election politics) in order to keep politicians in line.

What a morning for New York: Nearly 20,000 moms and dads and kids marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Park to demand good schools. Like their forebears in Selma, they marched for freedom.

Meet New York’s charter movement. Ninety-three percent of charter-school children in this city are black or Latino.
On Tuesday, their parents carried signs saying: “My Child, My Choice” and “Charter Schools Are Public Schools.” And they have a message for Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and his allies in the teachers union: Get off our schoolhouse doorstep!

The message is timely. Though de Blasio styles himself a defender of the underprivileged, he is working against these families by calling for charters to pay rent and for a moratorium on placing charters in unused space in traditional schools. These are charter-killers, and de Blasio pushes them for a simple reason: Charters are good schools, and the teachers unions don’t like good schools outside their ­control.
They don’t like these schools because they eliminate excuses for failure. Every day, charters prove that with a good school, an inner-city child can learn.

The New York Post, making clear how expanding school choice in New York City and elsewhere helps take on the most-important civil rights and urban renewal issue of this time.

The substantial growth over time in the special education gap between charter school students and traditional public school students who also applied to attend a charter school in kindergarten suggests that a meaningful part of the growth in the special education gap could derive from differences between charter and traditional public schools… For this analysis, I focus exclusively on the sample of lottery applicants. Restricting the analysis to include only those students who applied to attend a charter school in kindergarten improves the comparison between later outcomes of charter school students to traditional public school students who are very similar to them. This sort of analysis goes a long way to account for the differences— many of which are unobserved in an administrative dataset—between the type of student who seeks to attend a charter school and the average student in a traditional public school…

Enrolling in a charter school in kindergarten decreases the overall likelihood that a student in the sample is observed in special education in a particular year by about 1.1 percentage points. A year of charter schooling decreases the probability that a student has an IEP by about 0.866 percentage points relative to if the student had attended a traditional public school. Charter schooling has differing effects on rates of different special education classifications. Charter schooling significantly decreases the likelihood that a student is classified as having an SLD or an emotional disability. However, it does not influence the likelihood that the student is classified as having a speech or language impairment or another health impairment.

The results from these regression analyses suggest that a meaningful part of special education gap is explained by the decreased likelihood that a charter school student is classified in special education. A decreased probability of classification into special education increases the special education gap, but does so in a seemingly positive way, as charter school students simply become less likely to be placed into special education than they would have had they instead attended a traditional public school…

I confirm that there is a meaningful difference in the percentages of students in charter and traditional public schools who are enrolled in special education in New York City. The special education gap is relatively large in kindergarten, and it grows considerably as students progress through elementary grades… the growth in the special education gap over time occurs almost exclusively in the mild and subjectively diagnosed category of specific learning disability. Analysis of data… demonstrates that attending a charter school itself leads to a significantly lower probability that a student will be in special education in a later year.

Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute, in a study released by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education, showing how charters avoid putting children into special education ghettos — and on the path to despair.

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Jacob Grossman: Grow More Charters

The expansion of charter schools (and other forms of school choice) has once become a subject of debate, especially in New York City and Boston, where mayoral elections have put…

The expansion of charter schools (and other forms of school choice) has once become a subject of debate, especially in New York City and Boston, where mayoral elections have put the spotlight on the legacies of outgoing mayors in both cities, Michael Bloomberg and Thomas Menino in transforming education. Menino, in particular, has done well in overhauling traditional districts under his control. But it still struggles  to provide all children with high-quality teaching and comprehensive college-preparatory curricula. Expanding charters, as done in cities such as Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, where charters serve, respectively, 41 percent and 76 percent, of all school-aged children (as of 2012, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools), can help more families, especially those from poor and minority households, provide their children with opportunities for brighter futures. But Menino has been less-aggressive than other mayors across the country in charter school expansion; only 10 percent of all kids in Beantown are serve by charters. And it will be up to the one of the two men vying to succeed Menino —  Marty Walsh and John Connolly — to make charter school expansion a reality once one of them takes office. 

voiceslogoIn this Voices of the Dropout Nation, real estate executive Jacob Grossman, who co-chairs the advisory board of the Edward Brooke Charter Schools in Boston (and grandson of Kivie Kaplan, who was president of the NAACP from 1966 to 1975), explains why expanding charters is critical to addressing the civil rights issue of our time, both in Boston and throughout America. Read, consider, share, and take action.

