Arne Duncan

This morning, over 120 children’s book authors and illustrators sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern for “our readers,” a.k.a. tots through tweens. The undersigned, who include such luminaries as Maya Angelou, Judy Blume, Jules Feiffer, Phillip Hoose, and Jane Yolen, say they fear the preponderance of testing in American schools keeps children from learning to love to read.

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Ezekiel Emanuel argues that more tests make students smarter, a proposition which is not as simple as it sounds. The validity of his claim comes down to such questions as "who writes the tests," "how quickly are the results reported," and "how are the scores used."

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Atlanta's School Scandal Isn't Local

How education reform's "no excuses" motto causes cheating

How the education reform movement's "no excuses" mantra leads to cheating.

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Was President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage crassly political? God, I hope so. Like a lot of people, I worry about the impact that Obama's comments will have on some independent voters, and about whether it will cause trouble when the Democrats hold their convention in North Carolina, which just voted overwhelmingly against gay marriage. But like a lot of people, I'm also hopeful that the gay-marriage endorsement will help Obama pick up some other independent voters.

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Yes, it was a few years too late. Yes, his hand was forced by Joe Biden and Arne Duncan. Yes, his statement is just a statement—it does not change any law. And yes, we shouldn’t minimize the role of an extraordinary civil rights movement—comprising millions of average Americans, gay and straight—in dragging our country over the past two decades toward the current moment, one where a president could feel politically able to take such a stand. But none of this should minimize the significance of what took place yesterday in Washington.

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Over the last three decades, through good economic times and bad, one of the few constants in American life has been the relentless rise in the price of higher education. The numbers are stark: According to the non-profit College Board, public four-year universities raised tuition and fees by 8.3 percent this year, more than double the rate of inflation. This was typical: Over the last decade, public university tuition grew by an average of 5.6 percent above inflation every year. And the problem is also getting worse: In the 1990s, the annual real increase was 3.2 percent.

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I have mixed feelings about movie stars who get involved in political causes. On the one hand, it's a little sad that people need a movie star to make them interested in politics. Nobody should care what movie stars think. On the other hand, given the reality that people care a lot about what movie stars think, it's a moral good for movie stars to use their fame to direct people toward what they consider worthy causes.

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Faced with a looming deadline and a deadlocked legislature, Barack Obama is employing a strategy many wish he had in the recent debt ceiling talks: He’s bypassing Congress altogether. On Monday, Obama approved a Department of Education plan to grant waivers allowing states to bypass the most stringent and unrealistic requirements of the Bush-era education law known as No Child Left Behind, including its fairy-tale provision that all schools must be 100 percent proficient in reading and math by 2014, in exchange for the adoption of certain policy priorities.

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By the time Matt Damon got to the microphone at the Save Our Schools rally last weekend, the few thousand public school teachers in attendance had been standing not far from the White House in the July heat for nearly three hours. Yet their enthusiasm had not flagged, and they cheered loudly as Damon said … not much, really. That teachers like his mother are “awesome,” that standardized tests are bad, and that people who have literally never taught anyone anything have no business being involved in education policy.

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Last week, seven thousand delegates traveled to Chicago for the annual convention of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers' union. Most of the meeting was in keeping with the NEA’s reputation for dogmatic opposition to education reform. New Business Item #93 slammed Teach For America, which recruits graduates of top colleges to teach in high-poverty schools. Another resolution described 13 things the NEA hates about U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

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