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How a great school is breaking the cycle of poverty in America’s poorest city

January 29, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:26 AM

Click this link for a short article and video about a charter school in New Jersey that shows what is possible.  It is inspirational!  The video is the second of a three-part series, and there are links to the other two parts of the series if you're interested.  H/T CT

Recovery School Districts, An idea worth trying in Toronto?

January 28, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:38 AM

Jay Greene's latest blog tackles the very interesting concept of recovery school districts - "the turnover of chronically failing schools to another entity, such as the state or an independent board". 

Recovery school districts kick in when a school board, like the Toronto District School Board, has dozens of half-empty schools but can't summon the political will to cope with the problem. There are various possible solutions, including the option of selling or ceding the surplus space to good private or charter schools, but this rarely or never happens because school boards' institutional incentives are to prevent good schools from expanding. A newly-invented way to overcome these perverse incentives is to create recovery school districts, whereby half-empty schools "close, reorganize, and reopen under the auspices of an independent authority". 

"Evidence of its effectiveness and promise is emerging.  Most recently, an NBER study on charter takeover in Louisiana and Boston found large gains in learning by students “grandfathered in.”  In the Boston case, these students, who essentially were passive choosers, benefited as much as students who were assigned seats through lotteries (i.e. students who were active choosers)."

While recovery school districts are not perfect, they are working quite well in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Michigan.

Third World Education

January 27, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:20 AM


More than two and a half billion people around the world live on $2 or less per day.  But many of their kids are getting a private-school education for $5/month thanks to technology and private investors. Bridge International Academies are mostly located in Kenya where parents understand that schooling is the only path out of poverty and are willing to sacrifice for even a modest education.

We wouldn't be much impressed by these schools, but they are getting better. The technology is improving, and the curriculum is improving. And thanks to this modest start, the next generation of the world's poorest will be better educated and be able to afford even more education. It's a virtuous circle that will surely lead those populations out of poverty.

By contrast, Ontario's education system has stagnated for the last generation, ignoring technology, dumbing down curriculum, and steadily drifting downwards on international rankings in both absolute and relative terms. Our kids may have more credentials than their parents did, but they have less education.  Reflecting credential inflation, employers now routinely demand a master's degree where they used to ask for a bachelor's.

But even the credentialing is falling off, the OECD reports that only 73% of kids with college- or university-educated parents go on to college or university themselves.

Education is the gateway to prosperity, and we are educating our way towards poverty. Last year, the EQAO found that only 55% of grade-6 students had the MINIMUM competence in math required to move into grade-7.  Of course they all moved forward, but most will never catch up.  This photo is funny now, but might not be in another generation.

Blog Choice

January 26, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 10:26 AM

A ten-years-old rallying cry for systematic phonics that is still just as valid and just as unheeded.  H/T JG

Charters Without Lotteries, a report that suggests that the relative success of charter school students is not due to the fact that their families were more motivated.  

Michael Zwaagstra is interviewed about no-zero policies

An opinion piece arguing that there are no technology shortcuts to good education.  H/T TH

Sunday at the Movies (Complex Bureaucracies)

January 25, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:16 AM

This interview with the former chancellor of New York schools Joel Klein is illuminating in the light of the problems at the Toronto District School Board.   H/T CT

Let them eat cake (but cake with broccoli in it)

January 24, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:30 AM

The latest Economist has a thought-provoking article about the increasing heritability of privilege in a world where knowledge and brains are the ticket to success. As a matter of fairness, public policy should introduce measures that will unstack the deck as much as possible - measures such as early childhood education that actually lessons poor students' disadvantages, school choice, and meritocratic university admission policies. H/T TB

The Power of the Pen

January 23, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:21 AM


January 23rd has been declared National Handwriting Day by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association. The date was chosen to honour the signature John Hancock who wrote the most recognized signature in North America.

Sadly, the skill of handwriting is a much neglected part of school curriculums in Canada. We have watched over the last few years  as cursive handwriting has been ever so gradually decreased in importance.  Now in most public schools it is taught "in name only"; that is, only enough cursive handwriting is being taught to give parents and students the appearance that it is being taught. There is no intention of teaching it to the point of it being a useable skill.

Even more alarming today are the signs that printing is also in decline. Following the same process that was used in cursive, less "quantity" of printing is being required of young children. The amount of printing that children a decade ago produced in Grade One is now what is expected to be done by students in Grade Three.  Unless teachers have taught the same grade for many years and/or have kept exemplars of handwriting at the end of every school year, they likely would not have realized this decrease is happening. Also, once teachers model how to form specific letters, little or no attention is given to see whether children actually form the letters as they were shown. A reasonable facsimile of a letter is acceptable. As children go into higher grades often the printing becomes more and more illegible. The usual remedy for this is to shuffle these students off to small classes in underused schools to be taught keyboarding. These students will from then on be expected, with minimal training, to produce all their work using  a computer. Often the computers in their home schools don't work properly and the child is short-changed again.

