Blog/Multimedia

On Saturday, President Obama delivered a radio address on education and he didn't shrink from saying that American high school students are trailing international averages. He sketched out details of a bill his administration is now pushing to revise the No Child Left Behind Act. He proposes to preserve testing requirements but create a better measuring stick, require teachers be evaluated by performance (not credentials), and use carrots instead of sticks to encourage progress.

Author Paul E. Peterson answers questions following a presentation at Harvard University on his new book, Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning.

Yesterday President Barack Obama delivered a pep talk to America's schoolchildren. The president owes a separate speech to America's parents. They deserve some straight talk on the state of our public schools.

According to the just released Education Next poll put out by the Hoover Institution, public assessment of schools has fallen to the lowest level recorded since Americans were first asked to grade schools in 1981. Just 18% of those surveyed gave schools a grade of an A or a B, down from 30% reported by a Gallup poll as recently as 2005.

If Congress creates a public option in health-care insurance, will that inevita bly lead to a single-payer system, with the government everyone's insurer? And should that happen, would the single-payer system lower costs, enhance medical-service delivery and improve the health of all Americans, as its advocates promise.

Much can be learned about such questions by considering the history of secondary schools in America.

THE stimulus package will more than double the fed eral money being spent on K-12 education for the next two years. But will local districts spend the cash productively?

Flash back to 2002, when school reform was in the air in Philadelphia, one of the nation's largest and most troubled school districts. The district, under state pressure, revamped its governing structure and contracted out its 46 most challenging schools.

"An unfunded mandate," cry the critics of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In the words of Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee: "By neglecting his promise to provide the funding necessary to help each student to reach high standards, George W. Bush has made a mockery of the phrase 'leave no child behind.'" Virginia's Republican-dominated legislature recently struck a similar chord, passing (on a vote of 98-1) a resolution complaining that the law will cost "literally millions of dollars that Virginia does not have."

Few doubt that education in our inner cities is in desperate need of improvement. Decades after the civil-rights movement began, equal educational opportunity remains more a slogan than a reality. Minority-group students in U.S. elementary and secondary schools continue to learn much less than their white peers, as measured by a wide variety of tests of student achievement, such as the SAT and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Success Academy is a big-time success story, as Charles Sahm makes clear (“What Explains Success at Success Academy?” features, Summer 2015). But what are the general lessons to be learned from the many case studies of successful chartering? Does it take the exceptional leadership of Success Academies’ Eva Moskowitz? Are school uniforms and a “no excuses” ethos the decisive ingredients (KIPP schools)? Are longer school days and an extended school year critical? Is data-based instruction the solution (Achievement First)? How important is a demanding academic curriculum (BASIS schools)?