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I’ve been in Asia for other reasons (looking into the education of gifted students), but while on the ground in Tokyo, I learned of a fascinating policy dispute that, in the U.S., would be even more controversial.

Compulsory education in Japan runs through ninth grade, but nearly everyone goes to, and graduates from, high school (twelfth grade). Admission to individual high schools, whether public or private, is competitive, and the competition is intense to get into the best and highest-status of them. (At the one I visited the other day, 90 percent of successful entrants had attended juku—cram school—for multiple years to prep for the school’s demanding three-part entrance exam. Yet only 160 of 1000 applicants made it across the threshold.)

Though private schools play a smallish role at the elementary and junior high levels, they’re a big deal for Japanese high school students. A remarkable 30 percent of pupils nationwide attend them, and in the sprawling Tokyo prefecture, it’s as many as 60 percent.

During the postwar years, total enrollments were soaring, and the government determined that encouraging private schools was a bargain. They absorbed a goodly share of the added students at a low price for taxpayers, because parents and other private sources covered most of the cost of facilities and operation.

Along the way, each prefecture negotiated with its private schools a division of the total enrollment...

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Dear Deborah,

Over the course of our dialogue, we've written a lot about children living in poverty and about inequality. But you've been practically daring me to engage on the question of the other end of the spectrum: the children of the rich. OK, fine, I see that resistance is futile!

In your most recent post, for instance, you argued,

Children are born into whatever they are born into.  That some start the six-mile foot "race" at a mile behind the starting line and others a few miles ahead is not fair, not a level playing field. A few in the bottom quintile (3 percent?) overcome the odds.  But it would be a lot easier for the message of hope to reach the other 97 percent if they were closer to the starting line, and the rich weren't so incredibly far ahead, looking back at them with disdain.  If my childless, working-age grandchildren aren't too proud to take a "hand-out" from their parents, why should the adult children of families who have experienced a lifetime of poverty and racism feel otherwise about taking a helping hand from a society they didn't ask to be born into poor?  Alas, many do feel shame.

This reminds me of the old joke about people who were born on third base and thought they'd hit a triple.

If you recall, we started our discussion last spring with a debate about Sean Reardon's finding that, in recent decades, affluent children...

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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 dinosaurs; the American foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; and movie adaptations of classic children’s books. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

What do Meryl Streep, Reading Rainbow, and the French all have in common? They all love bugs, apparently. This week’s offering of free streaming videos on Netflix and Amazon explores the world of insects—just in time, as an early freeze in much of the nation is surely killing off many of the creepy-crawly critters. Enjoy!

The 10 best streaming videos on insects

1. DisneyNature: Wings of Life

DisneyNature: Wings of Life

Full of intrigue, drama, and beauty, this mesmerizing documentary looks at bats, butterflies, hummingbirds and bees—increasingly endangered little creatures that a third of the world's food supply depends on. Meryl Streep narrates.

Length: 80 minutes

Rating: G

2. Microcosmos

microcosmos

Employing unique microscopic cameras and powerful...

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Dear Deborah,

You might be right that our differences are too big to bridge; perhaps the generational divide is part of the problem. I'm a child of the 1980s and the Reagan Revolution. The idea that unions are essential to democracy, for instance, never made much sense to me; by my time, they seemed like one more interest group. Nor does the "soak the rich" class-warrior rhetoric ring my bells. Maybe because I don't live in Gotham? Maybe because I worry that any effort to confiscate wealth will backfire (in terms of lower economic growth) and will only end up hurting the poor?

I don't think it's just us, though. What's been instructive about our discussion is that it shows how deep the divides are when it comes to social policy in America. (Of course, anyone following the news out of Washington could have told us that.) I totally understand the frustration of educators who complain that policymakers put all the problems of the world on their shoulders and want to see "broader and bolder" efforts to fight poverty, too. But there's a simple reason that education has been in the spotlight for so long: It's one of the few things upon which the politicians—and the Americans they represent—can agree.

The left, after all, views poverty as the result of structural changes in the economy, systematic inequities (including inequities in school funding), and the lingering effects of racism. It wants a...

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Throughout his tenure as Secretary, Arne Duncan has often told audiences, “Hold us accountable.” It’s an honorable sentiment from a public servant.

But it’s also a model of good behavior for those of us currently in the chattering class—commentators, pundits, critics, etc., who hold forth instead of fighting in the arena.

For some time now, I’ve been giving the Department a hard time about not releasing enough data on the performance of the SIG program—I’m trying to hold them accountable for the Secretary’s talk of turning around 5,000 persistently failing schools over the course of five years.

I suppose they will eventually give us some results, and I’m certain that I’ll have something to say about them.

But in the spirit of the Secretary’s refrain, I should be held accountable, too.

I publicly predicted—on numerous occasions—that SIG was not going to produce anything remotely close to the results the Department and others were promising. I was alarmed at how much we were spending on SIG and the awful track record of previous turnaround efforts, and I was sure that districts would pick weak interventions and that kids were going to continue languishing in these schools while we went about this misguided adventure.