Recently I listened to an interview with Bernice King, the daughter of the famed civil rights leader, as she spoke about her father and the progress the United States has made fifty years after his March on Washington.  Without question, our country has made great strides in working towards equality. But we are not attentive enough to the largest problem at hand.  With Boston’s mayoral race at the forefront of people’s minds — which coincides with the imminent vacancy of the Boston Public Schools Superintendent post, it is an important time to focus on our schools.

To begin, I must admit that I am a reluctant supporter of charter schools.  As a Republican in tradition of socially liberal and fiscally conservative icons such as former U.S. Senator Edward Brooke, I wish that all of our traditional public schools offered challenging and engrossing opportunities for our kids. But urban public schools continually fall short.  I do not desire to assign blame, but rather highlight a broken system which has lost track of its priority – our children – and focuses instead on the benefits to the adults.  My wife and I grudgingly left our beloved South End neighborhood with our young son because we did not feel confident that he would get a rigorous public education in Boston Public Schools.

Just 10 percent of ninth graders in Boston Public Schools go on to graduate from a four- year college.  Forty-two of families with children in Boston say that they have thought about leaving the city solely because of our schools.  To be abundantly clear, this is not because the administrators or teachers in Boston Public Schools are bad.  The local system and school systems across the country are not arming the players with the tools to win.

I am afraid that we are “educating” a generation of urban kids who will not be equipped with the skills to succeed in life. This isn’t as visible and outwardly hurtful as a “No Blacks” sign over a water fountain, but its consequences are deleterious to society and the people in the system. Statistics show that high school dropouts are eight times more likely to end up in jail or prison than those who graduate.

We are failing our kids by capping charter school growth.  Charter schools are public schools with two major distinctions.  First, they are not subject to union contracts.  Practically speaking, this means they can create their own curriculum, set their own hours, reward effective teachers and terminate ineffective ones – much like any private business. Secondly, to gain placement in a charter school, a parent simply needs to complete an information card to enter their child into a lottery.  A charter school is a free market system whereas a tradition public school is not. Charter school administrators have the opportunity to lead with a focus on meritocracy and efficacy while a union-governed system is ruled by seniority and a politically negotiated contract.

To be more clear: the framework which governs how Boston Public Schools operate (from length of school day, to teacher reward and tenure) is the Boston Teachers Union contract which is negotiated by politicians who also ensure that the streets are clear of trash, potholes are filled, and that crime in the city is on a downward trend.

Charter schools are not the answer to all problems. In fact, there are ineffective charter schools just like there are ineffective traditional public and private schools. However, the competition and innovation that the mere existence and expansion of charter schools creates is a benefit to the students in all our schools. Without a union contract, a charter school can terminate an ineffective teacher, whereas a public school teacher may have tenure. With the ability to create its own curriculum and schedule, a charter school can maximize learning time and provide innovative programming that fosters real and quantifiable learning growth.

As a consumer and business person, I love competition. It generally results in a better outcome for me and my fellow consumers. Companies fighting for my business can result in more pioneering products and better pricing. Why wouldn’t we encourage more competition in our education system? Parents select a charter school because they think their kids will be better off for attending them. If a specific charter school is weak or a specific traditional public school is strong, the market forces will lead to the closure of the bad schools and strengthen demand in the good schools. As a taxpayer, I would like to see our education dollars result in more positive outcomes that will empower our kids to develop skills that will enable them to succeed in life after school.

In Massachusetts, we pride ourselves on our strong institutions of higher learning, our entrepreneurship in the life sciences, healthcare and biotech fields, as well as our robust financial services industry. We should expand our national leadership position in education reform and embrace competition supplied by charter school growth.

