Liam Julian

The New York Times offers a piece today about the progress of providing good??public??education in New Orleans.

And this bill , backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and fighting its way through the state legislature, is promising.

No, not Reverend Wright, but our favorite ed school professor, Bill Ayers.

* Friend of Barack Obama

Here's more on paying students for performance, this time in Baltimore.

We've already sparred over this topic on the blog, and I tend to agree with Liam and most other opponents of this strategy that a) learning is deeply rewarding for its own sake and is degraded when treated as an article of commerce, and b) paying kids to learn may, in fact, give them an incentive not to learn. Economist Tyler Cowen talked about this second point in a recent interview:

[Take the example of] trying to get my stepdaughter to do the dishes more often. The normal model of the family is children contribute something, but once you start paying them to do the dishes they treat it like a marketplace. It's like, "Yeah, I can do the dishes, get the money, or not do the dishes, not get the money. Eh, it's not worth it." The sense of obligation goes away. It's just like a set of contracts, you're not a parent anymore, you're ceding authority.

On the other hand, the Petrillians have a point in saying that, for kids who show little hope of ever passing remedial math and reading classes, how could trying this hurt?

I think the lesson here is that when a debate like this over the wisdom of a particular pedagogical approach reaches a stalemate, it's time to let schools and districts experiment. The greatest innovations in every sector come not from heated, theory-driven arguments...

Yes, Liam, I do disagree with your interpretation of my post. I'm not claiming to be "post-partisan" or even looking for a "hallowed middle ground." In calling for a much more hands-off approach to public education, where school districts are freer to experiment with all kinds of pedagogical ideas and take risks that will put a lot of people off, I'm taking a pretty definite, and definitely not conciliatory stance.

And to clarify further, I'm simply suggesting that we draw a distinction between pedagogical debates and policy debates. For a while we've debated the pedagogical merits and hazards of paying kids to do x. We haven't neared a consensus, nor have those closer to the actual programs, judging from the press coverage.

Therefore, I argue, our pedagogical arguments having been aired, let's not press policymakers to enshrine either side's preferred course of action in an inflexible, all-or-nothing public policy. Let's let the idea play out in the classrooms and see whether or not it works.

In the Weekly Standard, Liam reviews Anthony Kronman's Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life, which, he reports, picks up where William Buckley left off in God and Man at Yale--lamenting what has gone wrong in higher education, in Kronman's case that academic specialization in the humanities has brushed aside "the meaning-of-life questions that are so basic and important."

Universities today may avoid the existential questions, but never let that be said about Flypaper, where the solemn search for truth (in education policy) is alive and well.

Students from neighboring districts badly want in to the Copley-Fairlawn City Schools, so they're sneaking in. In response, the district is offering cash rewards for anyone who rats out the illegals. Yeesh.

An article in yesterday's Washington Post reports on Grover Whitehurst's efforts as founding director of the Institute of Education Sciences to improve the quality and impact of education research.

The No Child Left Behind Act, in which the phrase "scientifically based research" appears 111 times, according to Whitehurst, has undoubtedly upped the demand for more and better education data. But the whole enterprise has proved too politically sensitive for Congress to be able to do it well:

Whitehurst, who in late 2002 became the founding director of the department's Institute of Education Sciences, has discovered that his vision for the role of research sometimes conflicts with the turbulent forces of politics, policy and public opinion.

... [One] proposal called for recruiting double the number of students that Upward Bound is able to serve. Half would participate in the program, and half would become a control group. Researchers would track the progress of both groups.

Scientifically, it was sound. Politically, it was a non-starter.

Critics said it was unethical to introduce at-risk kids to Upward Bound's opportunities if officials knew they couldn't participate. At a February hearing on Capitol Hill, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called the evaluation design "discriminatory."

After lawmakers proposed legislation to halt the study, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings agreed to scrap it.

That's just one example of how lawmakers-turned-program evaluators have mucked things up. For a gorier picture, see Fordham's recent report on the Reading First scandal. That program was...

The Washington Post editors turn in a nice defense of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program today. As they point out, it will be tough to get Congress to approve the $18 million set aside for the program, especially considering the fierce opposition of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

But the good news, frankly, is that Mayor Adrian Fenty, a Democrat, is going to the Capitol to defend the program--i.e., to defend vouchers. For an issue propelled primarily by the fuel of party affiliation, it's extremely heartening to see a political leader have the guts to say, "Hey, this idea has enormous potential for turning around a district in shambles, and I'm going to stand up for it, simple as that."

(Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark and a man of seemingly boundless integrity and conviction, has also publicly supported vouchers. Let's hope the trend continues.)

In the Wall Street Journal, William McGurn picks up where Kathryn Jean Lopez left off , arguing that McCain could win African American votes from Obama (or Clinton) if he would take "this (school choice) campaign into the heart of our cities--and gave a little straight talk about the scandal that their public-school systems represent in this great land of opportunity."

He's surely correct that McCain doesn't share Obama's problem, that he "cannot offend the teachers unions that are arguably the most powerful constituents" in the Democratic party. If he were to take this opening, the question is whether it would be seen as a sincere effort to help the inner cities and their children--as the efforts of mayors Cory Booker and Adrian Fenty are seen--or rather as an attack on public schools. Given that editorial boards are rarely this supportive of school choice , one wonders.

P.S. McGurn also mentions Fordham's Catholic schools report , which we may or may not have mentioned on this blog before ....

I can't comment with much authority on the legal details of the case, but if you're into ed policy surely it's worth knowing that "a federal judge has dismissed the last of four claims in Connecticut's challenge to the federal No Child Left Behind law."