A couple of reports last week reanimated the debate about what to do with Catholic schools, which have been hemorrhaging students for the last couple of decades. The new challenge—“one of their most complex… yet,” writes Sean Cavanagh in Education Week—is charter schools. One, by former RAND economist Richard Buddin, was published by the Cato Institute; the other, by Abraham Lackman, a scholar-in-residence at the Albany Law School, in Albany, New York, is not out yet, but was summarized by Cavanagh in the Ed Week story. Writes Cavanagh,
Many charter schools tout attributes similar to those offered by the church's schools, such as disciplined environments, an emphasis on personal responsibility and character development, and distinctive instructional and curricular approaches.
And Buddin, whose report is more broadly aimed at measuring the impact of charters on all private schools, says,
[C]harter schools are pulling large numbers of students from the private education market and present a potentially devastating impact on the private education market, as well as a serious increase in the financial burden on taxpayers.
As both Adam Emerson and Kathleen Porter-Magee have already pointed out, Catholic schools were in decline long before charters came on the scene. Between 1960, when Catholics educated one out of every eight American school-age children (5.2 million) and 1990, when charter schools first came on the scene, 30 percent of the 13,000 Catholic schools in the U.S. closed (with enrollment plummeting to 2.5
Perhaps it was coincidence, but New York City seems to have gotten the message of the Civil Rights Project (CRP) about discipline and has revised its student code of conduct to help keep kids in school. According to Al Baker in the New York Times students
can no longer be suspended for one-time, low-level infractions, and the youngest pupils can be suspended only for 5 days for midlevel offenses, down from 10, according to new disciplinary rules posted by the Education Department this week.
This is great news, but try to find that in the code of conduct, officially titled, “Citywide Standards of Intervention and Discipline Measures: The Discipline Code and Bill of Student Rightsand Responsibilities, K-12,” which is an eye-popping twenty-nine pages of small print and includes sections on “Promoting Positive Student Behavior,” “Progressive Discipline,” “Restorative Approaches,” and “Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.”
These types of documents, mind-numbing in their detail, tend to be self-defeating.
I must admit to being old school and focusing on the section called “Prohibited Weapons.” Were there some weapons that weren’t prohibited? Alas, no—the list is as comprehensive an itemization of mayhem as you can find, featuring air guns, spring guns (“or other instrument or weapon in which the propelling force is a spring or air, and any weapon in which any loaded or blank cartridge may be used”), daggers, stilettos, dirks, razors, both sling shots and slung shots, kung fu stars, nunchucks and
This year might be known as après moi le deluge for teacher unions. Tenure laws are being rewritten, teacher evaluations are more likely to include student performance, and, in 2012’s ‘Wow' moment, the National Education Association, the nation’s oldest and largest teacher union, announced that it had lost 100,000 members in just the last two years. This surely doesn’t signal the end of teacher unions (keep an eye on Chicago), but the age of arrogance, I hope, is on the wane.
Why am I rooting for teacher unions’ decline?
Why am I rooting for teacher unions’ decline? Because, as I suggested in my last post, their dominance in school governance these last several decades has not seemed to work—for the students, the taxpayer, or the country. But even if our schools were working, we would need to be wary of union power because it violates some basic democratic principles; towit, free association and free speech.
One of my objectives as a member of a school board—a not-so-hidden agenda, if you will—was to help create an environment where it was safe to discuss how to improve our schools, how to get our kids a better education. This was premised on a belief that debate and discussion are good and lead to better outcomes. At minimum, I assumed that, from a policy and governance perspective, two heads were better than one and that an engaged community would be more apt to
When I entered the education reform movement, as a parent and member of the school board, a dozen or so years ago, it didn’t take long to realize that teachers were the tip of a very long spear: The public faces of a hugely complicated (and from what I could see, ineffectual) system. A million (it seemed) rules and regulations, another million (it seemed) interest groups. But it also didn’t take long to understand that most of the rules and regulations (the ones that counted) either came from or favored the teacher union and the most important interest group was also the teacher union.
Teachers are the public faces of a hugely complicated system.
The point was made clear to me (there’s that spear) when I chaired a district task force on student academic performance. About the second or third meeting of the group, which included parents, community members, teachers, and administrators, a teacher interrupted someone suggesting a longer school day. “We can’t talk about that—that’s a negotiated item,” he said. Before that meeting was done, we had touched the “negotiated item” button several more times. I finally informed the teacher that there was nothing the task force couldn’t discuss and he was out of order; he never returned, nor did the other teachers who had signed on to the committee. The administrators stopped coming as well. The rest of us forged on, produced a report with fifty different improvement recommendations, and
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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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