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When Only the NEA and AFT Matter

Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan are Democrats who represent adjacent Assembly districts in the affluent East Bay suburbs along the Interstate 680 corridor. Bonilla, a former teacher, and Buchanan, a…

Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan are Democrats who represent adjacent Assembly districts in the affluent East Bay suburbs along the Interstate 680 corridor. Bonilla, a former teacher, and Buchanan, a former school-board member, have both staked out public education as their big issue. However, the two are also potential – even probable – rivals when the region’s state Senate seat opens up in three years. They could even face each other twice under the top-two primary system.

voiceslogoThe two appear to be already vying for support from the education establishment, especially the California Teachers Association, which may explain, at least partially, why both moved highly controversial, CTA-backed bills through the Legislature this year and onto Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Bonilla’s Assembly Bill 484, signed this week, suspends the state’s academic testing program, thereby suspending creation of test-based Academic Performance Index scores for the state’s schools and undercutting the basis for parents to take control of low-performing schools from districts. The CTA and other elements of the education establishment loathe the testing/API process because it holds them publicly accountable and raises the possibility of teachers being graded on the achievements of students, or lack thereof…

Buchanan’s Assembly Bill 375, meanwhile, would make some largely cosmetic changes to the process for firing teachers who abuse children, but could, critics say, make the process even more Byzantine than it is now. The issue was sparked by the case of a sexually abusive teacher in Los Angeles who was essentially paid off, rather than fired. Last year, the Senate passed a bill to make firing such teachers easier, but the CTA killed the bill in the Assembly, saying it would violate teachers’ due process rights, and this year offered AB 375 as a substitute… Both bills demonstrate the immense influence that the teachers union enjoys in the Legislature and the lengths to which ambitious politicians will go to endear themselves to the powerful union.

Sacramento Bee Columnist Dan Walters, pointing out what happens when politicians care only about the influence and dollars they get from affiliates of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers instead of the futures of children. For shame.

When people think of lobbyists, they probably picture men clad in $2,000 suits, glad-handing politicians on behalf of well-heeled business clients. But one of the most powerful lobbyists in the capitol doesn’t represent private industry. The state’s second-largest lobbyist in terms of dollars spent is none other than the California Teachers Association. In the course of a decade, the CTA has spent more than $50 million alone lobbying politicians for legislation aimed at protecting and expanding its interests, usually at students’ and taxpayers’ expense. Few teachers realize, however, that they don’t have to finance the CTA’s political agenda. California may not be a right-to-work state, but most public school teachers have the right to a yearly rebate of $350 to $400 from their union—money that would otherwise line CTA lobbyists’ and political consultants’ pockets.

The ignominious history of the nearly 300,000 strong CTA is well-documented. The powerful union, with its enormous war chest, has managed to stifle any education-reform measure that it thinks will put a dent in its coffers. It has fought against vouchers, charter-school proliferation, and merit pay. At the same time, it fights to keep tenure, seniority, and endless dismissal statutes for incompetent teachers and pedophiles. The CTA’s spending fuels a broader liberal political agenda as well. In addition to spending millions lobbying legislators, the union was the largest donor to the successful Proposition 30 campaign last year, spending $11.4 million on the measure, which raised state income and sales taxes…

Of course, the union would be nothing without the largely coerced “generosity” of its memberships… When an audience member asked Vogel what portion of a teacher’s dues is spent on political activity, he replied that $36 goes to the union’s initiative fund and $8 goes into a political-action committee for candidates. The CTA’s own auditor, however, reports that the union collected $647 from its members in 2012-2013, of which 34.6 percent went to areas— especially politics—unrelated to collective bargaining and other representational functions. (When you add state and local union dues, California teachers pay over $1,000 a year on average.) If you take $44 and multiply it by 300,000 teachers, you get $13.2 million. The CTA’s annual political spending has exceeded $21 million on average since 2000. So Vogel’s dollar figure is well short of the mark.

Republican or conservative teachers are paying the union to support candidates and causes they oppose. For apolitical teachers, the question is why they should pay to support any causes or candidates at all? But teachers can forgo paying the political portion. It bears repeating that several U.S. Supreme Court rulings deny unions the right to force members to subsidize their political agenda. Teachers never hear this message when they join the CTA. They often aren’t aware that “agency-fee payers” (nonunion members) can request a rebate, even though they’re still forced to pay for “chargeable expenses” that are “germane to the union’s representational functions.”

