Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 39
October 9, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Preserving faith-based urban schools
Welcome to Michelle's neighborhood
Ed in '08, Federalist edition
Thanks but no thanks
Stepping over the line
Does God hate Catholic schools?
This week, Mike and Rick consider the fate of urban Catholic schools, which can't seem to catch a break, as well as Rhee's "Plan B," and Palin's remarks at the VP debate. Amber enlightens us with a report on DC--achievement, poverty, housing, the whole shebang--while Rate that Reform avoids contracting rabies.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / October 9, 2008
Back in April, a trinity of events called attention to the worsening plight of America's faith-based urban schools: Pope Benedict's visit, particularly his Catholic University address; the White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-based Schools; and, of course, the Fordham Institute's stellar publication, edited by Scott Hamilton, Who Will Save American's Urban Catholic Schools?.
All three pointed to a lamentable yet paradoxical situation: even as the United States properly obsesses over the weak academic achievement of poor and minority youngsters residing in our inner cities, hundreds of low-cost, high-performance inner-city schools have been closing. And all three, in their very different ways, suggested remedies for that situation.
Six months later, the White House Domestic Policy Council has brought forth a first-rate treatise on this same topic: Preserving a Critical National Asset: America's Disadvantaged Students and the Crisis in Faith-based Urban Schools. It's not just thorough, well-documented, literate and long (160 pages, though more than half of that bulk consists of edited transcripts of the April summit); it's astute, thoughtful, and in some respects, gutsy. Well worth the time, in other words, of anyone with an interest in educating poor kids or the fate of parochial schools.
In a sad sort of way, though, I feel like I'm coming full circle. Preserving repeatedly cites and quotes the 1972 report of the President's Panel on Nonpublic Education, established by Nixon in 1970 at the behest of my boss, Pat Moynihan, and
Frederick M. Hess / October 9, 2008
Three cheers for DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. After a grueling attempt to bribe the Washington Teachers' Union into accepting a generous new pay scale accompanied by teacher accountability, she has decided unilaterally to remove ineffective teachers without waiting for the WTU to assent.
On October 1, Rhee announced a new regime under which poorly performing teachers have 90 days to improve or face dismissal. She is thus demonstrating that union contracts are less of an impediment than most superintendents claim them to be--exposing once again the secret that risk-averse leadership is frequently as responsible for district inaction as is union intransigence.
Rhee's stance is pioneering in the world of K-12 schooling. For decades, the pursuit of "consensus" has been the unifying principle of educational leadership. While students languished, superintendents have been advised to seek just the right words, gestures, and inducements so as to entice all stakeholders to accept necessary changes--at least on paper, even if little or nothing changes in practice. That is district leadership, Mr. Rogers-style.
Rhee spent more than a year walking this well-trod path, promoting a contract proposal that promised a radical break with tradition, though not nearly as radical a break as many imagined. After all, it included large raises for every DCPS teacher--whether they opted for the "red tier" and retained their job protections, or signed up for the new and more lucrative "green tier," in which they would forfeit tenure and allow themselves to
October 9, 2008
Our favorite national initiative may be history, but education is alive and kicking in the good ole states. A whopping fifteen of them will have an array of legislative referendums, constitutional amendments, and citizen initiatives on their ballots this November. These ballot addendums address varied subjects and are of varied import, although none has garnered the attention of last year's school voucher hoopla in Utah. Colorado and Nebraska will endeavor to restrict affirmative action in education while Colorado, Maine, Maryland, and Missouri will look to gambling for more education dollars. But Oregon is the one to watch; amongst other issues, the Beaver State is contemplating a crack down on how long students may spend in bilingual education classrooms, plus a version of merit pay based on teacher "classroom performance." Suffice it to say that Oregon's teachers unions are livid. Such emotional response to education issues is rare this year, however; with the globe's financial system melting down, it's hard for school policy to garner much more than a shrug from most voters. Maybe Ed in '12 will have more luck.
"Education in Spotlight on Statewide Ballots," by Katie Ash, Education Week, October 6, 2008
October 9, 2008
Video games might help kids develop more than overgrown thumb muscles, reports the New York Times. Increasingly, publishers and educators are using video games to bait students into opening that ancient relic known as a book. This is, to an extent, laudable: schools should prepare students for the (digital) future, and teachers should strive to make learning relevant and engaging. But while digital media might provide innovative hands-on choices for educators, it is no substitute for the printed word. "Gaming evangelists" who claim that reading is too passive for activity-yearning youngsters ought to take a page from one opponent of this defeatist trend: "rather than say, 'Oh, books are irrelevant in the modern era because there are all these other media available,' I would ask shouldn't we be doing a better job of teaching kids how to read?" Indeed. A student who has learned to actively read--to decode and deconstruct, to question and connect and imagine, to find hidden meaning, to understand and appreciate tone and irony and language--will never be disengaged or unhappy with mere print. And on occasion, he or she might even prefer it to Super Smash Brothers Brawl and World of Warcraft.
"Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers," by Motoko Rich, New York Times, October 5, 2008
October 9, 2008
Here's a quandary. All four elementary schools in New London, CT have failed to make adequate yearly progress for two or more consecutive years. Unable to offer intra-district school choice, the school system is required under NCLB to ask neighboring districts to offer inter-district choice. And so New London did--and got "no takers" from any of its eighteen surrounding districts. Hardly surprising since New London is a typical struggling urban district, abounding with socioeconomically disadvantaged students. But particularly telling was the response of Susan Kennedy, chief of the state Department of Education's Bureau of School and District Improvement: "New London's request to other districts single-handedly satisfied the NCLB requirement that school districts offer public school choice, whether or not other districts agree to take on New London's students." Legally speaking, Kennedy is right--proving that those who think the feds can force meaningful change on recalcitrant states and districts are woefully wrong.
"No Towns Willing to Take New London Students," by Jenna Cho, The Day, October 6, 2008
October 9, 2008
The "judgment" of the presidential candidates has become a major issue in this year's campaign, perhaps because citizens are worried about the dearth of judgment on display in American society. Case in point: a Kansas City charter school teacher who recently posted a video to YouTube featuring his fatigues-clad students chanting in support of presidential candidate Barack Obama. And--surprise!--the digital masterpiece may now cost him his job. The teacher, who has been suspended, filmed the students in May performing a step routine modeled on traditional black fraternity stepping. The group of students quotes elements of Obama's healthcare plan and announces which profession Obama has inspired each of them to join. According to the school's principal, Joyce McGautha, the school was aware of the video and warned the teacher not to put it on the internet. Note to teachers: sometimes principals know what they are talking about. Being motivated by national leaders is undoubtedly a powerful and positive thing; said inspiration should not be demonstrated by orchestrated, cultish, partisan displays in military garb. 'Nuff said.
"Teacher suspended for students' Obama chants," by Joe Robertson, The Kansas City Star, October 7, 2008
"Middle School Teacher Suspended for 'Obama Frat' Spat," by Jennifer Lawinsky, Foxnews.com, October 6, 2008
October 9, 2008
Paula J. Carreiro and Eileen Shields-West, eds.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
With so many options in the education marketplace today--public to private, progressive to conservative, secular to religious, and more--this collection of essays is a handy reference for any parent trying to make sense of them all. It begins with general principles to keep in mind when reviewing a school, including the fact that there's a clear distinction between a school's mission--its goals, values and cherished dreams--and a school's model--the tools it uses to achieve its mission. The model should always fulfill the mission, explain the authors, and schools where this is not the case are unfortunately all too numerous. The book then describes general school categories, from public education to charters and independent schools, before delving deeper into more specific models, including Montessori Education, Internationally Minded Schools, Islamic schools, Christian schools, boarding schools, schools for gifted/talented students, and those with special needs--nineteen types in all. It finishes with a brief look at the future of education, concluding that innovation is the key to creating a school that is both pedagogically and financially successful. While the volume is expansive, it is not verbose, thus providing parents with practical information in digestible nuggets. Taken as a whole, the parent will finish this book more learned and better prepared to make a superlative school choice decision for his or her child, though it is still no match for Bryan and Emily
October 9, 2008
M.J. Bryant, K.A. Hammond, M.M. Bocian, M.F. Rettig, C.A. Miller, R.A. Cardullo
This limp but well-meaning report checks in on the progress of California elementary schools towards NCLB's 2014 "universal proficiency" target. The study finds--you might want to sit down for this shocker--that not all students will, in fact, be proficient by then. Discouraging indeed, but scarcely news to anyone who (a) has set foot inside a struggling school; (b) follows education reform; or (c) breathes. As Mike already opined, this is about as groundbreaking as discovering that baseball sluggers are unlikely to bat 1.000. On a more helpful, if still unsurprising, note, the study does determine that the low-income and limited-English-proficiency subgroups are least likely to attain AYP. Current trends indicate that virtually no California schools will meet AYP six years from now, despite modest statewide gains in the percentage of students scoring proficient. It's only fitting that a report with such obvious findings would offer up this pearl of wisdom: "we must not lose sight of the importance of educating our children well." Luckily for readers, a meatier evaluation of "proficiency" was published by yours truly just last year, and a new Fordham-Northwest Evaluation Association analysis of AYP is due out in December. You can read more about the Science article here and here.