Flypaper

Jeff Kuhner

Nothing is more emblematic of the rampant intellectual incoherence and moral equivalence of our age than the current debate about whether Bill Ayers is a "terrorist." Dean Millot at Edbizbuzz calls Mike a "McCarthyite"--one of the most vicious slanders in the political lexicon--for stating the obvious: Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist who shouldn't be part of the American Educational Research Association's leadership team. Leaving aside the AERA issue (and I don't think any respectable group should have a person who committed and championed violence to pursue political goals as a member, never mind as one of its leaders), how can Ayers's actions as part of the radical Weather Underground not be categorized as terrorism?

''I don't regret setting bombs,'' Ayers told the New York Times in an interview published (of all days) on September 11, 2001. ''I feel we didn't do enough.'' Well, he and the Weathermen did plenty: They launched a series of bombings against New York City Police Headquarters, the Capitol building, and the Pentagon during the early 1970s. Their goal was to bring violent Marxist revolution and the Vietnam War to the streets of America--or as they frequently called it, "Amerika," to connote its supposedly fascist underpinnings.

In 1970, Ayers summed up the Weatherman philosophy as: ''Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at.'' Ayers now says his comments were a "joke" meant to stimulate discussion on...

Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise writes today that high schools are scaling back "honors" courses as they boost their AP and IB offerings. Some suspect that Post reporter Jay Mathews's Challenge Index, which ranks high schools based on their participation in AP and IB, is pressuring schools to abandon honors classes for the more rigorous college-prep programs.

Whatever the reasons, critics are probably right that the mid-level rigor of an honors course was a good fit for lots of kids who now will have to either languish in unchallenging lower-level classes or strain themselves in AP or IB. Still, one could argue that the trend is encouraging. First, more college-prep classes mean higher expectations and ultimately, one hopes, higher all-around achievement.

Second, it's great to see schools embodying two simple but overlooked concepts that gave the world unprecedented gains in productivity and prosperity in the last couple centuries: division of labor and comparative advantage. The folks at AP and the folks at IB focus all their time and energy on making rigorous, comprehensive, well-balanced tests and curricula. By employing their services and products, teachers can focus their time and energy on teaching. Maybe critics are right that there is some kind of perverse rankings-grubbing going on in some of these schools, but one suspects that in most cases, school leaders simply appreciate the convenience and pedagogical value of AP and IB and are consequently wanting to use them more and more....

Yesterday's Sunday Times (UK) featured a piece on New York City's student pay-for-performance plan, spearheaded by Harvard economist Roland Fryer. The article also explores more generally the latest efforts to solve the crises facing America's black community, contrasting two main approaches with some expressive terminology:

The education initiative has pushed Fryer to the forefront of a national debate that has previously owed more to emotional political bias than scientific rigour. On Fryer's left is the black "ghettocracy", the angry old guard of black liberation. Led by rabble-rousing preachers such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jack-son, it tends to blame everything on racism or white malice.

On his right is the "Afristocracy", the conservative black elite led by Bill Cosby, one of America's most popular comedians, who has repeatedly taken black youths to task for being stupid, ill-mannered slackers. "They think they're hip," Cosby once said. "They can't read, they can't write, they are laughing and giggling and they're going nowhere."

Interesting, as always, to see how we're viewed by our cousins across the pond.

Photo by Fran Collin from The American.

Video games supposedly made America's youth lazy and fat; maybe video games can make them active and lean.

Liam Julian

Flypaper is the source for this Chroncle of Higher Education story, which profiles McCain's education team. We revealed McCain's edvisors last week, here.

With overwhelming votes in its House and Senate, South Carolina is racing to revamp its state assessment system and, apparently, lower its standards dramatically. The Spartansburg Herald Journal says:

The change could drastically increase the number of schools meeting NCLB requirements. Currently, only students who score proficient or advanced attain the proficient level required under NCLB. Under the new system, those who score "met" or "exemplary" would qualify.

It's a shame, but perhaps not surprising, as South Carolina currently boasts some of the toughest proficiency standards in the country. Its legislators are only reacting to No Child Left Behind's perverse incentives. Secretary Spellings: are you willing to let go of the "100 percent proficient by 2014" madness yet?

Liam Julian

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist/political cartoonist??David Horsey comments on the now-disbanded Office of Equity, Race, and Learning Support of Seattle Public Schools.

The director of the office, Caprice Hollins, gained notoriety for a variety of offensive acts. Most noted was the page she put up on the district's Web site that asserted Seattle's public schools bought into the belief that such things as planning for the future, emphasizing individualism and defining standard English were examples of cultural racism.

Horsey has a follow-up blog post here.

Liam Julian

Matthew Ladner writes about how Catholic schools in Arizona are surviving.

Liam Julian

For those??who doubt that competition has positive effects on public-school systems, this article , from the Houston Chronicle , is instructive. The Houston district's enrollment is dropping; meanwhile,??charter schools there, such as KIPP, can't keep up with demand (this is occurring in other cities , too). HISD school board member Diana Davilla told the Chronicle about KIPP, "They're attracting more students than we are. Somewhere, we're missing something because they're building schools and we're closing them." The district hopes to change that:

Leaders said they're also working on ways to use data, including performance pay information, to create a profile of ideal teaching candidates. They plan, for instance, to use the data to determine which universities are producing HISD's best teachers.

Good ideas. None of which would have germinated without healthy competition.

To see but one example of why we can't trust local school boards to lead meaningful reform efforts, see this post from the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Regarding this recent Wall Street Journal article on No Child Left Behind's lack of "bite"* for failing schools, NSBA says:

If the system that judges school performance is innately flawed, should??we be rushing to sanction these "failing" schools or should we be rushing to fix the system? Until NCLB gets its diagnosis right, schools should not be forced to make radical changes that are disruptive to students and their learning environment.

Well, yes, NCLB surely labels some schools as "needing improvement" that are pretty decent, such as those that are succeeding for most of their students but not for kids with learning disabilities, or those that are not up to standards yet but are making big gains over time. But all evidence indicates that the vast majority of "failing" schools are just that, and we shouldn't waste any more time (or come up with any more excuses) before we intervene aggressively in them. NSBA's proposal is a prescription for paralysis. Which is fitting, because most local school boards have resisted real reform forever.

Update: *As Liam notes below, Washington, D.C.'s, school system is instituting real reform. And guess what? It reports to the mayor, not the school board. Hardly a coincidence....

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