Larry Sand of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, in City Journal, on how one NEA affiliate uses the dues it forces teachers to pay into its coffers by law for purposes contrary to many in the rank-and-file.

… our aspirations for our young people–rich, poor, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever–should be much more ambitious than the minimum wage, food stamps, and a housing voucher. I get the impression from many on the left, however, that they no longer believe in education as the great equalizer or even as a springboard to greater opportunities. They seem to glumly accept that children born into poverty are destined to do poorly in school, and will be lucky to end up in low-skilled jobs as adults. The best we can do for them is to ease their path to high school graduation, and then raise the minimum wage so that their low-skilled jobs will provide greater income–or find other ways to supplement their earnings with government services.

That approach to “poverty fighting” is wrong on at least two counts. First, it’s deeply pessimistic, taking a permanent underclass as a given while giving up on an immense amount of human potential. Second, it’s naïve, both economically and politically. If we raise the minimum wage dramatically, won’t employers replace workers with robots or export the jobs to far-away places? And if taxpayers are asked to support perpetual benefits for a permanent underclass, don’t we think they will eventually rebel?

I take a different view, as do most ed-reformers. Rather than accept a future of low-skill, low-wage work for our impoverished young people, we aspire to build their “human capital”–their knowledge, skills, capabilities, talents, habits, character, however you want to phrase it–so that, among other things, the labor market will one day repay their contributions to society with a wage that far exceeds any minimums… here’s the thing, Deborah: I can’t figure out how to get from here to there except through better schools. Whatever the question, stronger schools seems to be the answer…

Thomas B. Fordham Institute honcho Mike Petrilli, in Education Week, explaining why education is the long-term solution for fighting poverty. This is a point traditionalists don’t want to admit. But the evidence has proven this a long time ago.

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Voices of the Dropout Nation: The Need for Righteous Chaos to Transform Education for Our Children

People want change, but they don’t want anything to change… you have to do things different. There’s going to be some chaos as part of getting to a better place…

People want change, but they don’t want anything to change… you have to do things different. There’s going to be some chaos as part of getting to a better place for kids… We rarely talk about teachers and schools being engaged with parents. My son goes to a school that is rated A in Louisiana. If I never showed up at my son’s school, they would be okay.

voiceslogoKenneth Campbell of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Connecting the Dots conference, pointing out the reality that systemic reform — especially the second-generation efforts now being undertaken — requires moving away from traditionalist thinking and policies that have harmed so many children. This includes expanding school choice and Parent Power laws so that families can play lead decision-making roles in education for their children.

We have to acknowledge that there are plenty of adults who profit from nothing changing in education.

David Harris of the Mind Trust, also at the Connecting the Dots conference, hitting on a point that Dropout Nation has made since its inception. Contrary to the arguments of intellectual charlatans such as Diane Ravitch, traditionalist players, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, profit from the status quo remaining ante.

I used to be afraid of the Common Core, a national effort to align public school curriculum goals across state lines and provide better tools for measuring what students are learning. I feared the new standards would lead to my students failing and that I would be scapegoated for those failures. But after two years of working with the Common Core in my Boston classroom, I’m a convert… That said, the first year wasn’t pretty. I struggled, and so did my students, and when it came time for the first assessment exams of the year, my kids bombed. My ego was bludgeoned and my students were frustrated with the new types of questions used in the exams. I was afraid I would be viewed as an ineffective teacher, but thankfully, my principal remained unwavering in his support of the staff. He knew the transition would take time, and he wasn’t looking to blame teachers.

Last spring, for example, as my eighth-graders read Tim O’Brien’s powerful(1955-1975)” Vietnam War novel “The Things They Carried,” they also read primary source materials from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They drew their own connections between those wars and O’Brien’s Vietnam. One student, for example, read O’Brien’s sentence: “We went to war because we were ashamed not to.” He then raised his hand. “Isn’t that why a lot of people are upset about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Because they don’t understand why we’re going to war?” That kind of discussion occurs naturally with the Common Core. Previously, nonfiction would have been a separate unit of study. But I’ve found that this new way of integrating it with the novels students read helps them make connections between literature and the real world.

