A. Graham Down

    Author Bio:
    A. Graham Down, a graduate of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, was formerly Acting Director of the College Board's Advanced Placement Program and was Executive Director and President of the Council for Basic Education, (1974-1994). He is also an accomplished keyboard artist, specializing in the organ, piano and harpsichord.


Try Being a Student

An English teacher’s journey into Spanish class

SPRING 2014 / VOL. 14, NO. 2

Worms for Dinner

Travel offers cultural enrichment for teachers

FALL 2012 / VOL. 12, NO. 4

Florida Reformers Got It Right

Hybrid schoolers reap the benefits

Fall 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 4

Blog Posts/Multimedia

The Problems and Promise of Common Core

In a video roundtable, HGSE experts explore the challenges of implementing America’s new standards.


Jacques Barzun—A Personal Remembrance

Jacques Barzun, who died last week at age 104, was one of the founders of the Council for Basic Education.


Poor Students Can’t Afford Teacher Strike

The public should not tolerate damage to the education of disadvantaged students resulting from a strike over disagreements about teachers’ salaries, benefits, job security, and method of evaluation.


Vocational Education for a Post-Industrial Society

A review of Schooling in the Workplace


The Unintended Consequences of Exaggerated Expectations

A review of Someone Has to Fail, by David Labaree


Schools vs. Noise

Republic of Noise is a truly brilliant book, but one so remote from the daily activities associated with the life of a conventional classroom teacher as to make one question its relevance to school improvement.


When Will Curriculum Supplant Textbooks?

The power of Beverlee Jobrack’s new book, Tyranny of the Textbook, is the author’s ability to connect the textbook issue to every facet of student learning.


Catholic High Schools: Now and Forever

This new book’s momentum is conveyed by the earnestness of the author and the sense that as long as urban public schools continue to be mediocre, there will always be a place for the Catholic high school where administrative costs (and therefore, fees) are relatively modest.


A Comprehensive Look at the Dropout Crisis

Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can Be Done About It By Russell Rumberger (Harvard University Press, 400 pp., $35) “Russ Rumberger has written the definitive book on school dropouts”, says my distinguished colleague and friend, Jack Jennings.  In fact, I would go further: it is not only definitive, but […]


Latino Students and School Reform

Achieving Equity for Latino Students: Expanding the Pathway to Higher Education through Public Policy by Frances Contreras (Teachers College Press, 208 pp., $29.95) I have never pretended to be an expert on access problems as they relate to the Latino community.  However, the rigor of the research and the comprehensiveness of the approach of Frances […]


Parental Guidance Suggested

The Good Student is an excellent compilation of what we currently know about best practices, one that is jargon-free and aimed specifically at parents.


Do Students Need Depth More Than Breadth?

Kieran Egan takes us through every conceivable objection to his proposal and refutes each objection in turn. But I am less convinced than he that concentration on a single topic is equally suitable for 1st as for 12th graders (and all grades in between).


The Past, Present, and Future of Common Standards

A new book explains in depth the content of the standards, what they expect of students, and how the assessment of student results is going to be carried out.


On Changing One’s Mind about School Reform

“I Used to Think…And Now I Think” is an interesting compendium of twenty education notables’ views on school reform, responding to a prompt devised by Richard Elmore of the Harvard Graduate School of Education


Teaching in All Its Complexity

Teaching and its Predicaments is a very thoughtful book, written by one of the most serious and accomplished authors of our time.


An Inside Look at the Challenges Facing Charter Schools

The brand new book The Strategic Management of Charter Schools is an insightful analysis of what is really involved in developing and sustaining charter schools.


The State of the Teaching Profession

The American Public School Teacher is a comprehensive report on the state of the teaching profession in the United States based on a 5-year study by the National Education Association.


Teaching Truth and Beauty

A review of Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Twenty-First Century, by Howard Gardner


Wasting Time and Money

I have to agree with Ronald Wolk whose new book, Wasting Minds, has recently come across my desk for review. As he says in his introduction, there is little or no evidence to suggest that the last quarter of a century of school reform has resulted in significant change or improvement.


Why Customize Schooling

Even a casual glance at the book Customized Schooling suggests the importance of this effort to transform the nation’s approach to how education might be delivered.


Rising Above It All in the Bronx

For those who have given up on urban school reform, As Bad As They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx is, at first blush, a genuine antidote.


Making Teaching a Better Job

A review of The Influence of Teachers, by John Merrow


School Turnarounds In All Their Complexity

Inside School Turnarounds by Laura Pappano is a no-nonsense book delineating, sometimes in excruciating detail, the circumstances that surround genuine and courageous attempts at urban school reform.


Great Schools On Purpose

Samuel Casey Carter’s new book is a litany of the positive. Here are schools that the author finds exemplary, a welcome change from the litany of travail so frequently mirrored in books on school reform.


Why Schools of One Are Our Future

Too Simple to Fail, a new book from Oxford University Press, is a review of thirty years of research into how children learn. The author, R. Barker Bausell, a biostatistician in the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland, has come to the conclusion that classroom instruction is hopelessly obsolete, and that the answer to the deficiencies of our educational system is the tutorial model.


A Valiant Effort to Teach History to the Middle School Crowd

Welcome to the world of the journalist turned newly minted middle school history teacher!


Book Alert: Wendy Kopp’s A Chance to Make History

I can’t begin to tell the world how pleased I am to have the opportunity to review Wendy Kopp’s new book, A Chance to Make History. After all, I was one of the people Richard Mund, then Executive Director of the Mobil Foundation, turned to to inquire whether he should provide Teach for America with its initial grant some 20 years ago.


