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It’s that time of year when we guilt ourselves into better behavior—vowing to lead a more abstemious lifestyle, go to the gym more often, improve personal finances...

Way too hard.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution you can follow through on: five good edu-reads to start the year off right!

If you care about accountability systems, you really must read the new report by New America’s Anne Hyslop, “It’s All Relative.” The study shows the major difference between the NCLB era and the waiver era in 16 states. There are way too many lessons to be captured in this short blurb—each table and figure deserves a paragraph—but the overarching takeaway is that states with waivers are addressing struggling schools very differently than they had over the previous decade. That might not turn out to be a good thing.

The KIPP Foundation’s CEO posted a blog on seven exciting developments for the nation’s largest CMO during 2013. The highlights: they now have 141 schools serving 50,000 kids; they continue to serve high-need students and get great results; more than 4,500 alumni are in college; and the organization is making strides to make school leadership more sustainable.

Check out a good article in Education Next about Rhode Island’s innovative “Mayoral Academies,” a model that gets teams of mayors involved in starting and attracting high-performing charter schools. The story of its beginnings and evolution is interesting and should serve as an example for policymakers in other states.

CRPE...

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Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001–2002 school year, all students in each group described in subparagraph (C)(v) will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement

– No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, section 1111(2)(F)

Those of us who fail to heed the lessons of history are destined to repeat it. So let us take this moment, as we enter the New Year, to remember the hubris that caused reformers, policy elites, members of Congress, and the George W. Bush Administration to set the goal of attaining “universal proficiency” in reading and math by 2014.

The next time someone says that we must ensure that all students are college and career ready…remember “universal proficiency by 2014.”

The next time someone says that we must place a highly effective teacher in every classroom…remember “universal proficiency by 2014.”

The next time someone says that we must eradicate childhood poverty...remember “universal proficiency by 2014.”

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No, we did not achieve universal proficiency by 2014. But that doesn’t mean that students haven’t benefited from the law and its associated reforms. Using results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, let’s look at the NCLB generation—the first group of children who entered school after the law’s enactment. (These students are high school juniors today.)

In 2007, when these kids were fourth graders,

  • Reading scores for the lowest-performing students and for
  • ...
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Tomorrow morning, some of you are going to feel bad about yourselves for tonight’s debauch. Not much I can do for headaches and queasy stomachs, but I can help you insulate your self-esteem: Read these five things before the festivities. You’ll head into the evening knowing you smartened yourself up. And tomorrow, when someone looks at your haggard visage and says, “Last year went out with a bang, huh?” you can say, “Yes, indeed. I did some high-quality edu-reading.”

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This year, readers beat a trail to our blogs for Common Core content; six out of ten of Fordham’s top ten blog posts in 2013 were from Common Core Watch, moderated by Kathleen Porter-Magee. These included posts on real lessons we can learn from Finland, calling out Pearson’s conflicts of interest in New York, four fundamental misunderstandings associated with the anti-testing movement, the case for why conservatives should support the Common Core, the false promise of leveled literacy programs, and why criticisms of the Common Core mathematics standards don’t add up.

Mike Petrilli’s point-by-point rebuttal of an anti–Common Core Wall Street Journal op-ed also made the cut, as did Andy Smarick’s controversial interview with former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Jean-Claude Brizard and a roundtable reaction to the Tony Bennett flap. But the number-one spot went to none of these contentious education-policy topics; instead, the Fordham Institute’s most read blog entry was a list of Mike Petrilli’s top-ten television shows for young children. Go figure.

The following, for your enjoyment, are our ten most read blog posts of 2013. Happy holidays to all!

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1. The 10 Best Television Shows for Young Children
Michael J. Petrilli
March 11, 2013
 @MichaelPetrilli
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I’ve obviously made up my mind about SIG and other school turnaround efforts.

But I suspect many others are still wondering if turnaround attempts are a sensible strategy for creating more high-quality seats for kids in need. And I’m sure there are lots of folks curious why SIG has shown such paltry results so far.

If you’re in either camp, you really ought to take a look at a new report from A+ Schools and Democrats for Education Reform–Colorado, Colorado's Turnaround Schools 2010 - 2013: Make a Wish. It adds fuel to the fire of my anti-turnaround argument, but it also helps explain why $5 billion in SIG funds are producing so little.

According to the report, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) was virtually indiscriminate when handing out SIG grants. If a school applied, it won. At first, the state was evidently making awards without a rating system or even a scoring rubric. When it finally did develop a system, it didn’t have much of an effect—those seeking funds got awards no matter how flawed their applications or budgets. In year four (2013), CDE again approved 100 percent of requests.

