Flypaper

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...

Liam Julian

The Los Angeles Times featured some debate about Ben Stein's new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which seeks to expose how a cult of Darwinism has overtaken our public-school science classes. I like Ben Stein, but I'm pretty skeptical about this film, and the reputable reviews are generally negative. Moreover, it reportedly draws connections between today's science classes and Nazi Germany, which is bizarre.

I wish I could write something more authoritative, but the people in charge of screening the film in D.C. had to cancel because of sound problems, which indicates either a) that after scanning the list of potential attendees, the promoters decided showing the film would be a bad idea, or b) incompetence. Neither inspires confidence in Expelled's worth.

Bravo to Andres Alonso, Baltimore's schools superintendent, for launching a campaign to recruit 500 volunteers to work in the city's schools. It's one of his smartest responses to last week's horrible teacher attack (his other was declaring "zero tolerance" for that sort of violence). Alonso's spokesman says that "people want to help, and they want a concrete way to help."

Indeed. To be sure, Baltimore needs a broad-based, systematic approach to solving its discipline problems. (Consider that students have been expelled 112 times this year alone for attacking teaches.) But rallying parents and the larger community is smart. Perhaps Alonso, a long-time New Yorker, remembers the public's overwhelming interest in doing something to help after the 9/11 attacks. Or learned from the Bush Administration's failure to enlist the public in making sacrifices or performing community service in a time of war. Whatever his thinking, it shows great leadership to turn an awful incident into an opportunity for positive action.

Liam Julian

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is an expert at being overshadowed, first by Tony Blair and now by the pope. Brown is in D.C. today, and he's scheduled to meet with President Bush and presidential candidates Clinton, McCain, and Obama. Let's hope none picks up any of the prime minister's education ideas.

An anonymous source tells Flypaper that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Senator Edward Kennedy were yacking it up at Nationals Field Park this morning while waiting for Pope Benedict XVI to arrive. We're praying that they were discussing how to salvage the D.C. school voucher program, which helps 2,000 needy Washington children attend private schools, including Catholic schools, but which is expected to come under attack from Democrats in Congress. Hey, one can dream.

No, I'm not referring to Linda Darling-Hammond, but to William Ayers, the "distinguished professor" at the University of Illinois-Chicago who first distinguished himself by blowing up a Greenwich Village townhouse while building a bomb. as a terrorist.* The media has been looking into Senator Obama's connections to this former Weatherman for at least a week, and last night George Stephanopoulos brought it up at the Philadelphia debate. Obama's response:

George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George.

But he's not a professor of English, he's a professor of education. What other institution would give a former Weatherman a full professorship?

Nor are we late to this story; see Checker's take on Ayers from 2001.

ADDENDUM: Sol Stern has covered the Bill Ayers story too.

* Multiple sources have informed me that Ayers wasn't in the Greenwich Village townhouse that blew up, though he was implicated in several terrorist activities....

Bill Ayers's brother John , however, is a stand-up guy.

Liam Julian

1) This week's Education Gadfly. It's chock full of good stuff, including a guest editorial from the Rodel Foundation about how to train the education spotlight on states, "which are these days the wallflower at the school-reform dance." The article recommends spiking the school-reform punch.

2) Mike's piece about Catholic schools on National Review Online. If you haven't heard, the pope's paying the country a visit and American Catholic schools are in trouble. Mike tells us why they're struggling and how we can help.

OK, this time I'm talking about Linda Darling-Hammond. In a letter to the editor of the New Republic, she responds to Josh Patashnik's article on Obama's education plans. (He responds to the response here.) What LDH doesn't address is this brilliant insight from an astute education policy analyst,* included in the original article, about why the Senator's selecting Darling-Hammond as a top education advisor is worrisome:

She has spent almost two decades trying to kill Teach for America. It seems like a strange choice for him.

Instead she and Patashnik get into a boring discussion of the nuances of Obama's pay-for-performance plan. What a missed opportunity.

* Yes, me....

Liam Julian

The New York Times, one understands, seeks to reach its audience, and those who casually turn the pages of Thursday Styles are of a sort that enjoys and relates to articles such as this.

How to prepare teens for the world of work? the piece asks. Should parents encourage children to do what they love, or should they push diligence and sacrifice as the road that leads to a successful and rewarding career? Probably more the latter; the author herself writes that her son is "part of a generation whose members are so convinced that work should be personally fulfilling that they see photocopying as beneath them."

This is a well-documented "millennial" attitude. (Sometimes, though, it's well-founded. Some of the most talented recent college graduates make loads of money because that's what they're worth to the companies that employ them. Why on earth would they deign to make photocopies when they could trot across town and get another job at which they don't make photocopies?)

Conspicuously absent from the Times piece is the role colleges play in youngsters' work preparedness. I'm still amazed at how??ill-equipped for office life I felt after receiving my undergrad degree, and I imagine the adjustment is even more difficult for some grads, especially those who go in for stuff like this. (A particularly noxious "art" project by a Yale student.)

It's easy to dismiss it as culture war fodder. But it makes a point--this selfish, relativistic stuff is...

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