NOW they tell us: Education reform not working

November 2, 2006

Yesterday I wondered about the effect of next Tuesday’s elections on education and education reform.

Last night I discovered the Fordham Foundation published a new study showing that “half of states miss the bus on education reform.”

Say what? One week before the election?

Fordham Foundation’s President Chester E. Finn, Jr., was a high-ranking official in a Republican administration, true, but that was after working closely with Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan for years. I doubt the study was published with any intent to affect the election at all.

It’s well worth the reading, though.

A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation finds that just eight states can claim even moderate success over the past 15 years at boosting the percentage of their poor or minority students who are at or above proficient in reading, math or science.

The study also finds that most states making significant achievement gains-including California, Delaware, Florida, New York, Massachusetts, and Texas-are national leaders in education reform, indicating that solid standards, tough accountability, and greater school choice can yield better classroom results.

“Many state officials have claimed credit for gains in student achievement,” said Chester E. Finn, Jr., the Foundation’s president. “But this study casts doubt on many such claims. In reality, no state has made the kind of progress that’s required to close America’s vexing achievement gaps and help all children prepare for life in the 21st Century. Nor are most states making the bold reforms most likely to change this reality. Real leaders will study these data, then focus on what needs doing, not what’s been done.”

The Fordham Report 2006: How Well Are States Educating Our Neediest Children? appraises each state according to thirty indicators across three major categories: student achievement for low-income, African-American, and Hispanic students; achievement trends for these same groups over the last 10-15 years; and the state’s track record in implementing bold education reforms. (Click here for more information on the indicators and methodology http://www.edexcellence.net/doc/TFR06Methodology.pdf.) A table listing states’ performance in all three categories is at http://www.edexcellence.net/foundation/global/page.cfm?id=388#TFR06fullstategrades.

And, one week before this year’s election, it is not too early at all to start thinking about the next elections, and how to use the results of this report.


Adam Smith’s £20 of fame

November 2, 2006

Adam Smith will replace composer Edward Elgar on the twenty-pound note next spring, according to the Bank of England.

Adam Smith's pin factory example, in a drawing

Adam Smith’s pin factory will also be featured on the new twenty-pound note.

So Smith gets his twenty-pounds of fame, a slight twist on Andy Warhol’s observation that everybody would get 15 minutes of fame in the future.*

The story in the Times Online is actually a much better feature on Adam Smith than is available in most of the high school economics books today. A major failing of the texts: They do not feature stories on the economists who make economics tick. Advanced Placement texts are better, but still there is room for improvement. My experience in the classroom is that the lives of the economists provide inspiration and, quite often, quirky historical anchors that help students understand and recall key points of economics. For most high school economics students, such enrichment comes only with the teacher’s providing it apart from the texts and other state- or district-provided materials.

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