Flypaper

Liam Julian

The political maneuvering of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick might offer a preview of an Obama administration, says Jon Keller in the Wall Street Journal. If he's right, education reformers should be wary:

Education may be the one area where Mr. Patrick could have done the most to demonstrate that he is indeed a new man of the left.... But to the delight of education unions, Mr. Patrick instead appears to be laying the groundwork to dismantle [the state's] reforms. He appointed antitesting zealot Ruth Kaplan to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, where she repaid his confidence recently by disparaging the college preparation emphasis of some charter schools. She said these schools set "some kids up for failure . . . Their families don't always know what's best for their children."

Liam Julian

Naomi Schaefer Riley writes in the Wall Street Journal about obstacles beyond??lousy??instruction in the classroom??that often prevent students in urban public schools from attending college: Letters of recommendation that are poorly written (when they're written), guidance counselors who can't be bothered to turn in on time their students' applications, and reams of??confusing paperwork.

The article's title, "Not by Tuition Breaks Alone," is apt. Getting more low-income pupils into college obviously requires more than legislation.

Liam Julian

Regarding the just-released study of Reading First's effectiveness, Mike tells USA Today that

...the study was poorly designed and "certainly not the last word on Reading First's effectiveness." For one thing, he says, researchers looked at "lackluster" Reading First schools that just barely qualified for grants, comparing them to schools that just barely missed getting grants.

The media gleefully reported the news that a big interim Reading First study??from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) found the program to have no impact on reading comprehension.

And it's hard to blame the media, for three reasons. First, it loves to pile on the increasingly-unpopular Bush administration. (Contemplate this AP headline: "Bush administration's reading program hasn't helped.") Second, IES head Russ Whitehurst--who has earned a great deal of respect and credibility for moving the federal research and evaluation function toward a new level of rigor and professionalism--stands firmly behind the report. And third, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings's press office totally bungled the response, coming up with nothing better than the "popularity" of the program. (This is hardly the first time Spellings dropped the Reading First ball.) See this, from Amanda Farris,??deputy assistant secretary,??and printed in??the AP story:

Secretary Spellings has traveled to 20 states since January. One of the consistent messages she hears from educators, principals and state administrators is about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools and their disappointment with Congress for slashing Reading First funds

Here's what Spellings's team should have said:

This study provides important insights into the Reading First program, but readers should be cautioned that it's not nationally representative. Because IES launched the study after the program was up and running, the evaluators had to settle for a very imperfect design. The schools selected for study might have

...
Liam Julian

This is a travesty. Thank heavens we disaggregate these data.

Jeff Kuhner

Sometimes you read a story that makes you wonder what the world is coming to. This was the case for me regarding the Chicago Sun-Times piece about the school bus driver and his aide, who got their kicks taunting and verbally abusing disabled students.

Cathy and Richard Bedard suspected that something was wrong on the bus being taken by two of their three special-needs kids. To find out, they placed a tape recorder in the backpack of their 13-year-old daughter, Tiffany. They were stunned at what they heard once Tiffany returned home and they pushed play.

"F---ing little monster," a man shouted at their 17-year-old son, Rick, who has Down syndrome. They also heard jokes about placing kids on the roof of the bus and threats to break a child's finger.

The driver and his "monitor" were subsequently suspended for six weeks. But First Student Inc., which was contracted by the school district to drive eight disabled children to a special-needs school in Chicago, thought it was appropriate to reassign the two men to another route following the suspension. In other words, they got a slap on the wrist.

When the district learned of this, it put First Student on notice that school authorities were reviewing the $1.5 million annual contract and would try to bid the contract out by the end of the school year. Now, First Student has suddenly gotten serious: They have decided to fire the two men.??????????

"We took...

In his latest riposte, Liam argues that I've ignored the ethical dimension of the student-pay debate. When one considers the difficult moral questions that paying students for performance invariably poses, he says, it becomes clear that principals should not be given free reign to try it out in their schools.

He goes on:

Parents have a right to a public-school education for their children that is unencumbered by controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning.... They can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of cash payment for achievement... which is not indubitably part of learning and completely restructures the culture of achievement to which we so desperately cling as the hope for inner-city schools.

A potential flaw in Liam's reasoning, as I see it, is that the education that today's public school pupils receive is necessarily encumbered by "controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning." In today's politically-correct public sphere, nearly everything that goes on in the classroom can be and is made into a controversy.

Let's take Liam's claim but leave it open-ended: "[Parents] can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of X." Now think of all the things we could plug in for X and ask yourself what we'd have left over if we simply banished them all from the classroom, as Liam would like.

Liam might respond that the term "reasonably" precludes a whole host of possible values for X, but "reasonableness" is a...

Jeff Kuhner

If you need further evidence of the coarsening of our culture, then read Ian Shapira's piece in Monday's Washington Post. The latest fad among some young teachers--meaning those in their 20s--is to post profiles on social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. What's wrong with that, you might say? Nothing, if one's intent is to post professional or responsible private information (resume, education background, hobbies, favorite movies, music ... etc.). The problem is that many teachers are using the sites, which are marketed heavily toward immature teens, to post outrageous comments or indecent personal acts. In other words, they are acting very much like the immature, sex-obsessed, alcohol-guzzling and profanity-spouting students many of them are supposed to be teaching--and serving as role models for.

Mr. Shapira writes that the epidemic of improper postings is now causing serious concerns among principals, parents, and other fellow teachers trying to maintain basic standards of civilized decency in the classroom. Take the case of Stephen Murmer, a Richmond area high school art teacher, who had to be fired last year for painting canvasses--I am not making this up--with his buttocks in images on You Tube.

Then there is Erin Jane Webster, a 22-year-old long-term substitute teacher in Prince William County, Maryland, who has posted this witticism on her personal profile page: "you're a retard, but i love you." There is one little problem: Ms. Webster teaches students with learning disabilities. Perhaps it never occurred to her that the...

Liam Julian

Greg Toppo has a thorough piece in USA Today about school lunches. Long story short: They're disgusting. A little competition in this arena would do a body good, but the politics (yes, messing with the school lunch program is political) are such that allowing schools to do the smart thing--i.e., find local purveyors to supply their cafeterias with decent food--isn't currently feasible.

Plus, as long as students are responsible for paying only about a dollar or two of their daily lunch costs, they're going to eat preprocessed garbage.

That seems to be the premise of this Washington Post op-ed by a first-year Yale Law School student (and Princeton grad) about high achievers at America's elite universities.

I'm saying that sometimes some of these students will denounce world hunger but be unfriendly to the homeless. They will debate environmental policy but never offer to take out the trash. They will believe vehemently in many causes but roll their eyes when reminded to be humble, to be generous and to "do what is right."

Never mind the vacuousness of the author's writing. (What does it mean to be "unfriendly" to the homeless? Maybe she's referring to Liam, who once put some change in a beggar's coffee cup only to discover that it still had coffee in it.)

What's more interesting is that the Post--a redoubt of Ivy League grads with Ivy League guilt, surely--would choose to publish such silliness. It's not really too surprising; America has a long history of bigotry against the best and brightest; this piece just fits the narrative. And its hardly alone. On the pages of Education Week, "mulitiple intelligences" guru Howard Gardner argues that affluent, high-achieving suburban kids are ethically deficient. Maybe so, but isn't that the case for inner-city and rural students too? (He doesn't seem to think so.)

Some cultures celebrate their highest achievers. We could learn something from them....

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