Mike's post about the Obama girls sent me briefly to the website of the University of Chicago lab school that they attend, where I??discovered not only that this PRIVATE school has a teachers union ("faculty association") but also that??administration and union haven't been able to agree on a new contract!

This is??from the director's latest newsletter:

At the conclusion of the 2007-2008 school year, the administration and Faculty Association were unable to reach agreement on a new multi-year contract. Ten negotiating sessions were held beginning on February 11 and concluding on June 9. Considerable progress was made on all matters with the exception of salary. Both parties agreed to meet during the third week of August and attempt to reach a conclusion by the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.

Will the Democratic candidate for President allow his daughters to cross the teachers'??picket line in September? Or, like the current??dispute between school system and teacher union in Democratic-convention-hosting Denver, will a way be found to patch things up before it embarrasses??the campaign?

Liam Julian

Thusly titled was Dorothy Rabinowitz's??article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, a piece that looked at the race-based shenanigans that??affected one student at Purdue University.

Liam Julian

An article on NRO defends Louisiana's evolution muddle, a muddle that Governor Bobby Jindal has done much to bring about. The author writes:

Students need to know about the current scientific consensus on a given issue, but they also need to be able to evaluate critically the evidence on which that consensus rests. They need to learn about competing interpretations of the evidence offered by scientists, as well as anomalies that aren't well explained by existing theories.

Right. Because, you know, 11-year-olds are so capable of critically evaluating advanced scientific minutiae. Because, you know, preteens (or even high-school students, for that matter) are such judicious thinkers, so savvy when separating scientific reasoning from philosophical musing. Because, you know, they should of course be doing all this in their biology classes.

The Cristo Rey network of schools (featured in our Catholic schools report) may benefit from a Congressional earmark if the current Senate appropriations bill goes through, reports the Des Moines Register. This is hardly the first school reform group to benefit from pork-barrel spending; Teach For America, for example, has been hitting the earmark jackpot for years. Which brings to mind the age-old question: does the end justify the means? If John McCain becomes president this question may become moot; he promises to eliminate all earmarks, regardless of their worth.

Photo by Flickr user beeldenzeggenmeer.

Kudos to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings for taking to the pages of the Washington Post to defend DC's endangered school voucher program. But I can't help wondering, yet again, what's up at 400 Maryland Avenue. I've never viewed Spellings as a strong supporter of school choice, though she continues to fight hard to protect this $13-million-a-year program. (Maybe it's time I admit that she's a voucher advocate, after all.) But what's beyond doubt is that she's a believer in scientifically-based reading programs (once claiming "phonics" as her religion). And yet, when it comes to the impending death of her beloved billion-dollar-a-year Reading First program, all she does is send letters and issue statements.

Madame Secretary and associates: may I suggest that the next time you place a Post op-ed, you make it about Reading First?

Rereading this Washington Post article on Michelle Rhee's plan to woo teachers into ceding tenure and seniority privileges, I noticed a passage near the end that illuminates a different ed policy discussion:

Rhee can restrict seniority rights through a little-used District law that allows principals to diminish seniority rankings and use them among several other factors... The law was aimed at addressing "bumping rights," which allow senior teachers losing their positions during cutbacks to displace less-experienced peers at other schools.

"Bumping rights had been viewed as a problem for those of us trying to get quality teachers in the classroom. But we knew it was a challenge getting it out of the contracts," Kevin P. Chavous, who was on the D.C. Council when the law passed, said in a recent interview. "Even after the law was passed, superintendents operated under the assumption that bumping rights were still there."

Chavous's observation bolsters the claim that at least some of the blame for poorly-run schools should be redirected from unions to lily-livered leaders. In this Chavous echoes a recent Fordham report, The Leadership Limbo , which found that many big-district teacher contracts give school and district leaders a fair amount of autonomy and flexibility, which they simply fail to take advantage of. It would take an exceptionally strong-willed leader, it seems, to overcome the inertia that weighs as heavily on reform efforts as do union contracts. Thankfully Washington has just such a leader in Michelle Rhee....

