Flypaper

Jeff Kuhner

Linda Shaw wrote an interesting piece in last week's Seattle Times. Apparently, civil disobedience against the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) is alive and well--at least, as embodied in Carl Chew, a 60-year-old science teacher who refuses to give the test to his sixth-graders at Eckstein Middle School.

Mr. Chew, a former artist who has been teaching for eight years, is opposed to high-stakes standardized testing. He claims he is taking a stand against WASL and No Child Left Behind in general.

"I did it because I think it's bad for kids," he said.

For his actions (or non-actions), Mr. Chew has been placed on leave for two weeks without pay. The WASL is given each year to students in grades 3-8 and grade 10. It covers math, reading, writing, and science. It is used to measure whether the schools in Washington state are meeting the goals established in NCLB.

Whatever one thinks of NCLB or the WASL--and I am the first to admit there are problems with both of them--Mr. Chew's supposed "civil disobedience" is not the way to fix them. In fact, it is a recipe for educational chaos and anarchy. WASL is a state-mandated exam. By refusing to give the test, Mr. Chew failed to fulfill his duties as a teacher. If he doesn't like the WASL, he can complain to his union, write an Op-Ed piece, call his local political representative, or advocate for its overhaul or termination at...

At The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez writes that we can help save our inner cities by saving faith-based schools. She rightly praises President Bush for using the "bully pulpit" at last week's White House summit to call education "one of the greatest civil-rights challenges," and to urge Congress to help inner-city Catholic schools.

Lopez then urges John McCain to follow the President's lead and take this issue to the campaign trail, to offer "real solutions that could lift poor Americans out of a cycle of dependency." I'd love to see the candidates wrestle over Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools, but I have a feeling there will be other issues on voters' minds this November. Unless Ed in '08 pulls off a miracle, that is.

Evidently Reverend Jeremiah Wright made some controversial statements about education and race last night. Over at The Corner, Byron York asks Checker for his take on the whole thing.

The upcoming issue of Education Next (which Fordham sponsors) reveals that "Almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states." In fact, they vastly underestimate these figures:

The average respondent surveyed in 2007 thought per-pupil spending in their district was just $4,231 dollars, even though the actual average spending per pupil among districts was $10,377 in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available).

And:

On average, the public underestimated average teacher salaries in their own state by $14,370. The average estimate among survey respondents was $33,054, while average teacher salary nationally in 2005 was actually $47,602.

Obviously troubling, considering how frequently exaggerated claims about funding are invoked in ed policy debates.

Checker writes about the twenty-fifth anniversary of A Nation at Risk in the Wall Street Journal and the Gadfly. He also talked about it last week on "America's Business with Mike Hambrick," a radio show associated with the National Association of Manufacturers:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZFyg0vlTkM

Sunday's New York Times Magazine features an article on K-12 arts education. The piece sets out to refute Obama's evidently misleading claims that teaching the arts leads to improved student performance on standardized tests.

There is indeed a correlation between, for example, how many years students spend in arts classes and their SAT scores; more art, higher scores. But that doesn't prove that it's the added exposure to the arts that boosts verbal or math performance. Another study shows that students who take more courses in any subject do better on the SAT. Meanwhile, a British study found the opposite: the more arts classes students took, the worse they did on their national exams. A more plausible explanation, Winner speculates, may be that academically motivated students in the U.S. gravitate to the arts, eager to show supercompetitive colleges they aren't just grinds who do well on their SATs. In England, it's weaker students who are steered onto the arts track.

Fair enough, but there are more important reasons to teach kids about art and music. As Checker and (Fordham board member) Diane Ravitch argued in the Wall Street Journal last year, the breadth of our curricular offerings allows us to "acquire qualities and abilities that aren't easily 'outsourced' to Guangzhou or Hyderabad."

Indeed, the iPod, Google, Hollywood--these world-beating American icons sprouted from fertile minds that, though they certainly benefited from some technical know-how, would never have found proper nourishment in a drill-and-kill, math-and-science-only environment. Are we...

Liam Julian

Science writer Jonah Lehrer on algebra: "Abstract concepts, untethered to experience, are never internalized by our neurons."

Or are they?

Liam Julian

Vouchers will be on the ballot in Florida in November.

Several people questioned my argument the other day that bad ideas tend to flow from higher education to our K-12 education system (e.g., here and here). I would encourage ambitious readers find a way to access this longer piece by Checker and see if they still doubt the trickle-down theory.

I also argued that now a bad idea is flowing in the opposite direction--the hyper-unionization of the workforce. But the good folks at the American Federation of Teachers' "FACE Talk" blog raised a red flag about my insinuation that a unionized workforce is a new development in higher education:

Higher education, including graduate employees, have been forming unions for the purpose of collective bargaining for nearly 40 years. There was a notable acceleration of that effort in the '80s and '90s as more and more TAs and RAs were being employed to teach undergraduate courses. As a result (and I don't mean to scare you Mike), there are now over 40,000 graduate employees represented by unions, which actually represents a significant portion of that workforce.

Actually, this does scare me... and goes a long way to explaining why college tuition is soaring. But point taken; I'll try to stick closer to my K-12 beat from now on. Still, this line of theirs caught my eye:

Oh, and by the way, that level of unionization is true for faculty and staff in higher education as well.

Are they saying that...

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