Moreover, the new curriculum helps students build the kind of educational scaffolding that will serve them well in high school and college. This is important for all kids, but it’s particularly important at high-poverty, historically underperforming urban public schools such as the one where I teach… The Common Core also pushes students to be better writers. Early last year, my students read “Catcher in the Rye,” and alongside it they read psychology texts that helped them understand the turmoil Holden Caulfield was feeling. I knew my students had gripping stories of their own to tell, but many were afraid of opening up. So, to complement the book and our discussions, I invited adults from across the school, including the principal and the guidance counselor, to come into the classroom and share stories from their lives. The process created a safe space that allowed my students to open up in their own writing. One, whose mother had died of cancer when he was young, wrote about his last conversation with her. He read it aloud in front of the entire middle school, breaking into tears and bringing many of his classmates and teachers to tears too. He received a standing ovation.

Los Angeles teacher Andrew Vega, in the Los Angeles Times, explaining why everyone should embrace the implementation of Common Core reading and math standards.

We spend years of our lives working to obtain a diploma. We invest substantial capital in it. And yet… a college diploma is an opaque and unrevealing document. If we were building a higher education system from scratch, would our records of assessment and certification look anything like today’s diplomas?…

Two hundred years ago, what you learned about Latin, the Bible, and mathematics when you were 21 was just as likely to be true when you turned 70. So you spent four straight years in college lecture halls and libraries, you acquired skills and knowledge that would serve you for life, and then you were done. Now, in today’s fast-changing world, it makes more sense to learn provisionally, opportunistically, as new challenges and necessities arise.

To make this style of learning more practical, we need certification for it that employers will grow to trust and value even more than they do traditional bachelor’s degrees because the efficacy will be so much better. Imagine an online document that’s iterative like a LinkedIn profile (and might even be part of the LinkedIn profile), but is administered by some master service that verifies the authenticity of its components. While you’d be the creator and primary keeper of this profile, you wouldn’t actually be able to add certifications yourself. Instead, this master service would do so, verifying information with the certification issuers, at your request, after you successfully completed a given curriculum.

Over time, this dynamic, networked diploma will contain an increasing number of icons or badges symbolizing specific certifications. It could also link to transcripts, test scores, and work examples from these curricula, and even evaluations from instructors, classmates, internship supervisors, and others who have interacted with you in your educational pursuits. Ultimately the various certificates you earn could be bundled into higher-value certifications. If you earn five certificates in the realm of computer science, you might receive an icon or badge that symbolizes this higher level of experience and expertise. In this way, you could eventually assemble portfolios that reflect a similar breadth of experiences that you get when you pursue a traditional four-year degree.

Reid Hoffman, on LinkedIn, articulating why even higher education must be overhauled.

There are those who would seal up our lips on the subject of slavery, because its discussion is calculated to irritate the south: they would have us delay the work of reform to a more convenient season. But we cannot comply with their wishes for the following reasons: To keep silence would be disobeying the command, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them”—and we are sure that if we and our children were in the condition of the slaves, and the slaves in ours, we should deem them hard-hearted if they suffered any notions of… policy to deter them from exposing the injustice of our oppressors, and pleading for our emancipation.

Again, we cannot be silent, because we dare not disobey God: He has said—”Open thy mouth for the dumb, in the cause of all such as are appointed for destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” “The slaves cannot speak for themselves—we speak in their stead, and on their behalf, and who, that “judgeth righteously,” but will admit that they are “poor and needy,” and “appointed for destruction?”” Again, we cannot desist, because our advisers never pretend to designate a period when it will be more safe to plead for the oppressed than at the present time; and until they do so, we feel ourselves obligated to go on.

