Class Struggle: no school

Posted at 02:21 AM ET, 07/05/2012

Is our neighborhood school really bad?

Aaron McMahon asked me if he should leave Alexandria because the local high school was bad. I told him why he was wrong about T.C. Williams High School, and others like it.

By Jay Mathews  |  02:21 AM ET, 07/05/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  why your neighborhood school might not be bad, the power of great teaching and high standards, T.C. Williams High School, low-income students do not mean a bad school

Posted at 10:21 PM ET, 06/20/2012

Quiet teacher changed a school

The teachers we hear about are usually larger than life, but quiet teachers can also have enormous impact on their schools. Take the case of Betsy Calhoon, who died suddenly this month.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:21 PM ET, 06/20/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  quiet teacher transformed a Fairfax County school, Betsy Calhoon, introduced low income students to challenging International Baccalaureate courses, Calhoon died June 11 of a heart attack

Posted at 10:10 PM ET, 06/10/2012

Diversity lags at highly selective Thomas Jefferson High School

The controversy at the famous high school over a drop in freshman grades in algebra2/trigonomety exposes the lack of progress in admitting more Hispanic and black students.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:10 PM ET, 06/10/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  diversity lags at most selective high school in US, only 4 percent of freshmen are black or Hispanic, a figure that has not changed, MIT by comparison is 20 percent black and Hispanic, TJ freshman grades have dropped, but it is the fault of white and Asian students

Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 05/24/2012

Schools with many APs but few passing

I created a special category of schools with many AP tests but low passing rates. Are they getting better?

By Jay Mathews  |  05:00 AM ET, 05/24/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  high schools with many Advanced Placement tests but low passing rates, Jay Mathews' Catching Up Schools list, after four years a few have raised their rates, several are backsliding, Crossland High School, SEED school, good example of Thurgood Marshall Public Charter School

Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 05/20/2012

2012 Challenge Index rankings--why small schools rule

Small schools rule in the 14th year of the high school list. Private school numbers are revealed for the first time.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:00 AM ET, 05/20/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Education, High School

Posted at 08:32 PM ET, 05/05/2012

Math stumble at renowned Jefferson High

The linear algebra students noticed their teacher was struggling, then he quit and four more instructors followed as the school tried to adjust.

By Jay Mathews  |  08:32 PM ET, 05/05/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  thomas jefferson high school, education

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 01/14/2011

Increasing learning time with free breakfasts

Some people think it's wrong to read at the table. The Mathews family has a different view. We talk to each other at meals if the mood strikes us. But much of the time, particularly at breakfast and lunch, we are looking at newspapers and magazines, and sometimes even books, while ingesting carbohydrates, fats and whatever else tastes good. I know, it sounds rude. But it is a habit that more Americans, particularly younger ones, should adopt.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 01/14/2011 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  000 more students got free breakfasts last year, 663, Food Research and Action Center, National School Lunch Program, combine reading with eating and learning time increases, free breakfasts more common in schools

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 12/17/2010

A plea for peace among petulant pundits

As the football season for my Redskins falls apart, I have become addicted to the shouting of sports talk radio. Great failures inspire irresistible passion and confrontation. The national debate over how to fix our failing schools attracts me for the same reason. But in my saner moments I wish we were more considerate of those with whom we disagree.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 12/17/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  Diane Ravitch, KIPP, The Life and Death of the Great American School System, Whitney Tilson, education policy pundits distort each other's cases, how to help schools by being fair in the debate

Posted at 07:21 PM ET, 12/08/2010

Dunbar leaders bounced, what next?

My colleague Bill Turque just informed me that as I feared, the Friends of Bedford group has been removed as administrators of Dunbar High. (See long post directly below for details in that clash.) I will have more to say about this in my Monday Metro section column. For now, I welcome comment from people who know Dunbar emailed to me at We should also say a few prayers for Stephen Jackson, last year's principal at Dunbar, whose firing by the Bedford group apparently precipitated these events. Turque tells me Jackson is being put back in charge, which means if test scores slump and the security situation doesn't improve, it is going to be all on him, and the people who put him back on the job. Let's hope he and they succeed.

By Jay Mathews  |  07:21 PM ET, 12/08/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Dunbar High School, Friends of Bedford ousted as administrators, Stephen Jackson returns as principal, pressure on him to succeed

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 12/03/2010

Surprising truths from superstar principal

Henry Gradillas was the principal of Garfield High School in the 1980s when the chairman of its math department, a Bolivian immigrant named Jaime Escalante, became the most famous teacher in the United States. Escalante, about whom I wrote a book, was an amazing educator, but he would never have gained such renown and become the subject of the film "Stand and Deliver" if it had not been for Gradillas.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 12/03/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  Henry Gradillas, Standing and Delivering,, don't start by firing weak teachers, fix the school climate first, superstar principal of Garfield High School

Posted at 04:00 PM ET, 11/30/2010

Why should pre-holiday school days be wasted?

