Flypaper

Liam Julian

That Miami-Dade is considering convening a task force to investigate the testing mania that has reportedly caused some students to be hospitalized illustrates how little trust district officials often place in their principals. School Board member Solomon Stinson so noted. According to the Miami Herald, "he warned against micromanaging teachers and principals, who have a better grasp on student needs."

Eduwonk returned from a week's vacation to find our complaint in Gadfly that he was a bit too generous with his praise for AFT heir apparent Randi Weingarten. Specifically, we wondered why he would say that "most of the things that the teachers' unions want are in the interest of kids." His response?

Ummm...because it's true? This debate is too often framed by absolutists arguing that teachers unions are always at odds with what's good for kids or, conversely, that they never are and the interest of teachers and students are the same. Lots of things that teachers' unions want are good for kids, too. But some are not...

OK, we're listening, can you name even a handful of the "lots of things" that unions want that are good for kids, too? We'll concede, when it comes to the AFT, that it seeks a common core curriculum, which would certainly be good for the kiddos. What else?...

Senator McCain's wife Cindy was a teacher and a "rodeo queen." One of his key education advisors, Lisa Graham Keegan, was state superintendent and a rodeo star. A coincidence?

Today, Liam turns in a nice NRO piece on Fairfax County, Virginia's, recently published report that finds that the "'moral character and ethical judgment' of its white and Asian pupils is more developed than that of its black and Hispanic pupils."

These conclusions, drawn from hosts of disparate data about attendance, disciplinary infractions, and teacher observations, have the unfortunate characteristic of being both offensive and useless. Fairfax finds that its black students have more character flaws than its white students--now what?

Liam goes on to argue that No Child Left Behind, by initiating this fetish with "disaggregated data," is to blame for deepening America's obsession with race--and that Congress ought to make NCLB colorblind by focusing on the progress of individual students--not racial groups--over time.

I agree, Liam, that moving to a "growth model" could help move us beyond raw racial calculations (even though schools will find that many of the individual students who need to make the most progress are African-American and Hispanic). But I still think our country is better off having faced NCLB's racial breakdowns and the local conversations they've forced about the achievement gap. Yes, Fairfax County has taken it several steps too far, but other communities in America have faced up to their achievement gaps for the first time ever, and that's worthy of celebration, not scorn....

Fordham has argued that principals need to function more like CEOs, handling not just a school's academic mission but also the many complexities of running a small organization. Yet when we asked principals how they view themselves and their responsibilities, we concluded that "they see their role as ???middle manager'--not CEO."

Now the National Association of Elementary School Principals weighs in. NAESP's "Vision 2021" predicts that by the year 2021--the hundredth anniversary of NAESP--principals will be CLOs, or Chief Learning Officers. As reported in Education Week, "In those schools of the future, principals will shift away from a managerial role," using new technologies, focusing on data, and developing "learning communities." But who will run the school as an organization? Here the NAESP gets timid:

Some experts argue that no one person can do the job of principal and new structures are required, like a team of leaders including a business manager or chief of operations and a chief academic officer. Whatever the future configuration, principals will practice learner-centered leadership and seek leadership contributions from multiple sources to balance management and leadership roles.

"Leadership contributions"? Someone needs to be in charge of the school as a whole, to make sure that the school's finances, staffing, facilities, and instructional model are in synch. So who's the boss? If the NAESP is any indication, it seems we were right--today's principals aren't exactly clamoring for this responsibility....

Jeff Kuhner

Apparently, it's the teacher's fault when students assault them in the classroom--that's how it is, at least, at Reginald F. Lewis High School in Baltimore. Last week, The Baltimore Sun reported that Jolita Berry, after asking a girl in her art class to sit down, was confronted by the student, who threatened to beat her up.

According to Berry, she warned the student: "Back up, you're in my space. If you hit me, I'm gonna defend myself."

But she didn't protect herself. Instead, egged on by classmates, the student viciously pummeled Berry, who lay on the ground defenseless as someone videotaped the ghastly attack on his or her cell phone. The incident was later posted on MySpace.