Again, we dare not delay, because they are unable to prolong our lives, and only the present time is ours—to-morrow we may be in eternity. We must therefore plead now, or death may shortly arrest our career. Again, we decline giving up our cause for a time, because it is morally certain that every thing is lost, and nothing gained, by compromising with sinners—that if it be dangerous to touch the slave system now, it will be far more dangerous to meddle with it when it shall have reached (as it will very shortly) double its present magnitude—and that if it is difficult to obtain the liberation of two millions of slaves now, it will be altogether impracticable to emancipate four, eight or sixteen millions in after years.

Finally, we are unwilling to fold our arms, and suppress our voices, for the reason given by our advisers, namely, that all allusions to slavery are offensive to the planters, because we do not believe that if we should be asked in rendering up our final account, why did we not cry aloud and spare not, Jehovah would be satisfied with a reply like this—”…while we were waiting and dozing for the proper time to come around, death cut us down, and this is the reason why we opened not our mouth for the suffering and the dumb—and we left the pastors and members of churches, of all denominations, sighing and waiting to see the day when it would be safe to maintain the cause of the afflicted and the right of the poor—when the thief would be more willing to be recognized as a thief, and the fraudulent as dishonest, and the oppressor as an unjust man.” Could we make such a plea at the bar of God?

William Lloyd Garrison, in the Liberator in 1832, declaring why he and his fellow abolitionists could not keep silent or not take action against slavery. Garrison’s words, true nearly 181 years ago, should be embraced today by reformers looking to end another form of slavery that comes in the guise of the nation’s education crisis. You cannot lead by being silent.

Illustration courtesy of

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Voices of the Dropout Nation in Quotes: The Morality of Advancing Common Core

Evangelicals must address America’s educational crisis with both conviction and compassion. We must not only provide food or shelter to help the impoverished survive day to day, we must equip…

Evangelicals must address America’s educational crisis with both conviction and compassion. We must not only provide food or shelter to help the impoverished survive day to day, we must equip them to thrive. Currently 45 percent of children live in low-income families. Yet, only 29 percent of children from the lowest income quartile will enter college, and only 9 percent will finish. Poor preparation for college is standing in the way of these students and a family supporting income… The home school and parochial school parents have long recognized the lax standards in public schools and insisted on higher standards for their children. But, rigorous standards must be available to all children, especially those in poverty who need clear signals of what skills they need to succeed in college or a career.

The consequences of low standards are pervasive in our education system. Many students with good grades in high school have been told based on previous standards that they were on track to succeed in college. Yet, with half of undergraduates placed in remediation and only 56 percent graduating, countless students quickly found they were unable to succeed at college-level work. Now student achievement in United States lags behind 13 countries in reading and 24 in math. Parents, schools and communities must insist on putting their children’s future first by raising expectations for student literacy and math skills, so when our children graduate from high school they have the have the skills to compete in college and the workplace. The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states, set clear consistent guidelines for what students should be able to do at each grade level in math and English Language Arts. The new standards were found to be clearly better than standards recently used in 37 states for English Language Arts and 39 states in math, and on par with educational standards in top performing countries by top researchers…

here are a small vocal group of opponents to these standards with concerns about inhibiting parental choice, undue influence on our children through the creation of a national curriculum. Yet, the evidence many critics provide to support their claims don’t include any facts, and many times are simple untruths. Recognizing the quality of these standards, many religious schools have voluntarily adopted the Common Core. The new standards do not affect the Christian teachings in our schools or our homes, but higher expectations can only help our children understand scripture and communicate biblical truth more clearly in a society in desperate need of clear teaching of the Word of God.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, in the  Christian Post, on why men and women of faith should support providing all children with the comprehensive college preparatory education they deserve.

I would say the most important takeaways are these. For starters, over the years it’s become clear that Teach for America’s most important impact on American education probably isn’t through the teaching efforts of TFA teachers. Rather, many alumni of the TFA program have continuing careers in the education field. That’s sometimes as classroom teachers in traditional public schools, but often as leaders in charter schools or charter school networks or else in policy advocacy organizations. Since many people do not like charter schools or disagree with the policies being advocated by TFA aligned policy advocacy organizations, there’s now a TFA backlash. It would be convenient for the leaders of that backlash if TFA’s core claim that it’s a way of improving the average level of teaching in low-income schools was just some kind of ruse. But we can see here that while it is—in part—a ruse through which new cohorts of education policy reformers are recruited, it’s certainly not just a ruse. The existence of Teach for America raises the student’s school learning, completely apart from any downstream policy-level consequences.