I wrote this two weeks ago, knowing it would appear in the Local Living section of the Post on Thanksgiving. (It is appearing five days after that on because I couldn't reach my blog entry site from my mom's house in California.) Did I have a holiday theme when I started typing? Nope. Then I saw education expert Mike Schmoker suggest that teachers have regular days in which students do nothing but read and write.

By Jay Mathews  |  04:00 PM ET, 11/30/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Local Living | Tags:  Mike Schmoker, wasted school time on pre-vacation days. making that time count with reading and writing projects

Posted at 08:00 PM ET, 11/21/2010

Let schools be creative with motivation

Two demographically similar and academically impressive local high schools — Northwood in Montgomery County and West Potomac in Fairfax County — have been debating grades. Both schools have been accused of letting too many students pass their courses without learning the material. This is in line with what millions of Americans say about schools in general. But they disagree over whom to blame. Unmotivated students? Lazy teachers? Cowardly administrators? Short-sighted parents? I wonder if there isn’t a way for all of these people to resolve the dispute by offering school choices that would approach grading and teaching in different ways

By Jay Mathews  |  08:00 PM ET, 11/21/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Northwood High School, West Potomac High School, educators have creative solutions, grading systems, motivating students, readers say schools and teachers should get tough, schools accused of passing students who don't master the material, why not give families the choice of some school with radical solutions

Posted at 09:00 PM ET, 11/17/2010

Hiding exams from students

The parent at McLean High School was frustrated. Two years ago he had to go to the principal to force a teacher to let his daughter keep a copy of a graded test so she could get a better sense of her errors. Last month, it happened again with his son.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 PM ET, 11/17/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Local Living | Tags:  McLean High School, parents complain students don't have enough time to analyze mistakes, practice growing in Fairfax and other districts, some teachers don't let students take some exams home, teachers creating homegrown standardized tests and want to use them more than once, tutors handicapped

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 11/12/2010

How to end a dispiriting fight over learning time

Here in Washington, well-meaning advocates of afterschool programs are fighting with well-meaning advocates of longer school days over a big pot of federal money. It distresses me, but does not surprise me, to discover that their arguments have more to do about clout in Congress than the well-being of the school children they say they are trying to help. I have a solution. But first, let's examine the dispute.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 11/12/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  afterschool programs, each praises studies showing the best of their programs succeed, each trashes the other's research, longer school days, two sides in increased learning time debate fight over $1.25 billion in federal funds, why not agree to fund just those high quality programs?

Posted at 08:00 PM ET, 11/10/2010

How NOT to vote for school board

Last week, I voted for several people on the Montgomery County school board, one of the few times I ever thought about that body. As an education writer, I try to stay away from school boards. I know that sounds odd, but over the years, I have found school board meetings to be as interesting, newsworthy and uplifting as visits to the dentist. I avoid them.

By Jay Mathews  |  08:00 PM ET, 11/10/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Local Living | Tags:  difficult to find what candidates think on the most important issues, have they supported the superintendent?, school board elections, why do they think low-income students on average do poorly in school?

Posted at 09:00 PM ET, 11/07/2010

Top high school should look for character as well as brains

My colleague Kevin Sieff reported last week that the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is not only the most selective public school in America, but one of the least diverse. After years of promising to reach out to the third of Northern Virginia students who are black or Hispanic, less than 4 percent of its students have that background, while ultra-selective colleges such as Harvard and MIT have about 20 percent.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 PM ET, 11/07/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, character should be an important trait in picking students, few blacks or Hispanics admitted to Jefferson, largest ethic group is Asian, need to find more students interested in science

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 11/02/2010

What would a Republican Congress do for our schools?

Ah, election day. Journalists who DON'T specialize in politics, like us education writers, can treat it like a midweek paid vacation. The editors who usually ask us why in heaven's name we haven't finished our stories must instead handle the election stuff. The voting and the results fill their time and the newspaper, for at least a couple of days, giving us marginalized non-political reporters time to catch up on our fantasy football trades and maybe sneak out to a movie.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 11/02/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Chester E. Finn Jr., GOP in the states very different from GOP in congress on school issues, How a Republican congress will treat schools, Michael Petrilli

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 10/20/2010

Students reject their school's high rank

My annual rankings of high schools were mentioned at a Town Meeting of the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program recently. Some students said they didn’t like the great reputation I was giving their school.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 10/20/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Local Living | Tags:  Challenge Index, H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, H-B students say school's top rank obscures its traditions, call teachers by first name, film "Day After Tomorrow", most school management decisions made by student and staffer vote

Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 10/19/2010

Much-praised Baltimore teacher contract voted down

You probably noticed, but in case you didn't, the innovative contract for public school teachers in Baltimore was thoroughly squashed on Oct. 14 in a 1,540 to 1,107 vote by teachers.

By Jay Mathews  |  12:00 PM ET, 10/19/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Baltimore teachers contract voted down, school chief holds out hope of a change later.

