Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

I'm going to see Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom, at the 92nd St. Y tonight at 7:30 (tickets are still available:  Here's what I wrote about her book when it first came out (


Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

I enjoyed this article by Amy Chua on "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" more than any I've read in a LONG time.  It's hilarious, hyperbolic and provocative, and will surely provoke strong emotions, especially among people (like my wife and me) raising young children – but there are some very powerful lessons here.  This article and Nick Kristof's op ed in today's NYT (below) capture why I believe that this will be the China Century and why the first 10 years of this century are a harbinger of what's to come. 

Here's an excerpt from Chua's article (her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is at:

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

I find what Chua describes (no sleepovers, playdates, or ability to make any decisions at all) to be extreme, but if one were to put parental expectations of/pressure on/control of kids on a 0-10 scale, with 10 being what Chua describes, I think the ideal is much closer to 10 than 0 – maybe an 8.  

In a world filled with endless, cheap, mind-rotting entertainment via hundreds of TV channels (heavily weighted toward 24/7 sports, cartoons and other junk), the internet, video games, music and movies, I'm firmly convinced that nearly all children will spend every waking hour messing around with these activities and wasting their lives, unless their parents AND schools (but the former much more importantly) keep a very close eye on them, tightly restrict what they can do, and make them to do many things they don't want to do, such as study hard, read books, have a reasonable diet, go to bed on time, dress decently, etc.

I know I sound like an old-school-stick-in-the-mud, but isn't this really, really obvious???  I would argue that this has been true forever, but it's especially important for parents and schools to have very firm oversight today given the decline of social values/norms and the exponential increase in the availability of mindless entertainment.  For example, even if my parents hadn't banned me from watching nearly all TV, I probably wouldn't have watched very much because there were only a handful of channels from which to choose – and there certainly weren't Xboxes, computers and the internet.  I didn't have much choice but to read!

Very firm oversight combined with high expectations and a no-excuses attitude is sorely lacking in the United States, both among parents and schools (with many wonderful exceptions of course; among schools, for example, the no-excuses charter schools like KIPP ( (I'm on the board of KIPP NY) are successful in part because they do that same things that Chinese mothers do).  Lest you think I'm just perpetuating stereotypes about American youth, check out this data about how they spend their time (from page 19 of my school reform presentation, posted at:

The data (as opposed to the tyranny of anecdotes) shows how wildly off-base the documentary Race to Nowhere ( is.  It depicts lots of stressed-out, overworked kids, which is only a problem for a tiny fraction of children in this country.  As a nation, our real problem is EXACTLY the opposite!

For more on how Chinese (and Indian) youth are just HUSTLING a lot more than America youth are, I highly recommend a great documentary, Two Million Minutes(, by my friend Bob Compton (who also did A Right Denied (, the documentary of me giving my school reform presentation)

Here are more comments on Chua and her book:

- In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom:

- Tiger mom's memoir meets ferocious roar:

- Comments:

- More of my comments:

- Why Chinese Mothers Are Average:

- Amy Chua Is a Wimp, David Brooks:

- Families offer a contrast in studies:

- Asian Like Me: Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends? (one of the best articles of the year):

 Subscribe in a reader

Reform worth fighting for

Re. my last email on the MDRC study on NYC's successful new, small schools, here are three comments.  First, an op ed in the NY Post by DFER's Joe Williams:

Are these small schools perfect? Of course not. In fact, the MDRC report adds to the growing evidence that, while New York City is graduating students at a higher rate than a decade ago, most of these kids are still not ready for college.

This is sobering stuff, and city leaders must clearly keep their eyes on the issue. But the fact that we're even worried today about how tens of thousands of city youngsters are doing in college classes is a reminder of just how far the needle has moved in Gotham.

Getting to where most of our students are not only graduating from high school but excelling in college will require the same sort of boldness as we saw during the small-schools push. Bloomberg and his would-be successors should read the MRDC report from the vantage point of those whose job it is to drive change.

Many large high schools that made room for these smaller-school programs closed amid a loud uproar from "community" leaders who urged more time to fix the same schools that had wildly failed students for decades. If finding consensus had been the goal (as opposed to moving boldly to help students), thousands more young men and women would be trying to survive in the world without a high-school diploma right now.

Too much, too soon?

Change can be bumpy in a city like New York, especially when it comes to public schools. It's often easier to block anything from happening than it is for us to allow our leaders to stake out strong and compelling positions.

This report is yet another reminder that sometimes the fights are worth it.


Reform worth fighting for

Lessons of NYC school closings


Last Updated: 12:39 AM, January 26, 2012

As the Department of Education closed nearly two dozen of the city's worst large high schools at the height of the "small-schools boom," one of the critics' most common complaints was that the educrats were doing too much, too soon.

 Subscribe in a reader

Study Validates Replacement of Big Bad Schools With New Small Schools

Tom Vander Ark sent me this comment and post:


My post ( notes:

* the study dramatically underestimates benefit because it does not compare new school to big bad schools that Joel Klein closed (it compares them to other choices in NYC)

* these would have been better as charters, but the state had a cap in place

* Bob Hughes (and Dick Beatie) deserve a lot of credit.  


