Flypaper

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We at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute fight to improve K-12 schooling in America, but that doesn't mean we're ignoring the environment:

httpv://youtube.com/watch?v=loZjzAwHDaQ

You gotta give it to purebred libertarians, they never let their vision of how the world ought to work be distorted by any realities about how it actually works. Nowhwere is this clearer than in K-12 education, where the CATO crowd, indistinguishable nowadays from the "separation of school and state crowd," basically doesn't believe in any form of public education. They believe in private education, purchased in the marketplace by parents who want and can afford it for their kids from schools that are not accountable to anybody for anything except keeping those tuition payments rolling in the door. The heck with everybody else's kids. The heck with an educated polity or transmitted common culture. Check out Neil McCluskey's review of my book.

I'm looking forward to Thursday's White House "summit" on inner-city kids and faith-based schools, both because it's a really important issue and because a number of panelists (and at least one moderator) are involved with the promising projects and programs recently profiled in Fordham's Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools?

But I've also learned a thing or two about "summits" over the years. When they accomplish anything (rare), it's because tons of groundwork has been done in advance to forge near-agreement among key players on an action plan or program to be announced or inked at the summit itself. Also, they're usually small events where a few really important decision-makers meet with each other "at the summit"--i.e., somewhere above the hillsides inhabited by bureaucrats and staffers and assistant secretaries and such.

What's coming up this week is more like a conference than a summit. There will be a cast of thousands. Problems and ideas will surely be aired, perhaps brilliantly examined, but to the best of my knowledge, no action plan will be announced for none has been agreed to. I worry that the tone will be set by the President's remarks at the prayer breakfast the other day that Catholic schools need to be "saved." That's oversimplified and na??ve, at least for elected officials. (The pope and his bishops are another story.) However, helping more poor kids to attend such schools is a legitimate public policy objective toward which actual programs can be...

Kudos to Bill Nye the Science Guy--perhaps the nation's best-known and most effective science teacher--for putting his green lessons into action. According to yesterday's New York Times Magazine, he lives in a "retrofitted, eco-friendly, 1,300-square-foot, 1939 stucco home in Los Angeles." (And, of course, he drives a Prius and rides his bike a lot.)

This isn't a comment on the politics of environmentalism--though Fordham will be celebrating Earth Day tomorrow--but on teachers being good role models. Because it's great when history teachers love to visit historical sites; when English teachers devour the latest National Book Award winners; when drivers ed teachers don't drink and drive; when civic teachers... vote. You get the idea. Let's face it: there's almost nothing more discouraging than a gym teacher with a beer gut. So to Bill Nye, we say: this Bud's for you.

Liam Julian

It's nice of Jesse Jackson to encourage kids to study more. Irony exists, though, when a man who has spent the better part of the last several decades blaming anything and everything for anything and everything, who has generally shirked accepting responsibility for his own foibles, of which there are so many, tells students to "accept responsibility" for their educations.

There is but one system that Jackson won't blame, of course--the entrenched, bureaucratic school system. (Surely this has nothing to do with the fact that his Rainbow PUSH Coalition receives millions from the NEA.) Jackson is vehemently opposed to educational choice. He called Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who supports vouchers, "a wolf in sheep's clothing." He called the policies of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who also supports vouchers, "racist."

Jesse Jackson says: Blame everyone else all the time. But kids, if you're not learning, it's your own fault--take some responsibility for it. Bootstraps and whatnot....

Liam Julian

Much??recent reporting about the state of k-12 Catholic schools has??offered dreary conclusions. Here's a bit of good news.

Update: Just noticed that the Washington Post reported on this school (and Fordham's Catholic Schools report) yesterday.

Liam Julian

States are forced to decide whether graduation confers on those who achieve it validation of knowledge or participation. If a state decides the latter, its diplomas will mean nothing to employers, who require knowledgeable workforces rather than just compliant ones. But when it determines that only after students pass exit exams will they receive high-school diplomas it also, essentially, determines that lots of students won't receive high-school diplomas.

Maryland makes a commendable attempt to reconcile the two options by offering alternative routes to graduation. The Bridge Plan that it has devised, however, is off to an unpromising start.

Update: Oregon, too,??will now have to wrestle with these issues.

Or is there another reason his House Education and Labor Committee cancelled an Earth Day event on environmental education scheduled for today?*

* I know, the answer is surely yes.

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.

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