Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 23
June 8, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
World history, lost in translation
CA drop-kicks the prop
Meatloaf: Global citizen
This week, Mike and Rick chat about the Supreme Court, why Californians don't like preschool, and the U.N.'s subversive influence in Minnesota's schools. Martin A. Davis, Jr. rails against Hugo Chavez, and Education News of the Weird is all about second chances. An Inconvenient Truth: this 15-minute podcast may be our only hope
For young Americans in 2006 world history must no longer be seen as an elective subject. Everyone needs to be conversant with the history, culture, and geography of the flattening world they inhabit.
This wasn't always so. Two decades ago, Americans would nod vaguely in agreement if someone remarked that China was a "sleeping giant," that Iran was a cauldron of radical Islam, or that Mexico was in economic turmoil. Few knew, or cared to know, much beyond these stereotypes and oversimplifications. It just didn't seem all that important.
No more. Nations that were little more than curiosities to most Americans have transformed themselves into places of vital interest and concern to us. The influx of Latinos and Asians, who have radically altered our demographics, is just one example.
Will future high school graduates be any more knowledgeable than their parents about the world they inhabit? Not if state academic standards for K-12 world history are an indicator, according to The State of State World History Standards released this week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Only eight states received "A" grades and four more earned Bs. A whopping 33 received Ds and Fs.
The eminent historian Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, conducted the study. It is arguably the most difficult state-standards review that Fordham has undertaken. (We have been grading state
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / June 8, 2006
Despite all the advantages afforded by highly educated parents, by living in a home that values the written word, by siblings who read and cherish books, at age six my youngest son leaves kindergarten this year unable to read. What does this say about his future?
Many parents across the nation, like me and my wife, are facing that question as summer approaches. And many will hear the same line that my son's kindergarten teacher gave us. "He's always going to struggle in school."
Can teachers know that at this tender age? To some, a recent report published in Psychology Science suggests the answer is yes. Lead researcher Marc Bornstein tested 564 four-month old babies, then retested them at 18, 24, and 49 months. The results? "We find that to a small but significant degree," he writes in the abstract, "infancy... represents a setting point in the life of the individual."
The findings are sure to re-kindle the age-old debate about nature versus nurture, and could convince educators to adopt a laissez-faire approach. After all, if children's achievement is unlikely to change over time relative to their peers, does it make sense to push them beyond their "abilities"?
The possibility that schools will answer "no" worries Bornstein. The findings, he told the Wall Street Journal (subscription required),"can entice" scientists and others to conclude incorrectly that when it comes to smarts, nature rules. Sean Reardon of Stanford shares this
June 8, 2006
On Tuesday, California voters issued a resounding rejection to actor/director Rob Reiner's Proposition 82. That much discussed ballot item (see here) would have taxed the uber-rich in order to finance universal pre-school for Golden State 4-year-olds. Making pre-school available to all sounds fine at first blush. But as David Brooks points out, Proposition 82 is also another example of "the tragedy of American liberalism." Why? Because it begins with a positive concept (that high-risk youth should be provided a structured, educational environment at early ages), and then proceeds to institutionalize and sterilize it by wrapping it in reels of bureaucratic tape. Brooks reports that three-quarters of the funds would have been spent on kids already in preschool. Less than 10 percent would go to poor kids not in preschool. Plus, why should Californians trust their state to do a good job educating 4-year-olds when it does such a shabby job educating kids from five to eighteen? They shouldn't, and they don't.
"Voters reject Prop. 82," by Dana Hull, San Jose Mercury News, June 7, 2006
"Good Intentions, Bad Policy," by David Brooks, New York Times, June 4, 2006 (subscription required)
June 8, 2006
The Supreme Court this week agreed to hear two cases-one from Seattle, the other from Kentucky-that will decide the extent to which race can affect the assignment of students to public schools. In each case, white parents argue that districts' desire to maintain racial balance in classrooms led to discriminatory policies in their public school choice programs. While the districts did not set formal racial quotas, they did use race as a factor in deciding which students could attend over-subscribed schools. For instance, if a disproportionate number of white students want to attend a certain school, black students might be given priority in a tie-breaker. The legal world is buzzing, eager for its first chance to parse the affirmative action views of justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. But as a matter of education policy, the matter seems rather simple. Why should districts obsess over the racial make-up of their schools when they should be stressing about what's actually going on (or not) inside their classrooms? Especially when most urban systems are "majority minority," isn't it time for them to focus on achievement first? The lesson from great charter schools like KIPP is simple: offer a great education, and parents of all races will knock on your door. Then social engineering can go where it belongs: out of the courtroom and into the history books.