Here's Vander Ark's post:

Study Validates Replacement of Big Bad Schools With New Small Schools

January 25, 2012 - by Tom Vander Ark

Today MDRC released another study that conclusively proves that new small schools work.  That and the fact that every quality school developer in America still opens small schools should finally put to rest criticism about a failed experiment.  You'll never see a 3000 student KIPP.

Like the last study, the methodology missed the big impact by comparing new schools to other choices and not the schools they replaced.  In many cases the new schools had DOUBLE the graduation rate of disastrously bad schools closed by Joel Klein's administration.  Give some credit to Rudy Crew and Harold Levy for launching the differentiated approach to accountability and support.

It's also important to note that these new schools did not benefit from the additional flexibility that charter schools enjoy not by choice but because the state had cap in place.  These results would have been even better had there been more ability to restaff and restructure the schools.

Another missing part of this story is the leadership provided by Bob Hughes, New Visions for Public Schools, the largest and most successful intermediary of the last decade.  Bob's team helped identify and incubate most of the successful school developers.

Here's the tough medicine.  We still don't have reliable and robust improvement strategies for big bad high schools.  As this study proves, it's best to close and replace.

Bob Hughes, New Visions

 Subscribe in a reader


And Arne Duncan weighed in on it as well:




"This new, rigorous study by MDRC of New York City's ambitious experiment with small public high schools underscores the great potential to replace failing schools for disadvantaged students with schools that instead narrow achievement and attainment gaps. MDRC's study is important and encouraging on several fronts. It shows that school reform can achieve success at scale, district-wide, and not just in isolated islands of success. It shows that, with community partnerships and dedicated follow-through, high school dropout factories can be closed and replaced with smaller schools that substantially boost graduation rates. And it shows that much of the conventional wisdom about the impossibility of turning around chronically low-performing high schools is either mistaken or badly exaggerated.


"MDRC's rigorous, scientific findings – that New York's non-selective, small high schools are far outperforming the high schools they replace – are one more sign that the Administration's SIG program is on the right track. For too long, educators have tinkered around the edges in low-performing schools, consigning generations of students of color to receiving an inferior education. It's time to transform chronically low-performing schools. It's time to put an end to the tireless tinkering."

 Subscribe in a reader

More Teachers Union Ads to Come? AFT’s New York City Local Targets Michael Bloomberg

The unions in CT and NYC are running ads, trying to influence the reform negotiations.  Here's RiShawn Biddle's take:

Yesterday, Dropout Nation analyzed how the National Education Association's Connecticut affiliate was taking a defensive move against school reformers with its two-week commercial buy touting its legislative agenda — and how it reflected the next trend for teachers' unions in their effort to preserve the privileges from which they derive their declining influence. Today, the American Federation of Teachers' notoriously bellicose New York City local (whose boss, Michael Mulgrew, is angling to one day succeed predecessor — and current national president — Randi Weingarten) rolled out its own ad buy. Targeting the school reform record of Big Apple Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is now looking to burnish his success in overhauling what was once the toxic waste dump of American public education with a push for a series of new initiatives such as $20,000 bonuses for teachers rated highly-effective on evaluations, the AFT is proclaiming that the mayor still "doesn't get" that his efforts aren't appreciated by the union. The commercials compliment a series of full-page ads being placed by the union in the Daily  News that are supposed to be open letters rallying against the mayor's efforts, including his push to use value-added analysis of student test score data in teacher evaluations.

This campaign isn't just aimed at Bloomberg and attempting to appeal to Big Apple residents…

…This play is also likely an attempt to shape the big election facing the Big Apple next year: Who will succeed Bloomberg as mayor, and thus, boss of the nation's largest — and most reform-minded — school system. With the reformers such as state Board of Regents Chairman Meryl Tisch and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn likely to run for the job — and AFT allies such as city Comptroller John Liu either struggling with political scandals or lack of strong political backers — the AFT must also work hard to reshape the political game on the ground in order to stave off what would likely be another decade of strong reform efforts. Given that the AFT's string of recent public relations disasters in New York City — including the failed lawsuit it filed along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to shut down expansion of charter schools — Mulgrew has to garner some sort of victory. Especially if he wants to succeed the (until-recently) more politically-masterfulWeingarten.


More Teachers Union Ads to Come? AFT's New York City Local Targets Michael Bloomberg

January 24, 2012 No Comments by RiShawn Biddle

 Subscribe in a reader

Charter School Releases an Ad Supporting Cuomo

I love this – student power!  What a great response to the union ads!  Watch the 30-second video at:

As he girds for confrontation with what he calls the state's educational bureaucracy, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has found an unexpected ally singing his praises on cable television: a group of high school students in East Harlem.

Earlier this month, ninth and tenth graders at the Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation filmed a video inspired by Mr. Cuomo's declaration in his State of the State address that he intended to take a second job as a lobbyist for public school students.

