Flypaper

Do you remember the Postcards from Buster controversy of 2005? A popular PBS children's television show--funded in part by a "Ready to Learn" grant from the U.S. Department of Education--was preparing to air a segment in which a (cartoon) bunny visits a (real) married lesbian couple in Vermont. The career staff at the Department caught wind of this, passed the news up the chain of command (a chain that yes, included me), a big internal debate ensued about what to do, urgent phone calls were placed, and eventually (and, in my view, quite regrettably), Margaret Spellings, in her first official act as Secretary of Education, sent a letter to the head of PBS saying that "many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode." (The letter itself was overkill; the Secretary's office had already learned that PBS was pulling the show. Nor was it necessary to use the "life-styles" code word. But Spellings and her inner circle apparently saw an opportunity to score points with the religious right.)

The whole ugly affair (and my bit part in it ) convinced me that it was time to leave government service for the greener pastures of the Fordham Institute (a decision I have regretted not one day).

OK, enough about me. The point is... this riveting story is now being turned into a play, Dusty and the Big Bad World ! So I learned from...

Liam Julian

People wonder: How did Flypaper emerge? What evil genius spawned it?

Coby answers the questions.

Flypaper is no longer the newest blog in the edu-neighborhood. We send our greetings to jaypgreene.com, a direct link to one of the most fertile minds in education reform. His inaugural articles argue that if you stand at a state capitol building and throw a rock, you're likely to hit the teachers' union headquarters--and a male teacher who's sexually abusing his students.

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen highlights the following passage from Peter Moskos's Cop in the Hood: My Year Spent Policing Baltimore's Eastern District:

An innovative analysis by Eric Cadora highlights "million-dollar blocks"--individual city blocks where more than one million dollars per block per year are spent to incarcerate individuals from that block. Some blocks cost over five million dollars per year.... A million dollars, coincidentally, is roughly what it would cost to pay for one patrol officer, twenty-four hours a day, every day for one year.

I suspect someone could produce an equally alarming study of million-dollar blocks in the context of K-12 public schooling. The raw per-pupil spending figures in several major cities with troubled school districts--$13,446 in D.C., $14,961 in N.Y.C., $21,295 in Newark, to name a few--are already stunning enough.

Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw makes the case in Sunday's New York Times that the technological progress of the last few decades has eclipsed the country's pace of educational advancement, thus driving up wages for skilled workers relative to the unskilled.

Liam Julian

The New York Times reviews some handwringing about??that which??America's k-12 schools have wrought. (Checker, too, has reviewed William Damon's book; the piece is??here.)

Liam Julian

Coby informs us (directly below):

I find a flaw in Liam's reasoning. First of all, the point of the Times blog post is not that the market does a poor job of gauging wine quality, but that there are a lot of shoppers in the market who don't care about the quality of the wine they're swilling.

That's cool. But I never claimed that the market does a poor job of gauging quality; the market merely responds to people's preferences. I wrote that popularity shouldn't become a synonym for quality. That a gazillion people enjoy plonk doesn't make??it a quality beverage--but the market will respond, of course, and churn out more plonk for purchase.

We don't want this to happen with schools. I do not believe, as Coby does, that so many of those who imbibe sub-par wines are aware that their glasses are actually??half-nasty. (I'm even less convinced that people whose kids attend shoddy schools are aware of the lack of learning taking place.) But if, as Coby writes, people know what's good and what isn't and simply "don't care about the quality of the wine they're swilling," will they ever care about the quality of the schools their children are attending?

Liam Julian

Herewith an argument from the The Pour (yes, the New York Times wine blog) about why rigid standards--and not popularity--is the adequate gauge of quality.

Fordham comes under attack from our libertarian-leaning friends because we support choice with accountability--i.e., we're not content to let the market decide which schools are great and which aren't, because when quality counts, the market is often wrong.

It's one thing, of course, to let the market determine which wines people drink, or which television shows are most popular. But if you know anything about wine, as Eric Asimov notes in his blog post, you also know that most people drink low-quality stuff. (This doesn't necessarily reflect wine prices. Plenty of fine, interesting bottles cost $10, but most people will buy the $10 American Chardonnay instead.)

Even when presented with lots of choices, parents won't necessarily pick for their children the best schools on offer. And some schools on offer may look nice but actually be places when learning goes to die.??The consequences of attending such a school are far worse than a distasteful sip. Which is why standards in the k-12 educational arena are so important--because quality counts for so much.

President Bush weighed in on the crisis of Catholic school closures at this morning's National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. He also plugged the White House Summit on inner-city children and faith-based schools, scheduled for Thursday:

The purpose of the summit is to highlight the lack of educational options facing low-income urban students. And we are going to bring together educators and clergy and philanthropists and business leaders, all aiming to urge there to be reasonable legislation out of Congress and practical solutions to save these schools--and more importantly, to save the children.

Hear hear, but the chances of said legislation passing in the 277 days until Bush leaves office are slim to none. But all is not lost; Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was at the breakfast too. Maybe he can help clear the way for Catholic charter schools.

Liam Julian

The Discovery Institute's David Klinghoffer defends the link--made by the new Ben Stein movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--between Nazis and Darwinism. I wish I could write on this with more authority, but the D.C. advanced screening of Expelled was canceled.

I just don't get it, though. Klinghoffer's piece points out how Hitler used evolution and Darwinism in his propaganda and his personal thought. But nowhere does??Klinghoffer discuss why inclusion of such historical instances is at all appropriate in a film that purports to investigate how evolution is taught in modern-day American science classes.

I think it's safe to say that Expelled is inaccurately juxtaposing Nazis with those who defend teaching evolution in public schools. The New York Times reviewer wrote that Expelled is "[o]ne of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time," and I'm inclined to believe her.

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