Flypaper

As a national education player, the American Federation of Teachers has been careful not to bash No Child Left Behind too overtly. It even calls its NCLB site "Let's Get It Right" (not, say, "Throw NCLB Under the Bus"). But that's not the tone expressed by the president of its Pennsylvania affiliate when explaining its support for Hillary Clinton to Education Week's David Hoff:

Sen. Clinton has been more emphatic about overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act and has opposed merit pay for teachers, said Mr. Kirsch, who as a vice president of the national union took part in the AFT's decision to endorse Sen. Clinton in October.

Mr. Kirsch isn't kidding; Clinton's standard line is that "I want to end the No Child Left Behind program because I don't think it's working the way it was promised." So now "emphatic about overhauling" means "determined to kill."

Fordham was once charged with having an unclear position on NCLB. Ours is sunny blue day compared to the AFT's murky skies. Perhaps it's up to the incoming AFT president to set things straight. Ms. Weingarten, where do you stand?...

Less-than-humble Liam isn't willing to acknowledge the significance of the recent Philadelphia healthy-eating study. He goes so far as to say that it "has nothing to do with education; it's about whether kids who eat healthful foods for several hours a day will be healthier. Of course they will!"

Of course they will? The last several decades of education research are littered with examples of promising initiatives that take "several hours a day" and don't get any results. In fact, there's a serious debate among reformers and apologists about whether it's fair to expect schools to have any impact on children's well-being--academic or otherwise--since the kiddies spend most of their days outside of school and since home factors play such a large role in determining children's fate. (Even the original Education Gadfly, Checker Finn, once estimated that children only spend nine percent of their lives in schools from age zero to eighteen.)

So here you have an initiative whereby schools serve children healthier lunches, keep them from accessing junk food and sugary drinks for seven hours a day, and teach them the basics about balanced eating. The schools have no direct control over anything else--the junk the kids might eat for breakfast, the junk they might eat for dinner, the junk they might eat for snacks, their lethargic after-school lifestyles. You might say the schools have even less control over kids' diet and exercise than over their academic development. And yet this...

Liam Julian

The logistical problems with the "Academic Freedom Act," which is traipsing merrily through the Florida legislature, are legion. The pope's U.S. visit highlights the logical difficulties that accompany the logistical ones, most prominent among them the continued inability of many to distinguish between the realms of science and religion.

The "intelligent design" proponents (who, by the way, love Florida's Academic Freedom bill) receive the most press coverage for trying to slip religion and philosophy into science's corridors. But those on the opposite side, people such as Richard Dawkins, have been just as vocal in their promotion of science as dispositive--i.e., the final, universal theory of all reality. Dawkins, an Oxford scientist, has written that, because of Darwin, religion "is now completely superseded by science." His notion is true if he's speaking about, for example, k-12 science standards or science curricula. He wasn't, though.

Benedict XVI could bring some sanity and clarity to the evolution debate that has so roiled school districts across the United States. To do injustice to his thought by paring it down to its barest form, Benedict (like his predecessor) believes that scientific evidence for evolution is convincing, but that it does not contain the answers to life's deeper questions. He believes that religion and science are different and separate, and that each can best inform the other when their distinctions are respected.

To bring it back to k-12, science teachers should teach the scientific consensus on evolution without worrying about...

In Sunday's New York Times, Matthew Forney, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time, seeks to correct what he thinks may be a popularly-held hunch that China's growing class of educated urbanites will soon pressure the Chinese government to reform.

On the contrary, says Forney, "Educated young Chinese, far from being embarrassed or upset by their government's human-rights record, rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people you'll meet."

He goes on:

The most obvious explanation for this is the education system, which can accurately be described as indoctrination. Textbooks dwell on China's humiliations at the hands of foreign powers in the 19th century as if they took place yesterday, yet skim over the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s as if it were ancient history. Students learn the neat calculation that Chairman Mao's tyranny was "30 percent wrong," then the subject is declared closed. The uprising in Tibet in the late 1950s, and the invasion that quashed it, are discussed just long enough to lay blame on the "Dalai clique," a pejorative reference to the circle of advisers around Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

"Of course," he acknowledges, "the nationalism of young Chinese may soften over time. As college graduates enter the work force and experience their country's corruption and inefficiency, they often grow more critical."

That seems like a smart observation. One can't imagine why young city-dwellers should be especially inclined to question textbooks that exaggerate or lie outright about the glories...