A nonprofit group that supports charter schools, the New York City Charter School Center, saw the video and was impressed. With a few tweaks to make it television-ready, and a modest outlay by the charter center, the clip has been playing this week as a 30-second commercial on NY1, the New York City cable news channel.

The Charter School Center is the latest group to take to the airwaves to praise the governor: last year, a coalition of business leaders called the Committee to Save New York spent nearly $12 million supporting his agenda, mostly through television and radio advertising.

The charter center's ad buy is quite small, and its spot was only scheduled to be shown for a few days. But Mr. Cuomo, who has been able to spend relatively little from his campaign treasury thanks to ads running on his behalf from outside groups, is apparently grateful. Last week, he provided the ultimate virtual show of support: he posted a link to the video on his Twitter account.


January 27, 2012, 6:45 pm

Charter School Releases an Ad Supporting Cuomo


 Subscribe in a reader

Connecticut education commissioner praises agreement reached on teacher evaluations

Kudos to Stefan Pryor for engineering a teacher evaluation deal in CT:


After years of trying, representatives of teacher unions, superintendents and school boards Wednesday reached consensus on the controversial issue of teacher evaluations.

Stefan Pryor, the new state commissioner of education, Wednesday said the model ties evaluation in part to test scores and teacher observation, while also including input from students, peers and parents.

Pryor said "a tremendous sense of optimism" was palpable in the room after members of a task force charged with the complex task found themselves in agreement on the plan's specifics.

"When we reached consensus on this set of guidelines, the room broke into applause," Pryor said of the meeting of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council Wednesday.

The commissioner said the breakdown on evaluations includes:

- 45 percent tied to "multiple student learning indicators," with one-half of that tied to student test scores;

- 40 percent to observation of teacher performance and practices;

- 10 percent feedback from peers and parents;
- 5 percent on either student feedback or a statewide student indicator.


Connecticut education commissioner praises agreement reached on teacher evaluations

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

 Subscribe in a reader

Can Computers Replace Teachers?

Andy Rotherham with some sensible thoughts on the role of technology in education:

As a parent and an analyst, I want technology that includes rich content or enables students to access it. And I want technologies that are engaging for students but actually teach them something. Plenty of applications err on one side or the other. And as with lots of offline schoolwork, there are time wasters that aren't helping anyone learn much of anything. If anyone tells you an ed tech tool has "gaming elements," make sure it's not just a game.

American education desperately needs an overhaul that goes far beyond upgrading computers in the classroom. It's the last major American field relatively untouched by technology. But Jobs was right: technology by itself won't fix what ails our schools. He saw teachers' unions and archaic practices as the big barriers. Perhaps, but I'd argue they are symptoms of our larger inattention to instructional quality. The bells and whistles of technology, for all its promise, are distracting us from this mundane but essential reality.

PS-- It's pretty cool to see what Apple is doing with textbooks on the iPad:


School of Thought

Can Computers Replace Teachers?

Until we figure out how to best use technology in the classroom, the bells and whistles are often a distraction

By Andrew J. Rotherham | @arotherham | January 26, 2012 | 21

 Subscribe in a reader

Thoughts about articles re manufacturing

Speaking of Apple, here are some spot on comments from a friend re. the two articles I sent around re. manufacturing:


I thought these two articles were fascinating and could not stop reading them.  I am so glad you forwarded them.  The Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs also touched upon the Obama+Silicon Valley dinner and focused on the anecdote of the 30,000 missing engineers--essentially the US could not supply 30,000 engineers period in order to support the 700,000 people working on the iPhone.  The Times makes it sound as if it's a question of not being able to source them quick enough but apparently it's a real structural gap in our labor force as Isaacson takes the time to explain in his book.


Like the Times article, Isaacson describes these missing engineers as folks who have a few years of post-high-school training in engineering but are not full-fledged 4-year college graduates.  In other words, the kind of training that countries like Germany and so many Asian countries are so good at providing.  Seems like this is an urgent memo to our community colleges whose curricula needs some serious strategic overhauling.


But fundamentally, it speaks to the sad state of math education in our country.  Like many folks, I was a casual observer of this as I read headlines about our latest PISA failures  etc.  Seems like that's been going on since we were in school!  But now that I am a parent and collaborate with the math committee at my son's school I have seen firsthand how limited we are by very poor curriculum materials and completely inadequate training of elementary school teachers in math instruction.  The result:  a nation of kids heading to middle school and high school without a strong foundation of mathematical understanding and weak math skills.  The repercussions in terms of employability and lifetime earnings potential have been documented by many.

 Subscribe in a reader

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Obama’s State of the Union Address

RiShawn Biddle's take on Obama's State of the Union address:

There is honestly little to say about yesterday's State of the Union address. Although President Barack Obama did make clear that he was staying the course on his school reform efforts, he offered little in the way of specifics. While it may be a tad surprising in one way, it isn't because education reform has been the one part of his agenda that has garnered largely bipartisan support (witness outgoing Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' praise of the president during his rebuttal). On the other hand, Obama's short-term economic stimulus efforts and push for healthcare reform are the areas that have been his greatest political weaknesses — and threats to his re-election prospects — so he naturally spent more time on touting proposals such as a "January surprise" federal refinancing of home mortgages that could be a short-term boon for homeowners (even as they remain in debt for decades to come).