There is an abundance of research available that shows that handwriting results in brain development that simply does not happen with keyboarding.  more  Many aspects of language and memory improve when children write by hand. Those involved in curriculum and education policy choose to ignore not only the research, but also the dismal results that are continuing even through the years of various testing that has been employed.

I have serious concern about the future our children will have without the foundational skill of handwriting. Other countries cannot understand why we would tolerate such a basic loss.

Even world events show us that other countries proudly hold up pens to assert their value of a necessary freedom. Will our children in the future think they are more advanced by holding up a Smartphone, only to discover that it has been disabled by inside or outside forces?

If you value the power of the pen, I urge you to continue to support the efforts of SQE and also to check out the website of Campaign for Cursive, a dedicated group that is working hard to make people aware of the need to keep handwriting in our curriculums.

The education sector is not exempt from the forces that apply to other sectors of the economy

January 22, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:26 AM

In response to yesterday's blog, Doug Little wrote in that competition has no positive effect in education - in fact it makes things worse. Here is my response (excerpted from my book How to Get the Right Education for Your Child, pp. 99-100).

"It's a funny thing. Most people understand that competition is a good thing when it comes to businesses, and even quasi-governmental institutions like the post office or the beer store. Everyone knows that monopolies are unresponsive, inefficient, and expensive. We like the competition among drug stores, veterinarians, and cookie manufacturers because it means we get excellent service from those sectors. 

"However, for some reason, most people think that, even though it's bad to have a monopoly if you're selling software or providing banking services, it's okay to have a monopoly if you're providing education services.

"But there isn't really any reason to think that the education sector is exempt from the forces that apply to the other sectors of the economy. An education monopoly behaves just like any other monopoly. In an education monopoly, public schools have a guaranteed stream of students and the funding they generate. It doesn't matter whether a school is doing a good job or a poor job - all schools receive the same amount of funding regardless of the level of service.

"Even schools that are doing a horrible job can and do continue to short-change their students indefinitely. They literally have no incentive to improve their service. But things change dramatically when competition is introduced to the education sector. Other countries have more competition than Ontario, and their student achievement is better. Even within Canada, there are differences.

"Back in the late eighties and then again in the mid-nineties, the province of Alberta introduced legislation designed to increase the amount of educational competition. At first, the Calgary school board chose to turn its back on the changed educational landscape and tried to carry on with business as usual. As a result, Calgary parents started withdrawing their children from the public schools and sending them to the various alternatives that had now become available to them.

"In spite of the fact that the city was growing, the Calgary school board began to hemorrhage students and was forced to close one school after the other. Finally, things got so bad that the Calgary school board did a compete about-face and introduced dramatic improvements, creating new schools to compete with the rival schools. Not surprisingly, many of the newly-created schools resembled the competition.

"For example, to compete with a rival all-girls school, the Calgary public board started up an all-girls school of its own. The board also started a special science school similar to a school that was siphoning off a lot of its students, and fully five schools that used the very popular traditional approach used at the competing Foundations for the Future Charter School. These days, no surprise, the Calgary board is boasting that its enrolment is climbing."


A PS to this segment is this recent SQE-sponsored study that shows that Edmonton (which embraced school choice faster, earlier, and more fully than Calgary) is still offering its students a much better education than Calgary.

Giving Low-Income Students a Chance to Succeed

January 21, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:21 AM

I think we can probably all agree that schools, like all human endeavours, vary in effectiveness, and that some of them are downright lousy. Ohio State legislators, as in many other US states, believe that it is unfair to force low-income students to remain in lousy schools - since a good education is their golden ticket out of poverty. Now students at more than 250 of Ohio's worst-performing schools can receive up to $5,000 US to attend the private school of their choice. more

There are a number of points in favour of this program.

  • The program saves taxpayers the difference between the cost of the school voucher and the per-student cost at publicly-funded schools (likely about $10,000 per child).
  • The vouchers throw struggling students a lifeline.
  • The competition spurs the left-behind schools to improvement, an incentive that was lacking when they had a guaranteed supply of students and the associated funding.

This program is very popular with voters, a fact that has not escaped legislators. The main opponents of the program are of course the teachers' unions and associated vested interests, since the number of unionized teachers is reduced.

Money Makes the Mare Go

January 20, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:24 AM

In Boston, the teachers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the addition of 40 minutes to the school day in some schools, saying that they need the time in order to better serve their students. more I'm impressed, but I would be even more impressed if the teachers weren't getting paid an additional $4,464 annually for their trouble. Altruism goes only so far!

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