In the report’s words, “Accountability at the state and federal level has taken a backseat to trying to spend the funds quickly and support schools.”

And so the results aren’t surprising. About a quarter of early winners are actually doing worse than they were pre-award. And based on student-growth measures, schools getting these...

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Happy holidays from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute!

For more Gadfly shenanigans…

To learn more about what the Gadfly really says, check out the most recent issue of the Education Gadfly Weekly. And have a happy New Year!

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Anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction, or in the latest advances out of Silicon Valley, surely gets a kick thinking about Google’s self-driving cars, now under development and ready for road testing. Imagine: you could spend even more of your day staring at a screen or writing with your thumbs if you didn’t have to pay attention to traffic during your commute to work!

But amid all the buzz and brouhaha, an important point has gone unmade: while auto-piloted autos will surely make life more convenient for many adults, they will be nothing short of revolutionary for adolescents (and their parents). They will change the teen (and tween) years as we know them.

Why is that? Here’s a basic fact: most adolescents are ready for independent mobility well before they are qualified to operate a car. Those lucky to live in a city already know this. Many parents let their twelve-year-olds ride a train or city bus or a bike to school or a friend’s house; some even let their ten-year-olds do so. But of course these kids can’t drive the family car. But soon they will.

Well, not “drive.” But sit in the back as a robot takes them to school, or soccer practice, or karate class. Think about what this means for the parents. No more schlepping tweens around town, no more spending years with “chauffeur” as your primary job description.

Of course, this raises many questions, all of which deserve answers. How old must children be...

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One of the biggest stories coming out of the 2013 NAEP TUDA data release, especially for those inside the beltway, were the results for District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

When state-level NAEP results came out last month, Washington, D.C., showed strong gains. But since charters (which enroll nearly half of the city’s children) were included in the results, it was impossible to tell how the district alone had fared.

But the success of IMPACT on human-capital practices and last year’s positive state test scores suggested the district was headed in the right direction.

NAEP TUDA results include only district schools in D.C. (since charters are their own LEAs), and 21 districts participate in this test. So TUDA was set to be the best barometer yet for DCPS’s progress—compared to both its own previous performance and that of other urban districts.

At first blush, the results are very positive. In each of the four areas assessed (reading and math in fourth and eighth grades), DCPS made statistically significant gains in scale scores. It was the only city with such results. In fact, only eight of the 21 cities had even one statistically significant gain (two saw a drop, and 11 cities made no significant gain whatsoever).

There is no doubt that this feels like a good-news story for the city. I’m proud of the hard work started by Michelle Rhee and carried on and accelerated by Kaya Henderson and their teams, and I’m very...

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Today, NAEP TUDA results are released.

Actually, I should say the results are being packaged.

I’m disappointed in the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), entities that typically—and admirably—go about their work in a just-the-facts-ma’am fashion.

But unfortunately, that’s not the case here.

There’s an uncomfortable cheerleading quality to the materials being released. They have the effect of whitewashing the real story here—that today is a day to be sad for millions of disadvantaged kids. It is not a day for celebration.

In short, NAGB and NCES have gone out of their way to emphasize the gains that urban districts have made. They have titled two glossy productions, “Progress Over A Decade.” They show how urban district averages are getting closer to those of the nation as a whole. The release package even includes a cheerful statement and press release from the national organization whose job is to advocate for big urban districts.

Not a single voice dissenting from this roseate narrative is included.  

But the data-rich spreadsheets (downloadable from the website) tell the other side of the story.

Here are 10 important things revealed by the numbers themselves.

1.   In fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade reading, and eighth-grade math, about one out of every four students reaches proficiency in the average large city. The brightest spot is fourth-grade math, where one in three are proficient. Specific...

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Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansancient Asian culturesancient Greece; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; the American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

When people say that it’s not “developmentally appropriate” to teach young children about “academic” subjects like history, I like to point to ancient Egypt. Is there any topic, besides dinosaurs, that can better capture the imagination of a five-year-old than a civilization with pyramids, child kings, and a secret code? Not to mention the great adventure stories one can tell about discovering King Tut’s tomb and other treasures? Maybe I’m biased—I was eight when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, and turned me into a wanna-be archeologist—but ancient Egypt is a whole lot of fun. These videos provide a solid introduction. Enjoy!

The best streaming videos on ancient Egypt

1. Cyberchase: The Eye of Rom

Cyberchase: Zeus on the LooseCyberchase follows three Earth children as they use their math and problem-solving skills to

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