Liam Julian

The Discovery Institute's David Klinghoffer defends the link--made by the new Ben Stein movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--between Nazis and Darwinism. I wish I could write on this with more authority, but the D.C. advanced screening of Expelled was canceled.

I just don't get it, though. Klinghoffer's piece points out how Hitler used evolution and Darwinism in his propaganda and his personal thought. But nowhere does??Klinghoffer discuss why inclusion of such historical instances is at all appropriate in a film that purports to investigate how evolution is taught in modern-day American science classes.

I think it's safe to say that Expelled is inaccurately juxtaposing Nazis with those who defend teaching evolution in public schools. The New York Times reviewer wrote that Expelled is "[o]ne of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time," and I'm inclined to believe her.

President Bush weighed in on the crisis of Catholic school closures at this morning's National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. He also plugged the White House Summit on inner-city children and faith-based schools, scheduled for Thursday:

The purpose of the summit is to highlight the lack of educational options facing low-income urban students. And we are going to bring together educators and clergy and philanthropists and business leaders, all aiming to urge there to be reasonable legislation out of Congress and practical solutions to save these schools--and more importantly, to save the children.

Hear hear, but the chances of said legislation passing in the 277 days until Bush leaves office are slim to none. But all is not lost; Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was at the breakfast too. Maybe he can help clear the way for Catholic charter schools.

Liam Julian

Herewith an argument from the The Pour (yes, the New York Times wine blog) about why rigid standards--and not popularity--is the adequate gauge of quality.

Fordham comes under attack from our libertarian-leaning friends because we support choice with accountability--i.e., we're not content to let the market decide which schools are great and which aren't, because when quality counts, the market is often wrong.

It's one thing, of course, to let the market determine which wines people drink, or which television shows are most popular. But if you know anything about wine, as Eric Asimov notes in his blog post, you also know that most people drink low-quality stuff. (This doesn't necessarily reflect wine prices. Plenty of fine, interesting bottles cost $10, but most people will buy the $10 American Chardonnay instead.)

Even when presented with lots of choices, parents won't necessarily pick for their children the best schools on offer. And some schools on offer may look nice but actually be places when learning goes to die.??The consequences of attending such a school are far worse than a distasteful sip. Which is why standards in the k-12 educational arena are so important--because quality counts for so much.

Liam Julian

Coby informs us (directly below):

I find a flaw in Liam's reasoning. First of all, the point of the Times blog post is not that the market does a poor job of gauging wine quality, but that there are a lot of shoppers in the market who don't care about the quality of the wine they're swilling.

That's cool. But I never claimed that the market does a poor job of gauging quality; the market merely responds to people's preferences. I wrote that popularity shouldn't become a synonym for quality. That a gazillion people enjoy plonk doesn't make??it a quality beverage--but the market will respond, of course, and churn out more plonk for purchase.

We don't want this to happen with schools. I do not believe, as Coby does, that so many of those who imbibe sub-par wines are aware that their glasses are actually??half-nasty. (I'm even less convinced that people whose kids attend shoddy schools are aware of the lack of learning taking place.) But if, as Coby writes, people know what's good and what isn't and simply "don't care about the quality of the wine they're swilling," will they ever care about the quality of the schools their children are attending?

Colorado lawmakers voted put forward a plan yesterday to align state academic standards with the ACT exam.

This seems wise. Most states have struggled to implement high-quality academic standards in the major subject areas, and in the few states that have raised the bar across the board--California, Massachusetts, Indiana--an exceptional amount of political cooperation was required. Certainly that's not something most states can count on.

So why not adopt a set of clear, ready-made standards that have received the seal of approval from top universities across the land?

UPDATE: It should also be noted that the bill "laid out a multi-year collaborative process for state education officials" to develop K-12 grade-level standards based on the ACT content.

Ah, the vaunted "multi-year collaborative process for state education officials." Just when you think they've figured out a way to cut through the red tape they wrap themselves up again.

