Flypaper

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...

The website RateMyProfessors.com has been the subject of much criticism as it has grown in popularity. For instance, a professor from Central Michigan University ran some numbers and found that "the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they'll get rated as a good teacher."

Inside Higher Ed reports today, however, on a couple studies that have found high correlations between RateMyProfessors.com and official university student-evaluation systems:

A new study is about to appear in the journal Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education and it will argue that there are similarities in the rankings in RateMyProfessors.com and IDEA, a student evaluation system used at about 275 colleges nationally and run by a nonprofit group affiliated with Kansas State University.

What is notable is that while RateMyProfessors.com gives power to students, IDEA gives a lot of control over the process to faculty members. Professors identify the teaching objectives that are important to the class, and those are the measures that count the most. In addition, weighting is used so that adjustments are made for factors beyond professors' control, such as class size, student work habits and so forth--all variables that RateMyProfessors doesn't really account for (or try to account for).

And at least some professors, it seems, find the reviews on RateMyProfessors.com useful for evaluating their own teaching strategies:

"I've been an instructor for 10 years. I look at it," he said, adding that he has found insights "that weren't on my

...

The White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools, underway at this moment, has about 300 attendees, all of whom already agree with each other about nearly all the issues on the table. No bad thing to rally the troops or (changing metaphors) preach to the choir. But I didn't spot anyone there whose mind needed to, or was likely to be, changed by the proceedings. Hence the main value of this event beyond the Ronald Reagan Building amphitheater (normally occupied by the satirical Capitol Steps) depends on whether word of it percolates out and anybody pays heed.

Four more takeaways, two of them admittedly churlish:

    • The President gave a good talk, peppered with positive examples from the world of Catholic schools (never mind the ecumenical audience and many flavors of faith-based schools) and from the recent Fordham Institute report on same. He called on states to repeal their Blaine Amendments. He was in excellent humor and form but also showed faint signs of final-year-in-office enervation.
    • Though the Fordham Report and its case studies permeate this event, it is never named, quoted from or referenced. Even session moderator Scott Hamilton, who edited it and has a Fordham tie, is identified on the program by another part of his work life. We don't need to ask why the systematic shunning. It's payback for Mike's and my occasional truth-tellings about the Secretary of Education (here, for instance).
    • The social science evidence offered (mainly by Cal
    • ...

    Not so many moons ago, Boston University's college of education was the brightest spot in the dim universe of U.S. ed schools, full of heterodox thinkers on important issues (e.g., Charles Glenn, David Steiner, Kevin Ryan, Steve Tigner). Some of those thinkers are still there, but the school's leadership--recently in Glenn's able hands on an "acting" basis--is about to be turned over to a far more orthodox sort.

    Last month B.U. announced the appointment of Dr. Hardin Coleman, a psychologist specializing in counseling, currently at the University of Wisconsin, a well-known warehouse of conventional thinking. Coleman's main stated interests are topics like "identity formation" among "culturally diverse" adolescents. He is reportedly hostile to charter schools and high-stakes accountability and just about everything else worth being in favor of nowadays--and just about everything that Massachusetts is celebrated for doing well.

    As B.U. heads back into the ed school sheep pen, let's at least note that it wasn't always there and didn't have to return.

    Pages