Posted at 08:00 PM ET, 10/17/2010

Curiosity discouraged at competitive high school

Westfield High School in Fairfax County is one of the largest and most competitive public schools in America. It is not unusual that 180 sophomores enrolled in Advanced Placement World History this year, more students than most U.S. high schools have taking AP courses of any kind. What did surprise some students and their parents was a sheet titled “Expectations of Integrity” included in the materials handed out by the three AP World History teachers. Their number one rule discouraged random outbreaks of curiosity.

By Jay Mathews  |  08:00 PM ET, 10/17/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Expectations of Integrity, Fairfax County, Westfield High School, curiosity discouraged, no Internet searching, no talking to family, principal Tim Thomas, students can only use their notes and textbooks

Posted at 09:00 PM ET, 10/13/2010

Required essays in a physics class

In my search for signs of serious writing instruction in America high schools, I have stumbled across a rare creature: a physics teacher in Fairfax County who makes everyone in his honors classes enter a national science essay contest.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 PM ET, 10/13/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Local Living | Tags:  Dupont Challenge essay contest, Ed Linz, Fairfax County Va., Linz rejects Mathews call for essays for all, West Springfield High School, physics teacher requires essay writing

Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 10/12/2010

What Jerry Bracey would have said about Locke High

Every once in awhile I run across a case of distorted education reporting and mourn the 2009 death of Gerald W. Bracey. For years he was the nation's watchdog of unexamined assumptions and misleading language in education policy and education writing. Instead of stewing over these mishaps, I am going to post them and say what I think Jerry would have said about them

By Jay Mathews  |  11:30 AM ET, 10/12/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Gerald W. Bracey, Green Dot Public Schools, Locke High School, big gains in proficency hide one of the lowest proficiency rate in the country, education statistical distortions

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 10/08/2010

Why low standards for education are good

No education scholar in America throws an analytical knuckleball as well as David F. Labaree of Stanford University. You are reading along, enjoying the clarity of his prose and the depth of his research, thinking his argument is going one way when--whoops!--it breaks in another direction altogether.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 10/08/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  David F. Labaree, why school reform always fails, why schools are better off not having standards too high, why the school reform process makes Americans feel good even if it doesn't work

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 10/03/2010

KIPP leaders unworried by test score drop

Fifth grade scores dropped this year at the KIPP DC charter schools. Some people wondered if the Knowledge Is Power Program’s long record of raising D.C. student achievement was in jeopardy. The woman who created KIPP DC seems unworried. She has already made a change that may drive some average scores even lower next year.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 10/03/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  KIPP DC, KIPP DC: College Prep in its second year, KIPP culture change, KIPP fifth grade scores go down, Knowledge Is Power Program, Susan Schaeffler, for first time KIPP adds fourth grade to middle school

Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 10/01/2010

Ed school professors resist teaching practical skills

Amid the chatter about the Obama administration's Race to the Top funds, NBC's Education Nation programs and the release of the film "Waiting For 'Superman'" (warning: I am in it), I am not hearing much about how education schools fit into this new saving our schools ferment. A new survey of education school professors reveals traditional teacher training institute are trying, sort of, to adjust, but still resist giving top priority to hottest topic among young teachers, learning how to manage the kids.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 AM ET, 10/01/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  Education school professors resist teaching classroom skills, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, but 63 percent like Teach For America, only 24 percent emphasize helping teachers work with new state standards and tests

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 09/29/2010

Teacher/blogger critiques highly ranked school

A teacher who recently worked at one of my favorite D.C. schools, Columbia Heights Education Campus High School, James Boutin, sent me a detailed critique. He said CHEC did not deserve its high rank or my praise. I invited him to state his case here, and promised to get the school's response.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 09/29/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Criticism of highly ranked Columbia Heights Education Campus High School, DCPS responds with detailed exposure of factual errors, he blogs on the school, teacher James Boutin sends long critique

Posted at 07:00 PM ET, 09/26/2010

High school barred average students from AP

Flowers High School in Prince George's County was one of the few schools in the Washington area refusing to let average students challenge themselves in an Advanced Placement course. Students were told this year that AP English, biology, American history, calculus and most of the other college-level courses at the school were open only to those with at least a 3.0 grade point average. They also had to have written permission from a teacher.

By Jay Mathews  |  07:00 PM ET, 09/26/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  3.0 average required, AP denied to average student, Advanced Placement, Charles Hebert Flowers High School, Prince George's County, principal Helena Nobles-Jones, school quickly drops its rule, violation of county policy

Posted at 08:00 PM ET, 09/22/2010

Why grade-skipping should be back in fashion

I have seen no data to confirm this, but it seems to me that schools rarely consider skipping students ahead anymore. I have talked to Washington area administrators about this. They are uncomfortable with the approach. They think students who are above grade level learn better--with some extras thrown in--if they stick with kids their age.

