Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 43
November 9, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Dear Chairman Miller
Primary school colors
This week, Mike, Rick, and guest co-host Dave DeSchryver talk about Argentina, Mexico, waterfalls, money, and, of course, elections. We have an interview with a real political insider (a?Gadfly Show?convert, to boot!), and News of the Weird is soooo dramatic. All in 20 minutes! You go on the air with the podcast you have, not the podcast you want.?
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / November 9, 2006
Hon. George Miller
Chairman-to-be, House Committee on Education & the Workforce
United States Congress
Dear Mr. Chairman:
Congratulations. I wish my party had won but they didn't deserve to. Now we see whether yours will deserve to hold on to its new mandate. That will take some doing. Democrats prevailed on Tuesday because they were the Not-GOP, Not-Bush party, not because they presented the country with a program that people were voting for.
Yes, Nancy Pelosi did offer a sketchy "New Direction for America" document that hints at a few specifics. But not in K-12 education. There the absence of prior commitments gives you an advantage: You can shape the House's, and perhaps the Congress's, agenda in this area. It's territory you know well and where you're known both for keen intellect and strong convictions. You've also tended to surround yourself with capable staffers. Not a bad start.
Most observers will fixate on No Child Left Behind, of which you were a major architect. You've been outspokenly critical of its implementation and funding but haven't said much about whether, six years later, you think the basic structure is sound.
Here you'll have plenty of advice. Analyzing NCLB and suggesting ways to alter, improve, strengthen and weaken it is the principal activity of innumerable think tanks, policy wonks and education lobbyists. Before I offer a few thoughts on that topic, however, allow me
November 9, 2006
The muddle coming from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) is troubling. Brief history: After establishing Reform "fuzzy" Math education (i.e., estimate this, guess at that) as the standard in many American schools, NCTM seemed to have realized the error of its ways when it called for a return to math basics in its publication Curriculum Focal Points (see here). But the group has yet to come clean about its past mistakes; among other things, its executives have written letters to newspapers protesting coverage that portrayed Focal Points as a repudiation of NCTM's earlier stand. While officials waffle, kids are losing out. Some students are enrolling in private math tutoring, not because they have difficulty understanding numbers, but simply because their classroom math education is so shoddy (see here). NCTM should retire its fuzzy rhetoric and let states and districts know, once and for all, that its past tenets were flawed--and be proud of its new Focal Points, which really add up.
"Down for the Count?," by Melana Zyla Vickers, Weekly Standard, November 6, 2006 (subscription required)
November 9, 2006
The charter school menagerie is bright and varied, and so too are the people who run it. Take Steve Barr, for example. An intense, 6-foot-3 hybrid of charter school advocate and union-loving Teamster who once led MTV's "Rock the Vote" campaign, Barr's Green Dot Public Schools have been a bright spot in Los Angeles's ailing education system. The program's mostly Hispanic students consistently outperform their counterparts at traditional district schools. Unlike most charter leaders, however, Barr insists that his schools be unionized, and he doesn't think charters "are the answer for urban public education." For Barr, charter schools should serve as "centers of [research and development] for the districts." Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who recently took partial control over the city's schools, is looking favorably on Barr's heretofore stalled proposal to put a number of L.A.'s struggling high schools under Green Dot's tutelage. Barr, with his union-friendly policies and focus on cooperation over competition, is putting charter opponents between a rock and a hard place. For that, we say: Rock on.
"Charter School Activist Gains New Influence in L.A.," By Lesli A. Maxwell, Education Week, November 6, 2006 (subscription required)
November 9, 2006
Left-leaning folks who rail against vouchers better start stretching, because justifying their uncompromising stance is going to take added verbal gymnastics. Already this crew is hard-pressed to explain its opposition to lifting low-income and minority students out of failing urban schools, improving public schools through competition, and trying to level the educational landscape. But now, liberal voucher opponents will also have to find a way to oppose diversity. A recent report from the Friedman Foundation (see here) found that in 2003, private voucher schools in Milwaukee were 13 percent more racially diverse than their public school counterparts; in Cleveland, they were 18 percent more diverse. The numbers aren't really shocking; most urban public schools are racially monolithic because the neighborhoods they serve are highly segregated. But the Friedman report shines a light on the statistics, and it will be tough for voucher-despising liberals, for whom diversity is often the Holy Grail of public policy, to ignore them.
"Vouchers in Black and White," Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2006 (subscription required)
November 9, 2006
Chelsea Clinton showed up at a polling station on West 20th Street in Manhattan to find that her name wasn't on the voter rolls. Republican Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio could not vote because the addresses on his ID and registration didn't match (Chabot went on to win his race, but it was close). But no such problems were found at a certain Arlington (VA) polling location, where turnout was close to 100 percent, and things went off without a hitch. Last Monday, Taylor Elementary School held its student council elections. A small room, equipped with four laptops (yup, electronic ballots) served as polling station. Candidates were present, too, and enthusiastic about partaking in the democratic process. Nine-year-old Alisha Hiskey, who ran for vice president, couldn't contain herself: "Is it fun? Is it fun?" she asked her peers who emerged from the voting booths. Most nodded that yes, in fact, it was, although Megan Koch, 10, found the new computer system a bit disconcerting. "I have a sibling in first grade," she said, "and I think she's going to be more used to the computer. It will come more naturally." We know, Megan--it's tough to keep up with the youngsters.
"Young V. Voters Go High Tech, Show Very High Tolerance," by Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post, November 7, 2006
Coby Loup / November 9, 2006
Delaware's Rodel Foundation spearheaded the creation of Vision 2015, a coalition of business, education, and community leaders who aim to fundamentally redesign and dramatically improve the state's education system. With this detailed and comprehensive report, which incorporates extensive national and international research, as well as input from hundreds of educators and citizens in Delaware, they have produced a worthy blueprint for reform in the state. Ultimately, they hope Delaware's success will inspire other states to emulate their model. The report's recommendations--such as implementing strong academic standards, improving the assessment and accountability system, increasing principal autonomy, and fostering teacher professionalism--are generally spot on. It also addresses funding inequities ("Delaware's highest-funded district spends up to 45 percent more per pupil than its lowest-funded district.") in a logical and sound manner by proposing a system of weighted student funding. Other recommendations include adding 140 hours of instructional time per year, expanding online learning, and focusing more on early education. Unfortunately, charter schools are mostly absent from this reform list (although, implicit in the other recommendations is that all schools should function more like charters anyway). The authors acknowledge that while their plan is ambitious, political realities will temper it. Nonetheless, they hope that coalition-building will "mobilize broad public support" for their goals. Meanwhile, education reformers in other states should consider similar strategic planning processes. You won't want to miss this report if you're serious about education reform. Read