Liam Julian

National Review's John J. Miller recently wrote a portion of our Catholic schools report. Also recently, Miller turned in a NR piece (subscription required) about Wikipedia in which he mentioned Fordham and Mike (Petrilli):

In the current issue of Education Next, Michael Petrelli of the Fordham Foundation complains that Wikipedia's entry on school vouchers contains an abundance of negative commentary, including the claim that vouchers encourage "taxpayer-subsidized ???white flight' from urban public schools." Petrelli points out that the vast majority of students who receive vouchers in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. - the few places where private-school-choice programs actually exist - are not white.

Here's the cool part:

Shortly after Petrelli published this observation, a Wikipedian added it to the school-voucher entry. Anybody who reads it now will learn that the white-flight claim is empirically false. "I guess it means that Wikipedia seems to be self-correcting," says Petrelli.

For months we've observed John McCain's general lack of interest in education. That appears to be starting to change. First there was his big education speech at his high school alma matter. And now, CBS News correspondent Andante Higgins reports that McCain's recent trip to Memphis has stirred a new passion in him for K-12 school reform. A few days later, he told reporters joining him on his campaign plane:??

One thing that's brought home to you when you visit Memphis and talk with much of the leadership in the African-American community, their number one issue probably is education--the disparity between the inner cities and America and the suburbs. I think we need a much larger nation [sic] discussion and debate on that issue. Not just re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. We're going to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but we better start looking at the disparity really between different school systems in America.

Sounds like a mix between George W. Bush and John Edwards. For those of us claiming that McCain doesn't care about education, it sounds like we're going to need to start singing a different tune....

Liam Julian

In Florida, where a state income tax is verboten, the housing crisis has had a particularly damaging effect on state revenues. Education is being hit hard. Piling on, today the St. Petersburg Times reports that "lackluster lottery sales" will hurt school budgets even more.

Lawmakers, already grappling with a drop in state tax collections, must finalize a 2008-09 state budget over the next three weeks. And they're already planning to cut school spending for the first time in decades. The new forecast could mean deeper cuts. Lottery dollars account for about 5 percent of the state's education spending.

Last year, the New York Times published a long piece about how lotteries are notoriously unreliable vehicles on which to base education funding. And they may actually make legislators less willing to devote dollars to schools because lawmakers sometimes believe (mistakenly) that their state lottery provides education a lot of support. In Florida, for example, the lottery accounts for only 5 percent of state education spending; in other states, the percentage is less.

Florida, though, is saddled with a particularly dubious class-size requirement , which is popular with citizens but costs the Sunshine State loads of money that could be better spent elsewhere. One wonders if the current budget crunch will cause some reevaluation of education priorities....

There's more coverage of Fordham's Catholic schools report today, including a front-page Washington Times story (check out the great pictures); a nice Washington Post metro story; a post on "The Corner"; and a New York Sun piece.

Speaking of the Sun, reporter Elizabeth Green got many things right but one big thing wrong. Let's take a look:

A report is being released Friday by a national think tank based in Washington, D.C., the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, concluding that 1,300 inner-city Catholic schools have closed since 1990...

So far so good

...displacing about 300,000 students...

Yes

...and that, if demographic patterns keep up, almost all such Catholic schools could be gone by 2018.

Well, no. What we did say was that if trends continue, another 300,000 students could be displaced over the next twenty years. That would leave many fewer urban Catholic schools--but more than zero....

No, it's not good that the "financial know-how" of American high school seniors has "gone from bad to worse." Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is fired up about it:

The financial preparedness of our nation's youth is essential to their well-being and of vital importance to our economic future. In light of the problems that have arisen in the subprime mortgage market, we are reminded of how critically important it is for individuals to become financially literate at an early age so that they are better prepared to make decisions and navigate an increasingly complex financial marketplace.

Yes, "financial literacy" is something our schools should inculcate. But I'd rank it behind reading, math, history, science, English literature, geography, a foreign language, art, music, and health education, if I had to prioritize. As schools--with a limited amount of time to teach anything--surely must do.

Liam Julian

Mike is right: financial literacy is important, but schools can't teach everything. In fact, we wrote as much several months ago in The Gadfly.

To suppose that America's possession of more financially literate 12-year-olds would have somehow staved off or lessened the subprime mortgage crisis, as Bernanke seems to, is really a stretch.

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