By Jay Mathews  |  08:00 PM ET, 09/22/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Local Living | Tags:  Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa, Gifted Exchange blog, Zumi Elementary School, acceleration better than gifted education classes, grade skipping, grade skipping less common than before

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 09/19/2010

Rhee initiative that will, thankfully, outlast Rhee

As prospective mayor Vincent Gray’s education advisors begin to discuss changes in the way Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee ran D.C. schools, it should quickly become apparent they should keep their hands off one of Rhee’s smartest moves — handing management of Coolidge and Dunbar high schools to a sharp team of educators from New York City.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 09/19/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Bevon Thompson, Coolidge High School, Dunbar High School, Friends of Bedford, George Leonard, Michelle A. Rhee, Niaka Gaston, a reform that should outlast Rhee, best reading gains in D.C.

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 09/12/2010

Teacher in troubled school likes Rhee's impatience

Anthony Priest decided teaching math would be more interesting than his big business career, so he accepted an assignment at one of the most chaotic public schools in the region, Spingarn High in Northeast Washington. Since then, he says, he has had many adventures, including a first-hand look at the inspiring and results-oriented (at least to him) management practices of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 09/12/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Anthony Priest, Michelle A. Rhee, Rhee got it done in a day, Rhee intervenes when school in chaos, Spingarn High School, some teachers like Rhee's impatience, teacher could not get principal to fix broken door

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 09/05/2010

The real reason a whistleblowing teacher was transferred

My nominee for most effective whistleblower in the D.C. school system, Erich Martel, has finally gone too far in the eyes of some school administrators.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 09/05/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Erich Martel, Peter Cahall, principal and teacher disagreed over AP and learning styles, principal disliked teacher's anti-cheating methods, principal transfers teacher to distant school because of philosophical disagreements

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 09/02/2010

What your college counselor doesn't know

An insightful new book on the admissions process has convinced me that many hardworking and thoughtful high school counselors have a weak spot that I have overlooked. Both they and I don’t have as deep an understanding of the intricacies of college finance as is needed in this era of huge tuition bills.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 09/02/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Local Living | Tags:  Debt-Free U, High school counselors are weak on financing college, Zac Bissonnette book, tendency to favor expensive private colleges

Posted at 12:56 PM ET, 08/31/2010

America's best teacher and the L.A. Times

Once the Los Angeles Times announced it was going to release its analysis of how much value each one of 6,000 L.A. elementary school teachers had added to their classes, based on test scores, I knew I had a good test of the validity of their project. I have spent much time in room 56 at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Los Angeles, where fifth grade teacher Rafe Esquith has proved himself to be, in my view, the best classroom teacher in the country, and certainly in his city.

By Jay Mathews  |  12:56 PM ET, 08/31/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Testing L.A. Times teacher assessment project, but Esquith still thinks the Times project has problems, he does, many mediocre teachers at his school get high scores, will America's best teacher Rafe Esquith do well

Posted at 04:23 PM ET, 08/26/2010

Please Mr. President, don't speak on school time

Here we go again. I dodged a lot of electronic tomatoes last year for suggesting that President Obama NOT give his back-to-school speech during class time. Many readers thought that was a stupid suggestion. The president and his staff apparently agree with them, because the White House has announced he is going to do it again on Sept. 14. The White House is again encouraging schools to interrupt class so students can listen.

By Jay Mathews  |  04:23 PM ET, 08/26/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Obama speaks again on school time, a bad idea, time almost as important as teacher quality in raising achievement

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 07/27/2010

Two very different AP schools, both with good news

All over the country, schools are introducing more students to college-level courses. Some educators and parents are worried that it is too much, too soon. But I think that overlooks the power of good teaching done before the AP, IB and other introductory college courses begin. If that early preparation in working in high schools as different as Friendship and Washington-Lee, it seems to me it could work anywhere.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 07/27/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Friendship Collegiate Public Charter High School in the District, Friendship has 43 percent gain in passing AP tests, Unusual progress in AP courses, W-L has almost perfect passing rate in AP course given to ninth graders, Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County

Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 07/20/2010

Rare attack on Harlem Children's Zone

President Obama has requested $210 million to create programs similar to the Harlem Children's Zone throughout the country. That’s a lot of money, but how can anyone oppose prenatal care, parenting classes, fitness and nutrition programs for poor families, as well as the thriving charter schools Geoffrey Canada and his team have created? So it is hard to believe what I am seeing---a short paper from the prestigious Brookings Institution taking a shot at the Harlem Children’s Zone and its premier charter school, the Promise Academy.

By Jay Mathews  |  12:00 AM ET, 07/20/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Brookings Institute criticizes HCZ results, Dave Levin, Geoffrey Canada, HCZ Promise Academy charter school not as successful as other charters that lack zone support, Harlem Children's Zone, KIPP, Russ Whitehurst

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 07/18/2010

Debate over school data in wealthy counties

Educational statistics expert Joseph Hawkins, one of my guides to the mysteries of test assessment, is impatient with the way the Montgomery County Public School system, as he puts it, “is always telling the world how better it is than everyone else.” He finds flaws in its latest celebration of college success by county graduates, particularly minorities.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 07/18/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Montgomery County's great school data, National Student Clearinghouse, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, expert Joseph Hawkins says Montgomery can do better

Posted at 12:06 PM ET, 07/12/2010

What Bill Gates is really up to

I strongly recommend everyone read my colleague Nick Anderson's front page story on the incredible amounts being spent by Microsoft founder Bill Gates on public schools these days.

