• Say for the sake of argument that there are two education initiatives aimed at promoting upward mobility. One, a college preparation track, pushes its participants to complete high school and pursue postsecondary education at markedly higher rates than their peers, shaving off ten points from the socioeconomic graduation gap in the bargain. The other, a job training option, imparts years of workplace instruction and regularly places its students in well-paying positions after they finish. Both sound great. But which is the more promising path for kids hoping to make it into the middle class? Thankfully, we don’t have to choose—career and technical education actually comprises both. A new profile of Philadelphia’s CTE movement reviews all the familiar merits of the approach, including a new, city-issued report suggesting that freshmen who take part in vocational education are simply better prepared for college and career than those who don’t. Unfortunately, it also highlights the serious funding deficit faced by Pennsylvania CTE programs, which receive a piddling $900 per-student subsidy from the state. When convicts have an easier time learning job skills than schoolchildren and under-enrolled schools are being converted into yuppie event spaces, it means we’re ignoring a potential two-for-one deal that could change lives.
  • Not so long ago, principals were mainly charged with building relationships with families, overseeing operations and facilities, and putting the scare into punks like Zack Morris. But the mission of schools is changing, and school leaders need to change with them. The Hechinger Report has a fantastic dispatch from the front lines of a building-level turnaround, focusing on a first-year principal’s struggle to improve her school’s culture and lift teacher performance. The challenges she faces are daunting: Punishing daily schedules and occasionally tense labor relations exact a toll, driving half of all principals from the profession after just three years. But those leaders who withstand the test of a troubled school can find themselves rewarded with results that go far beyond an improved state rating: It’s been clearly shown that putting excellent principals in the classroom with kids buoys student achievement and helps retain good teachers. Hopeful stories like these put a human face on those benefits.
  • House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation announcement has shaken up the legislative picture for the rest of 2015, with edu-implications to boot. In short, the long road to ESEA reauthorization may have just gotten a bit longer. The soon-to-be-former Speaker was a key figure in the passage of No Child Left Behind, and the Freedom Caucus members who hounded him from office are zealous opponents of any federal role in K–12 schooling. Of course, if the hard-right faction truly wants the Department of Education taken down a notch or three, it should line up behind the bipartisan bill passed by the upper chamber this summer; as Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander remarked, it’s “the biggest step toward local control of public schools in twenty-five years.” If Boehner’s tormentors don’t wake up to that reality, he won’t be the only one crying.
The Education Gadfly