Flypaper

Jeff Kuhner

Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to be the education governor of California. Since becoming the Golden State's chief executive, the former Hollywood action star has vowed to bring the same kind of leadership and muscle to education reform as he once brought to the big screen. Daniel Weintraub, in an excellent article in the current issue of Education Next, however, shows Schwarzenegger has been a dismal failure.

The reason:?? The Terminator has been tamed by California's powerful teachers unions. Weintraub, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, demonstrates that the massive California Teachers Association (CTA) and the feisty California Federation of Teachers (CFA) have successfully blocked almost every major Schwarzenegger initiative. The governor has been reduced to playing defense. He has vetoed countless bills sent to him by the teachers unions' allies in the Democrat-controlled legislature. Thus, Schwarzenegger has succeeded in protecting California's effective system of standards, testing, and accountability from being eroded. But he has failed to go on the political offensive, forging the broad-based consensus necessary for overhauling the state's public schools.

Weintraub concedes that Schwarzenegger's heart is in the right place. He has good ideas. Schwarzenegger knows what needs to be done to bring about meaningful reform--devolve greater power and authority to local school districts; provide much more flexibility in state education spending; make teaching a true profession by giving teachers more pay and training, while holding them accountable for classroom performance; grant principals the ability...

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham board member Diane Ravitch. Visit her blog, Bridging Differences, at blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences.

Dear Mike,

It is absurd of Dean Millot to call you a "McCarthyite" for pointing out that Bill Ayers was a terrorist. He was a terrorist. He says so. He doesn't deny it. His actions, which he proudly acknowledges, confirm it.

McCarthy was known for making false charges. Yours were not false. McCarthy was known for saying that someone was guilty if he associated with another person who was clearly guilty. But Ayers was not a terorrist by association with terrorist. He was a terrorist; he planted bombs. Maybe he killed people, maybe he didn't. I don't know, but one thing certain about bombs is that they have the power to kill people.

And it is not true that no one was killed by Weathermen bombs. First of all, I have never heard until Dean Millot wrote it that the Weathermen warned people before they bombed something. That is a new one on me. I lived through that era and can't recall any reports of advance warnings. Second, three Weathermen--including Ayers's girlfriend Diana Oughton--were killed when one of their own bombs exploded as they were building it in a luxurious townhouse in Greenwich Village. By the way, they were packing the bombs with nails, presumably to maim people, not buildings, and to create terror wherever they would be exploded. Also, a researcher was killed...

Now that Sol Stern has completely ruffled the feathers of the "whatever works" crowd, he's turned his sights to one of the most visible leaders of the "what works" movement, Institute for Educational Sciences director Russ Whitehurst. In a new City Journal Online piece, Stern critiques the recent Reading First evaluation and (joining Fordham's Amber Winkler, among others) points out its fatal flaw: the likelihood that the study's "control schools" were implementing many of the same programs as the study's "treatment group":

One reading scientist willing to speak on the record about these concerns is University of Illinois professor Timothy Shanahan, former president of the 85,000-member International Reading Association (the world's largest professional organization of reading teachers and scholars) and a recent inductee into the Reading Hall of Fame. Shanahan told me that he asked IES officials about the study design and was told that it was too late to change it.

Stern, reading the Washington tea leaves and sensing Congressional Democrats' eagerness to kill off the program, wants IES (i.e., Whitehurst) to admit the evaluation's limitations:

IES officials should at least point out that influential people in Washington are drawing unwarranted conclusions from a study that many reputable reading scientists find deeply flawed. It would be a stunning display of irresponsibility to remain silent after their study has contributed to so much public misunderstanding.

As I...

Clearly blogging is having a dumbing-down effect on my punditry. Though it is silly ("unwise"? "counter-productive"? "cynical"?) to expect 100 percent of students to attain proficiency and for proficiency to still mean something, as our friends in South Carolina recently discovered.

Corey Bower seems to think so. He points to this passage from this New York Times piece about some affluent suburban public schools that are adopting a "global studies" curriculum:

Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, cautioned that American schools were already giving short shrift to American history and government and could not afford to layer global studies on top of already stretched curriculum.

"In some of these trendy schools, there is an ethos that we are all citizens of the world, and that's all that matters," he said. "Students need to be taught to be American citizens first."

To be fair to Corey, the reporter's paraphrasing of my views wasn't entirely accurate. By all means schools should be teaching students about the rest of the world; that's why Fordham reviewed the states' world history standards, for example. But it appears that the school profiled in the article is finding time for "global studies" by trimming American history and civics. Given that schools are already narrowing history out of the curriculum, I found this disturbing. And it's hardly "reactionary" or "anti-world" to believe that American students should be taught about American history and citizenship--before being taught how to be "citizens of the world." Or if it is reactionary, and I don't know it, then I've suddenly gotten a lot more conservative in just the past few weeks. No doubt I'm spending...

Dean Millot at Edbizbuzz seems to think so.

I'm tempted to leave it at that, because, as Millot himself implies, this debate is pulling us further and further away from education policy and more and more into the realm of the bizarre. But it's not every day that I'm likened to one of the most despicable characters of the 20th century so, alas, let me respond.

Millot argues that the term "terrorist" is "hyperbolic" because the Weather Underground did not practice "the deliberate indiscriminate use of force against innocents to strike fear in the general public." Instead, they "just" blew up government buildings, taking care not to injure anyone.

This strikes me as semantic jujitsu (the Weathermen did use violence to forward their political aims), but I'm certainly happy to concede that what Al Qaeda perpetrates, for example, is much, much, much worse.

Still, were the Weathermen's actions defensible? Hardly. Sometimes we at the Fordham Institute are considered "bomb throwers"--but only figuratively. We tend to disagree strongly with the teachers unions, but it would be morally reprehensible for us to call on school reformers to bomb their headquarters, even in the middle of the night when no one could be hurt. That's not how democracies are supposed to work.

Furthermore, Millot argues that Ayers was a "fugitive from justice," but since all charges were dropped because of "prosecutorial misconduct," he is presumed...

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.

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