By Jay Mathews  |  12:06 PM ET, 07/12/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Bill Gates, Nick Anderson piece on Gates' education empire, key to school innovation

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 07/11/2010

Sousa's principal: hero or bully?

Dwan Jordon's name has also spread quickly through the ranks of D.C. educators, for AFTER that great year of record test success, and the hard work of his staff, almost all of his teachers left, something that I have never seen before. Some were terminated. Some couldn’t stand to work for him again. He said the old staff had resisted his ideas, even though they worked. With a new hand-picked staff the next year “all of us were focused on doing what was best for students,” he said.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 07/11/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  long history of school reformers breaking rules, new principal Dwan Jordon praised, scores rise at Sousa Middle School, teachers say he verbally abused them, union and principal helping each other unintentionally

Posted at 12:12 PM ET, 07/06/2010

Does Sousa story prove Rhee is right?

My colleague Stephanie McCrummen, a former Post foreign correspondent now on our education writing team, is not only a great journalist but has terrific timing. Her front page story today about rising test scores at Sousa Middle School in D.C. comes just at the local and national debate over the record of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee reaches a new peak.

By Jay Mathews  |  12:12 PM ET, 07/06/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Sousa principal Dwan Jordon, good example of a Michelle Rhee principal, higher test scores at Sousa Middle School, was he right to remove so many teachers?

Posted at 01:48 PM ET, 06/29/2010

If more D.C. testing is bad, why are Va., Md. schools so popular?

I have only one question for those who think Rhee heading down the wrong path adding more tests to D.C. high schools: Newcomers to the Washington area, if they have school age children, generally look to Fairfax and Montgomery counties for public schools, not D.C. Fairfax and Montgomery Counties, as well as Virginia and Maryland schools in general, have many more required tests in core subjects for high schoolers than D.C. schools do. What gives?

By Jay Mathews  |  01:48 PM ET, 06/29/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Rhee plans more tests, Va. and Md. schools are very popular. what gives?, readers criticize her plans, she is adding more high school core subject tests like Va. and Md. have

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 06/27/2010

Charters beat regular schools in summer learning

Nona Mitchell Richardson, spokeswoman for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said an estimated 9,900 of 28,000 charter students in the city are expected to be in summer school this year, or 35 percent. Among students of regular D.C. public schools, 21 percent (9,429 out of 45,000 students) are enrolling this summer.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 06/27/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  charter school kids get more summer school than regular school kids in DC, make it part of the full year plan, requiring summer school for all, summer learning loss

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 06/25/2010

NYC success suggests better fix for urban high schools

Urban high schools throughout the country are, on average, very bad. They are full of confused teenagers who are often not well taught and given little of the support and structure they need to learn. Several D.C. high schools are under new leadership now, as Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has installed new principals. But they are trying, as edlharris recommended, to turnaround their entire schools, grades 9 to 12, at the same time. The results so far are not impressive.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 06/25/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  Friends of Bedford, MDRC, New York high school study shows small schools work, creating new schools better than reforming entire schools, fixing high schools

Posted at 11:55 AM ET, 06/16/2010

How does your high school rank? Check the new Newsweek list

Any public high school that gave at least as many AP, IB or Cambridge tests in 2009 as it had seniors graduating that year qualifies for the 2010 Newsweek list. If your high school meets that criteria and you do not find it listed, email me at

By Jay Mathews  |  11:55 AM ET, 06/16/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  13 best high school movies, Jay's latest AP piece, latest Newsweek high school rankings, the Challenge Index, why some don't like the list but Jay does

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 06/13/2010

The principal who created a wellspring of innovation

Despite the school’s disadvantages, Jackson has produced one of the highest levels of Advanced Placement test participation in the country — top 2 percent. Thirty-seven percent of Wakefield seniors have passing scores on those tests, more than twice the national average. Wakefield has reached its federal achievement targets, unusual for a school with so many impoverished students, but also made itself a national model for imaginative instruction, outdoing even the most affluent public schools.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 06/13/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Doris Jackson, Wakefield High School, one of the nation's most creative principals, rare requirement for senior projects, top 2 percent in AP participation

Posted at 01:00 AM ET, 06/10/2010

Must-read new report on high school dropouts

Swanson discovered, for instance, that just 25 of the 11,000 U.S. school districts with high schools accounted for one out of every five students who failed to graduate in 2007, the most recent year with relevant data. Those 25 districts at the top of the dropout scale had a quarter million non-graduates, as many as were counted in the lowest ranked 8,400 districts.

