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Please Save the Baby in the Bathwater, President Bush! (Matthew Ladner)

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President Bush said the following about education in the State of the Union address:

Spreading opportunity and hope in America also requires public schools that give children the knowledge and character they need in life. Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, preserving local control, raising standards, and holding those schools accountable for results. And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap.

Now the task is to build on the success, without watering down standards, without taking control from local communities, and without backsliding and calling it reform. We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools, and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose someplace better. We must increase funds for students who struggle — and make sure these children get the special help they need. And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future and our country is more competitive by strengthening math and science skills. The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America’s children — and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law.

Having recently hopped into the skeptic column on NCLB, I decided to do a quick check on the President’s empirical assertion that students are performing better in reading and math, and that minority students are closing the achievement gap.

Since the year 2000, Math NAEP scores are up a bit. Reading scores are flat and mixed, up a bit in 4th grade, down a bit in 8th grade. Nothing much to get excited about.

On the achievement gap front, things look

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Getting Tough in Colorado (Ben DeGrow)

For those intrigued by the new report Tough Choices or Tough Times, Colorado is ground zero for reform. This is the place to be for anyone eager to jump into the nuts-and-bolts debate on whether and how the K-12 education system can be transformed.

“No state has expressed more excitement,” former Secretary of Labor William Brock told the Denver Post about the report’s reception here.

Brock and National Center on Education and the Economy President Marc Tucker, both members of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce that generated the report, recently shared their thoughts with a teeming crowd of 600 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. The January 17 event was co-sponsored by the Donnell-Kay Foundation and the Piton Foundation.

In attendance was Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, who immediately upon the report’s release in December expressed interest in moving the plan forward in Colorado. New Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien offered one of the enthusiastic introductions from the platform.

Notably, both Romanoff and O’Brien are Democrats. To their credit, they are willing to think—and act—outside the education establishment box.

The amazing level of interest witnessed here in Colorado suggests that free market reformers risk ignoring the report at our peril. With this consideration in mind, I had perused through the report before attending the forum.

Regardless of your opinion of its merits, Tough Choices or Tough Times cannot be labeled a tepid call to trim a little fat from the K-12 education system. Tucker and Brock said we can no longer afford to tinker around the edges. Instead, they expressed a remarkable sense of urgency surrounding the need to bring wholesale reform to the way the nation runs its public schools.

Brock, who served in President Reagan’s Cabinet, painted a bleak portrait of our

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Weapons of Math Destruction (Oak Norton)

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Q: How do you know when you’ve been fighting your school district too long?

A: When you create a comic strip based on your experiences and you’ve got plenty of material to use.

 

Alpine School District, Utah.  I wasn’t born or raised here, but this is where I got my real world education.  I suppose one could say that I “discovered” myself through the experiences I’ve had here.

A few years ago my oldest daughter was finishing up her third grade year and at a parent/teacher conference I asked her teacher when they were going to start learning the times tables since they hadn’t yet and I’d done it nearly thirty years earlier in third grade.  

The teacher replied, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore.”

“You don’t do that anymore?”

“That’s right, it’s not part of the curriculum.”

“Well then how do you expect the children to learn their times tables?”

“Well,” she thoughtfully paused, “the smart kids will just pick it up as they go.”  This time my jaw cracked hard when it hit the ground and I was off to the principal’s office.

The principal explained that although this method was different from how we had grown up, there were problems with traditional math and all the research showed kids were really excelling under these discovery learning methods.  I left with a serious intestinal problem and promptly purchased Singapore math workbooks and flashcards for my children to make sure they knew their basic facts.

A year and a half later, I was at a school community meeting where I had sworn to myself not to bring up math.  Thankfully another parent did and asked why we weren’t following California’s example, which after trying these programs made

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