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Media Monday: Al, Arne and Newt

by Elena on Nov 16th, 2009

As we’ve mentioned, Secretary Duncan, Newt Gingrich and Reverend Al Sharpton have been visiting schools across the country together in an effort to look at school reform through non-partisan eyes. Yesterday, they talked about their findings and their visions for American education on NBC’s Meet the Press. Talk focused on teacher accountability, the value of charter schools, and the Secretary’s expectations for the Race to the Top fund.

Though he was perhaps the most clearly partisan in his opinions, Gingrich stood out for the clarity and specificity of his thoughts during this interview. Whereas Duncan said a lot of things we’ve heard him say before, all along the lines of “We all have to take responsibility…we all have to step up,” and whereas Sharpton made some basic, declarative statements about de facto racism in education and the achievement gap, Gingrich pushed his own education agenda. He said twice that he’d “like to have a Pell Grant for K through 12,” and he claimed that charter schools are a solution to the discipline problems in inner-city schools:

We have a friend whose daughter is now teaching in a school [in D.C.] where there have been 23 lawsuits this year over discipline in a school that’s fundamentally undisciplined.  And so teachers are told basically, “You can’t get enough control to teach.” And this is why, when you go out to the KIPP school and to other systems like that–and there are 82 KIPP schools in the country–they’re very structured.  The Mastery schools, very structured. These kids, for the first time in their lives, are being given discipline; and therefore, they can attract great teachers because they can actually focus on the kids.

Despite the vagueness of some of their answers, it’s impressive to see such seemingly mismatched political partners united in their concern for American schools. Watch the full episode below.

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Media Monday: BASIS Charter Schools [Ed Beat, 11/9/09]


Harlem Children’s Zone, 2.0

by Elena on Nov 12th, 2009

In 2010, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be giving out a total of $10 million in grant money to twenty potential “Promise Neighborhoods” across the country. Their use of the word “Promise” is a nod to the inspiration for the program–Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, and its Promise Academy charter schools. In order to receive grants, communities will have to propose plans for comprehensive community programs that replicate HCZ’s model and, ideally, match its success.obamacanada

“Changing the Odds: Learning from the Harlem Children’s Zone Model,” a three-day conference attended by upwards of 1,000 educators, municipal leaders, and non-profit workers, was held earlier this week in New York. Secretary Duncan gave a keynote address, explaining that grants would be competitive, and that communities must base their proposals on already existing systems of schools–money won’t be spent on good ideas alone.

The Harlem Children’s Zone has received extraordinary praise for the very real gains it has produced in reading and math achievement among students who attend Promise Academy schools. As the New York Times‘ David Brooks points out, “In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.”

But Harlem Children’s Zone has some advantages over its proteges, among them a politically savvy, high-profile leader and a $65 million yearly budget furnished by big sponsors (including the chairman of American Express). Without that kind of influence or cash, it’s unclear that other programs will be able to match HCZ’s explosive success.

Non-Profits Look at Harlem Children’s Zone and Ask: Only in New York? [WNYC, 11/11/09]
The Harlem Miracle [David Brooks, NY Times, 5/7/09]
In The Zone [Ed Beat, LMtv, 8/28/09]


A Stimulus Update

by Elena on Nov 5th, 2009

obama-signs-stimulus-bill-300x291This week on the NewsHour, we reported on the effects of stimulus dollars in school districts in Rochester, New York. The program is part of our ongoing effort to track federal money as it floods–or trickles, as the case may be–into school districts across the country.

In Rochester, where schools received $30 Million from the federal government, the money helped to save three innovative programs and many educators’ jobs. According to President Obama and his education staff, this kind of change has been and will continue to be fostered by stimulus dollars. In a speech yesterday in Madison, Wisconsin, the President laid out the tenets of his Race to the Top program, in which states are eligible to win stimulus grants if they “develop a strong plan to improve the quality of education”in their states. He described what states need to do to qualify and how applications will be evaluated. Meanwhile, the Department of Education has released a report detailing the effects of stimulus money in the education sector, which states that 325,000 jobs have been saved since the money went out.

Pieces in both the New York Times and EdWeek say that the report’s data is somewhat suspect, however, and “only as good as the recipients that have reported it.” In many cases, it remains unclear what kinds of jobs were created and whether “saved” jobs were ever really in danger–for example, many Head Start programs seem to have given raises to employees whose jobs were reported as saved. The Obama administration has prioritized transparency by making these numbers public so quickly, but the report itself sheds only a hazy light on the stimulus and its usefulness.

Stay tuned for continuing coverage from us on both the stimulus and, more narrowly, the Race to the Top.

