RealClearEd Today 04/28/2014: Graduation Rates Break Records

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Good morning, it's Monday April 28th. At RealClearEducation we have the morning's top headlines in education news, commentary, analysis, and reports. Among them: a federal report out today reveals that the proportion of U.S. high school students who graduate hit an all-time high of 80 percent in 2012. Based on Education Department data, the report also predicts that the graduation rate will reach 90 percent by 2020 if states can continue to improve education at the same pace. As we do each weekday, we'll update the site throughout the day with new content - on our main page as well as sidebars that focus on specific parts of the education sector in depth.

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On this morning 41 years ago, powerful military bombs were sending concussive blasts through sleepy Roseville, Calif.. A 103-car Southern Pacific train had arrived in the Antelope rail yards, and 21 of those railcars carried more than 6,000 Mk-81 bombs. For reasons still not known, some of the bombs exploded while the train was at rest. Amazingly, no one was killed, but the damage was catastrophic and basically destroyed the community of Antelope, which ironically had first been built by railroad workers.

According to a U.S. Navy account:

"Approximately 350 people were injured - some seriously by flying glass. About 5,500 buildings were damaged in varying degrees. Heavy damage to buildings and residences occurred as far away as 6,800 feet from the center of the explosions. Even buildings as far away as three miles had slight damage. One hundred sixty-nine freight cars were destroyed. A locomotive and 98 others were damaged."

The incident led to better regulation of rail safety - especially where hazardous materials are concerned.

An explosion of a different sort rocked the education world last week when the new education technology provider inBloom announced it was shutting down. inBloom had hoped to allow school districts to access more customized solutions for students. But doing so required a great deal of data sharing. Over the last year, the company faced criticism from privacy advocates and increasing skepticism from states - in no small part because the benefits of its approach were not yet clear relative to the concerns of critics.

inBloom executives say the company was just ahead of its time and the victim of a smear campaign. Both are probably true to some extent and as Doug Levin, who leads a group representing state education technology directors, told the New York Times, "other companies have been happy to let inBloom take the punches because it deflects attention away from what they are doing."

But inBloom was also inattentive to the realities of its time. Data-sharing in education is not new, but new technologies mean it can happen at a different volume and depth than in the past. Concerns about the implications are not merely a hobbyhorse of the fringe. Even in the absence of National Security Agency revelations, many parents -- and many Americans more generally -- have concerns about what data is gathered and tracked by various online vendors. More personalized learning has a great deal of potential to improve education, but only if its advocates are sensitive to the concerns. In other words, just because there was some misinformation and hysteria doesn't mean there were not valid concerns.

Still, we also can't expect complicated issues to be easily fixed the first try: In 1997, workers discovered unexploded bombs in the Roseville rail yard. Nor should we expect incidents to be isolated: Just a few weeks after Roseville, another Southern Pacific train, this one with 107 cars and also carrying Mk-81 bombs, exploded in Arizona.

The technology genie is out of the bottle. But policymakers and innovators are only beginning to understand how to manage it. That should be a takeaway from the inBloom episode everyone can agree on.

RealClearEducation April 28, 2014 Headlines:
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