But the good news is that Obama is, at least rhetorically, not backing down from systemic reform. His call for removing laggard teachers from the classroom once again reminds the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers that they can no longer count on the Democratic Party for unquestioned support of the traditional teacher compensation system the unions have long defended. So does the possibility that the administration will try to expand the Teacher Incentive Fund, which helps finance performance pay efforts by states and districts. Considering that his fellow congressional and senate Democrats (especially those facing stiff re-election campaigns), still count on NEA and AFT dollars to finance their campaigns, Obama can't full out call for an end to tenure. But his rhetoric can be used cannily by those rightly pushing to abolish near-lifetime employment policies that harm children and make it difficult to remove laggard teachers. All in all, he is still pushing for teacher quality reforms embraced through Race to the Top and the School Improvement Grant programs.

…The bad news is that Obama once again remains silent on Parent Power and school choice. Certainly the administration will continue to push for the expansion of charter schools. But Obama had a chance to directly call out California's state legislators, who are considering AB 1172, which would allow traditional districts to shutter the expansion of charter schools in the nation's most-populous state if the bureaucracies deem them a negative fiscal impact. Obama could have used the State of the Union to call for states to take charge of approving charter school openings and taking this role out of the hands of traditional districts (which is essentially akin to letting Red Lobster decide if an Applebee's can open next door). He could also have also pushed for states to move toward the Hollywood Model of Education and away from the traditional district system.

The president also had an amazing opportunity to advocate for the rightful role of parents as lead decision-makers in education — and failed on that front. His unwillingness to embrace vouchers is particularly galling given that, thanks to his taxpayer-funded salary, he and Michelle can exercise choice and Parent Power by sending their two daughters to one of the nation's exclusive (if not necessarily top-performing) private schools, and through his exalted status as the nation's School Reformer-in-Chief. With Parent Trigger laws up for consideration in Indiana, Florida, and  Arizona this year, Obama's call could have rallied Democrats in those states to step up and support Parent Power. Obama could have also called for states and districts to release value-added teacher data so that parents can know the quality of the teachers who have our kids in their care, something that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has supported; the failure to do so is also rather disappointing.

Then there is Obama's continued push to weaken his own school reform accomplishments through the administration's No Child waiver gambit.

…President Obama certainly should get credit for much of his work in spurring systemic reform. But he needs to ditch the No Child waiver gambit — and actually commit to expanding accountability, school choice, and Parent Power — in order to sustain those successes. Our kids deserve a stronger, more-comprehensive push for reforms that can help all of them succeed.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Obama's State of the Union Address

January 25, 2012 No Comments by RiShawn Biddle

 Subscribe in a reader

Obama Plan Links College Aid With Affordability

A very interesting idea:

President Obama is proposing a financial aid overhaul that for the first time would tie colleges' eligibility for campus-based aid programs — Perkins loans, work-study jobs and supplemental grants for low-income students — to the institutions' success in improving affordability and value for students, administration officials said.

Under the plan, which the president outlined on Friday morning in a speech at the University of Michigan, the amount available for Perkins loans would grow to $8 billion, from the current $1 billion. The president also wants to create a $1 billion grant competition, along the lines of the Race for the Top program for elementary and secondary education, to reward states that take action to keep college costs down, and a separate $55 million competition for individual colleges to increase their value and efficiency.

The administration also wants to give families clearer information about costs and quality, by requiring colleges and universities to offer a "shopping sheet" that makes it easier to compare financial aid packages and — for the first time — compiling post-graduate earning and employment information to give students a better sense of what awaits them.


Obama Plan Links College Aid With Affordability

Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama arrived at the University of Michigan on Friday.

Published: January 27, 2012

 Subscribe in a reader

Mixed Reviews of Obama Plan to Keep Down College Costs

Mixed reaction in Congress:

In Congress, reaction to the plan seemed to divide along party lines.

"The president is saying that people can't afford to go to college anymore, and that just simply is not true," said Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who is chairwoman of the House Higher Education subcommittee. "Tuition is too high at most schools, but it isn't the job of the federal government to punish those schools. It's very arbitrary, and the president sounds like a dictator."

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican and a former federal secretary of education, offered his own ideas of improving academic efficiency: "I've suggested that they could offer three-year degrees to some students. Colleges could also operate more in the summertime, which would make more efficient use of campuses and reduce their costs."

Many Democrats offered only the blandest of statements praising the president for tackling the affordability issue. "The president's higher education proposal rightly calls on colleges, universities and states to maintain a commitment to keep college costs low making it easier for American families and their children to afford a college education," Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, said in a statement.


