K-12 Education

  • Why Aren't We Closing The Achievement Gap?

    When it comes to closing the academic achievement gap between students from lower- and higher-income families, we share the fate of Greek mythological figure Sisyphus, who was sentenced to spend eternity pushing a giant rock uphill, watching it roll back down, and then repeating the task.

    The gap in school performance comes “pre-installed," as it were, beginning well before children ever step foot in the classroom. By the time they enter kindergarten, poor children are already at a huge disadvantage relative to their counterparts from high-income families. By the time they take their first standardized test, the differences in vocabulary, background knowledge, and non-cognitive skills are so large that most poor children will never overcome them – no matter what school they attend, which teachers they are assigned to, or how these teachers are evaluated. And, like Sisyphus, whatever gap-closing progress we may make with each cohort of struggling students after they enter school, we must start all over again with the next.

    What can be done? Stop putting out fires and prevent them – address the achievement gap before it widens.

  • Failure To Communicate

    Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews recently sparked some interesting online chatter about why students aren’t better prepared for college-level writing, and what can be done about it.

    In a first article, Mathews introduces us to high school history teacher Doris Burton, who asserts that state and district course requirements leave “no room” for the assignment of serious research papers of 3000 words (10-12 pages) or more. According to Mathews, “We are beginning to see, in the howls of exasperation from college introductory course professors and their students, how high a price we are paying for this."

  • Teachers Matter, But So Do Words

    The following quote comes from the Obama Administration’s education "blueprint," which is its plan for reauthorizing ESEA, placing a heavy emphasis, among many other things, on overhauling teacher human capital policies:

    Of all the work that occurs at every level of our education system, the interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success.
    Specific wordings vary, but if you follow education even casually, you hear some version of this argument with incredible frequency. In fact, most Americans are hearing it – I’d be surprised if many days pass when some approximation of it isn’t made in a newspaper, magazine, or high-traffic blog. It is the shorthand justification – the talking point, if you will – for the current efforts to base teachers’ hiring, firing, evaluation, and compensation on students’ test scores and other "performance” measures.