Liam Julian

Spellings definitely thinks we should have a national way of calculating the number of dropouts. But a national way to calculate student achievement? No way! Are you nuts?

Liam Julian

The New York Times seems especially fascinated with smart kids who don't sleep with each other. First there was this story, and now there is this one, from last weekend. Both focus on Harvard. The second story reports, though, that abstinence movements/clubs are far more prevalent at high schools than on college campuses. That's too bad. While I don't disagree with the ideas that undergird such clubs (although some of their members, quite frankly, seem analogous to penguins who would join an anti-flight society), I do think that sex-related groups--be they for the act, against it, whatever--do not have a place at high schools. Sixteen-year-olds who wish to have sex and those who adamantly do not should do it or condemn it elsewhere. In schools, all the sanctioned chatter and controversy is a distraction from learning.

Hypothetical interlocutor disagrees: "But sex is a part of reality for many high-school kids, who need a safe place to explore sex-related ideas." Well, sex is a part of reality for many people in their 20s, 30s, and (I've heard it's true) 40s, 50s, 60s, and French in their 70s. But that doesn't make offices suitable places to hold abstinence rallies. Many of the people who complain ad nauseum that sex now pervades every aspect of our lives are also the ones who open the door and usher it in....

At least that was my takeaway from from??today's "Editorial Observer" column about Barack Obama's race speech.* Don't worry, the Times thinks I'm racist too, for I opposed the country's old-style welfare system. I may have thought that I disagreed with the way it created dependency among the very people it was designed to help. And I may have believed that I supported welfare reform because it rewarded work and empowered poor people (especially poor women) with a message of hope and responsibility. But no, the Times??paraphrases William Julius William asserting that:

whites rebelled against welfare because they saw it as using their hard-earned taxes to give blacks "medical and legal services that many of them could not afford for their own families."

Yup, I just hated seeing those medical and legal services going to undeserving minorities. Come on!

Then the Times goes on to say, "For all the appeal of America's melting pot, the country's diverse ethnic mix is one main reason for entrenched opposition to public spending on the public good."

Wait a minute. Our country spends over $500 billion per year on our increasingly diverse public education system--more per-pupil than almost any nation on earth. Over the last twenty years, more and more of these dollars have been targeted (along with major reforms like No Child Left Behind) at our most diverse, most needy schools.

Good grief, what kind of mean-spirited nation do the Times editors think they live in?


And in other shockers, environmentalists don't like NASCAR and feminists don't like Vegas. Really, is anyone going to take this report by the teachers union-funded Great Lakes Center seriously? Consider this, from its press release:

Should transportation, food and custodial services be provided by employees of school districts, or should those services by outsourced to private companies? Does contracting out these services save the district money and add flexibility? According to a new report that takes an honest look at the evidence, the answer to each of these questions is, "sometimes, but many times not."

Well I'm glad the report took an "honest look." For its next work, we expect the Great Lakes Center to ask, "Should school boards negotiate aggressively with their teachers unions? Sometimes, but many times not."

In Sunday's Washington Post, Fordham Institute president Chester E. Finn debunks five of the most common (and harmful) myths pervading debates over No Child Left Behind. Good stuff, and I'm not just saying that because he's my boss.

Jeff Kuhner

Increasing numbers of U.S. Muslims are opting for home schooling. It's a bad idea for one simple reason: They are segregating themselves from mainstream American society. A recent piece in the New York Times on the struggles faced by Pakistani-American girls in Lodi, California, highlights the problems caused by home schooling. Although many Muslim, as well as Christian, Jewish and secular parents view it as a necessary alternative to the social ills plaguing public schools, such as drugs, violence, promiscuity, and the celebration of the hip-hop/celebrity culture (to name just a few), the adverse consequences on their children are very real and usually last a lifetime. The biggest problem is that home schooling by traditionalist religious communities perpetuates the creation of social ghettoes, whereby students are often alienated and disconnected from the larger American culture. It fosters a kind of balkanization that, ultimately, is not good for America or for the students.

Take the case of the Pakistani-American girls profiled in The Times article. Coming from traditional Islamic families, many of the girls were forced to leave public school and study at home. This is because their parents want them to cook and clean for their male relatives and siblings. It was also done to prevent the girls from being exposed to liberating female cultural mores, such as wearing Western clothes and spending free time after school with friends.

"Some men don't like it when you wear American clothes - they don't think it is a...

This Associated Press story reports that the kinder-and-gentler Massachusetts Board of Education is "searching for gentler euphemisms to describe the state's failing schools after educators complained current labels damage teacher morale and student self-esteem." So instead of getting called "underperforming" they might be labeled a "Commonwealth priority."Are they joking? Is this an April Fool's Day joke? One of the primary theories behind standards-and-accountability is to shame schools (and their districts) into taking the tough actions to turn themselves around. Clear labels also alert parents to a problem so they can get involved-or get busy finding another option. It's hard to think of a better way to keep parents in the dark than to call their schools a "priority."

For their next act, maybe the board will suggest that Bear Stearns be labeled a "priority" investment firm. We can remember when the Massachusetts board was a model of toughness and foresight; where are their "priorities" now?

The New York Times's Samuel Freedman provides a great introduction to the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program???basically a Teach For America for parochial schools. Never heard of it? You're not alone:????

Teach for America has become a virtual brand name on elite college campuses and a coveted item on graduate-school applications and corporate r??sum??s. Programs like [one at Seton Hall] have received far less public acclaim, and yet they are vital to the almost literally lifesaving role that Catholic schools play as an affordable alternative to chronically failing public schools in many low-income areas.

Big funders, including the NewSchools Venture Fund and the Gates Foundation, are said to be looking at targeting future investments toward ???human capital??? initiatives. May I suggest that expanding ACE be on their list?


Venture capitalist-cum-school reformer Whitney Tilson comes in for a ribbing at the Education Notes Online blog, at the hands of Norm Scott, whom one New York friend of mine calls ???an anti-UFT lefty who is very smart.??? It's a pretty good piece of satire, but Scott's complaint is an age-old and tired one: everyone thinks they're an education expert because they attended school at one point. We should leave education punditry to the classroom teachers, Scott implies.

As a certified education pundit with limited classroom experience myself, I take umbrage at that assumption, for two reasons. First, the skills required to be a great teacher and to convince policymakers to act are quite divergent; the former takes a sense of humor, the ability to talk to children, perseverance???wait, maybe the skills required are the same. But my second point still stands: what some business types like Tilson can do???and what is difficult for most rank-and-file teachers???is to see the big picture, the forest for the trees. Mrs. Smith might know how to teach reading really well, but that doesn't mean she knows how to set national policy that will make great reading instruction more likely in classrooms nationwide. (Not that Congress has been doing all that great on that front lately either.)

At least half of education reform is about garnering the political will for change, and the rest is about the details of implementation. If the Tilsons of the world can help build political will,...

Liam Julian

Florida's governor rightly opposes this bone-headed bill.