From local diplomas to zombie attacks

GadflyNew York City’s graduation rate dipped very slightly in 2012—information that was hailed as a win by Mayor Bloomberg, given that the class of 2012 was the first cohort not given the option to graduate with an easier-to-obtain “local diploma.”

The United Federation of Teachers has announced its support for former city comptroller Bill Thompson’s bid for mayor of New York City—the union’s first endorsement in a mayoral election in more than a decade. But have no fear, ye other candidates—Mayor Bloomberg has derisively dubbed the union endorsement a “kiss of death” (to which the union responded by likening Bloomberg’s approval as “worse than a zombie attack”). And Gotham politics continue.

Earlier this week, New Hampshire Superior Court judge John Lewis bucked U.S. Supreme Court precedent and ruled that the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program directed public money to religious schools, in violation of the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment—a provision banning government aid to “sectarian” schools that has its roots in the anti-Catholic bigotry pervasive in the late 1800s. (Blaine Amendments still exist in thirty-six other states.) Judge Lewis’s ruling marks the first time a tax-credit-scholarship program has been struck down on these grounds. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had determined that tax-credit-scholarship money never reaches the state treasury and thus cannot be considered public. An appeal in the Granite State is all but guaranteed.

Facing a $304 million deficit, Philadelphia’s public schools have pink-slipped 19 percent of its school-based workforce, including all 127 assistant principals and 1,200 aides. Sounds dismal, but bear in mind that a pink slip does not necessarily a fired teacher make. Superintendent William Hite Jr. called for “shared sacrifice” to save these jobs, and he is seeking additional funds from the state and the city—and contract concessions from the unions.

In a moving profile by the Washington Post’s intrepid Emma Brown, former valedictorians of D.C. schools relate their ego- and spirit-shattering discoveries that they were ill prepared for college. Students told stories of facing their first research paper, failing trigonometry (after having succeeded in the subject matter in high school), and being asked (for the first time) to express original ideas.

In a New York Times op-ed, Alice Crary and W. Stephen Wilson—professors of philosophy and mathematics, respectively—make the elegant, cogent case that supporters of the “reform” method of math education—who claim the mantle of “progressivism” and insist that teaching students standard algorithms discourages creative reasoning—have done a disservice to students and the progressivism they claim to champion. Rather, argue the authors, “just as there is good reason to believe that in biology and history [original] thought requires significant factual knowledge, there is good reason to believe that in mathematics it requires understanding of and facility with standard algorithms.”

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