January 27, 2012

Mixed Reviews of Obama Plan to Keep Down College Costs


 Subscribe in a reader

Obama Wades Into Issue of Raising Dropout Age

Another interesting proposal by Obama:

President Obama's State of the Union call for every state to require students to stay in school until they turn 18 is Washington's first direct involvement in an issue that many governors and state legislators have found tough to address.

While state legislative efforts to raise the dropout age to 18 have spread in recent years, many have had trouble winning passage. Last year, for example, such legislation was considered in Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland and Rhode Island — but only Rhode Island actually changed its law.

"Efforts to raise the age usually come up against the argument that requiring students to stay in school when they no longer want to be there is disruptive to other students and not fair to the teacher," said Sunny Deye, a senior policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Home-school groups often oppose raising the compulsory attendance age, and especially now, in this budget crunch, there are major concerns about the fiscal impact."

…Several economists, over two decades, have found that higher dropout ages improve not only graduation rates but entrance to higher education and career outcomes. "The evidence is quite robust that raising the school-leaving age increases educational attainment," said Philip Oreopoulos, an economics professor at the University of Toronto, whose study found, however, that exceptions to the law, lenience in enforcement and weak consequences for truancy could all interfere with an increase. "Ideally, you use both a carrot and stick approach, so that if students have to stay in school longer you're also providing wider curriculum options that might interest them."

In a 2010 report on the dropout problem, Robert Balfanz, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, found that of the six states that increased the compulsory school age from 2002 to 2008, two — Illinois and South Dakota — experienced increases in their graduation rates, and one, Nevada, had a decline.

"It's symbolically and strategically important to raise the age to 18, but it's not the magical thing that in itself will keep kids in school," Dr. Balfanz said.


January 25, 2012

Obama Wades Into Issue of Raising Dropout Age


 Subscribe in a reader

The True Cost of High School Dropouts

A NYT op ed on the true (and horrifying costs) of high school dropouts:

If we could reduce the current number of dropouts by just half, we would yield almost 700,000 new graduates a year, and it would more than pay for itself. Studies show that the typical high school graduate will obtain higher employment and earnings — an astonishing 50 percent to 100 percent increase in lifetime income — and will be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Further, because of the increased income, the typical graduate will contribute more in tax revenues over his lifetime than if he'd dropped out.

When the costs of investment to produce a new graduate are taken into account, there is a return of $1.45 to $3.55 for every dollar of investment, depending upon the educational intervention strategy. Under this estimate, each new graduate confers a net benefit to taxpayers of about $127,000 over the graduate's lifetime. This is a benefit to the public of nearly $90 billion for each year of success in reducing the number of high school dropouts by 700,000 — or something close to $1 trillion after 11 years. That's real money — and a reason both liberals and conservatives should rally behind dropout prevention as an element of economic recovery, leaving aside the ethical dimensions of educating our young people.


The True Cost of High School Dropouts

Published: January 25, 2012

 Subscribe in a reader

Some Lenders to Students Face Greater U.S. Scrutiny

Great news:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is stepping up its scrutiny of nontraditional lenders to students at profit-making colleges and trade schools that have high rates of default, the newly appointed director of the bureau said Thursday.

The director, Richard Cordray, compared the practices of some parts of the student loan business to those of the subprime mortgage lending machine that contributed to the financial crisis.

"We're seeing some of the schools anticipating as much as a 50 percent default rate on their students, yet they're making those loans anyway," Mr. Cordray said at a news briefing.

"We will be looking closely at those loans. We will be looking closely at the tactics by which they are marketed and making sure that the law is being followed," he said.

…The consumer bureau indicated earlier that it was interested in the subject of predatory student loans. In November, the bureau and the Education Department issued a joint request for information from consumers on the private student loan market, a study that was mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. The deadline for comments is Tuesday.

Mr. Cordray said Thursday that the bureau had already seen evidence of problems in the market for private student loans.

"One of the things we see and have seen is lenders who market loans for borrowers knowing that those borrowers are unlikely to be able to pay those loans," Mr. Cordray said. "But they may have other incentives that lead them to make those loans nonetheless. We clearly saw that in the mortgage market in the run-up to the financial crisis, when that market got broken. We also see it, say, in student lending as well."


January 12, 2012

Some Lenders to Students Face Greater U.S. Scrutiny


 Subscribe in a reader

School Reform in the Kingdom of Happiness

Bob Compton on the lessons from Finland:


China and India educate for commercial advantage, and each country has more than 200 million school children. Our 55 million kids will face extraordinary competition. But we can't just teach the way they do. Our culture and our kids won't allow it. Nor is the Asian way the best for our children. Preparing our kids to be the world's innovation leaders, and reviving our middle class, requires a uniquely Western approach.


Another country, similar in size to Indiana, has found a way to elevate its students to first in the world in problem solving, scientific literacy and math—Finland. What works in its schools is the muse of open-ended projects where kids learn by doing. Testing is included, but in moderation.


But the Finnish model only works if you have amazing teachers. And amazing teachers only come through a recruitment and training process that is highly selective and rigorous.