By Jay Mathews  |  01:00 AM ET, 06/10/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  140 year history of drop-outs, 21 districts that have reduced drop-outs, 25 districts that produce one of every five drop-outs, drop-outs, high school graduation rates

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 04/18/2010

Principal tells ninth-graders to study, or leave

I was surprised when Charlie Thomas, principal of Crossland High School in Prince George’s County, began sending me emails. His school has been one of the worst in a low-performing district for a long time. But Thomas, who arrived in 2004, was trying to improve his school and was willing even to deal with a fault-finding columnist if it would help. Nearly 66 percent of his students were low-income, but he was not going to let that slow him down. I confess he has gotten my attention with some unusual moves.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 04/18/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Advanced Placement, Charles Thomas, Crossland High School Prince George's County Md., reviving a high school, telling ninth graders to shape up or leave, tough principal improves high school

Posted at 10:49 AM ET, 04/16/2010

Brian Betts--a great loss for D.C. schools

It is difficult to adjust to any 6 a.m. phone call, but the one I received this morning was particularly jarring. Brian Betts, one of the most energetic and enthusiastic educators I have ever met, had been found dead in his home in Silver Spring, just months before what I expected would be good news about his relentless efforts to raise achievement for students at the Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:49 AM ET, 04/16/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Brian Betts, D.C. Teacher a great loss for D.C. Schools, Shaw Middle School are Garnet-Patterson

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 04/11/2010

Should high schoolers read aloud in class?

Recently I visited a history class at a local, low-performing high school where students read in turn from the autobiography of a famous American. The teacher was bright and quick. He interrupted often with comments and questions. The 18 sophomores and juniors seemed to be into it, but it was such an old-fashioned--and I suspect to some educators elementary--approach for that I decided to see what other educators thought of it.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 04/11/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  reading aloud in high school, round robin reading, round robin reading criticized and supported

Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 04/04/2010

Unlike many, Escalante believed in teaching, not sorting

From 1982 to 1987 I stalked Jaime Escalante, his students and his colleagues at Garfield High School, a block from the hamburger-burrito stands, body shops and bars of Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles. I was the Los Angeles bureau chief for The Washington Post, allegedly covering the big political, social and business stories of the Western states, but I found it hard to stay away from that troubled high school.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 AM ET, 04/04/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Garfield High School, Jaime Escalante, opening AP to all, restricting access to AP, teaching not sorting

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 03/31/2010

KIPP visitor's critique, KIPP leader's response

suegjoyce: “Kids at KIPP are drilled and tested over and over again with scores posted in hallway for all to see. ALL scores, good or bad.” Shirey: We do have an interim testing program, and believe strongly in posting data, but this is only a small part of what we do. In addition to regular classwork, we have students engaged in arts activities, science labs, and Socratic seminars. As an example, our high school engineering class recently participated in a large competition. They took second place behind historic Central High in Little Rock, which has a student body about 20 times larger than ours.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 03/31/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  KIPP Delta College Preparatory School, KIPP leader responds, KIPP visitor critiques school, suegjoyce

Posted at 03:54 PM ET, 03/18/2010

New Admissions 101 topic

Today's Local Living column on this blog inspires the latest topic for my Admissions 101 discussion group: Should we rate high schools based a long essay designed to show how much students' analytical abilities have improved?

By Jay Mathews  |  03:54 PM ET, 03/18/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Admissions 101 topic, new high school rating system

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 03/07/2010

Help schools use non-fiction books

How can we persuade teachers to give non-fiction more prominence? Any ideas? How about a non-fiction week during that limp period after the early May crunch of state, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams? Pick a book and read it for two hours a day. The rest of the time we’ll have lunch and special projects.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 03/07/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Dan McMahon, DeMatha Catholic HIgh School, schools need more non-fiction, spring non-fiction week, too much fiction in schools

Posted at 04:49 PM ET, 03/03/2010

Obama right, Mathews wrong

Please wipe my recent post, "Obama wrong, Weingarten right," from your memory. I messed up. I indicated the plan to fire all of the staff at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island barred teachers from reapplying for their jobs. If I had shown the slightest bit of energy in checking this out, I would have discovered teachers at that school will have that option.

By Jay Mathews  |  04:49 PM ET, 03/03/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Central Falls High School, Mathews messed up, teachers can reapply for their jobs

Posted at 11:55 AM ET, 03/01/2010

Mr. President: Be bold on dropouts

The intent of President Obama's offer of $900 million to boost dropout prevention is good; the approach he is taking isn't.

By Jay Mathews  |  11:55 AM ET, 03/01/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Obama $900 million for dropout prevention, Obama anti-dropout plan, why students leave school

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 12/30/2009

Why Washington area schools are the best

I remember asking seniors in an government class at T.C. Williams about the differences between them. The teacher, Jack Esformes, had put in the same class Advanced Placement students heading for college and regular students praying for the last bell. Weren’t they uncomfortable, all mixed together? They fiercely defended their pride at being one exciting class, with contributions from everyone. In their eyes, I was just another clueless visitor trying to stereotype them.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 12/30/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Extra Credit | Tags:  Shangri-la of public education, Washington area schools, challenge in schools, school diversity

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 12/25/2009

How fashion frustrates school improvement

In the music and clothing industries, ideas have a shelf life. New approaches are embraced for their novelty. Fashion rules. Changes occur often. That’s fine for those enterprises. But is it a good idea to write off successful school programs just because they have been around for awhile?

