Some Late Summer Reads

If you’re itching for some edu-reading over the long weekend (what else would you do while grilling?), here are some suggestions.

I admire my Fordham colleagues because they have a way of coming up with the most interesting subjects to study, and they often come up with unintuitive findings. Such is the case with their latest report, What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs. You really ought to give this a read. There’s big overlap among parents’ interests, but not surprisingly different types of parents have different interests. TBFI was able to flesh out some market niches—parents who prioritized preferences that other parents found less important. If you’re a parent of a school-aged child or plan to be some day, you’ll almost certainly find the study illuminating (my wife and I took the quiz to make sure we’re aligned…whew, yes!). One big takeaway for me is that our longstanding system of residence-based school assignments just doesn’t make sense. If we want to address the interests and needs of students and their families, we need a system of schools where parents can choose from an array of options.

If you care about systemic reform in urban schooling, you have to read New Orleans-Style Education Reform: A Guide for Cities, Lessons Learned 2004–2010.  Published in 2012, this report, produced by NSNO’s Neerav Kingsland and the good folks at Public Impact as part of the dissemination requirement of the former’s federal i3 grant, recounts the evolution of NOLA’s brilliant post-Katrina system and offers guidance to cities interested in replicating the model. I want to think that my book is the best argument and playbook for overhauling the delivery of inner-city public education, but—dagnabit!—this tight, instructive, experience-informed report robs me of any such confidence. How about this? Read them both.

If you’d like a no-nonsense, informative primer on the current state of the Common Core State Standards, you ought to read “Common Core Concerns” in the July edition of CQ Weekly. Reporter Lauren Smith’s piece is very nicely written and captures the standards’ recent history and evolving politics. It may overplay the “tea party” narrative and underplay the opposition from many on the left, but the article comes across as a dispassionate assessment of an issue typically covered by only those with stirred passions.

My colleague at Bellwether and I are soon going to announce a very exciting initiative related to rural education reform, a subject sadly neglected to date. In my quest to bone up on the subject, I came across a wonderful late 2012 Education Sector report called “A Town Turned Classroom: How a Focus on Farming Saved a Rural Kansas School.” It tells the story of a struggling Kansas town and its once-threatened school that converted to charter status, focused on farming and hands-on learning, and turned into a remarkable success story. Author Susan Headden does an exceptional job of weaving history, policy, demography, instruction, leadership, and more to turn what might’ve been a sleepy case study into a compelling read. If you care about charters or rural schooling or just like reading well-written education stuff, check it out.

-Andy Smarick

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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