What's scandalous is not just that a teacher was beaten to a pulp, or that most students in the classroom can be seen reveling in this act of barbarism, but that Berry--not the assailant--was blamed by the principal, Jean Ragin, for having "triggered" the incident by saying she would defend herself. The assault--and the principal's irresponsible and cowardly response--has rightly outraged concerned parents, including Baltimore's mayor, Sheila Dixon.

"That principal might need to be disciplined because no teacher should be disrespected in the classroom," Dixon said at a morning news conference last week.

Dixon added that Ragin's response was "unfair to that teacher." That's putting it mildly.

Adding insult to injury, Berry says that the principal refused to remove the student from school grounds after...

Liam Julian

The logistical problems with the "Academic Freedom Act," which is traipsing merrily through the Florida legislature, are legion. The pope's U.S. visit highlights the logical difficulties that accompany the logistical ones, most prominent among them the continued inability of many to distinguish between the realms of science and religion.

The "intelligent design" proponents (who, by the way, love Florida's Academic Freedom bill) receive the most press coverage for trying to slip religion and philosophy into science's corridors. But those on the opposite side, people such as Richard Dawkins, have been just as vocal in their promotion of science as dispositive--i.e., the final, universal theory of all reality. Dawkins, an Oxford scientist, has written that, because of Darwin, religion "is now completely superseded by science." His notion is true if he's speaking about, for example, k-12 science standards or science curricula. He wasn't, though.

Benedict XVI could bring some sanity and clarity to the evolution debate that has so roiled school districts across the United States. To do injustice to his thought by paring it down to its barest form, Benedict (like his predecessor) believes that scientific evidence for evolution is convincing, but that it does not contain the answers to life's deeper questions. He believes that religion and science are different and separate, and that each can best inform the other when their distinctions are respected.

To bring it back to k-12, science teachers should teach the scientific consensus on evolution without worrying about...

Less-than-humble Liam isn't willing to acknowledge the significance of the recent Philadelphia healthy-eating study. He goes so far as to say that it "has nothing to do with education; it's about whether kids who eat healthful foods for several hours a day will be healthier. Of course they will!"

Of course they will? The last several decades of education research are littered with examples of promising initiatives that take "several hours a day" and don't get any results. In fact, there's a serious debate among reformers and apologists about whether it's fair to expect schools to have any impact on children's well-being--academic or otherwise--since the kiddies spend most of their days outside of school and since home factors play such a large role in determining children's fate. (Even the original Education Gadfly, Checker Finn, once estimated that children only spend nine percent of their lives in schools from age zero to eighteen.)

So here you have an initiative whereby schools serve children healthier lunches, keep them from accessing junk food and sugary drinks for seven hours a day, and teach them the basics about balanced eating. The schools have no direct control over anything else--the junk the kids might eat for breakfast, the junk they might eat for dinner, the junk they might eat for snacks, their lethargic after-school lifestyles. You might say the schools have even less control over kids' diet and exercise than over their academic development. And yet this...

As a national education player, the American Federation of Teachers has been careful not to bash No Child Left Behind too overtly. It even calls its NCLB site "Let's Get It Right" (not, say, "Throw NCLB Under the Bus"). But that's not the tone expressed by the president of its Pennsylvania affiliate when explaining its support for Hillary Clinton to Education Week's David Hoff:

Sen. Clinton has been more emphatic about overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act and has opposed merit pay for teachers, said Mr. Kirsch, who as a vice president of the national union took part in the AFT's decision to endorse Sen. Clinton in October.

Mr. Kirsch isn't kidding; Clinton's standard line is that "I want to end the No Child Left Behind program because I don't think it's working the way it was promised." So now "emphatic about overhauling" means "determined to kill."

Fordham was once charged with having an unclear position on NCLB. Ours is sunny blue day compared to the AFT's murky skies. Perhaps it's up to the incoming AFT president to set things straight. Ms. Weingarten, where do you stand?...

Liam Julian

While education is ignored in the U.S. presidential race, it's big-time politics in the U.K., where Schools Secretary Ed Balls (and, by extension, Prime Minister Gordon Brown) is taking it on the chin, not only from conservatives (see here) and fellow cabinet members (see here), but now from MPs??in his own party.

Balls's rough handling of private and faith schools could, it seems, do significant damage to Labor's prospects in the May 1 elections.

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