Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 26
July 12, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Pleasure, beauty, and wonder
By Dana Gioia
School choice by other means
Reading First round-up
Heating up Down Under
Ding, ding, ding!
This week, Mike and Rick chat about special-ed, rogue charters, and school names. Matthew Ladner of the Goldwater Institute talks NCLB, and News of the Weird is rich and creamy.
Dana Gioia / July 12, 2007
This week, the Fordham Institute issued Beyond the Basics: Achieving a Liberal Education for All Children, arising from our December 12, 2006, conference on the same topic, at which National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia--one of 18 contributors to the work--delivered a stirring talk on the role of the arts in liberal learning. (See also his commencement address to this year's Stanford graduates.) An edited transcript of that speech appears in the volume, and is excerpted here:
Our nation's capital draws tens of thousands of tourists each year, and most spend considerable time on Pennsylvania Avenue. They see some amazing structures there, but how many see more than the obvious? That street not only displays beautiful buildings, but it also presents our nation's intellectual heritage reflected in the architectural styles.
At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue sits the U.S. Capitol, a building of Roman architecture. It reminds us of our country's roots in the Roman Republic and Athenian Democracy. Turn around, and there stands a huge Egyptian obelisk dedicated to one of the first leaders in human history who voluntarily resigned his power at its very height--George Washington. He was a new world leader who followed in the footsteps of his hero, the Roman Cincinnatus, and returned to civilian life because he knew it was more important to preserve freedom than to preserve his particular vision of freedom. Turn a bit more,
July 12, 2007
Legendary voucher advocate Howard Fuller has long argued that school choice is prevalent--if you're wealthy. Affluent parents exercise "public school choice" when they shop for homes, of course, plus they can opt for private schools if public offerings aren't up to par. Now some middle-class Portland, Oregon, parents have found a new way to expand their options further: redraw school boundaries to gain access to preferred campuses. The Oregonian states the obvious: "Parents' fears and attitudes about race and class, and their concerns about differences in school quality, simmer under the surface of boundary discussions." A leading reason that Portland faces this controversy is because its intra-district transfer rules have been tightened. In other words, a reduction in one kind of school choice has led to demands for another. Here's a more equitable solution (especially in the wake of last month's Supreme Court decision): create lots of high-quality options, make all of them available to everyone, and assign limited seats via lottery. That's the best way to make school choice--and school quality--prevalent whether you're wealthy or not.
"If shopping for a school, just redraw the map," by Paige Parker, The Oregonian, July 9, 2007
July 12, 2007
The latest Weekly Standard features the Reading First "scandal" on its cover and asks (appropriately enough) "why does Congress hate the one part of No Child Left Behind that works?" Author Charlotte Allen's answer is that members of Congress in general, and Democrats in particular, are cozy with whole language advocates who argue that their preferred approach, "like Marxism, [has] never been properly tried." There may, of course, be a simple explanation: Democrats are happy to pile on the increasingly unpopular president for any alleged sin, and Republicans in Congress are in no mood to defend him. Allen's provocative piece goes off-track when she identifies reading guru Reid Lyon as the developer of the Voyager Universal Literacy program (that would be entrepreneur Randy Best). And she overreaches when she calls Reading First "dazzlingly successful"; hard data on the program are still tough to find, and Washington is abuzz with rumors that the government's multi-million dollar (but bizarrely designed) evaluation of the program (to be released this fall) will show few or no effects. In a world where federal education programs almost never work, except as vehicles for distributing dollars, Reading First merely needs to prove helpful, not miraculous.
"Read it and weep," by Charlotte Allen, The Weekly Standard, July 16, 2007
July 12, 2007
Gadfly endured lots of taunting as a larva ("88 eyes," "bug-brain"). But his heart truly goes out to 5-year-old Max Hell of Australia. As if the ribbing from his peers wasn't enough--"Max Hell smells!" or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!"-- officials at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic school in Melbourne recently refused to admit young Max unless he registered under his mother's maiden name. Hell's parents refused and took the story to Australia's Herald Sun. Confronted with the threat of such damnable publicity, the school relented. But Max's father, Alex, was less than forgiving: "We are the victims of our name", not to mention a misunderstanding of the word's true meaning. According to Alex, the Australian roots of Hell mean "bright." He may be etymologically challenged, but when it comes to Max's education, Hell's flames are indeed burning bright.
"Catholic school opens gates to Hell boy," Associated Press, July 9, 2007
State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, Volume I: Title I School Choice, Supplemental Educational Services, and Student Achievement
Coby Loup / July 12, 2007
U.S. Department of Education
No Child Left Behind's supplemental educational services (SES) provisions have endured much criticism since 2001 (see here and here, for example). But a new evaluation from the U.S. Department of Education suggests that the free tutoring offered under SES is doing some real good. RAND analysts used longitudinal data from nine major urban school districts to compare students who received SES services with those who did not. Of the seven districts yielding sufficient data, SES students in five made statistically significant gains in both reading and math. Admittedly, the gains for first-time users are small, but those students who avail themselves of SES for multiple years realize greater benefits. Unfortunately, few kids are taking advantage of SES: just "24 to 28 percent of eligible students in grades 2 through 5" and "fewer than 5 percent" of eligible high schoolers. Still, the ranks of SES-ers exceeded those who took advantage of NCLB's school choice provisions, which this report also covers. Less than 1 percent of eligible students moved to a different school. For the small sample of students that did change schools, RAND found no significant gains in achievement. See here to judge the report for yourself.
July 12, 2007
Lisa M. Stulberg
Center on Reinventing Public Education
New York State first authorized charter schools in 1998 with a cap of 100 schools. Eight years later, 100 institutions held charters, and a raucous debate and much politicking erupted over what to do, leading, a few months back, to a cap-lifting to 200. In the latest report from the National Charter School Research Project, Stulberg delicately navigates the tumult to offer policy recommendations for New York and other states caught in similar discussions. History shows that New York's key education players--governors, mayors, and school boards, but especially legislators and teachers unions--don't necessarily toe party or organizational lines. Stulberg cites various examples of legislators who cross party lines on the cap issue and notes that teachers unions, while pressing for tight caps, even run a few charter schools themselves. Optimist though she may be in so fraught a political environment, Stulberg sees ways that a more nuanced debate could improve charter laws down the road. Instead of using caps as either a blunt stick or carrot, for instance, policymakers could use them strategically to help guide the growth of charter schools. This might involve holding charter schools accountable to quality standards and allowing exemptions from the cap once school operators prove competent. Alternatively, state officials could give local leaders discretion in such matters to accommodate regional differences. Stulberg cautions, however, that using caps as a means to an end