Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 11
March 15, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
How to end the reading wars?
Charter school lessons from Ohio
Return to sender
Lawsuits 4 schools
'V' for vexation
No blood for AP
This week, Mike and Rick discuss Michigan, bribery, and lingerie. The Aspen Institute's Gary Huggins stops by to chat about the Commission on No Child Left Behind, and News of the Weird is a flag in an army of women, or a liberating woman's street, or something like that.
Michael J. Petrilli / March 15, 2007
This month's Atlantic includes a thoughtful article by Jonathan Rauch about how to end the culture wars: "slug them out state by state." He points to the cautionary tale of Roe v. Wade, which nationalized an intensely controversial issue:
Abortion started in the state legislatures, where it was sometimes contentious but hardly the stuff of a nationwide culture war... In the late 1960s and early 1970s, some liberal-minded states began easing restrictive abortion laws. When the Supreme Court nationalized the issue, in 1973, it short-circuited a debate that was only just getting started. By doing that, it moved abortion out of the realm of normal politics, which cuts deals and develops consensus, and into the realm of protest politics, which rejects compromise and fosters radicalism.
The experience on gay marriage has been markedly different, Rauch argues, because the federal government has (so far) stayed out of the fray, allowing states to craft laws in line with their own differing political, cultural, and historical values. "The result," writes Rauch, "is a diversity of practice that mirrors the diversity of opinion. And gay marriage, not incidentally, is moving out of the realm of protest politics and into the realm of normal politics; in the 2006 elections, the issue was distinctly less inflammatory than two years earlier."
Are there lessons here for the reading wars? They too seemed intractable at one point, but by the late 1990s, following the trail
Charter schools are no longer in their infancy. They're gangly, pimply, headstrong, unpredictable teen-agers. It's been 15 years since the first school in Minnesota opened its doors. Back then, say veterans of the early charter wars, the struggle was simply to keep the spark glowing, to make sure that lawmakers gave charters a chance to open and prove their worth.
Today, charter schools are educating a million students in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Many of these schools are excellent. In Boston, Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Houston, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, some of the top-performing public schools are charters. This is a stunning accomplishment for a movement not yet quite old enough to drive.
Such claims are harder to make in Fordham's home state of Ohio, where we've been helping to propagate the charter idea for a decade and sponsoring a handful of charter schools since 2005.
In the Buckeye State today, those who care about the education of needy youngsters are stuck between two less-than-satisfactory options. The first--Governor Strickland's approach--is to support traditional district schools, despite decades of evidence--persistently low test scores, high drop-out rates--of how poorly they meet many children's needs, particularly in Ohio's "big eight" cities (not to mention his recently proposed charter school moratorium). Yet fixing them is incredibly hard because they are set in their ways, rule bound, bureaucratic and union-whipped. (The union influence explains at least part of the Governor's policies.)
March 15, 2007
Call it what you want--buyer's remorse, reverting to form, Hoekstra's rebellion--but Congressional conservatives aren't going to accept NCLB version 2.0 without a fight. Rather, they're bent on emasculating or repealing it. That's the gist of House and Senate bills introduced today that would allow states to opt out of most of the federal law's requirements while keeping the money flowing. The Washington Post reports that the bills' authors have already lined up more than fifty GOP supporters--more than voted against NCLB the first time around--including House minority whip Roy Blunt and FOW (Friend of W.) John Cornyn, Senator from Texas. In the background, the Heritage Foundation is trying to resuscitate the 90's era "Straight A's" proposal, which NCLB, in the interest of bipartisanship, pretty much ignored. The concept was to give states lots of freedom to spend their federal education dollars in return for demonstrable, measurable, and improved academic results. This was the same reasoning as charter schools getting freedom in return for results. Unfortunately, today's bills deliver only the first part of that deal: lots of freedom without any coherent metric by which to know whether states' results are satisfactory. (No, we don't trust them to grade their own papers.) If the operational flexibility being proposed here were joined to the results-based accountability and comparability created by national standards and tests, you'd have a winning combination. Now all that's needed is a Republican presidential candidate willing to
March 15, 2007
The Beastie Boys once spurred angst-ridden teens to fight for their right to party. Today, with parents growing ever more litigious and administrators reacting by instituting inane rules, students have to fight for their right to talk rather than whisper during lunch (see here and here). But despite the increase in campus regulation, school staffs remain at risk. Take, for example, the case of Joseph Frederick, which the Supreme Court will hear next week. After Frederick unfurled a banner that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," his school's principal, Deborah Morse, suspended him for ten days. If the Court finds in Frederick's favor (that his free speech was violated), Morse could be held personally liable and face severe financial penalties. That's how the infamous 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, at least--and because Morse's actions violated Frederick's rights, she is not entitled to immunity from the lawsuit. Regardless of whether or not advocating bong hits is protected speech, if this precedent stands, students and parents can expect schools to become even more rule-bound and stifling than they already are.
