For many of us, this really is the most wonderful time of the year. But for too many Americans, especially children, it's anything but that.
Policies that excuse everyone but teachers for the poor conditions in which an increasing share of US children grow up have not improved achievement, and they appear to be helping gaps grow, if anything.
Let's treat social, economic, and education policies as the innately interwoven drivers of children's school and life trajectories that they are. And let's start putting them all on the right track.
States and districts should do all they can to prepare students for the new standards ahead of time, and to continue supporting students throughout the school year. There are several strategies that schools and communities can take to smooth this transition.
With Congress poised to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally passed as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, organizations from a broad range of perspectives are claiming the civil rights mantle in promoting their visions for the new bill.
There is a gap--no, a chasm--between what scholars find to be at the root of achievement gaps and what we must do to narrow them, and the agendas that many policymakers continue to push.
The good news is that policymakers are starting to take seriously educators' assertions that poverty is no excuse, but a real, pervasive, complex problem that we must tackle if we really mean to narrow achievement gaps.
When it comes to neighborhood and school inequality, the federal government has always had a short attention span.
Public investments in schools vary greatly across states, as do other policies that may boost or depress scores. This year, three states received individual PISA rankings -- as if they were independent countries. This can help us connect the dots between those disparities and scores.
Making students' real-life experiences relevant to daily classroom life helps students develop a broader worldview and a critical understanding of nuanced social issues concurrent with developing academic skills.
Unfortunately, the degree to which the policy agenda advanced by Race to the Top has driven educators to take unprecedented actions against their own leaders is not unique in Tennessee. Indeed, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should have anticipated problems.
Achievement gaps are not the real culprit. Rather, they are symptoms of the true problem: an underlying set of opportunity gaps.
As we Race to the Top and offer states "flexibility" on NCLB, evidence continues to mount that our efforts to improve educational outcomes are focused on the wrong problem.
Students who spent the night in a homeless shelter, rather than their own beds, may be confused or ashamed, and may lose not only cognitive but social skills. Obama's focus on putting more Americans back to work thus has the potential to right many of the educational wrongs that these children have suffered.
It shouldn't take a teachers' strike to remind us that cutting school nurses and social workers, substituting test-prep for afterschool enrichment, and making classes so large that teachers cannot have individual time with students, are the worst education policy choices we could make.
For some reason, too many budget-writers seem to see afterschool and summer learning programs as add-ons, something that's nice to have when we can afford them, but not something we can pay for when times are tight. They're exactly wrong.
Two recent reports highlight the disturbing chasm between the irrefutable evidence of the need for more investment in children -- particularly low-income and minority children and young children -- and Congress' insistence on ignoring it.