Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 3
January 22, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
Catholic schools have a prayer
The Beautiful Tree
Rick loves Gwen Stefani
Mike and Rick discuss Obama's inaugural address, the stimulus package, and charter school costs. Then Amber updates us on the latest tracking of alternative teacher routes and Rate That Reform takes a week off to recover from inaugural ball hopping.
Michael J. Petrilli / January 22, 2009
For an education watcher, the most striking parts of President Barack Obama's sober, yet stirring, inaugural address weren't the oblique references to our schools (which "fail too many" and will be "transformed" to "meet the demands of a new age"). Rather, it was his old-fashioned call for us to usher in "a new era of responsibility--a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly." That's because, in this Age of Accountability, too many of us in the education policy world have been loath to talk about "responsibility," particularly "parental responsibility." It's high time that we did.
"A parent's willingness to nurture a child...decides our fate," Obama said this week. In his big education speech last May, and on the campaign trail, he was more explicit: "There is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child's education from day one. There is no substitute for a parent who will make sure their children are in school on time and help them with their homework after dinner and attend those parent-teacher conferences...And I have no doubt that we will still be talking about these problems in the next century if we do not have parents who are willing to turn off the TV once in awhile and put away the video games and
January 22, 2009
After much poking and prodding, supporters of Catholic schools may finally be springing into action. As we (amongst others) pointed out last year, these schools are essential options for low-income and minority students in urban areas, but have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Over 2,000 Catholic schools have closed since 1990, most of those in the last eight years. It is music to our ears to hear that some dioceses and their communities across the country are rising to the challenge. "It was taken for granted for a long time that Catholic schools would always be there," explains Dr. Karen M. Ristau, president of the National Catholic Education Association. "People are beginning to realize that this is a false assumption." Out: cries of poverty, declining enrollment, and pessimism. In: community involvement, better financial management, and a renewed energy to solve the mounting problems stacked up against these educational jewels. Most notably, these efforts have focused on redefining the governance arrangements of parish schools; instead of putting the administrative burden solely on the shoulders of an overworked priest or nun, dioceses are enlisting parents, alumni, and community members to play a larger role. But shrinkage continues to occur on many fronts and these initiatives are largely small and local. We're cheered by this news, but these efforts may be too little, too late.
"For Catholic Schools, Crisis and Catharsis," By Paul Vitello and Winnie Hu, The New
January 22, 2009
If the recent past is prologue, we have reason to be hopeful about Arne Duncan. As he prepared to leave his post as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools last week, Duncan proposed to close or consolidate 25 under-performing or under-enrolled schools. Several years ago, Mayor Daley gave Duncan permission to replace up to 70 schools with 100 new ones by 2010. To date, the city has closed 61 schools and opened 75 new ones. This latest crop would include six closures, five consolidations, five "phase outs," and nine turnarounds (i.e. keep students but replace staff). Renaissance 2010 was met with great hostility by the teachers' union when it was announced--and these new proposed closures and changes are getting a similarly cold reception. But the fact that Duncan didn't back down when the going got tough is a testament to his character--and the fact that Chicago enjoys relative labor peace is a testament to his diplomacy. It's also worthwhile to note that this isn't an 11th hour change of heart; Duncan was shuttering schools and taking a hard line way before Obama was even elected, let alone tapped him for his cabinet. Now let's hope Duncan successfully imports those traits into 400 Maryland Avenue.
"25 schools set for shakeup," by Maudlyne Ihejirika and Cheryl Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times, January 11, 2009
January 22, 2009
Will President Bush get a last education laugh? That's what Richard Whitmire, president of the National Education Writers Association and founder of the Why Boys Fail blog, predicts. Eight years ago, Bush took his Texas-style accountability system to Washington, surprising legislators when he unveiled what became No Child Left Behind two days into his first term. And although the damaged NCLB brand has been criticized heavily from almost all sides, Whitmire sees education reform as Bush's lasting legacy. Why? "The notion that Obama would gut a law exposing the maleducation of millions of black children is a fantasy," he explains. Sure, they'll change the name, and maybe they'll really fix the law's flaws (and may we offer a few suggestions?), but accountability is here to stay. We concur.
"Bush leaves gift of education reform behind," by Richard Whitmire, Politico, January 15, 2009
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 22, 2009
James Tooley, the eminent British educationist who introduced the western world to the plethora of "six dollar a month" private schools that serve thousands of poor families in the third world, will shortly publish (with CATO's help) an important new book that recounts his own discovery of these schools, why they're important, what to make of them, and what lessons wealthier lands (and people) might draw from them. "In the fissures of crumbling public education systems," Tooley writes, "a vibrant and confident education industry is beginning to emerge. It is serving the poor as well as the rich. It is bringing much higher standards than appear possible under public education. And with judicious support, it can engage to meet the needs of all, and can innovate through competition to improve teaching and learning and expand the curriculum, in ways that are unimaginable under public systems....My hunch...is that the educational enterprise will go from strength to strength in India and China, and in Africa too. And if for India, why not for us?" Why, indeed, not? You can learn more here.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 22, 2009
Alex Standish, a young and formidably articulate British-bred geographer at Western Connecticut State University, is something of a libertarian when it comes to education (the state should meddle less in schools) but also something of a "universalist" about curriculum. (He's unfond of charter schools, for example, because of the curricular balkanization he thinks they foster.) He's just published a well-wrought and much-needed exposé of politicization in the geography curriculum of British and American schools--this being a subject that's long been taken seriously in the UK and woefully neglected on our side of the Atlantic--that firmly and cogently argues the traditional liberal-arts case for geography education: not to fill kids' heads with grownups' notions of environmentalism, multiculturalism, and such, but rather to equip them with the skills and knowledge that will enable them later to work such things out for themselves. To "reestablish the intrinsic worth" of geography in the curriculum, he writes, "all political, social and economic extrinsic aims for geography [must be] expelled from the discipline. Schools need to be recognized as institutions of education, not a place to fix social and political problems which arise in the adult political sphere." Bravo, hooray, and please see for yourself. You can learn more about the book here and more about Standish's views on NCLB, Obama, and such here.
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / January 22, 2009
Pam Grossman and Susanna Loeb, eds.
Harvard Education Press
This book sets out to do just what its subtitle suggests: map a new landscape of teacher education. Crucial to that terrain, posit editors Grossman and Loeb, both Stanford education professors, is a new typology of teacher preparation. Simply comparing "alternative" to "traditional" certification is not valuable, particularly since these programs are "hardly distinguishable...in terms of substance" (we couldn't agree more). Moreover, when programs do vary, defining them as a single group masks important differences and hinders the field's ability to learn from and improve them. Grossman and Loeb's proposed typology defines teacher education programs via four dimensions: the nature of the provider (e.g., college, university, district, private organization, or a mix of these); the focus of recruitment and selection (e.g., via highly selective colleges, military recruitment, or local recruitment); addressing the needs of the labor market (e.g., district needs or high-needs certification areas like special education); and the timing and focus of course work and fieldwork preparation (e.g., six-week pre-entry program, full-year of co-teaching induction, or something in between). The book also calls for more experimentation in teacher preparation programs, particularly matching differential supports to teacher profiles. For example, how might a program preparing teachers to work in schools with large percentages of English language learners differ from those heading to English-dominant schools? Other chapters provide background on alternative certification programs, the types of candidates most apt to