Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 27
July 19, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
There they go again
You Bet Your Life
She wants answers
Separate but constitutional
Down but not out
Abstinence comes with a price
The Corruption of the Curriculum
July 19, 2007
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled against the Louisville and Seattle school districts, race-based student assignment policies are mostly illegal. Superintendents around the nation are now seeking other ways to maintain social diversity in their hallways and classrooms.
Today's faddish solution is some version of "assign them by income," based on the premise that district school-assignment policies can achieve a high degree of desirable integration by using socioeconomic status--not yet a proscribed category. The idea is being touted by school officials, journalists, policy wonks such as Richard Kahlenberg, and even a presidential candidate as diversity's best hope in the current jurisprudential climate.
As Reagan might say, there they go again, with yet another rendition of social engineering via public schooling.
To be sure, income integration doesn't collide with the same legal barriers as race-based policies. But it will founder for much the same reason that race-based policies failed. Integrating school systems, on whatever grounds, requires heavy-duty busing. Students are reassigned to schools based on demographics, not geography or preference. Kids and parents understandably balk, especially the middle-income ones (those who don't leave for private schools, that is).
They're right, too. Trying to manufacture school diversity--whether through race or income--is a well meaning but ultimately bad idea. Districts should focus on improving schools for all students and providing real school choice for all families, not on re-jiggering pupil assignment plans.
Diversity is no bad thing but
July 19, 2007
The National Education Association isn't getting much love these days from Washington, D.C., or Washington State. Last month, the union's Evergreen State affiliate, the W.E.A., was told by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court that--to make a long story short--it couldn't snatch money from non-members for political purposes (George Will explains it). Now the N.E.A. is having more legal troubles in the Pacific Northwest: a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma claims that the union received kickbacks to support high-fee retirement plans. Two financial firms--Nationwide Life Insurance Company and the Security Benefit Group--have purportedly paid millions to the N.E.A., and the union (coincidence?) has endorsed for its members the high-fee plans of both companies. An attorney for the plaintiffs claims that unions "should be endorsing plans because they're good plans, not because they're paid money to endorse those plans." You say the N.E.A. represents the interests of teachers? Don't bet on it.
"Lawsuit Says Teachers Are Overcharged on Annuities," by Gretchen Morgenson, New York Times, July 17, 2007
"School workers sue over retirement plan," by Gene Johnson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 17, 2007
July 19, 2007
Detroit's new superintendent, Connie Calloway, garnered cheers from the crowd at a school board meeting last week when she said, "Charter schools mean suicide for public schools." It's an odd statement. Charter schools are public schools, of course, and those in and around Detroit are far from suicidal--in fact, they're thriving, in marked contrast to Calloway's district schools. It's no surprise that Detroit's school system is having the serious problems, problems Calloway says she plans to tackle. But she admits to a certain ineffable puzzlement. Referring to shrinking enrollments, the new supe asked, "What is it that we're doing that causes us to drive families away?" Well. Perhaps parents leave because of the deplorable conditions in Detroit's district schools. Or maybe they leave because charter schools, despite receiving less funding, do a better job educating students. We wait, with bated breath, for Calloway to show us the light. Parents in Detroit, though, don't seem to be so patient.
"DPS chief no charter fan," by Jennifer Mrozowski, Detroit News, July 13, 2007
July 19, 2007
Ohio's ACLU has been slamming the Cleveland School District for its plan to open five new same-sex schools this fall. But will the threatened lawsuit hold constitutional water? Doubtful. The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, argued that optional gender-specific schools are constitutional when there is an "exceedingly persuasive justification" for them. Single-sex schools have been proven to stimulate increased achievement elsewhere and Cleveland parents seem to know it. According to polling data, public support in Cleveland for optional same-sex schooling is robust, which doesn't sit well with ACLU pundits who claim that all such schools are a throwback to Jim Crow-style segregation. That's plain wrong, of course, both legally and obviously. Ohio ACLU chief Jeff Gamso said Cleveland's plan is a "throw-it-up-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-will-stick situation." He had best get out of the way, because it looks like the city plans to start throwing.
"Same-sex schools opposed by ACLU," by Joseph L. Wagner, Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 12, 2007
July 19, 2007
Speaking of throwing: "The sun don't shine on the same dog's ass every day." So said Jim "Catfish" Hunter, one of baseball's greatest closers, after giving up a home-run to lose a World Series game in 1974. And it appears, sadly, that the sun has finally set on KIPP Harbor Academy in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. For the first time in KIPP's successful history, one of its schools is closing for lack of space. At this point, the blame-game isn't worth playing. The bottom line is that 120 students in the Old Line State no longer have the same high-quality education options they once did. Failure hurts, more so when children's futures are at stake. But the great ones keep pitching. Catfish went on to win a number of championship rings. Bet on KIPP winning a better life for lots of Maryland youngsters in the near future. Somewhere.