Public Education’s Looming Fiscal Train Wreck

Bruce Thompson is the sole at-large member on the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors. In a commentary that appears in the February 21 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he states, “For Milwaukee Public Schools, the financial crisis that many of us have been warning about is here.” What makes Thompson’s analysis significant is that it could be applied to a substantial number of public school districts today—urban and rural.


Fire Them All

One assumes this won’t stick.  But the dust-up should produce some interesting discussion and perhaps litigation.  Along with the Wisconsin DPI threat to yank tens of millions in Title 1 money from the Milwaukee Public Schools, in some places people are actually “up to here” with failure.


A True Shot Across The Bow

Here’s a story that bears watching: “Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction took the first step Thursday toward withholding up to $175 million in federal funds from Milwaukee Public Schools because of the district’s failure to meet yearly academic progress targets required under law.”


Milwaukee Vouchers: 18% Graduation Edge Over Public Schools

As with other policies where the President now is reconsidering his approach, perhaps he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will take a second look at the power of parent choice. New data from Milwaukee gives them a chance to do that.


Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education

An upcoming Brookings Institution report — “Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education” — will make interesting reading. The preview for a release event says that the report will discuss “how to expand school choice to increase equity and create a market within the public sector for school quality.” Given the expertise and background of the panelists who will present next week, how they define equity, the public sector, and school quality will be quite significant.


Scholar Ladies

Trust me, you will want to watch the students and faculty at Milwaukee’s Hope Christian Schools in their version of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” More than 100,000 online viewers have seen the music video, the subject of a seven-minute feature earlier this month on CNN.


Initial Steps For Reform in Virginia and New Jersey

Aggressive education reform won’t occur without strong governors who are committed to real change. Accordingly, this week’s news from Virginia and New Jersey raises the prospect of interesting developments in both states.


Wisconsin’s Race for the Feedback

The Department of Education will announce Phase 1 winners of Race to the Top money in April. The department notes that “Feedback [will be] provided to applicants who do not win.” Wisconsin appears to be a prime candidate for feedback.


A Skeptic’s View of Race to the Top

While the first Race To The Top applications won’t be submitted until later this month, some observers already see evidence that this initiative might be a game-changer. An alternative view — mine — is more skeptical.


Elections Matter

The year 2009 has not been kind to school vouchers. In the end, elections matter. As such, 2010 looms large for those who support expanding parent education options.


Calling Out President Obama

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Kevin Chavous and Anthony Williams note that President Obama has not yet “spoken publicly” on plans to end the D.C. Scholarship Program. Yet, a case could be made that he has.


No Reader Left Behind: Improving Media Coverage of Education

A Brookings panel discussion Wednesday afternoon should be interesting.


Defining “Effective” and Other Keys to a Successful RTTT Application

What most stands out is the palpable disconnect between the RTTT process and what actually occurs in the many charter schools and private schools that have made real progress. If a random selection of administrators at such schools were asked to review the process, the response likely would be a collective laugh.


An Update on Wisconsin’s RTTT

There are new developments in Wisconsin’s quest for Race To The Top money, an effort highlighted by President Obama’s decision to deliver a speech on education in Madison earlier in November. The most reasonable conclusion: if the state actually gets some or all of the $250 million for which it is eligible, then RTTT is meaningless.


Rocketship Redux

In an earlier post I described an October visit to the Rocketship Mateo Sheedy charter school in San Jose CA. Last week the school was the subject of a post at the blog of Joanne Jacobs. One comment asked about teacher salaries at the school. Another doubted that the budget was as low as I had claimed.


Wisconsin’s RTTT Follies

Further comment on the Wisconsin situation would not be warranted but for the continued assertion by Governor Jim Doyle and key legislators that the state is a serious contender for RTTT funds.


Wisconsin Teachers’ Union Calls The Shots on RTTT

With the approval of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), Wisconsin legislators this week approved a decidedly tepid package of legislation supposedly designed to help the state win a Race To The Top grant.


Wisconsin’s Race To The Top

Wisconsin appears to be a strong contender for Race To The Top funds. Melody Barnes, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said in a conference call that the president on Wednesday will ‘applaud positive steps forward’ on education reform in Wisconsin. One wonders: has Arne Duncan vetted the pending bills to determine if they represent the kind of change that will meet RTTT criteria?


Blasting Off

As surely as the sun rises in the east, defenders of America’s traditional schools recite the litany of demographic reasons for the racial gap in academic achievement.
Not everywhere, however.


In Good Faith

Earlier this week I submitted the following letter to the editor to the Wall Street Journal. I don’t know whether it will be published. I am less sanguine than the paper’s editors regarding the intentions of Senator Durbin.


Giving Up on Education Reporting

I could not disagree more with the notion that it’s unfair to blame education reporters for lack of depth in covering labor issues.


A Little Context Needed for Complaints about School Revenue Shortfalls

The general public is woefully uninformed as to how much is spent on K-12 public education and, by extension, how much that spending has grown. Why would this be the case? No mystery, really.


President Obama’s Real Message

The President’s real message on education reform will be delivered early next year, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan makes the first round of Race to the Top grants.


School Choice Research: Will Evidence Ever Count?

Earlier this month, Mike Petrilli moderated a Fordham Institute discussion about whether charter schools had eclipsed private school vouchers as the most promising education reform.


Opinion Divided: Making Private Milwaukee Schools Public?

Major changes this year to Milwaukee’s 20-year old voucher program please some and dismay others.

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