Ultimately, the results will speak for themselves. But until then, here is a sampling of what I wrote more than four years ago. I caused a fuss about this program. If I got it...

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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 dinosaurs; the American foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American cultures; and Christopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

One of my greatest joys as a parent has been reading beloved, classic children’s books to my sons. (I highly recommend this set, for example.) I forgot how fun the stories were; my boys especially enjoy adventure books like Call of the Wild. (If you’re looking for great books for littler kids, check out my Kindergarten Canon.)

Such books are worthwhile in their own right, but they also serve an important educational purpose: They are touchstones in our culture and are referenced frequently by writers and speakers. (Think of phrases like “down the rabbit hole.”) So if our kids are going to be culturally literate (paging E.D. Hirsch), they need to be familiar with these stories.

So when you’re finished reading the books, why not watch the movie versions too? Enjoy!

The 10 best movie adaptations of classic children's books available for streaming

1. Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Disney’s animated, musical retelling of this

...
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Claim: Rolling back education reform will improve outcomes for students, especially poor students.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

The most frustrating thing about Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error, isn’t the way she twists the evidence on school choice and testing, her condescending tone toward leaders trying to improve educational outcomes, or her clever but disingenuous rhetorical arguments. No, what’s most frustrating is that we education reformers have left ourselves exposed and vulnerable to her attacks by overselling, and underthinking, our own ideas.

Truth be told, there are parts of the school-reform agenda today that are easy pickings for our opponents. Chief among these is the move to create prescriptive, top-down, statewide teacher-evaluation systems based largely on classroom-level test-score gains. Akin to Obamacare, it’s an idea that seems appealing at first blush (let’s recognize our best teachers and fire our worst!) but quickly devolves into a Rube Goldberg nightmare, with state officials trying (for example) to figure out how to link gym teachers’ performance to reading scores.

Fixing schools, especially from afar, is difficult, treacherous work, yet those of us in the reform community have tried to turn it into a morality play between good and evil. “We know what works, we just need the political will to do it,” goes the common refrain. Balderdash. We know that some...

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Education Gadfly Weekly

Opinion + Analysis: 
Opinion
Dear Deborah, A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences . In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in...
Opinion
As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down...
Briefly Noted
The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland . Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start...
Reviews: 
Radio Documentary
It’s well known that graduating from high school is generally insufficient preparation to be competitive in today’s economy. Reformers hope, however, that higher standards through the Common Core might, in time, improve the value of the diploma. But what about those who don’t even graduate? As a...
Book
Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known...
Gadfly Studios: 
Podcast
Mirroring their favored baseball teams, Mike and Dara duke it out over Philly school reform, “private placement” in special education, and the pros and cons of tracking. Amber makes old news fresh. Amber's Research Minute High School Benchmarks, National College Progression Rates for High Schools...

Dear Deborah,

A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences.

In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in our larger social policies—to empower individuals who are working hard to climb the ladder to success....

As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-...

The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly...

It’s well known that graduating from high school is generally insufficient preparation to be competitive in today’s economy. Reformers hope, however, that higher standards through the Common Core might, in time, improve the value of the diploma. But what about those who don’t even graduate? As a new radio documentary, Yesterday’s Dropouts, from D.C.’s WAMU radio station shows, a GED is far from sufficient to get America’s thirty million high school dropouts back on track. In fact, the piece cites research by James Heckman and Tim Kautz that found that only 1 percent of GED earners went on to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years! The piece is at its best when reminding us just how dire a situation we face, as students continue to drop out of high school and into an economy that simply isn’t creating good...

Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known architect of the country’s burgeoning “academy” sector (what we would call “conversion charters”), built in reaction to high failure rates among non-selective public schools (over 50 percent were deemed to be failing in the 1990s). By the time Adonis left office in 2008, 133 academies were open and another 300 were in the pipeline. The book offers up both a history of England’s recent education-reform movement and a compelling personal account—...

Mirroring their favored baseball teams, Mike and Dara duke it out over Philly school reform, “private placement” in special education, and the pros and cons of tracking. Amber makes old news fresh. Amber's Research Minute High School Benchmarks, National College Progression Rates for High Schools...

Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known architect of the country’s burgeoning “academy” sector (what we would call “conversion charters”), built in reaction to high failure rates among non-selective public schools (over 50 percent were deemed to be failing in the 1990s). By the time Adonis left office in 2008, 133 academies were open and another 300 were in the pipeline. The book offers up both a history of England’s recent education-reform movement and a compelling personal account—followed by the author’s “Manifesto for Change,” a twelve-point plan for continued ed reform. Among these is a call for every underperforming public school to be replaced by an academy and for programs such as Teach First (the British counterpart of Teach For America) to be expanded.

SOURCE: Andrew Adonis, Education, Education, Education: Reforming England's Schools (London: Biteback, 2012).

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