Flypaper

Eduwonk returned from a week's vacation to find our complaint in Gadfly that he was a bit too generous with his praise for AFT heir apparent Randi Weingarten. Specifically, we wondered why he would say that "most of the things that the teachers' unions want are in the interest of kids." His response?

Ummm...because it's true? This debate is too often framed by absolutists arguing that teachers unions are always at odds with what's good for kids or, conversely, that they never are and the interest of teachers and students are the same. Lots of things that teachers' unions want are good for kids, too. But some are not...

OK, we're listening, can you name even a handful of the "lots of things" that unions want that are good for kids, too? We'll concede, when it comes to the AFT, that it seeks a common core curriculum, which would certainly be good for the kiddos. What else?...

Liam Julian

That Miami-Dade is considering convening a task force to investigate the testing mania that has reportedly caused some students to be hospitalized illustrates how little trust district officials often place in their principals. School Board member Solomon Stinson so noted. According to the Miami Herald, "he warned against micromanaging teachers and principals, who have a better grasp on student needs."

Liam Julian

Today, on Morning Edition, NPR profiled 16-year-old Kristen Byrnes, who doesn't believe that global warming is caused by humans. Her website ("the official site of the Kristen Byrnes Science Foundation") is available here. NPR reported that Kristen is getting a lot of publicity for her efforts; she has even received a letter from Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

"Dear Kristen," the letter begins. "Thank you so much for your letter and e-mail and for your kind words. I appreciate your help in the fight against global warming alarmism. You are a common sense young lady and an inspiration to me. I want you to keep up the good work. We are winning."

Dear Senator Inhofe: Please stop encouraging ambitious but scientifically clueless young people like Kristen Byrnes to blindly challenge the authority of those who have spent decades researching the minutiae of climate change. We already have enough trouble from senators. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

Discussing Obama's "bitter" comments, George Will today argues that the sentiments "fulfill liberalism's transformation since Franklin Roosevelt."

What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them. When a supporter told Adlai Stevenson, the losing Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, that thinking people supported him, Stevenson said, "Yes, but I need to win a majority."

So let's stipulate that Will is right that some liberals hold under-educated Americans in contempt. Isn't it strange that many of these same liberals defend the very public education system that arguably created the "under-educated" masses? And that resist promising policies that might improve said education system, such as tough-minded accountability, high-quality charter schools, and a more limited role for teachers unions? If these liberals want more Americans to be "thinking people," why don't they jump on the education reform bandwagon?

I know: it's because for decades we've sold education reform as a solution to the crisis of urban America--closing achieving gaps and all--and not to the "crisis" of beer-guzzling, bible-thumping, shotgun-shooting rural white America. Maybe if No Child Left Behind broke out achievement data by religious affiliation (including Evangelical Christians) and cultural affiliation (including NASCAR fans), liberals would finally sign up....

Liam Julian

It's dubbed "the dismal science" because economics offers conclusions that may "work," but which often ignore ethical and moral considerations. Today at Marginal Revolution, economist Alex Tabarrok makes the dismal case that we should pay organ donors for their, you know, organs. (Iran does it, he writes, and while the Mullahs' methods seem effective, "better follow-up of donors would be an improvement." Follow-up of donors, one would assume, is a pretty basic aspect of any??body-parts donation system.)

Evermore, it seems, education reformers are turning to economics for answers to education-related problems. Not a few commentators (including Mike and Diane Ravitch) have complained that many such economics-based answers eschew considerations of instruction and curriculum. Education's economic solutions also sometimes neglect to account for unintended consequences, many of which pose ethical problems.

Take, for example, the suggestion that schools pay students for good test scores or attendance (the latest instance of which comes from New Jersey). It doesn't render the repulsion that paying organ donors does, but it still involves ethical considerations (e.g., Is it right to pay a young person to do that which is expected of him, will benefit him, and his peers do for free?) and unintended consequences (e.g., creating students who work hard only when shown the money).

We debate such policies in terms of whether or not they'll work, but rarely do we scrutinize the collateral damage they may cause and ask if the possibility of their supposed benefits...

Liam Julian

Florida has joined Achieve's American Diploma Project Network. The press release notes that Florida Governor Charlie Crist made the decision after chit-chatting with Minnesota's governor, Tim Pawlenty.

"Per pupil spending down "

* Until you realize the article's about charter schools.

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham board member Diane Ravitch.

When No Child Left Behind was first passed, I supported it. It seemed to me a good idea to test kids in reading and math from grades 3 through 8; after all, if you don't have basic skills, you are severely limited in your ability to learn anything else. I could not, at first sight, see why anyone would object to establishing baseline goals for basic skills.

As the full consequences of the law have unfolded, I have begun to have second thoughts. I must say that my views changed very considerably after a daylong session in November 2006 at a conference that Rick Hess and Checker Finn organized at AEI called "Is the NCLB Toolkit Working?" The dozen or so papers presented that day all gave the same answer: No. If I recall correctly, less than 5 percent of eligible children were taking advantage of choice options; less than 20 percent of eligibles were utilizing after-school tutoring. The after-school tutoring seemed to be a swamp of incompetent providers and badly-administered programs, as best I could tell. I must say that the day was mind-changing for me.

I put those findings together with the increasing evidence that states were inflating their test scores to prove that they were well on their way to 100 percent proficiency (a phenomenon a Fordham Institute report called "The Proficiency Illusion"), and I began to recognize that NCLB...

Over the weekend, the Washington Post Magazine ran a provocative piece by Jay Mathews about an excellent elementary school in Northern Virginia that has failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind for going on three years. What made the article interesting is that it didn't go for NCLB's jugular. Mathews writes:

While following [school principal] Hughey-Guy around the school one recent afternoon and talking to her teachers, I gave them every opportunity to blame the ravages of poverty, to blame the bureaucratic insistence on giving tests in English to children who have not had time to learn the language and, particularly, to blame the law. They declined to check any of those boxes. Whom did they blame? Themselves.

And, as Mathews explains, the next version of NCLB--expected to include an accountability system that looks at student progress over time, rather than just a snapshot, as the current one does--will surely find Barcroft to be A-OK. But experience to date indicates that the Barcrofts of the world are few and far between. In North Carolina, for example, when the state moved to a "growth model" (allowed by a federal pilot program), only a handful of schools in the state were let off the hook by the new system. Most of the schools "in need of improvement" under NCLB would remain so under NCLB version 2.0 because they aren't making nearly the dramatic progress necessary to catch their kids up to where they need to...

Pages