In Finland, just 10 percent of applicants are accepted into one of only eight colleges of education. By contrast, Indiana has 45 colleges offering teaching degrees and enrolling is easy. Where Indiana has thousands of teachers leaving each year, Finland has less than 1-percent attrition. Carefully selected and trained, great teachers stay in the profession.


School Reform in the Kingdom of Happiness


By Bob Compton

Indiana Business Journal


Much as the explorers in "Lost Horizon" stumbled into Shangri-La in the Himalayas, I found myself in the small Kingdom of Bhutan last October. As this tiny place moves into the 21st century, it has committed itself to be a society centered on the pursuit of happiness.

 Subscribe in a reader

Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer

What a total disgrace!  This is what happens when people watch Fox "News" too much: their brains turn to mush and they start believing conspiracy theories about a war against religion in this country…

She is 16, the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Harry Potter and Facebook. But Jessica Ahlquist is also an outspoken atheist who has incensed this heavily Roman Catholic city with a successful lawsuit to get a prayer removed from the wall of her high school auditorium, where it has hung for 49 years.

A federal judge ruled this month that the prayer's presence at Cranston High School West was unconstitutional, concluding that it violated the principle of government neutrality in religion. In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica "an evil little thing" on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group. The group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.

"I was amazed," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, which is based in Wisconsin and has given Jessica $13,000 from support and scholarship funds. "We haven't seen a case like this in a long time, with this level of revilement and ostracism and stigmatizing."


Student Faces Town's Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer

Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times

Jessica Ahlquist, a Rhode Island atheist, won a suit against her school's prayer poster.

Published: January 26, 2012

 Subscribe in a reader

Bracing for $40,000 at City Private Schools

As someone who's paying three of these tuitions, I wasn't surprised to read about the soaring tuitions at NYC's elite private schools:

Over the past 10 years, the median price of first grade in the city has gone up by 48 percent, adjusted for inflation, compared with a 35 percent increase at private schools nationally — and just 24 percent at an Ivy League college — according to tuition data provided by 41 New York City K-12 private schools to the National Association of Independent Schools.

Indeed, this year's tuition at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory ($38,340 for 12th grade) and Horace Mann ($37,275 for the upper school) is higher than Harvard's ($36,305).


Despite the 48% increase in the past decade, I'd bet that tuition payments account for a lower percentage of total income for the majority of families whose kids attend these schools, as incomes for these families have gone up more than 48%.  These schools serve the top 1% (in many cases, the top 1/100th of 1%), who have been doing awfully well.  I couldn't find apples-to-apples 10-year data, but from 1979-2007:

average inflation-adjusted after-tax income grew by 275 percent for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income. For others in the top 20 percent of the population, average real after-tax household income grew by 65 percent.

By contrast, the budget office said, for the poorest fifth of the population, average real after-tax household income rose 18 percent.

And for the three-fifths of people in the middle of the income scale, the growth in such household income was just under 40 percent.

- Source: Congressional Budget Office (


So, it's perfectly rational from a supply-demand/economic perspective for these schools to raise tuition the way they have and invest in every conceivable facility and class.  Whether it's a good thing from a societal perspective – it certainly further widens the distance between the top 1% and everyone else – is another matter… 


Bracing for $40,000 at City Private Schools

The Dalton School costs $36,970 a year and offers Zen Dance.

Published: January 27, 2012

 Subscribe in a reader

Geoffrey Canada to Receive Medal for Education Impact

A well-deserved award for Geoffrey Canada:

Geoffrey Canada to Receive Medal for Education Impact

By newseditor

01/25/2012 9:25 AM

Photo courtesy of Harlem Children's Zone

Dean Kathleen McCartney has announced Geoffrey Canada, Ed.M.'75, as the recipient of the second Harvard Graduate School of Education Medal for Education Impact, the highest honor given by the Ed School. The medal is awarded to a person who is making a lasting difference in the field of education and on the lives of learners across the nation and beyond. Canada will receive the honor following anAskwith Forum on March 28.

"For his tireless efforts to strengthen families and to improve outcomes for thousands of children as President and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, we are thrilled to award the second Harvard Graduate School of Education Medal for Education Impact to Geoffrey Canada," Dean Kathleen McCartney said. "Geoff's vision for providing comprehensive education, social services, and community-building programs for the families and children who need them most has drawn national attention. He is an inspiration to all of us who believe that all children have the right to an excellent education, regardless of their zip codes."

The Medal for Education Impact honors practitioners, policymakers, and researchers who work across their individual spheres of influence and whose careers are dedicated to education opportunity, achievement, and success for all children. It recognizes those who have a transformative effect on the sector through their entrepreneurial spirit, innovative strategies, collaborative work, and superior leadership.

"To be chosen for this medal by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which has had such a profound impact on my life and on education reform across the nation, is a deeply felt honor," Canada said.

