Flypaper

So reports Charles Barone, a former (Democratic) hill staffer:

Memo to Democrats:

  • Bush used a message similar to McCain's to good effect in 2000.
  • We suggest you claim the high ground again rather than cede it to the leader of the Republican party.
  • Let's hear more about what you are for and a little less about what you are against.

First it was Randi Weingarten, who yesterday embraced Core Knowledge as the sort of program New York City's schools need. Then today Education Week published a very friendly article about the approach. But every piece of journalism needs its "alternative" perspective; enter Alfie Kohn:

The curriculum "steal[s] time from more meaningful objectives, such as learning how to think critically," Alfie Kohn, an education writer and opponent of test-based accountability, wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today last December. "The best classrooms aren't organized around a ???bunch o' facts' but around problems, projects, and questions."

Yup, gotta hate those facts. As they say, "history: it's just one bloody thing after another." But come on, Alfie, does anyone but you accept the characterization of Core Knowledge as just a "bunch of facts"? At a time when teachers are deeply depressed about everything but dumbed-down reading and math skills getting narrowed out of the curriculum (depressed in part because of Alfie's exhortations), isn't a curriculum with lots of deep, rich, engaging, exciting content across history, literature, science, geography, and more worth praising and embracing? There, Alfie: now you have your "questions."...

That's one finding from this new Public Agenda survey. This request brings to mind the famous Rolling Stones song, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. Over the past fifty years, the number of students in the American public school system went up about 50 percent while the number of teachers tripled. How low can we go? Will teachers ever think their classes are small enough? Doubtful.

Liam Julian

Speaking of Eduwonk.... You may think you know Andy Rotherham. You've sat with him on panels, chit-chatted??with him??over cocktails, rubbed elbows with him in the corridors of power, enjoyed a??cigar with him while lounging in leather chairs in??the smoky wicket-doored rooms where American ed policy is crafted. Now, forget what you think you know; the real Rotherham is revealed.

Liam Julian

Eduwonk Andy Rotherham is a business-minded fellow, and yesterday he made the point that as districts downsize, schools close, and some teachers (maybe) lose their jobs, public education will bear the same trials that globalization has brought to many businesses. He writes, "like trade it's impossible to roll back these forces over time, and even if we could, the benefits of a more customized and performance oriented school system outweigh the costs."

The benefits of a customized and performance oriented school system definitely outweigh the costs. But it is most certainly not impossible in k-12 education "to roll back these forces over time." K-12 education is still largely a government-run and government-provided enterprise. Unlike most private companies, which either compete effectively against their competitors or shutter their stores, America's schools can continue indefinitely and blissfully their assembly line production of poorly educated pupils. Also, think about the farm bill, which has lately been in the news. If bureaucrats will go to such lengths to protect from competition certain inefficient private industries, imagine the lengths they could conceivably go to protect a government industry--k-12 ed--that doesn't feel nearly the competitive pressure that do, say, sugar and corn production.

As both Checker and Andy said last night at Fordham, education reformers have done much, much good over the past 25 years. Widespread talk about accountability and standards and school performance was not occurring in the 1980s. But continued...

The Washington Post has been running a series all week on the childhood obesity crisis and our society's inadequate response to it. Today's article is about the schools' role:

When Americans look for a scapegoat to blame for the growing childhood obesity epidemic, they often point to the schoolhouse. School officials said, however, that their efforts to promote good nutrition are thwarted by parents, who send children to school with oversized bags of chips and fight officials when they try to ban cupcakes.

That's a pretty interesting inversion of in loco parentis. But what's more troubling to me is the assumption that this problem--like so many others--is our education system's responsibility to solve. Worried about global warming? Ask the schools to teach something about it. Concerned about teen driving accidents? Ask the schools to beef up driver's ed. And now, concerned about child obesity? Expect schools to take on the job of slimming kids down.

To be sure, schools shouldn't be doing harm by serving unhealthy food for lunch and allowing all manner of junk to spew from vending machines. But neither should the anti-obesity mission replace their anti-ignorance mission. Schools have limited time and resources, and they need to be allowed to make room for core academics first....

Liam Julian

Joanne Jacobs features a thorough article, from Houston, about the new voc-ed--you know, voc-ed for the 21st-Century, not your grandfather's voc-ed, etc. The benefits of such programs are numerous. One ought not forget that, in some ways, high-school students are supremely practical, and 16-year-olds who know either that they aren't prepared for college or that they don't want to attend college directly after high school have few reasons to stick around in class and read Lord of the Flies. Many are going to drop out and find jobs that, while low-paying, are at least paying.

A fine method for keeping such students in high school is to provide them with training that is practical and profitable. They'll stay in school, they'll graduate, and they'll emerge with useful skills that can help them find lucrative employment. Some will go to college after several years in the work world, others won't--but all will be demonstratively better off than if they had attended a regular high school, one with a "college or bust" mindset, and dropped out.

Liam Julian

Jeff calls California's governor a "dismal failure" when it comes to fighting for better education. But Schwarzenegger is battling on behalf of parents in the Golden State who want to homeschool their children but, according the 2nd District Court of Appeal, can do so only if they possess teaching credentials (background here).

Jeff Kuhner

For years, the media has been obsessing over the rise of "Islamophobia" (never mind that America's Muslims enjoy full political, religious, and civil rights--considerably more, in fact, than their co-religionists in Europe, Africa, and even the Middle East, where tyranny and Islamic sectarian violence are rife). No country--with the possible exception of Canada--has been better to its Muslim citizens than America. A clear example of this can be seen in our nation's high school textbooks. Rather than promoting racist stereotypes or religious intolerance, textbooks often portray the very opposite: an idealized, often glamorized--and inaccurate--depiction of Islam. This is the conclusion of The American Textbook Council, which just released "Islam in the Classroom: What the Textbooks Tell Us." The report reviewed the ten most widely-used world history textbooks for high school and junior high students.

The ATC's findings should raise alarm bells about the politicization of the world history curriculum. In particular, the report says "Many political and religious groups try to use the textbook process to their advantage, but the deficiencies in Islam-related lessons are uniquely disturbing. History textbooks present an incomplete and confected view of Islam that misrepresents its foundations and challenges to international security." It emphasizes that Islamic activists and lobby groups are using multiculturalism to manipulate the curriculum. They are seeking to "sow misinformation" and "expunge any critical thought about Islam from textbooks" to further a political agenda. Their goal: to ensure that "Eurocentric" and "triumphalist" notions about Western history are not transmitted to...

A teachers union negotiating with a public school district to eliminate seniority rules? That's what's happening now in Washington, D.C., according to today's Washington Post . This comes on the heels of a recent Post article that highlighted the inner conflict roiling the Washington Teachers Union. That piece quoted union president George Parker citing charter schools' encroaching market share in the district as a major culprit:

"We have lost 1,500 members in 10 years, all because of charter schools. Our very survival is dependent on having students remain in [traditional] public schools," Parker said. "If we don't get on the ball in terms of improving our schools, the charters will have the majority of our students."

Mike said it yesterday : Washington, D.C., is the new "it" town for education reform.

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