Flypaper

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...

Liam Julian

Speaking of legal issues in schools.... According to Education Week:

A federal appeals court has ordered an Illinois school district to allow a student to wear a T-shirt proclaiming "Be Happy, Not Gay" to protest a high school event meant to promote tolerance of gay students.

First, one struggles to understand Judge Posner's thinking when he writes, "???Be Happy, Not Gay' is only tepidly negative; 'derogatory' or 'demeaning' seems too strong a characterization." Seems that "derogatory" exactly describes such a slogan. Is a sartorial expression of "Be Happy. Not Italian" (or whatever) similarly "tepidly negative"?

Possibly it is by Judge Posner's thinking, which he elucidated in his decision by writing, "People do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or, for that matter, their way of life." One suspects that lots of people wouldn't classify homosexuality as a belief, akin to Christianity or global warming or that Miley Cyrus is better than Bach, but as an immutable thing--like skin-color or ethnicity. It's good to protect everyone's right to challenge beliefs, generally speaking.??But should students have a protected right, in school, to challenge the validity of another student's being?

Second, and more importantly: Why is Judge Posner even bothering with this? Why is any judge? The answer, of course, is that Tinker established all sorts of k-12 student rights that make it incredibly difficult for administrators to exercise authority on their campuses without ending up in court. A far better route, the...

Liam Julian

Coby's latest spark--that students (or their parents) who rated their teachers online could provide useful feedback--is intriguing. He's right that such k-12 rating websites exist (see here) but haven't reached a critical mass of users. Even if they did, though,??the whole idea has a major drawback: This.

What is fair criticism and what is insult? What is fair moderating and what is censorship? Do we really want to inject more of this legal mish-mash into the school day?

Liam Julian

Eduwonkette flatters us. Unfortunately, Mike can't carry a tune, and he's just too damn honest to lip-sync.

Liam Julian

Ed school professor Brad Olsen writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that "we don't much hear from, or about, teachers' experiences in--and perspectives on--what's happening in schools these days." Really???Just yesterday we published in The Gadfly this item, about a teacher who thinks "unconditional love" is the solution to k-12 education's human capital problem.??Lots and lots of??newspaper articles about education feature quotes from, and the perspectives of, educators.??

Certainly education policy could learn more from the best practices of the best teachers, and certainly more avenues should be available for just that type of exchange. But instead of hearing from teachers in that way, it seems, we're always hearing from those who "represent" them--e.g., the unions and ed schools, neither of which toils on behalf of kids.

Left unspoken* at yesterday's White House summit on faith-based schools was whether the idea of religious charter schools has any merit. Of course, this is no surprise. There are enough opponents of charter schools, of vouchers, and of any co-mingling of church and state, that direct funding for overtly religious schools would be a combustible mix. It's controversial enough that D.C. is converting seven Catholic schools to charter status, stripping them of their "Catholicity," and besides, yesterday's conference had plenty else on the agenda. Yet given the success Catholic schools have shown in educating poor and minority students, and the likelihood that that's because of their Catholicity, it's an idea that warrants more of an airing. (Two prior Gadfly op-eds provide a bit, at least, here and here .)

I was reminded of this yesterday when I met Lawrence Weinberg, author of Religious Charter Schools: Legalities and Practicalities (2007), a book I'm now curious to read. Checker and Mike have argued that the Zelman decision paved the way for religious charters, at least insofar as the U.S. Constitution is concerned, but (at the risk of mischaracterizing his work) Weinberg replies that the legal landscape is a little more complicated than that (both because of state-level issues, like Blaine amendments prohibiting state funding of religious schools, and because Zelman is not the only relevant Supreme Court case). Of course, practically speaking, charter schools have to be approved by authorizers, most of which are districts...

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