Flypaper

Yesterday, on the Wall Street Journal's expanded opinion pages, Alan Ehrenhalt reviewed Bill Bishop's new book, The Big Sort. Its thesis:

As Americans have moved over the past three decades, they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs and in the end, politics.

Both men are concerned about this trend, representing as they think it does a decline in interaction among people of differing views. I see the results of this trend where I live in Takoma Park, Maryland, known as the Berkeley of the Washington, D.C., region. (In October 2004, a college kid in a DNC t-shirt almost fainted when he asked me to donate to "get that bum out of office" and I told him I was actually in the Bush Administration. "I haven't even come across another Republican," he replied.)

And I agree that this development isn't great for civic discourse or, ultimately, our democracy. But it might not be so bad for our schools. After all, one of the primary motivations of the school choice movement (which I support) is the ability for parents to sort themselves into schools that match their own personal beliefs about what good education looks like. More conservative parents can get a back-to-basics school and more progressive parents can get something more along the Montessori model. Nobody has to compromise...

Anticipating tomorrow's White House summit on inner-city children and faith-based schools, former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett turns in a solid defense (and cites Fordham's latest report) of Catholic schools over at National Review Online.

Gadfly Studios

Marvin's and Mike's mothers coordinated on the phone last night before laying out their sons' outfits. (Click the photo for a bigger version.)

Separated at birth?

Liam Julian

Principal Jana Fields knows that No Child Left Behind looks at school test-score data by subgroup. She knows that the scores of black students are evaluated separately from those of white students, that the scores of Asian students and those??of Hispanic students are gathered in their own, specific cluster.

So, she thought, I should gather in their own specific cluster all the actual black students at my school and pump them up by telling them that their exam grades are worse than those of their white peers.

According to the Sacramento Bee, some parents disagreed:

"To me that was outright blatant discrimination by race," said Marie Townsend, an African American mother whose daughter Mikalah attended the meeting. "If you have a group of students that are struggling, don't you think all the whites and Asians and Hispanics who are struggling would benefit from that assembly?"

Yes, one would think so. But in our race-obsessed schools, it seems that any type of racial segregation is okay, as long as it's done with the kid's interests in mind.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It's time our public schools got past race.

Nancy Zuckerbrod at the Associated Press previews today's regulatory actions by the U.S. Department of Education here . Mostly these are initiatives that have already been announced--moving toward a common graduation rate, for example, and tightening the rules regarding how many students states can exempt from schools' Adequate Yearly Progress calculations (a.k.a., limiting "n" sizes). Most important, in my view, is the Department's intention to curtail one of the law's most perverse incentives--allowing school districts to keep Title I money that's supposed to go for "free tutoring" if not enough students show interest. It appears that the Administration would move toward a "use it or lose it" policy:

The regulations also call for school districts to demonstrate that they are doing all they can to notify parents of low-income students in struggling schools that free tutoring is available. If the districts fail to do that, their ability to spend federal funds could be limited under the proposal. The department estimates only 14 percent of eligible students receive tutoring available to them.

These changes could have an especially large impact if they demand that states sign off on districts' actions and "certify" that they have indeed done all they can to advertise the free tutoring before they can use the funds for other purposes. I'd like to see a state official claim that school districts have done "all they can" when less than 10 percent of eligible students are using the free tutoring.

What today's actions all...

Why does Liam have such a beef with paying poor teenagers to work on their studies rather than flip hamburgers at the local Mickey D's? Perhaps he agrees with the ed school professor quoted in the NPR piece, to the effect that such a strategy will "harm students' intrinsic love of learning." I might be going out on a limb here but we're talking about high school kids who have failed remedial math or science classes. I'm gonna bet their love of learning has already been extinguished. Why not see if a little cash incentive gets them to give said love another chance?

Liam Julian

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert tells us that American schools aren't very good: "We've got work to do."

In his piece, he mentions the new Common Core organization and references its recently released report, Still At Risk.

Liam Julian

More paying kids for studying. (Newt Gingrich's idea, according to NPR.)??

Bad idea.

As the world awaits the education X PRIZE, the folks at PETA prove that the X PRIZE Foundation isn't the only group that can offer rewards for innovative solutions to pressing problems.

Israel's education system faces some familiar-sounding problems:

The Dovrat recommendations included giving school principals the right to sack poor teachers and reward the better ones with higher pay, which they currently lack. But such moves have been blocked by Israel's two teachers' unions, one of which has paralysed secondary schools with a series of long strikes over the past few years. At the end of last year it settled for a wage rise in return for token increases in flexibility, but other reforms remain blocked.

That's from The Economist's special report on Israel in its sixtieth year. Israel ranked 39th out of 57 OECD countries in the 2006 PISA rankings and had the biggest gap between high- and low-achieving students.

And this isn't helping things, says one commentator.

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