Not so many moons ago, Boston University's college of education was the brightest spot in the dim universe of U.S. ed schools, full of heterodox thinkers on important issues (e.g., Charles Glenn, David Steiner, Kevin Ryan, Steve Tigner). Some of those thinkers are still there, but the school's leadership--recently in Glenn's able hands on an "acting" basis--is about to be turned over to a far more orthodox sort.

Last month B.U. announced the appointment of Dr. Hardin Coleman, a psychologist specializing in counseling, currently at the University of Wisconsin, a well-known warehouse of conventional thinking. Coleman's main stated interests are topics like "identity formation" among "culturally diverse" adolescents. He is reportedly hostile to charter schools and high-stakes accountability and just about everything else worth being in favor of nowadays--and just about everything that Massachusetts is celebrated for doing well.

As B.U. heads back into the ed school sheep pen, let's at least note that it wasn't always there and didn't have to return.

The White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools, underway at this moment, has about 300 attendees, all of whom already agree with each other about nearly all the issues on the table. No bad thing to rally the troops or (changing metaphors) preach to the choir. But I didn't spot anyone there whose mind needed to, or was likely to be, changed by the proceedings. Hence the main value of this event beyond the Ronald Reagan Building amphitheater (normally occupied by the satirical Capitol Steps) depends on whether word of it percolates out and anybody pays heed.

Four more takeaways, two of them admittedly churlish:

    • The President gave a good talk, peppered with positive examples from the world of Catholic schools (never mind the ecumenical audience and many flavors of faith-based schools) and from the recent Fordham Institute report on same. He called on states to repeal their Blaine Amendments. He was in excellent humor and form but also showed faint signs of final-year-in-office enervation.
    • Though the Fordham Report and its case studies permeate this event, it is never named, quoted from or referenced. Even session moderator Scott Hamilton, who edited it and has a Fordham tie, is identified on the program by another part of his work life. We don't need to ask why the systematic shunning. It's payback for Mike's and my occasional truth-tellings about the Secretary of Education (here, for instance).
    • The social science evidence offered (mainly by Cal
    • ...
    Gadfly Studios

    Mike and Christina discuss Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings's latest round of changes to No Child Left Behind.


    This Saturday A Nation at Risk turns twenty-five.

    As with most birthdays after one's twenty-first, the occasion is bittersweet. As Fordham president Checker Finn reflects in today's Education Gadfly, the lessons of A Nation at Risk, despite the report's landmark status for sounding "an overdue and much-needed alarum," still struggle to be heard over the din of misguided deniers. That's a shame, he says, for the "biggest single reason, I believe, that America's education reform efforts of the past quarter century have yielded such meager returns is that we haven't given them our all."

    Indeed, the country's general failure to absorb A Nation at Risk has been the source of many a frustration for Checker:

    A Nation at Risk

    Whitney Tilson, who blogs on education here , reflects level-headedly in today's New York Daily News on the struggles facing the UFT's charter school . The last paragraph offers a tidy summary of the lessons the UFT, and especially current-UFT-boss and AFT-president-to-be Randi Weingarten, can take away from the experience:

    Through its own hard experience with its charter school, the UFT is learning there's a reason why nearly all organizations, both for profit and nonprofit, have managers and employees that are not equals: because the interests of employees are not the same as the interests of the organization. The job of management is to represent the latter, and it needs a significant amount of flexibility in doing so.

    Nearly everyone has applauded the UFT for having the chutzpah to stake a claim in the school choice movement, and rightly so. But they've yet to prove that this bold experiment is intended as a true learning experience and not just an effort to co-opt the choice movement and recast it using their own mold. Let's hope that in the months and years ahead they're willing to engage in the kind of serious reflection present in Tilson's op-ed.

    (Also, see Eduwonk's take on the school's troubles.)...

    This Wired Magazine article sheds some light, however obliquely, on why it's so difficult to replicate successful school models in different places.

    Gadfly Studios

    Marvin's and Mike's mothers coordinated on the phone last night before laying out their sons' outfits. (Click the photo for a bigger version.)

    Separated at birth?

    Anticipating tomorrow's White House summit on inner-city children and faith-based schools, former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett turns in a solid defense (and cites Fordham's latest report) of Catholic schools over at National Review Online.

    Yesterday, on the Wall Street Journal's expanded opinion pages, Alan Ehrenhalt reviewed Bill Bishop's new book, The Big Sort. Its thesis:

    As Americans have moved over the past three decades, they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs and in the end, politics.

    Both men are concerned about this trend, representing as they think it does a decline in interaction among people of differing views. I see the results of this trend where I live in Takoma Park, Maryland, known as the Berkeley of the Washington, D.C., region. (In October 2004, a college kid in a DNC t-shirt almost fainted when he asked me to donate to "get that bum out of office" and I told him I was actually in the Bush Administration. "I haven't even come across another Republican," he replied.)

    And I agree that this development isn't great for civic discourse or, ultimately, our democracy. But it might not be so bad for our schools. After all, one of the primary motivations of the school choice movement (which I support) is the ability for parents to sort themselves into schools that match their own personal beliefs about what good education looks like. More conservative parents can get a back-to-basics school and more progressive parents can get something more along the Montessori model. Nobody has to compromise...

    Liam Julian

    One of Thomas Sowell's points, that college education is being watered down because too many people are obtaining it, is a fine one. He notes that "education is not a Good Thing categorically in unlimited amounts, for people of all levels of ability, interest, and willingness to work." This is one reason why k-12's current "college or nothing" structure is a failure, and why so many 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds who are not willing to work toward college, and who have no other educational routes open to them, drop out of high school. (It's not popular to say, but common sense helps us realize that if the almost-adult student likes fixing cars and hates poetry, one does him no service??through repeated floggings of Marlowe.) ??????

    Sowell writes:

    Those who are not serious--which includes a remarkably large number of students, even at good colleges--would have to back off and go face the realities of the adult world in the job market. But not as many jobs would be able to require college degrees if such degrees were no longer so readily available at someone else's expense.

    His last sentence is a wounded antelope for the China-and-India crowd, which will instinctively pounce. They reflexively remind us that Americans compete not only with themselves but with (you know) the college-educated Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, Malagasy. Partly true, as always. But that U.S. education credentials are worth less each year is undeniable--and employers know it. As we push unqualified people into college,...