Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 26
July 10, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
One nation, indivisible?
Discovering "academic freedom"
Green means go
No se puede!
WSF: Grand idea?
We name names
This week, Mike and Rick chat about illegal immigrants, rich suburbanites, and Bobby (formerly Piyush) Jindal. Amber brings us a Research Minute, and Education News of the Weird is a swing state.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / July 10, 2008
Watching the "Capitol Fourth" concert and ensuing fireworks on TV the other evening, four-year-old granddaughter in my arms, I grew as misty, sentimental, and patriotic as I usually do on America's birthday (which happens also be be little Emma's "half-birthday"). The next morning, however, I awoke with my ever-more-frequent sense of foreboding about the nation's future.
Temperamentally, I'm no pessimist and civically I've never been a "declinist." But I do begin to see parallels between America's present condition and Rome circa 350 A.D.
Terrorists bent on killing us is part of the problem, of course, and a faltering economy doesn't help. While I know the business cycle will eventually turn upward again, I can't but worry about the core strength of an economy in which Starbucks is now worth twice as much as General Motors. Frappuccinos aren't very powerful weapons against Al Qaeda.
Starbucks, in a way, symbolizes both the best of American ingenuity and entrepreneurialism and the hedonistic, live-for-today, save-not-for-tomorrow, bread-and-circuses "life-style" that gives me pause about the future. So does the near-total inability of our government to tackle in any serious way the major challenges facing the country. (I've hung around Washington for the better part of four decades and have never seen so total a breakdown of competence, will and common purpose. Consider, just for starters: immigration, Medicare, Darfur, national debt, NCLB, climate change, Tibet, infrastructure.) So does the substitution of trashy celebrity "news" for hard news in one paper
July 10, 2008
By all means spare yourself the burden of reading, as I did this week in the esteemed National Review Online, that criticizing sneaky attempts to undermine evolution in k-12 science class is somehow akin to promoting eugenics.
John G. West of the Discovery Institute (home of most of the misguided intelligence behind the Intelligent Design campaign), a self-styled "contrarian" and a political scientist, not a natural scientist, took to NRO to defend Louisiana's new Science Education Act, signed late last month by that state's generally savvy governor, Bobby Jindal. That measure allows teachers to introduce into their science classes supplemental material that will supposedly rev the kids' "critical thinking" and foster "an open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning."
West has a grandiose view of the type of critical discussion that such supplements will stir in the minds of elementary and secondary school pupils, far too many of whom can scarcely read and few of whom could construct a coherent paragraph differentiating James Madison from James Bond. But no matter, says West--now that Louisiana finally offers to its science teachers the protection they've long craved from academic oppression, the discussional atmosphere will flourish.
Where, one wonders, are these oppressed teachers who until now have been browbeaten or cowed from communicating objective scientific information to their charges? West identifies none in his piece,
July 10, 2008
Michelle Rhee wants to pay teachers in Washington, D.C., close to $131,000 a year--but there's a catch. To make the big bucks, educators will have to sacrifice job security. The D.C. schools chancellor has proposed to establish two pay tiers, red and green. (Good idea.) Green-level teachers would see extra green (initially provided by private organizations such as the Gates Foundation) for ceding their seniority and tenure rights and submitting to yearly evaluations that judge them largely by student test scores. Red-level educators would stick to the single-salary schedule, which rewards experience and not performance but pays less. An unnamed union representative told the Washington Post that teachers will never go for the green: "You may be trading off your future, your tenure, your job security. When you trade that, it seems to me you're not getting much." Not getting much? What about getting an increased sense of professionalism and a much higher salary? The Washington Post reported that the Washington Teachers' Union is open to the idea, which is fantastic, even if their national counterparts are far less agreeable on this point. As for Rhee: nice work, chancellor, yet again.
"Rhee Seeks Tenure-Pay Swap for Teachers," by V. Dion Haynes, Washington Post, July 3, 2008
"Reform With Rewards," Washington Post editorial, July 8, 2008
July 10, 2008
That's the message South Carolina is sending to undocumented students now that it's become the first state in the nation to bar illegal immigrants from attending its public colleges and universities. What a startling disconnect between that state's k-12 system--which, because of a 1982 Supreme Court decision, must educate all students who show up in its classes--and its higher education system. Concern about America's out-of-control borders is not ill-founded, of course, but it's difficult to envision a more punitive and ineffective solution to the problem than the one South Carolina has embraced. Nor one more damaging to the long-term prospects of illegal immigrants becoming useful, productive, law-abiding, and tax-paying residents. Public policy should encourage all children to fulfill their potential, not force those whose parents broke the law to hide in the shadows of our society. On this point, California and the nine other states that provide in-state tuition to all students graduating from their public high schools have it right. And South Carolina has it so very, very wrong.