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham intern Amy Ballard.

Stafford points out the recent Washington Post article on the apparent diversity crisis at TJ. She's right: blaming the school for its demographics is ridiculous. However, as a former TJ student, I have a few more things to say about the never-ending diversity debate.

All it's doing is hurting the students. I was a member of the 2001 entering class that saw a lamentable nosedive in minority student enrollment (cited in the article as the beginning of the current diversity discussion). Yes, the numbers of African American and Hispanic students were low, but my nine black and Hispanic classmates were forced to stand under a negative spotlight for their entire four years of high school. They stood out in the crowd, not for their accomplishments or ambitions like many TJ kids, but for their race. Asian American students were forced to justify being there in numbers disproportionate to the surrounding population and endure racial jabs like "Asian F" or "Asian fail" (both referring to a B+). White students became hypersensitive to their classmates' and friends' races, a consideration neither necessary nor helpful when being assigned a lab partner or gym buddy.

At one point, the discussion got into sex (the school was 60/40 boys/girls and it had people worrying). When, during my junior year, I told my counselor during college sessions that...

Probably not, but since I missed last week's patriotismpalooza, I figure I have some catching up to do. (And he's British!) Perhaps he just wanted to drive home his point, in this Financial Times column, that the American economy is in trouble if we don't improve our school system. But he overreaches here:

Younger cohorts are no better educated than these soon-to-retire boomers. Broadly speaking, educational quality has topped out--and on at least one measure, it is actually deteriorating. In 2006, Americans aged 55-59 collectively possessed more masters degrees, professional degrees, and doctorates than Americans aged 30-34. This impending loss of educational capital is entirely outside the country's experience.

Well, that's technically true but somewhat selective, as the younger cohort also has a greater percentage of people with just bachelor's degrees. If you consider bachelor's degrees and advanced degrees combined, these two cohorts look about the same. (See figure 1.1 here.) And as someone with just a bachelor's degree, I can't help but wonder whether these "advanced" degrees are really related to "greater human capital." We know that master's degrees in education don't make teachers more effective; maybe advanced degrees in other fields are also weakly related to productivity.

Still, there's plenty of reason to worry. As Mr. Crook points out, our declining high school graduation rates spell trouble--and attacking the problem will require much valor. Or, as Mr. Crook might say, valour. (Did I mention that he's British?)...

The Associated Press has a playful piece peering into the future for Barack Obama's or John McCain's children, should their respective dad win the presidency.

Malia Obama turned 10 last week, and her sister Sasha is 6. Should their father, Barack, win the election, they'd be the youngest kids in the White House since Amy Carter arrived at age 9. They, too, would become the subjects of anecdotes that wind up in history books. They'd have challenges that face few children. Their fashion faux pas, the first braces on their teeth, even their first boyfriends might be documented forever. Their parents' choice of school--public or private?--would be debated.

I'm not sure whether their orthodontic treatments or love lives will make national news, but the AP is certainly right that the decisions the Obama girls' parents make regarding schooling will be scrutinized. If a President Obama sends his daughters to another private school (like the one they attend now) while watching over the demise of Washington, D.C.'s fledgling private school voucher program for poor children... well, you'd better believe his neighbors are going to protest.

Photo from

Liam Julian

Two friends have an op-ed in today's Tallahassee Democrat calling for the establishment of a national public service academy, a "civilian West Point for our best and brightest public service-minded women and men."

Two years ago, a gentleman came to Fordham to talk with Mike and me about the same topic. Two thoughts that occurred to me then occur to me now. How much is this going to cost? (Easy answer: a lot.) And don't??scads of private enterprises already fulfill this need and do it pretty well? Think, for example, about all??the competitive, "service oriented" organizations that flourish in education alone.