"KIPP charter school closure is certain," by Ruma Kumar, Baltimore Sun, July 13, 2007
July 19, 2007
Lesson to kids: Chastity can cost you $24,000. That's about how much 16-year-old Lydia Playfoot (or her parents) will have to pay in court costs, now that she's lost a case against school administrators who made her remove her chastity ring. Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, claims that wearing the ring violated its dress code; Lydia claims that Millais School violated her human rights. (The human right in question being the one about free expression of religion; Playfoot considers her chastity ring a "religious artifact.") The British authorities had better tread lightly, though. Gadfly remembers what eventually happened the last time the English cracked down on religious expression (see here). And thanks to the rebellious Mayflower Puritans and the revolutionaries that followed, American students have been able to express their own, deeply held beliefs ever since.
"Girl loses legal fight over ‘chastity ring,'" by Michael Herman and Joanna Sugden, Times of London, July 16, 2007
The Learning Season: The Untapped Power of Summer to Advance Student Achievement and Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap
Coby Loup / July 19, 2007
Beth M. Miller
Nellie Mae Education Foundation
Karl L. Alexander, Doris R. Entwisle, and Linda Steffel Olson
American Sociological Review
These reports, released more or less to coincide with the end of the school year, argue that summer vacation shares much blame for the achievement gap between kids of low- and high-socioeconomic status (SES). Miller presents past research showing that, during the school year, low- and high-SES students make similar progress on standardized tests. Between spring and fall, however, the scores of low-SES students either level off or decline, while those of high-SES students continue to rise. Research by Alexander and colleagues confirms this trend. Tracking 325 Baltimore students, they found that high-SES students gained a cumulative 47 points on reading test scores during the summer, while their low-SES counterparts lost 2 points. Why such disparities? Miller offers the metaphorical "faucet theory": "learning resources are turned on for all children during the school year. But in the summertime, the faucet is turned off." Affluent youngsters can quench their thirst for knowledge with academic camps, household bookshelves, libraries, bookstores, and family interaction. But many low-SES students don't have access to such resources. Miller quotes an NCES study, for instance, which found that "42.5 percent of children in high-income households attended camp the summer after kindergarten, compared with just 5.4 percent of children in low-income" families. The implicit lesson of these findings, of course, is that reform-minded organizations
July 19, 2007
Derek Neal and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach
National Bureau of Economic Research
A new study from University of Chicago economists Derek Neal and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach claims that rewarding or penalizing schools based on their number of proficient students adversely affects both high- and low-performing youngsters. The authors examine data from Chicago Public Schools (which introduced accountability reforms in both 1996 and, following enactment of NCLB, 2002). They find that students who scored in the middle deciles before the reforms showed significant gains on tests taken after each reform was implemented. But the highest- and lowest-achieving students barely improved, even though schools were held accountable. The authors explain their findings thus: school officials figure that academic laggards are, well, simply unable to do well on tests. Therefore, rather than embark on the Sisyphean task of educating them, teachers redirect their efforts toward those students who are just "on the bubble" and thus seem more likely to attain proficiency on state tests--i.e., youngsters whose academic achievement isn't great but isn't awful, either. This paper calls for accountability systems that measure schools based on any improvement by kids, not just on the attainment of specific benchmarks. Although Neal and Schanzenbach make a compelling case based on the 1996 changes, their analysis of NCLB's effects is shallow, starting with the fact that their data ends in 2002, the very year the law first went into effect. Find the paper here.
July 19, 2007
Robert Whelan, ed.
U.S. concerns over the hijacking of public school curricula by anti-American progressives find a mirror in Britain, where ridiculous reforms have plundered from public schools both tradition and rigor--and left a radically leftist agenda in their place. So says a new compilation, edited by Robert Whelan, deputy director of the British think tank Civitas, in which six prominent essayists (scholars, mostly) address these problems. The reader doesn't know whether to cry or laugh while reading chapters such as "Geography Used to be About Maps," by Professor Alex Standish. Truth becomes farce. Standish, for example, describes a British education official who argued that the purpose of geography education was to "further ... the activities of the United Nations." Mathematics instruction in the UK has, according to this volume, become incoherent and plagued by goofy pedagogical theories, and the alleged need to situate scientific learning in the context of pressing social problems has deflated what was once a rigorous curriculum in biology, physics, and chemistry. The book's message suffers a bit, though, from inconsistency: one chapter laments that "critical thinking about ethnicity" rather than national solidarity was the curricular response to the July 7 terrorist attacks. But the very next chapter preaches how foreign-language education has done much good by "breaking down barriers between people and countries and promoting a sense of universalism in an individualised world." Nonetheless, the book is a welcome (albeit troubling) stare into America's