“Holding the Line” [LMtv & The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 10/3/09]

Watch Obama’s Speech in Madison

Reports Show Conflicting Number of Jobs Attributed to Stimulus Money
[NY Times, 11/4/09]
Transparency Watch: Evaluating Stimulus Reporting [Education Week, 11/2/09]
ED Recovery Act Report: Summary of Programs and State-by-State Data
[, 11/2/09]


Media Monday: The Future of Learning

by Learning Matters on Oct 26th, 2009

The average student spends two million minutes in high school. What do they do with all that time? How do they spend it?

Bob Compton, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, set out to find the answers in his documentary film, 2 Million Minutes.  The film takes a look at how six high school students from three different countries–U.S., China and India–spend their high school years.

The film argues that America is losing its competitive educational edge and therefore is at risk of losing its global and economic power, too. The idea that America is the center of innovation has increasingly been questioned and with the global economy in such flux, the rules of the game seem to be changing daily.

As Shirley Ann Jackson, Physicist and President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, succinctly states in the film, “Brains are everywhere. Discoveries can be made everywhere. And industries built on those discoveries also can be made anywhere.”

The film’s focus seems to be on creating a student population that will help secure a nation’s economic and global power. And while I understand that educated citizens are ideal, something seems to be missing from the analysis: the students’ needs and educators’ responsibility to fulfill them. How can the U.S. engage and invigorate students’ capacity to learn in ways that will encourage a lifelong commitment to curiosity and learning? Wouldn’t it be great if all students were hungry for knowledge, building tools that would improve our lives and world, creating smart and thoughtful policy and more?

The central question of 2 Million Minutes is, “How will these students spend their 2 million minutes in high school?” Maybe a more appropriate question would be “How can educators make sure those two million minutes are worthwhile?”

On Ed Beat and beyond, there’s been a ton of conversation around digital learning, using technology more effectively in schools and increasing access to technology globally. There are emerging projects that aim to empower youth-directed learning by valuing non-traditional learning–learning that happens socially but is valuable for students and their prospective employers. I am thinking specifically of Barry Joseph’s write-up of a project his organization, Global Kids, is currently working on.

He, Bob Compton and dozens of other education innovators will gather tomorrow and Wednesday at Google Headquarters for a conference called “Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age.” The forum is a mixture of panels (some moderated by our very own John Merrow!), exhibits and discussions meant to “help refresh and reboot American global leadership in education.” You can tune in via webcast here or stay tuned for a report back from us.

In the meantime, watch the 2 Million Minutes trailer and share your thoughts in the comments.

2 Million Minutes [Official website]

Barry Joseph on “Using Alternative Assessment Models to Empower Youth-directed Learning” [10/23/09]

Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age [Official website with agenda, speakers, and more]

Podcast: Bob Compton has education advice for the next president [LMtv, 9/16/08]


Putting College within Reach

by Jane on Oct 23rd, 2009

The College Board released a report Tuesday, Trends in College Pricing — and the trend, unsurprisingly, continues a decades-long climb upward. Published tuition and fees at public 4-year colleges rose by an average of 6.5% since last year, from $6,591/year to $7,020.  The increase was 4.4% at private colleges, from $25,177 to $26,273. Click to enlarge an illustration of growth over time, from 94-95 to 09-10:

As you can see in the chart, there is some good news.  Net costs — what students actually end up paying, once financial aid is taken into account — declined over the past five years, but as the report’s authors remind us, assessing the impact of the changing cost of college involves weighing a number of factors:

In considering the impact of price increases, it is accumulated patterns, not one-year changes, that determine current charges. Relatively low prices may rise rapidly in percentage terms without causing significant difficulties, while even freezing high prices does not put them within reach of the typical student. Current prices and dollar increases, not percentage increases, best measure the impact on students and families.

In other words, though the net cost of college has decreased slightly, that price drop hasn’t happened in a vacuum.  It’s happened in the midst of an economic crisis that is stretching students and their families to the limit.

Last fall, we covered the rising cost of college in a 2-part report for The NewsHour, investigating both the challenges of paying for a bachelor’s degree and the underlying reasons behind the upward trend in pricing.

While producing that report we heard from students, over and over, that the cost of college and the crippling debt that many times ensued is worth it, because alternative routes to solid careers have disappeared.  One senior told told us, “I think that it becomes a sort of standard practice to just accept the fact that, if you want to get what you want out of life, you’re going to have to be in debt.” And if students will pay, there’s not much incentive for colleges to stop increasing tuition and fees.

I invite you to revisit the segments, and share your thoughts…

Paying for College, Drowning in Debt [Learning Matters for The NewsHour, aired 12/08/08]

The Costs for Colleges [Learning Matters for The NewsHour, aired 12/09/08]

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