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 12/25/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  Direct Instruction, James P. Comer, School Development Program, Success for All, child and adolescent development, school improvement

Posted at 12:12 PM ET, 12/04/2009

Carjacking at a top D.C. charter school

KIPP DC founder and executive director Susan Schaeffler said one non-KIPP high school student was shot and killed on the Benning Road campus last year. Ten KIPP staff cars have been vandalized and three cars have been stolen, two owned by KIPP staffers and one by a KIPP parent. "We need help securing our schools just like the traditional schools," Schaeffler said.

By Jay Mathews  |  12:12 PM ET, 12/04/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  D.C. charter schools, Friendship Collegiate Academy, Knowledge Is Power Program, Phil Mendelson, Susan Schaeffler, Victor Reinoso, school police protection

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 12/02/2009

Would suburban parents send their kids to D.C. schools?

“Nationally, there were 2,736 magnet schools educating roughly 2 million students in the 2005-06 school year,” Kahlenberg said in his paper. “By comparison, in that year, there were 4,000 charter schools educating about 1 million students. Like charter schools, there are good magnet schools and bad ones — and not all, by any means, are able to attract middle-class students into schools located in disadvantaged areas. But the best ones can serve as models for turning around failing schools.”

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 12/02/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Extra Credit | Tags:  Knowledge Is Power Program, Richard Kahlenberg, Tobin school, Wexford elementary school, achievement gap, charter schools, economic backgrounds, economic integration, magnet schools

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 11/29/2009

Five reasons why I am a bad education writer

I rarely wrote about private schools: This is partly because of laziness. It takes much time and effort to report on private schools because so many are reluctant to give out information that might hurt their reputations in their annual competition with other private schools for students. I am also handicapped by the journalistic assumption, rarely discussed or debated in our newsroom, that paying attention to these private enterprises is like giving them free advertising.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 11/29/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Bill Turque, Columbia Heights Education Center, Knowledge Is Power, Michael Birnbuam, Michelle A. Rhee, Rebecca Cox, Wakefield High School, education reporting, private schools

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 11/27/2009

Should we inflate Advanced Placement grades?

Erin McVadon Albright, the IB coordinator at Annandale High School in Fairfax County, said the extra grade point for IB was a powerful inducement for one of her most intriguing students. He came from a low-income family that did not even have an Internet connection at home. He wanted to play football, which meant he had to take a government class online over the summer to have time for IB. He was using the computer at the office where his mother was a receptionist, but she was afraid someone would complain. He almost dropped the course until Albright managed to lend him a school laptop which he could take the public library to do his work.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 11/27/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Trends | Tags:  Advanced Placement, College Board, Erin Albright, International Baccalaureate, Jaime Escalante, Jon Gubera, Mike Reno, Rochester school board, Roy Sunada, Trevor Packer, grade weighting

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 11/25/2009

Too hard to pick the right high school

The suburban districts themselves employ people with encyclopedic knowledge of what is available for students of every learning style. Why not put them at prominent tables at those open houses with big signs that say, “IF NOBODY HAS ANSWERED YOUR QUESTIONS, ASK ME.”

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 11/25/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Extra Credit | Tags:  ADD, Northwood High School, high school choice, learning disabilities, special education

Posted at 11:22 AM ET, 11/19/2009

Portfolio exams--wave of the future or big cop-out?

It is clear to me, and I suspect to most readers, that this system inflates achievement scores. Of course, so has the assessment system we have been using in schools since the beginning of public education---teachers grading their own students' work. We seemed to have prospered as a nation despite giving many struggling students a break on their report cards. I don't think portfolios used in this limited way are going to ruin the effort to set strong national standards, but I think it is going to give a big push to the idea of introducing independent inspectors to assess the effectiveness of schools and teachers.

By Jay Mathews  |  11:22 AM ET, 11/19/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  England's school inspection system, Richard Rothstein, Virginia Grade Level Alternative, inflated achievement levels, inflated scores, portfolio exams, school inspectors, state tests

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 11/18/2009

High school research papers: a dying breed

The leading U.S. proponent of more research work for the nation’s teens is Will Fitzhugh, who has been publishing high school student papers in his Concord Review journal since 1987. In 2002, he persuaded the Albert Shanker Institute to fund a study of research paper writing by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. The results were as bleak as he expected. Sixty-two percent of the 400 high school history teachers surveyed never assigned a paper as long as 3,000 words, and 27.percent never assigned anything as long as 2,000 words.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 11/18/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Extra Credit | Tags:  Christin Roach, Doris Burton, Prince George's County Schools, Rebecca D. Cox, Will Fitzhugh, high school term papers, student research, writing instruction

Posted at 02:33 PM ET, 11/18/2009

The lost art of walking to school

For a while I lived in probably the safest village in America, Scarsdale, NY. One day, while driving my fourth-grader to school, I saw a rare thing, a 9-year-old riding his bike, his books in the front basket. Then I noticed, right behind him, his mother driving the family Mercedes, making sure he got to school safely.