As president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), a nonprofit geared toward helping low-income children and families in New York City, Canada is committed to improving the lives of thousands of children in urban settings through education and services. HCZ is a full-service community organization, comprised of charter schools, preschools, afterschool programs, parenting education, and employment and technology centers for children and residents that currently serves more than 13,000 children and adults.

Canada has received significant praise for his work. In a June 2004, a New York Times Magazine cover story declared HCZ as "one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time." A year later, Canada was named one of America's Best Leaders by U.S. News and World Report. More recently, President Obama has spoken of the program as one he'd like to see replicated in other urban areas nationwide. Canada has received numerous education awards and honorary degrees including the McGraw Prize for Education, Robin Hood Foundation's Heroes of the Year Award, the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the first Heinz Award, and the 2008 HGSE Alumni Council Award to name a few.

 Subscribe in a reader

DFER’s Ed Reformer of the Month

DFER's Ed Reformer of the Month:



This mustachioed gentleman is John Gregg.

John has been a businessman, president of Indiana's oldest public university, and Speaker of the Indiana House.  If all goes well, he'll soon be the Governor of Hoosier State.

Don't let his delightful facial hair fool you; he's a very serious education reformer.

As Speaker, John built bipartisan coalitions to pass two of Indiana's most significant reform efforts, which established the state's first charter schools and created Indiana's landmark K-12 accountability system. But he's not running on his past accomplishments. Here's John in his own words:

"If you fell asleep in 1912 and woke up in 2012, you'd find that just about everything in the world has changed. Unfortunately, public education looks an awful like it did 100 years ago. 

"We must create a sense of urgency about closing achievement gaps, raising expectations for a changing economy, and ensuring fiscal transparency and equity.

"We must make Indiana the leader in teacher quality – in terms of preparation, retention, and recognition, and by making teachers leaders of our state's schools.

"We must give teachers the flexibility to innovate in their own classrooms, instead of forcing them into 'one-size-fits-all' solutions.

"We must empower effective classroom teachers – instead of bureaucrats in Indianapolis or Washington, D.C. – to have the strongest voice possible in the policymaking process so they take ownership of our schools.

"But unlike my friends in the GOP who run Indiana today, I will not demonize, marginalize or punish our teachers in the process. I will make my arguments with facts, figures, and reason, instead of making my fellow Hoosiers out to be the enemy."

John has worked very closely with Indiana DFER in structuring his education policy positions.  He'll also need our help to fuel his campaign.

We have a long race ahead of us, so please click here to make a contribution today.

Thanks again,


 Subscribe in a reader

College Bound: Teacher-Turned-Photographer Returns to Document School’s Success

A great story and 2-min video:

College Bound: Teacher-Turned-Photographer Returns to Document School's Success

The North Star Academy in Newark, New Jersey so firmly preaches the inspirational catchphrase "follow your dreams" to its students that even the teachers find it infectious. One teacher, Allison Payne, who had taught at the school for four years, found the message so compelling that she was inspired to leave education to pursue her long-held dream of being a photographer. She quit her job, attended the International Center for Photography in New York City and returned to the school as a photography student to complete this six month-long documentary project.

"North Star changes the lives of everyone who is a part it, not just the students," Payne said. "It teaches you to be relentless in pursuit of your dreams. You start to realize that anything is possible if you are just willing to work hard enough.

 Subscribe in a reader

Et Tu, Harvard?

I generally have positive feelings about my alma mater – but not today.  My blood is boiling after reading Joe Nocera's op ed in today's NYT about Harvard's disgraceful, gutless capitulation to the NCAA, which as Nocera has documented in four previous columns (N.C.A.A.'s 'Justice' SystemMore N.C.A.A. 'Justice'Guilty Until Proved Innocent, and Living in Fear of the N.C.A.A.) appears to be an organization too often characterized by imperial, arrogant, abusive and thuggish behavior.  What a case study in "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Shame on Harvard, double shame on the NCAA, and kudos to Nocera, whose columns will hopefully lead to Congressional hearings (and maybe Harvard developing a spine).

Despite its behind-the-scenes efforts, Harvard has never once said publicly that the rule is wrong and that Temi is being unfairly punished. On the contrary, in an e-mailed statement, Bob Scalise, the Harvard athletic director, said, "We at Harvard are fully committed to following all N.C.A.A. rules and guidelines." Even, apparently, when those rules are wrong and unjust.

…I would have thought that Harvard was made of sterner stuff. Harvard claims to have values that transcend wins and losses. Harvard has often been a leader in changing how universities act. So long as schools continue to cower in the face of N.C.A.A. abuses, those abuses will continue.

The Temi Fagbenle case was a perfect opportunity for Harvard to stand up for what's right. Maybe next time.


January 27, 2012

Et Tu, Harvard?


