S-U-M-M-E-R spells research

StudentsFirst has made a thoughtful contribution to the burgeoning literature on school governance with its new policy brief Change the Leadership, Change the Rules: Improving Schools and Districts through Mayoral and State Governance. In it, the group argues that school boards have been largely ineffective in urban areas and examines two main alternatives: mayoral control and state control—the latter preferably via the “recovery district” model. It’s a short and snappy synopsis.

The Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project has produced another worthy read: Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education is organized around three theses: inequality is on the rise against a backdrop of low social mobility; the U.S. is experiencing a growing divide in educational investments and outcomes based on family income; and education and smart interventions can help—such as those outlined in Caroline Hoxby’s Expanding College Opportunities project and Ben Castleman’s Summer Melt study. While the facts themselves are not new, the report offers an accessible and logical assemblage. Dig in!

On Monday, Michigan governor Rick Snyder chose finance expert Jack Martin to succeed Roy Roberts as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Martin enters the ring with four decades of private- and public-sector experience under his belt, including stints as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education and emergency manager of Highland Park Schools (another troubled school district in the Detroit metro area). What’s more, he is himself a DPS graduate. Martin is surely well credentialed and the local papers are hopeful—but the Motor City has a way “handling” that sort of optimism, and quickly.

Back in the 1970s, a set of thirteen-year-old students participated in a study in which they took both the SAT and the Differential Aptitude Test, which measures spatial-reasoning skills. In a study released Monday, researchers tracked the professional progress of 563 students who had scored in the top 0.5 percent of the SAT thirty years ago (when they were thirteen-year-olds) and had also taken the Differential Aptitude Test, which measures spatial-reasoning skills—nicknamed the “orphan ability” for its tendency to go undetected. Although those who scored high on SATs did tend to be high achievers later in life (measured in terms of scholarly papers published and patents held), sky-high scores on the spatial-reasoning test were even more predictive of success, especially in STEM fields. According to the New York Times, “Earlier studies have shown that students with high spatial aptitude are not only overrepresented in [STEM] fields, but may receive little guidance in high school and underachieve as a result.”

A report from Human Rights Watch argues that students with disabilities in China are consistently barred from regular schools unless they can “prove” that they will be able to adapt to the schools’ physical and learning environment—and that they receive few or no accommodations. As a result, 28 percent of these kids are not enrolled in school at all, and many of those who do attend school are are “blocked from mainstream institutions or taught by untrained teachers.” True enough, U.S. special ed needs a makeover—but China needs to start from square one.

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