Charter schools’ hidden advantage

It’s not at all surprising that most charter schools post far better outcomes than traditional public schools.  They do so because they actually choose those students they want to admit, while other public schools must by law admit all who show up at their doors (“Do Students Choose Their Charter Schools, or Is It the Other Way Around?” National Education Policy Center, Sept. 21). 

Charters can require that parents apply in person during the workday, write multiple essays and prove U.S. citizenship.  These hurdles by their very nature screen out low-income and non-English speaking parents.  As a result, charter schools essentially function as private schools.  Moreover, they only allow students to enroll at the start of the semester, whereas public schools must enroll students at any time during the school year.

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Trigger warnings don’t help and may hurt students

Trigger warnings are supposed to protect students from experiencing emotional distress, but the latest research shows that they fail to do so (“College Students Don’t Need Protection from the Truth,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 16).  In fact, they may actually increase anxiety in students they are supposed to protect.

I’ve always felt that if college students can’t handle the truth, then they don’t belong in college in the first place.  Learning to confront factors that have the potential to exacerbate existing anxieties is the best way to overcome their power.

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Parents flee public schools

When parents have even a remote choice of which school is best for their children, they invariably leave neighborhood public schools and enroll them elsewhere (“Our shrinking public school system,” New York Daily News, Sept. 13).  That’s the sad but predictable outcome increasingly seen across the country.

It’s hard to know precisely the single cause because many factors are involved.  But it seems that when teachers unions forced the closure of districts in the wake of the pandemic, it was the last straw. I say that because most private and religious schools remained open during the same period.

I support teachers unions, but as I’ve written often before, they are losing whatever good will they once possessed in light of their tactics during the pandemic.

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Athletics out of control in college admissions

The fundamental issue in the College Blues admissions scandal is not fraud

 but instead the unique role that athletics plays in determining who gets in (“First Trials of Parents in College Admissions Scandal Are Set to Begin,” The New York Times, Sept. 13). 

If pure academics were indeed the determining factor, then applicants who excelled in other extra-curricular fields would be given the same consideration as high school athletes.  But that will never happen because athletics are a cash cow.

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The reading wars continue

There is no end to the debate over how best to teach kids to read, but at last there is growing agreement that phonics is the way (“We Know How to Teach Kids to Read,” The New York Times, Sept. 3).  That’s because the whole word method has not lived up to expectations.

Although sounding out words letter by letter does not always work, it remains highly effective. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of programs training elementary-school teachers include actual instruction on how to do so.  As a result, children from low-income families are particularly shortchanged.  Their plight would be even worse if Ebonics ever caught on.

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Innovation zones can improve failing schools

Persistently failing schools remain a problem for reformer (“What Should Our Leaders Do About Failing Schools?” educationnext.org, Sept. 9).  State takeovers in Jersey City, Paterson and Newark have proved largely ineffective.

Far more promising is the creation of achievement zones that go under various names.  By relying heavily on local input, they avoid the resentment associated with state takeovers.  They involve establishment of an autonomous district that is overseen by an appointed board, which is held accountable for performance.

There is no panacea for turning around failing schools, but innovation zones deserve serious consideration.

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Public schools are running out of excuses

As readers of this column know, I support traditional public schools.  But my patience is wearing thin in light of their persistent inability to provide a basic education for Black students (“The Real Structural Racism,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 7).

Despite the expenditure of upwards of $28,000 per student in New York City, public schools are not doing their job.  They then compound their failure by trying to eliminate tests that measure student performance. Worse, they oppose parental choice.

The only excuse is that unlike charter, parochial and private schools, traditional public schools must enroll all who show up at their doors regardless of ability, interest or motivation.

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More war on excellence in public schools

It’s hard to understand the rationale behind the Department of Education’s decision in New York City to eliminate honor rolls (“DeBlasio’s DOE takes its war on learning to a new extreme with ‘no honor roll’ push,” New York Post, Sept. 1). The justification is that students instead should get a grade on their “contributions to the school or wider community, and demonstrations of social justice and integrity.”

The move is all part of the campaign to ruin whatever excellence still remains in the nation’s largest school district.  Under Mayor DeBlasio, it also included efforts to cancel Gifted and Talented classes, as well as screening for admission to elite high schools. It’s little wonder that there is a long waiting list for admission to the city’s charter schools.

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High school transition programs post anemic results

In an attempt to make more high school students ready for college, transition programs have been instituted (“High school transition programs have mixed success in improving college readiness,” brookings.edu, Aug. 31).  But they have done little in achieving their objective.

That’s not at all surprising.  Remediation in high school is way too late.  It needs to begin much earlier.  But even then, it’s important to get real about what it can accomplish.  So much of a students’ potential is determined by factors outside the classroom.  That’s why achievement has been found to be inordinately affected by socioeconomic factors.

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Vocational education to the rescue

The high drop-out rate among college students should be convincing evidence that not everyone is college material.  That’s why Future Schools, which is based on the Swiss apprenticeship model, needs to be adopted (“Education and climate are at stake,” Los Angeles Times, Aug.30).

Starting at age 14, high school students would pursue a vocational curriculum along with an apprenticeship.  The truth is that not all students possess the wherewithal and interest to handle college-level work.  By according vocational education the respect it deserves, we would avoid many of the behavioral problems when students see no connection between their interests and what they are studying.

Yet I doubt our obsession with college for all will ever wane.  There are simply too many special interests involved in maintaining the status quo.

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