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A new McKinsey report on the economic costs of low educational achievement has drawn plenty of praise and criticism. Critics charge that the report gives international assessments too much credence while paying scant attention to the dramatic socio-economic disparities that distinguish the United States from the highest-performing nations. The critics have a point, but we should not overlook the report's most critical lessons about the high cost of inequity.

Business champions of school reform have admittedly lost some of their luster in the current economic environment. The judgment of consulting groups like McKinsey seems a bit more fallible these days. The past year has shown us that a handful of Harvard MBA’s can do at least as much economic damage as a horde of high school dropouts. It would behoove many in the business community to show a bit more humility as they discuss education and the economy.

Still, let's not ignore some of the report's most critical conclusions:

"Race and poverty are not destiny." This is not just a truism. Charles Murray and his acolytes have been hard at work attributing poverty and low achievement to genetic causes. These views have even been gaining traction in some mainstream education blogs. Murray and his followers seek to inoculate Americans against concern about the tremendous social, economic, political and educational disadvantages that ...

You have to admire Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews for his openness to persuasion.  Unlike so many education commentators, he is willing to budge an inch or two in the face of compelling arguments.

The latest example of this pliability came on Monday, when he responded to a young teacher's concerns about the effect of testing and accountability pressures on teaching and learning. He was willing to concede two problems the young teacher raised:

  1. With its all-or-nothing focus on passing state tests, No Child Left Behind turns a blind eye to much excellent work in schools.
  2. Current accountability policies encourage schools to focus on "bubble kids"--students just under the passing bar. Meanwhile, those schools leave other children behind.

Mathews' instinctive reaction to the "bubble kids" phenomenon is fairly common: "A good principal...would put an end to such nonsense." This response certainly carries genuine emotional weight. Still, it puzzles me that so many DC policy wonks invoke it in defense of No Child Left Behind in its current form.

What, after all, is the point of a policy that creates poor incentives and encourages perverse behavior? If we can rely on everyone to do the right thing regardless of consequences, then we hardly need accountability systems in the first place.

As Mathews realizes, even good principals succumb to ...

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Earth Day Resources

Happy Earth Day!

Check out our Earth Day and environmental education resources.  We've assembled classroom resources, lesson plans, interviews with environmental education experts and examples of innovative environmental education programs in public schools. ...

French explorer and filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau has spent his life campaigning for the health of the world's oceans. He has produced over 75 films on oceans and the environment, involved thousands of young people in hands-on environmental education programs, and met with dozens of world leaders--including nine U.S. presidents--to press the case for stronger environmental protections.

Cousteau recently spoke with us about his work at the Ocean Futures Society to protect the world's oceans through science and education. The overarching message of this work: "if you protect the ocean, you protect yourself."

Download the entire interview here or listen to brief interview highlights (6 minutes):

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(A transcript of these highlights appears below)

Or listen to excerpts from ...

National Geographic filmmaker and writer Jon Bowermaster has long chronicled the declining health of the world's oceans. He has traveled the world by sea kayak, seeing first-hand troubling environmental changes in places as far-flung as Antarctica, the Aleutian Islands, South America, Vietnam, French Polynesia, Gabon, Croatia and Tasmania

Bowermaster recently spoke with us via satellite phone from a beach in the Maldives, a group of low-lying tropical islands in the Indian Ocean. He told us about us about the threats this island nation faces from rising sea levels and pollution--and why other nations like the United States should care about them. Environmental crises on distant shores can herald environmental, social, or political crises at home.

Bowermaster argues that his work holds critical lessons for educators and students. Why learn about the Maldives? Their present may well be our future.

Listen to highlights from our conversation here (6 minutes):

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A transcript of these highlights appears ...

Here's a new lineup of new public school success stories recently published on Public School Insights:

Eli Broad is counting his chickens before they're hatched.  In a Detroit Free Press op-ed, he counts Washington, DC among urban school districts that "have successfully turned around after producing abysmal student outcomes."

Seems a bit premature to declare victory in DC schools, doesn't it? Apparently, Broad is confusing the implementation of his favored reforms with their success:

In every one of these cities, real changes for students happened only after mayors or governors took over and put in place strong leaders who had a serious desire to rebuild.

It's true that DC's test scores rose significantly a scant ten months after Mayor Fenty took over the schools and Michelle Rhee became superintendent. But those gains could just as well have resulted from her predecessor's efforts to upgrade and align standards, curriculum and assessments. Before those gains became news, Rhee herself argued quite reasonably that it would take a few years for her reforms to show results.

Broad's op-ed illustrates a common, though worrying, tendency. We celebrate a short-term improvement as proof positive of our favorite reform's success--And then we campaign to multiply that reform in every city across the land.

The benefits of mayoral control are of course hardly beyond dispute. But to those who believe they have found the magic beans in mayoral ...

Dr. Suess gets with the times:

Would you forego a raise?
Would you, could you work for praise?
I would not, could not forego a raise.
My creditors want money, they don’t accept praise.

...

Would you, could you work for free?
We’re short 102 million dollars, you see.
I would not, I could not work for free.
I’m broke and tired, please let me be.
I do not like budget cuts with a slam,
I do not like them Sam-I-Am!

I'm not sure who wrote this riff on Green Eggs and Ham, but I found the full version here. ...

From the Washington Post:

Educators across the country are counting on a federal stimulus windfall to prevent teacher layoffs and improve schools. But while Washington is giving, some state and local governments are taking away.

After hearing that an initial batch of $11.8 million in federal funds would soon arrive in Loudoun County, supervisors slashed $7.3 million from the schools budget. They also made clear that if more federal recovery money flows to schools, schools might be asked to give back an equal amount of county dollars.

This does not bode well for the fate of school improvement efforts tied to stimulus funding.

According to Post, Secretary Duncan has spoken out against this kind of "shell game":

"Where we see a state or district operating in bad faith or doing something counter to the president's intent, we're going to come down like a ton of bricks," Duncan said in a March conference call with reporters. ...

A new Johns Hopkins study of privately managed public middle schools in Philadelphia suggests that such schools have performed worse than they city's district-run schools.

This study contradicts the findings of a 2007 study by Harvard researcher Paul Peterson, who gave privately-run schools the upper hand. Peterson, a well-known advocate for privatization, will no doubt reexamine the Hopkins research and conclude that it supports a utopian vision for private management.

There may be reasons for the differences between the two studies: Each examines different grade levels; they examine different time spans; they employ different methodologies; etc....

But the very fact that researchers have to break out their statistical magnifying glasses to discern any difference between the effects of the two governance models suggests that a change in governance isn't a miracle cure. We still have much more fundamental questions to answer about teaching and learning. ...

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