Fox Business channel must have seen Mike discussing the Catholic schools crisis on the latest episodes of Fordham Factor (here and here), because they invited him on to butt heads with Dr. Karen Ristau, who disagrees with him, respectfully:

Part 1

Part 2


Gadfly Studios

Mike and Christina discuss Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States and what he had to say about Catholic schools.


Liam argues that Fordham is "not content to let the market decide which schools are great and which aren't, because when quality counts, the market is often wrong." This post from the New York Times wine blog, which observes that in the unfettered wine market people often choose to drink slop, is supposed to make his case.

I find a flaw in Liam's reasoning. First of all, the point of the Times blog post is not that the market does a poor job of gauging wine quality, but that there are a lot of shoppers in the market who don't care about the quality of the wine they're swilling. Eric Asimov, author of the blog in question, finds a useful analogy in literature:

given the choice, 500 people might legitimately prefer to spend their time with the latest legal drama from John Grisham than with a Thomas Pynchon novel. I might be among them. But what does that prove? By any of the usual standards for assessing an artistic achievement it proves only that few people are willing or able to make the commitment to the Pynchon novel. But to argue that "Porky's'' is better than "Persona'' or that Grisham is better than Pynchon says nothing about achievement or standards and everything about wanting to rationalize one's choices.

In short, most people are familiar with these respective authors' positions on the acknowledged ladder of literary achievement--Pynchon is near the top while Grisham rounds out the bottom...

A year ago today the Village Voice published a lengthy article on the New York City public schools' so-called "rubber rooms," where teachers accused of misconduct are held while their cases are pending. The story is so outrageous it seemed worth revisiting. Frankly, tales like this make it hard to fathom just how poorly-run are many public school districts.

Rubber room hours match that of a typical school day--Argyris would sign in at 8:30 a.m. and be released at 3:20 in the afternoon, with a 50-minute lunch break. Like something out of a dystopian fairy tale, however, this school had no children, just a few cafeteria workers, social workers, and custodians who shared the same lot.

In 2000, there were 385 teachers assigned to rubber rooms. Last month, that number had climbed to 662. Argyris, while she sat and stared at a wall, was paid $62,646 a year. The DOE pays about $33 million a year just in salaries to the teachers in rubber rooms--an amount that doesn't include the salaries of investigators working on the cases of rubber room teachers, the upkeep of the reassignment centers, or the substitute teachers who replace employees like Argyris.

Some teachers spend up to three years in the rubber rooms while their cases float glacially through the district offices. They spend their time reading, playing chess, working on screenplays, knitting--one couple who met in a rubber room "had converted a corner of the room into a small love nest, complete...

Jeff Kuhner

If you're a school administrator and you want to purchase HDTVs, home-theater equipment, iPods, camcorders (you name it) for personal use on the taxpayer's dime, then I've got a place for you: The Northshore School District in Seattle.

The Seattle Times reports that a Northshore contract provision allows for these kinds of questionable purchases for its approximately 90 top administrators. And here's the kicker: When the administrators leave their jobs they get to take the equipment with them.

"To buy things for purely personal use out of taxpayer money, that's what outraged us," said Donna Lurie, who represents the Northshore Education Office Professionals Association, which represents support staff in the district.

Ms. Lurie should be outraged. Northshore administrators already make, on average, over $100,000 a year along with an excellent benefits package. Unlike, say, teachers, who are underpaid and struggling to make ends meet, these administrators seem to be doing very well for themselves. The last thing they need is to haul off electronic goods at taxpayers' expense. What makes this even more outrageous is that the district is suffering from a budget crunch, needing to slash $3.4 million in 2008-2009. The administrators' lavish--and totally unnecessary--perk is siphoning off finite resources, which could be put to better use.

The administrators insist there's nothing illegal about all of this. True. But it is unethical and unseemly. District budgets should focus on putting the interests of students and teachers first--not padding the expense accounts of already-generously compensated...