"Illegal immigrants face threat of no college," by Mary Beth Marklein, USA Today, July 7, 2008
"Undocumented students have a degree of anxiety," by Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2009
July 10, 2008
Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, referred to always as "young conservatives," have written a much ballyhooed book, Grand New Party, which purports to show Republicans how they can win in November and beyond. The key, say the authors, is to appeal to Sam's Club voters--i.e., working people without college degrees. Building on that, the latest National Review contains an essay by Douthat and Salam that offers Republicans a way to appeal not only to the working class but also to the upper middle class. And "School Choice for the Suburbs" is one of that article's major subheads. Whether or not offering school choice to wealthy suburban families is a winning political idea (it's not; they've already chosen schools they like), we were heartened to see the authors trumpet the benefits of weighted student funding (WSF), something about which we know a thing or two. Douthat and Salam write that promoting WSF nationwide is "a cause that could make mincemeat of the Left's claim to represent the interests of children." Wow. We're not absolutely convinced that WSF is the electoral savior of the Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter), but it's fantastic that such a fine idea is receiving national attention.
"Battle for the 'Burbs," by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, National Review, July 14, 2008
July 10, 2008
Must've been a slow day at the G-8 Summit. The Washington Post reports, on A1, that "Asian American students will outnumber white classmates for the first time" at Thomas Jefferson High School (colloquially known as T.J.) in Fairfax County, Virginia. Some fret that the highly selective school, which garnered the top spot in U.S. News & World Report's 2007 high school rankings, suffers from insufficient diversity--a mere 2 percent of this year's T.J. class is African American or Hispanic. In 2004, the Fairfax County School Board put in place a T.J. admissions policy that took race into account as a "plus factor" but not a determining factor (whatever that means), and yet the number of Asian students accepted continues to rise and the number of Hispanic and black students remains low. Here's a thought: Who cares? T.J. is an academically selective school, and its enrollment reveals what NAEP scores and SAT and ACT data have long shown. Asian American and white students tend to do better academically than black and Hispanic students, for a number of varied and complicated reasons. We won't create a brighter American future by hurting high achievers and socially engineering their schools. The job of Fairfax school officials, and those in the other T.J. feeder systems is to educate their black and Hispanic pupils so well in grades K-8 that they're truly competitive when it comes to T.J. admissions.
Coby Loup / July 10, 2008
The film's title is Flunked, but that's misleading. It spends far less time dwelling on bad U.S. schools than featuring the good ones. This movie will not teach ed policy analysts much that's new; it is meant to introduce rather than dissect some of the most successful educational approaches being tried around the country. Headlining the tour are Ben Chavis, founder of the American Indian Public Charter School, and Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools. Both speak with conviction about the importance of strong leadership, high-quality teaching and curricula, and high standards. The film's sweeping pans of orderly classrooms, with narrator Joe Mantegna (that's Joey Zaza to fans of Godfather Part III) telling tales of sky-rocketing test scores, are clear evidence that the featured schools, most of them charters, are doing something right. The film tries to explain their success by providing some basics on free-market principles; Cato scholar Andrew Coulson is interviewed, for example. But it doesn't dig deep enough to reveal precisely what makes the schools profiled so different from their regular district counterparts. It's not necessarily a knock on the film, which lasts only 45 minutes. The producers knew they'd have to paint in broad strokes. It would be nice, though, to see someone document in stark detail the contrasts between thriving charter schools and failing district schools. Nonetheless, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which made the film, deserves praise for its fine
July 10, 2008
Nancy Kober, Naomi Chudowsky, Victor Chudowsky
Center on Education Policy
The Center on Education Policy's latest report gives a decisive "yes" to the question in its title. Using state test and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data since the implementation of NCLB, CEP found upward trends in reading and math in lots of states and plenty of evidence of a narrowing achievement gap. The percentage of students reaching proficiency in math made "moderate-to-large" gains in 21 states at the elementary level and in 22 states at the middle-school level. High-school gains were fewer: just twelve jurisdictions. Reading achievement was similar but not weaker, with 17 states bettering their performance at the elementary level and eight at the high school level. Of course, a lot of states aren't making any statistically significant gains and progress on NAEP tends to be much more modest than on state tests. CEP also offers possible explanations for the trends it found, the most notable of which is that "subtle manipulations" may have been made in test design (e.g. easier questions, changing proportions of hard and easy questions, different blends of sub-topics covered). We reacted similarly two weeks ago when New York reported sudden dramatic gains in its test scores. Evidence continues to arrive that state results are better on the state's own tests. Unfortunately, changes in test design are hard to document and vary from state-to-state (a problem explored in our