Of helicopter parents, schools, and governments

Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who is regarded as perhaps the most powerful lawmaker in U.S. education policy, will not seek re-election in 2014. While he was an impediment to change—making this good news for reformers—the word on the grapevine about his possible successor is troubling. Namely, there is talk that if Sen. Patty Murray does not take on the role due to her role on the Senate Budget Committee, the next name on the list is—Sen. Bernie Sanders? We shudder to think.

Last week, the Education Department—with nary a nod to Congress or public debate—declared what Mike Petrilli dubbed a “right to wheelchair basketball” via its new “guidance” on the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. While few oppose the desirability of making reasonable accommodations for the disabled in school sports, the guidance, as pointed out by Politics K–12, “goes farther and says that if reasonable accommodations can’t be made, students with disabilities ‘should still have an equal opportunity to receive the benefits of extracurricular activities,’” thus turning “guidance” into a fully fledged unfunded mandate. For more on this debate, check out Mike’s appearance on NPR’s “On Point” show.

In its latest foray into the study of charter-school quality, Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has a major new study out, reporting that schools’ long-term success can be predicted by how they performed in their first year. Schools that start the game swinging will generally continue to do well, while those that misstep will typically fall flat. Gadfly will be back next week with a full review.

Parents eager to send their children to West Philadelphia’s Penn Alexander, a highly regarded public elementary school, queued up a full four days in advance of registration for the limited Kindergarten openings. When the district superintendent responded to the inequities of a line by shifting to a lottery system, a debate on gentrification, equality, and the diverse schools dilemma ensued.

To boost their college completion rates, KIPP and other “no excuses” charters are expanding their support network to help alumni/ae in the years after graduation. Naysayers may raise their eyebrows over having an “army of college advisors and KIPP staff” follow students around; to that point, KIPP points out the comfortable safety net that most middle-class students have to get them through the same experience.

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