By Jay Mathews  |  02:33 PM ET, 11/18/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Fairfax County school bus cut, school budget problems, school safety, walking to school

Posted at 03:05 PM ET, 11/17/2009

Cutting elementary foreign language--often no big loss

Keep in mind the more exotic the language, the more it will impress parents, but the more exotic the language, the less likely the teaching will be very good.

By Jay Mathews  |  03:05 PM ET, 11/17/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Fairfax budget cuts, Key Elementary School Arlington, foreign languages, language instruction

Posted at 01:38 PM ET, 11/13/2009

Sidwell Friends School as Rorschach test

My colleague Michael Birnbaum's great story about demonstrators descending on the Sidwell Friends School because of the First Family's presence proves once again that people see in famous schools---as they do in Hollywood celebrities or sports stars or religious...

By Jay Mathews  |  01:38 PM ET, 11/13/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Sidwell Friends School; Gerald W. Bracey; President Obama's daughters; private vs. public schools

Posted at 11:35 AM ET, 08/10/2009

Metro Monday: Here's a Wise Investment: Help Students Who Need Money to Finish College

Two weeks ago, I challenged Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco's claim that "a great many gifted and motivated young people are excluded from college for no other reason than their inability to pay." I had never found a student like...

By Washington Post Editors  |  11:35 AM ET, 08/10/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  college, college admissions, scholarships, school loans

Posted at 03:44 PM ET, 07/13/2009

Metro Monday: Should High Schools Bar Average Students From College-Level Courses and Tests?

Fifteen years ago, when I discovered that many good high schools prevented average students from taking demanding courses, I thought it was a fluke, a mistake that would soon be rectified. I had spent much time inside schools that...

By Washington Post Editors  |  03:44 PM ET, 07/13/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Advanced Placement, Cambridge, International Baccalaureate, classes, high school

Posted at 01:45 AM ET, 07/06/2009

New School Board Member Has Influenced a Legion of Educators

When I first met him a dozen years ago, Mike Durso struck me as an okay principal. He didn't say much about himself, but his school, Springbrook High in Silver Spring, was well-run. The students liked him. He had been...

By Washington Post Editors  |  01:45 AM ET, 07/06/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  Mike Durso, Springbrook High School, principals

Posted at 03:12 PM ET, 06/11/2009

Extra Credit: What Sort of Family Wants Stories Like This?

Dear Extra Credit: I am a soon-to-be stepmother to a lovely 12-year-old girl. She recently brought home a bright pink book with yellow smiley faces on the cover titled "TTYL" (Talk To You Later, in text/Internet-speak). The author is Lauren...

By Washington Post Editors  |  03:12 PM ET, 06/11/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Extra Credit | Tags:  middle school, school reading

Posted at 03:19 AM ET, 06/09/2009

New Challenge Index Twist: Catching Up

Newsweek unveils its 2009 America’s Top High Schools list today, all online. About 1,500 schools, the most ever, will be ranked by participation rates on college-level exams, particularly Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge. I invented Newsweek’s and the Washington...

By Washington Post editors  |  03:19 AM ET, 06/09/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Advanced Placement, Challenge Index, International Baccalaureate, school rankings

Posted at 02:23 PM ET, 05/20/2009

Would Schools Be Better Off If Fewer or More Students Took AP Tests?

A little while ago, Jay called for schools to allow more students to take Advanced Placement tests. The column has spurred an ongoing conversation between Jay and the Assorted Stuff blog. Here's Assorted Stuff's latest post (with two minor edits):...

By Washington Post Editors  |  02:23 PM ET, 05/20/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Jay on the Web | Tags:  Advanced Placement Tests, high school

Posted at 11:46 AM ET, 05/18/2009

Senioritis Is One Symptom of a Creative Deficit in Class

Last year, I wrote a defense of high school senioritis as a useful break from academic drudgery. This made me, briefly, a hero to teenagers across the country. Then I returned to my usual theme that classes leading up...

By Washington Post Editors  |  11:46 AM ET, 05/18/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Metro Monday | Tags:  high school, senioritis

Posted at 10:49 AM ET, 04/15/2009

Admissions 101: The Unusual Stress of Applying to Art School

In Admissions 101 Jay is discussing art school and school stress: A smart parent wrote to challenge my brush off of high school stress in Monday's Post column. I said high school parents "like to blame schools for the stress...

By Washington Post Editors  |  10:49 AM ET, 04/15/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Admissions 101 | Tags:  art school, school stress

Posted at 11:11 AM ET, 04/07/2009

Admissions 101: What's the right college for the 'no-schooled'?

In Admissions 101, Jay is discussing "no schoolers": Fairfax County, Va., parent Laurel Summerfield recently told me the story of her four children, aged 18, 17, 16 and 14, who, for the last nine years, have been unschooled -- that...

By Washington Post Editors  |  11:11 AM ET, 04/07/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Categories:  Admissions 101 | Tags:  home school, no school