The Kauffman Foundation's Ben Wildavsky reviews the new Charles Murray book in today's Wall Street Journal, and doesn't like what he reads. He describes Murray's vision as "dismayingly fatalistic":

One can accept the idea that inherent academic abilities are unevenly distributed while also believing that many low-achieving kids--and high-achieving kids, too, for that matter--could learn a lot more than they are learning now. International tests show that students in many other nations bypass American kids in reading and math. Could such comparative results really be a function of higher raw intelligence overseas--or are they more likely to reflect superior educational practices? It is telling that hard-headed education reformers like Eric Hanushek, Chester E. Finn and Jay Greene believe that we can do much more to boost the academic achievement of children upon whom Mr. Murray would essentially give up.


While accusing education reformers of being wooly-headed romantics, then, Mr. Murray conjures up a romantic vision of his own. In his brave new world, the bell curve of abilities is cheerfully acknowledged; students and workers gladly accept their designated places in the pecking order; and happy, well-paid electricians and plumbers go


Liam implicitly made a point in his post yesterday that's worth making explicit. Namely, that even the most rigorous research studies won't answer many of the fundamental questions in education, or any field, because some of those questions come down to values. Here's a corollary: we can't just ask if something "works," we also have to ask whether it's "right." That's an important reminder to those of us who like to talk about giving schools autonomy as long as they get results. "Accountability-for-autonomy" is shorthand, actually; the full tag line should be "do whatever works to get strong results, within the bounds of ethical practice."

That sentiment is why even corporations (most at least) worry about corporate "values," not just bottom-line objectives. They smartly vest authority in ground-level managers to make important decisions, and hold them accountable for getting results. But they limit these leaders' actions by clarifying the lines they may not cross.

Likewise in education: we want schools to boost student learning on standardized tests, but we don't give them carte blanche. Cheating is of course out of bounds, but so should be short-sighted practices like stripping all subjects but reading and math from...

Gadfly Studios

They waited until the last second, but the Americans finally won a medal in this year's games--and a gold, no less. Pandemonium ensued on the set of Education Olympics Today. Get the full story at

Just when New York says its cash incentives program for good grades isn't working (original article here), DC decides to go ahead and try it too. Now really, Michelle, seriously?

Liam had some interesting commentary on this yesterday.

Guest Blogger

David Whitman writes about the coverage of his new book, Sweating the Small Stuff.

On Monday, August 18, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post wrote a complimentary column about my new book, Sweating the Small Stuff, which recounts the tale of six inner-city secondary schools that have succeeded in closing the achievement gap. When a first-rate reporter like Mathews calls your book "splendid," "lively," "readable," and drops a few other bouquets suitable for framing and book jacket blurbs, it may seem churlish to quibble with his column. But his opposition to my subtitle--Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism--and more generally to my use of the term "paternalistic" to describe these gap-closing schools has since triggered a groupthink blogfest decrying my use of the "P-word."

Unlike Mathews and columnist George Will, nearly all of the armchair commentariat criticizing the paternalism label has yet to actually read Sweating the Small Stuff, though they have read Mathews' column and a Fordham Institute press release on the book. Several bloggers, including Joanne Jacobs and Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge Blog, are keeping an open mind about the utility of the paternalism label. But without having read...

Liam Julian

The evidence, as always, is mixed. Yesterday, the New York Times noted that the Big Apple's dollars-for-high-test-scores program hasn't worked. Today, I receive in my inbox notification from the Hoover Institution??that another, similar program "that rewards both teachers and students for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement (AP) exam has been shown to increase the percentage of high ACT and SAT scores earned by participating students, and increase the number of students enrolling in college...."

Our wonderful research director Amber will no doubt cringe when she reads that I am largely unconcerned with what that which she nominally directs says on this point. The government should not institute programs that pay students in return for good grades, no matter what the research finds (and I promise you, it won't conclusively find anything... but that's a whole other post). Regardless whether you??think the??concept screwy, as I do, or whether you??believe it's a scrumptious idea, it remains indisputable that a school that rewards monetarily those 11-year-olds who ace their spelling??exams is??undertaking a controversial??action--one in many ways tangential to the school's fundamental purposes (a strong argument holds that??paying kids in fact??undermines those purposes)--over which reasonable people??certainly will??have...

Liam Julian

This week's Gadfly is now available for all the world to see. And much of the world, after reading Mike and Amber's editorial, should be quite pleased with itself--the globe, it seems, or at least a significant portion of its citizens, have surpassed the United States on tests of students' academic prowess. Also in this??issue we applaud George Will and denigrate Dallas Independent School District, and Christina turns in a fine short review of Charles Murray's new book, Real Education. No podcast this week; for that, you can thank me when you see me (perhaps here?).

CATO's Neal McLuskey and Eduwonk Andy Rotherham are strange bedfellows, but they both have the same burning question on their minds: Why would national standards and tests be any better than state standards and tests? McLuskey writes:

Why would the teachers unions, public-school administrators associations, and education bureaucrats--with their huge presences in and around DC, their outsized political power compared to parents, and their overwhelming interest in low standards and high funding--have any less sway over the feds than they have over other levels of government?

I understand, as a blogger, that I should provide a glib, snarky response. But in all fairness, it's a good question and a fair concern. In fact, it's such a good question that we dedicated an entire Fordham report--two years ago--to answering it. Andy should know; he contributed to it. (OK, that was a bit snarky.)

In To Dream the Impossible Dream: Four Approaches to National Standards and Tests for America's Schools, we surveyed twelve smart people and asked them to answer this question and others that pertain to the nuts and bolts of...

George Will, the nation's most widely syndicated columnist, weighs in today on Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism. And yes, he does think "paternalistic" is an apt descriptor for these "no excuses" schools (unlike Jay Mathews, Richard Whitmire, and others):

Paternalism is the restriction of freedom for the good of the person restricted. [The American Indian Public Charter School] (AIPCS) acts in loco parentis because [principal Ben] Chavis, who is cool toward parental involvement, wants an enveloping school culture that combats the culture of poverty and the streets.

He and other practitioners of the new paternalism--once upon a time, schooling was understood as democracy's permissible, indeed obligatory, paternalism--are proving that cultural pessimists are mistaken: We know how to close the achievement gap that often separates minorities from whites before kindergarten and widens through high school. A growing cohort of people possess the pedagogic skills to make "no excuses" schools flourish.

Unfortunately, powerful factions fiercely oppose the flourishing. Among them are education schools with their romantic progressivism--teachers should be mere "enablers" of group learning; self-esteem is a prerequisite for accomplishment, not a consequence thereof. Other opponents are the teachers


With the most glorious moments of the 2008 Summer Olympics for Team USA now mostly behind us, commentators are finally turning their attention to the slightly less sexy, but surely more significant Education Olympics. Mitchell Landsberg at the Los Angeles Times's education blog weighed in yesterday.