"Justices to Hear Cases of Race-Conscious School Placements," by Charles Lane, Washington Post, June 6,
June 8, 2006
What do you call a re-opened school in New Orleans? Most likely, you call it a charter school, John Merrow reported last week on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Most of the 12,000 students who have returned to the city (out of a pre-hurricane public school population of 60,000) find themselves in charters. While the city's charter-centric strategy for rebuilding its public schools provides many exciting opportunities, it also brings challenges, as detailed in a recent Times-Picayune piece. Principal Barbara McPhee (whose school was chartered late last year) put it this way: "It was like waking up one morning and finding out that you're not just the instructional leader, you're also the business person. It was like, ‘Who's going to mow the lawn?'" Charter school heads are now responsible for many tasks previously handled by the district, including recruiting teachers, making business decisions, and overseeing school operations. To help, local leaders launched an organization, New Schools for New Orleans, which will train leaders for new charter schools. In the Big Easy, positive change in city schools is happening daily. Turn away for an instant, and you're sure to miss something big.
"Graduations Mark the End of a Traumatic Year for New Orleans Schools," NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, June 2, 2006
"Nonprofit eases schools' burdens," by Steve Ritea, Times-Picayune, June 3, 2006
June 8, 2006
It has been called fuzzy. Some even label it a United Nations plot. It's the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and it's ruffling feathers in Minnesota and around the nation. Created in Switzerland in 1968, the IB curriculum emphasizes rigorous global standards and self-motivated learning. But not everyone is pleased with its planetary flavor. IB is "un-American," declares Julie Quist, vice president of EdWatch. "It teaches global citizenship as a priority over American citizenship." But most find that debate silly. "How do you define un-American?" asked Southwest High School senior Chelsea Zimmerman. "Is it being aware that other countries exist? I just think that's preposterous." Right-o, Chelsea. As discussed above, in today's world, global awareness is indispensable. True, we've had some issues with IB. But it's quite possible for the curriculum to teach American civics while also supplying world class academics. Berating IB for its lack of nationalist fervor makes little sense.
"IB strikes a nerve as it catches on," by Norman Draper, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 5, 2006
June 8, 2006
"Jeremy Maitland took a cookie from the cookie jar." So begins this tale of woe from Richmond, Virginia, where the Henrico County Public Schools suspended young Mr. Maitland and kicked him off the middle school baseball team because he "spotted a container of cookies" in the school kitchen and "decided to eat a sweet." Other students are suspected in connection to the crime, and more punishments have been meted out. His mom, feeling "crummy" about the whole ordeal, complained, "Eating a cookie, I don't think anybody hardly thinks of as theft." Come on, Mrs. Maitland. Cookie burglars and Pillsbury pilfering are as common as dew in Dixie (see here and here); we say: if you commit the crime, you gotta do the time. Furthermore, it's that kind of lax attitude towards discipline and student safety (not to mention health code violations) that has turned NCLB's "persistently dangerous schools" provision into such mush. Gadfly readers (especially you underage ones): Just say no to cookie dough.
June 8, 2006
The folks at Education Sector could use a cold shower. Last week they were hot and humid about Florida's charter schools; this week, they're burning up about the race to the bottom. Their new report's conclusion won't surprise Gadfly readers: states are finding myriad ways to game No Child Left Behind to make their schools appear better than they really are. (See here, here, here, here... you get the point.) But never before have states' flimflam tactics been so effectively exposed and deconstructed. Author Kevin Carey spends twelve sickening paragraphs explaining how Wisconsin, the champion finagler, managed to conclude that 99.8 percent of its school districts are making adequate progress under the law. It's a veritable Greatest Hits of statistical voodoo and indefensible spin, and provides insight into the mindset of state education officials who will do anything to let failing schools and districts off the hook (see here). Carey also provides a user-friendly Pangloss Index, ranking states by the degree to which they report wildly optimistic numbers across a range of indicators, from the percentage of students proficient in reading, to the number of schools considered "persistently dangerous," to the proportion of "highly qualified" teachers. Especially useful is the appendix, where you can find state-by-state data on these indicators all in one place. Yet the conclusion disappoints, tying itself in knots trying to find a "Third Way" solution to