In the midst of the waiver news last week—which set many a reformer’s teeth on edge—came a few events and reports that provide some interesting ringtones for the current debate over the federal role in education.
Let the dollars follow the child was the proposal from the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force, which also makes a compelling case for the federal government’s “central role” in our nation’s education future. Let the feds butt out was the message delivered by Rep. John Kline, Republican chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, as he explained two ESEA rewrite bills at an American Enterprise event. And Unconstitional! was the Pioneer Institute’s conclusion about the federal government’s support of the Common Core:
Actions taken by the Obama Administration signal an important policy shift in the nation’s education policy, with the Department placing the nation on the road to federal direction over elementary and secondary school curriculum and instruction.
One wonders whether “states’ rights” are being invoked to cover up the very inequities that NCLB was determined to remedy.
I hesitate to invoke Civil War analogies here, but there are some troubling signs in the current dust-up that make one wonder whether “states’ rights” are being invoked to cover up the very inequities—the “soft bigotry of low expectations”—that No Child Left Behind was determined to remedy. In a press release from the Education Committee’s Republicans we learn that they “have long recognized the progress state and local officials have had implementing innovative reforms that hold schools accountable for student achievement, support excellent teachers, and
I came to the world of public education late in my career, but through a golden portal, E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, a book of such broad intellectual depth and revolutionary import that it was a national bestseller in 1987. Amazingly, more than twenty years later, very few educators have read it (see here). That’s too bad. If they had, they would not make statements like the one Josh Thomases, deputy chief academic officer for New York City’s Education Department, gave to the New York Times just the other day:
The core problem of literacy in middle school is you’re transitioning from learning to read, to reading to learn.
Wrong. The problem of literacy is that the transition from decoding skills to comprehension should happen long before middle school.
The problem of literacy is that the transition from decoding skills to comprehension should happen long before middle school.
Thomases means well. And he’s trying to clean up the anti-academic middle school mess that has persisted for far too long (see my Ed Next story). But like far too many educators (including the authors of No Child Left Behind, who wrongly set reading up as a skill divorced from content), he misunderstands the nature of reading. As Hirsch writes in his second, and arguably more important, book about education, The Schools We Need: And Why We Don’t Have Them,
While the process of decoding from letters to language is the foundation of reading, it isn’t the essence of reading, which
My email crackled early the other morning, a message from a friend who monitors the Police band on his CB*:
Police and fire department as well as Rescue squad are enroute to the new Junior Senior school as someone did not want to be late for class and drove into the building. Police report it as" car vs. building"…
A few minutes later, another email, from a parent:
As I was driving my son to school this morning 3 police cars were speeding up to the high school doing at least 45 to 50 mph around the curves up the avenue. Thank God nobody was run over. Nothing is more important than the safety of the people along that road. So much for the walking school bus idea.
Ah, yes, the walking school bus. An idea that seems to be sweeping the nation, conquering the obesity problem, saving gas-guzzling millions—not here. We’ve been discussing it for a couple of years. I was pulled aside in the bank a couple of weeks ago. “I heard you’re for the walking school bus,” said the woman, an African American mother of six. It was not a question. “Don’t you know about the perverts?” That too was not a question.
A few days later, I received an email from a local real estate broker. It had a “busing” subject line and began “What a nasty winter afternoon!” I could guess where this was going, but I was wrong:
As an FYI, I support kids walking to school—I
I’m not sure what was more disconcerting from the blogosphere last week: Deborah Meier’s comparison of KIPP schools’ “ideology” to that of Nazi Germany or Jay Mathews’ hesitation in suggesting that Washington, D.C., shouldn’t be a city of charter schools.
What troubles me most about the KIPPs of the world are not issues of pedagogy or the public/private issue, but their "no excuses" ideology implemented by a code that rests on humiliating those less powerful than oneself and reinforcing a moral code that suggests that there's a one-to-one connection between being good and not getting caught. It tries to create certainties in a field where it does not belong.… As we once reminded colleagues, Nazi Germany had a successful school system—so what? I'd be fascinated to interview some KIPP graduates to learn how its work plays out in their lives.
Yikes. That’s quite a leap.
In his Washington Post column Mathews, who wrote a book about KIPP (Work Hard, Be Nice), was describing a new report that suggested that the D.C. public school system either close 38 struggling schools or send their students to charters. Mathews notes that charters are already so popular in the nation’s capital that 41 percent of the city’s students attend them with more on the way. He writes:
This charter fan doesn’t think that’s good. It is not clear that the best charters are capable of such rapid expansion. More important, moving kids from bad regular schools to charters in the way Gray’s Chicago-based consultant, IFF, recommends would accelerate
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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