 Subscribe in a reader

STOP THE PRESSES! Sustained Positive Effects on Graduation Rates Produced by New York City's Small Public High Schools of Choice

STOP THE PRESSES!  Only two weeks after the release of the seminal NBER study on the long-term impacts of teachers, tonight another hugely important study worthy of its own email was released (the full report is attached; the press release and NYT story are below).   This one, by respected research firm MDRC, examined the impact and effectiveness of the 123 small high schools of choice that Bloomberg and Klein set up to replace chronically failing mega-sized high schools that were closed.  The researchers tracked tens of thousands of NYC high school students, both ones who won the lottery to attend a small school and those who didn't – and the results are stunningly positive for the new, smaller schools.  Here are one friend's comments:


I believe the update has national relevance and particular resonance in cities dealing with school closures and turnaround.


In 2010 MDRC published findings showing small schools very significantly raised graduation rates and rates of staying on track for graduation. 


A second cohort of students in the study, which is random-sampled and involves more than 21,000 students, has now graduated and the results are even more emphatic. Small schools raise the graduation rate by 8.6 points for their overwhelmingly disadvantaged student population. That's 43% of the achievement gap in NYC. The percentage of students in these schools passing the English Regents exam at 75 and above--a critical indicator of college success in NY--is 7.1 points higher, or nearly 25% higher, than for similar students in other schools.


There have been innumerable high school reform efforts over the years, particularly since "A Nation At Risk" was published in 1983, but no evidence that any worked at scale. Now there is evidence. And it's happening at a time when the politics and finances of school turnaround have never been more contested and consequential, playing out in districts across the country. 


Here's an excerpt from the press release:


At the heart of this reform are 123 small, academically nonselective, public high schools. Each with approximately 100 students per grade in grades 9 through 12, these schools were created to serve some of the district's most disadvantaged students and are located mainly in neighborhoods where large failing high schools had been closed. For 105 of these schools that had more applicants than seats available, MDRC's study takes advantage of the lottery-like features in New York City's high school admissions process to compare over time the academic outcomes of students who won lotteries and enrolled in the small schools with those who sought admission, lost a lottery, and enrolled in other New York City high schools.


In June 2010, MDRC released the first report from its study, which showed that the new small high schools increased students' likelihood of earning credits, progressing through school, and graduating in four years with Regents diplomas. This new brief extends the analysis by a year, allowing for examination of a second cohort of students to reach graduation. The study's new findings include:


·         Sustained impacts on graduation with Regents diplomasWith the addition of a second cohort, average four-year graduation effects have reached 8.6 percentage points (meaning nearly nine more graduates for every class of 100 entering ninth-graders). This effect is driven by an increase in Regents diplomas attained.

·         Positive graduation effects for virtually every subgroup, including students with low entering proficiency in math and English (levels 1 and 2, in New York City terminology), males and females, blacks and Hispanics, and eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch.

·         A positive effect on a measure of college readiness: a 7.6 percentage point (or 25 percent) impact on scoring 75 or higher on the English Regents exam (which exempts students from remedial English at the City University of New York). There was no effect on scoring 75 or higher on the math Regents exam.

·         Five-year graduation effect: Students in the new small high schools are 7.1 percentage points more likely to graduate in five years than their control group counterparts (75.2 percent vs. 68.1 percent).


The study looks at graduation by subgroups and finds that enrolling in a small high school of choice substantially increases graduation rates for every major subgroup examined, including students who enter high school below grade level in academic proficiency, low-income students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and black and Hispanic, male and female students.


The study is unprecedented in three ways: 


1) First, the reforms themselves — closing failing high schools,  opening a next generation of small schools redesigned from top to bottom to replace them, and simultaneously introducing a system of choice for all entering high schoolers, which essentially made this choice without charters — the teachers are unionized, etc. 


2) Second, the characteristics of the students served — 93% black or Hispanic, 83% low-income, 63% behind in math proficiency grade level when they entered 9th grade and 70% behind in reading proficiency. 


3) Third, the findings themselves — large positive impacts at scale on graduation rates with nearly all of those gains due to Regents Diplomas.  And these impacts are consistent across every group of students the researchers looked at — students who were behind, black males, economically disadvantaged students, etc.




For immediate release: January 26, 2012

Contact: John Hutchins, MDRC Communications Director, 212-340-8604

 New Findings Show New York City's Small High Schools Continue to Significantly Raise Graduation Rates and Improve English Regents Exam Scores


Graduation Rates at Small Schools, Which Serve Highly Disadvantaged Students, Are 8.6 Percentage Points Higher Than Other Schools


Effects Seen Across Every Subgroup of Students, Including African-American and Hispanic Males, Less-Proficient Students, and Low-Income Students


City Students at Small Public High Schools Are More Likely to Graduate, Study Says

Published: January 25, 2012

New York City teenagers attending small public high schools with about 100 students per grade were more likely to graduate than their counterparts at larger schools, according to new findings from a continuing study released on Wednesday night.

The findings are part of a study that tracked the academic performance of more than 21,000 students who applied for ninth grade admission at 105 small high schools, mainly in Brooklyn and in the Bronx, from 2005 to 2008. The study appeared to validate the Bloomberg administration's decade-long push to create small schools to replace larger, failing high schools.


 Subscribe in a reader