"Rights at Stake in Free-Speech Case," by Mark Walsh, Education Week, March 9, 2007 (subscription required)
"Justices to Hear Landmark Free-Speech Case," by Robert Barnes, Washington Post, March 13, 2007
March 15, 2007
When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa decided to reform his city's schools, he likely didn't know what all he was getting into. An incident last week, when the mayor took a cadre of journalists to visit an L.A. high school and a student spray painted his bus with graffiti, is representative. Already hurt by the drawn-out challenges to his school takeover plan (now languishing in the courts), the mayor is now struggling to get allies elected to the school board. Seeking a friendly majority on the Board of Education, Villaraigosa will have to prevail in two runoff elections in May between his favored candidates and those backed by the L.A. teachers' union, which likes the school system and its governance arrangements just the way they are. As the process drags on, the mayor seems to be making more enemies than friends. Board member Maguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who just won a hard-fought battle against charter school founder and reformer Johnathan Williams, said about working with the mayor, "It's going to take some time for me to be conciliatory." Warning to other would-be "education mayors": fixing schools ain't beanball.
"Villaraigosa's frustration," The Economist, March 8, 2007 (subscription required)
"Battle over L.A. schools shifts to May runoff," by Joel Rubin and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2007
March 15, 2007
Exxon Mobil is concerned about U.S. math and science education, so it has decided to pay kids to study. The company is pouring $125 million (a bit more than one day's profits) into the National Math and Science Initiative, which will reward students by paying them cash for each English, science, or math AP test on which they receive a score of 3 or higher. As usual, such pay-for-performance tactics have folks huffing. Robert Schaeffer of FairTest says the program is "basing education reform on a series of bribes to kids and bounties to teachers." Leading us to wonder: does FairTest "bribe" Schaeffer to come to work each day by offering him a salary? The program on which the Texas initiative is based has shown solid results in Dallas, so why not give it a chance to work on a broader scale? If the job of kids is to study and learn, why not attach a salary to that hard work?
"Initiative Will Pay Students to Pass AP Tests," by John Hechinger and Susan Warren, Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2007 (subscription required)
"Education initiative expands state programs nationwide," by Sudeep Reddy, Dallas Morning News, March 10, 2007
March 15, 2007
The advent of spring means a lot of things, not least of which is the release of Sports Illustrated's eagerly awaited and top-selling yearly swimsuit issue. Unfortunately, many library patrons, who have undoubtedly come to rely on the magazine as their roadmap to haute swimwear as well as feminine pulchritude, will have to purchase their 2007 bikinis without any guidance. That's because Sports Illustrated has unilaterally decided to halt dissemination of its swimsuit edition to schools and public libraries, bowing to critics who complain that it's become too racy. Lynne Weaver works at Randolph-Macon Women's College library, and she says "everybody's furious" that neither she nor her colleagues had any say in whether their institution received this issue or not. "If for any reason we would choose not to get an issue, that's up to us," she said. So if the nation's spring breakers are looking a little drab this year, we have Sports Illustrated to blame. And if Sports Illustrated sells more copies than ever before, it's probably because the politically-correct marketing genius who devised this plan understood that even more people will head to newsstands to find out for themselves just how racy the issue has in fact become.
"Is magazine a bad sport for swimsuit issue ban?," by Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2007
Eric Osberg / March 15, 2007
Martin R. West and Paul E. Peterson, Editors
The Brookings Institution
This weighty collection offers a broad look at the many issues surrounding so-called "adequacy" lawsuits, through which far too many courts have found bases in state constitutions to impose education spending mandates on their legislative and executive branches. Aficionados of this issue will want to read it in conjunction with Eric Hanushek's fine recent volume (see here), although Hanushek's work focuses primarily on the flimsiness of the adequacy arguments. This book covers that ground, too (indeed, Hanushek contributes a chapter on the "alchemy" of the funding calculations). But its 360 pages go farther. Rick Hess shows, for example, that adequacy lawsuit victories have not necessarily translated into policy changes. Joe Williams and Christopher Berry offer similar assessments (though Berry finds some evidence that such suits are associated with increased state funding and decreased inequity). Other chapters examine the interplay between adequacy suits and standards-based reform and prognosticate the future of adequacy suits (which may not be bright). You can order your copy here.
Achievement Gaps and Vouchers: How Achievement Gaps are Bigger in Minnesota Than Virtually Anyplace Else and Why Vouchers are Essential to Reducing Them
Coby Loup / March 15, 2007
Mitchell B. Pearlstein
Center of the American Experiment
This piece is more of an extended op-ed than a report, but it shines nonetheless. Pearlstein (president of Minnesota's Center of the American Experiment) takes readers through the main points of the voucher debate in a methodical, easy-to-digest narrative. He focuses on the Twin Cities and ties his discussion into their school reform efforts. Pearlstein starts by showing that achievement gaps are bigger in the Twin Cities than almost anywhere else and that black students achieve at higher levels in private schools. In the face of such evidence, he suggests, it's a crime that Minnesota should refuse at least to try vouchers. But opposition still festers, and Pearlstein spends the rest of the paper attempting to assuage critics' doubts and fears. He draws on relevant research across the country, including exemplary studies by Jay Greene, William Howell and Paul Peterson, and Caroline Hoxby. One by one, he then repels some common criticisms of vouchers. Then he makes a slight detour to reflect on the importance of what goes on outside of school. Pearlstein claims that, regardless of the quality of schools, achievement gaps will never fully close in the current context of high divorce rates, crime, out-of-wedlock births, and even negative media influence. If there's a little exaggeration here, Pearlstein may be forgiven. He's offered a passionate defense of a policy that's long been denied to the many