The Teaching Fellows finding is less of a political hot button, but it has broader and more important policy implications. The basic upshot is that the current certification process has no meaningful validity. On the other hand, we also saw that TNTP’s effort to devise a better ex ante screening process failed. They came up with one that’s totally different, but about as good. The implication is that we don’t really have a great idea about how to ex ante screen for effective teachers. The reasonable response is to say that lowering the bar for becoming a teacher in the first place probably wouldn’t do much harm, and raising the bar for staying as a classroom teacher once you’ve been on the job for two or three years and can be evaluated ex post could do quite a bit of good.

Matthew Yglesias, in Slate, giving his thoughts on the latest study validating the effective of Teach For America and TNTP recruits — and hitting the point made on this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast about the need to focus on recruiting high-quality talents into teaching.

Arne Duncan was right to call attention to 9/11 as an important opportunity for teaching children about the heinous events of that day twelve years ago, about honoring those who perished, and about the value of “coming together” as Americans.

But he missed a terrific opportunity to remind American educators that kids need context and background knowledge if they’re to make sense of 9/11—or, frankly, of much else, right down to and including what’s going on in Syria today. That calls for a solid, content-centric K–12 curriculum, including lots and lots of history, geography, and civics, the great neglected subjects of the typical “social studies” curriculum. E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge sequence would be a swell place to start.

Checker Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in Flypaper, pointing out why curricula matters.

I wonder if the candidates even know that this year there were 70,000 applicants, almost all from black and Latino families, for the 20,000 seats in the more than 150 charter schools that opened under Bloomberg’s watch. That leaves 50,000 families with no other choice but to send their children to neighborhood schools they are desperately trying to escape.

You would think that Democratic candidates — who talk a lot about their commitment to improving the lives of black and Latino families — wouldn’t hesitate to increase the number of educational choices for low-income families. You would be wrong. Doing that would upset powerful special interests in the Democratic Party, which is not something the candidates are prepared to do.

So, to cite just one example, most of the candidates want to stop allowing public charter schools to share space in underutilized public school buildings. Without that lifeline, many charters couldn’t survive, much less thrive, in incredibly costly New York City. Beyond repeating a few bromides, none of the candidates has really addressed issues like what they would do to turn around low-performing schools — or how they will prepare teachers to successfully implement the new Common Core standards. The list goes on.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a casual observer. I spent eight years as chancellor of New York City’s public schools under this mayor. Before his election, the public school system was a wreck, and change didn’t come easily. For too many bureaucrats and political special interests, the status quo was a way of life. Most politicians ignored the deep-rooted problems in the city’s public schools for decades. Bloomberg didn’t. He closed more than 150 failing schools and replaced them with more than 600 new, high quality, often much smaller, traditional public and charter schools.

The results, reflexively pilloried by some of those running for mayor, speak for themselves. After more than a decade of stagnation, the high school graduation rate rose by over 20 points across the city, with some especially notable increases at the new, smaller schools. Student achievement improved — whether measured by New York’s old academic standards, or by the state’s new, more rigorous common core standards. After years of trailing the more affluent and homogeneous school districts across the state, New York City public school students — many of whom come from low-income, minority families — are now performing almost on par with those districts. This is a major accomplishment that proves, once again, that poverty is not destiny…

There are at least 50,000 families in this city who don’t have a City Hall lobbyist or a political action committee and they want to know what — if anything — the people running to succeed Bloomberg will do to help them. Unfortunately, the Democratic candidates haven’t answered that question in time for any one of those families to make an informed choice tomorrow.

Former New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, in the Daily News, no more pleased about the men and women who ran in Tuesday’s mayoral primary than any of Dropout Nation‘s contributors.

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