Flypaper

Liam Julian

Education poobahs from everywhere will??go this week to??Orlando for a k-12 summit hosted by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and friends. In yesterday's Orlando Sentinel, I wrote about the need for summit participants (and legislators and bureaucrats generally) to forget the hype and avoid focusing overmuch on dropout rates--that is, on the numbers themselves, which are essentially meaningless because states can render receipt of a diploma as difficult or facile as they wish. Lots of states have already succumbed to "lower the dropout rate" pressure by defanging their exit exams.

Two readers thought my piece worth commenting on on the Sentinel's online site, and both had the same gripe: that my??article didn't even mention student accountability. This is a complaint that I frequently stumble upon, especially in comments sections where readers post opinions about the op-eds they've just ingested. In this??particular ed-related observation??(anong sundry others),??the thinking public is far ahead of 1) the education thinktankerati and 2) government officials. One surmises that not a few thoughtful individuals have surmised that not a few high school students are screw-ups who don't want to be in school, don't want to learn, and don't want to behave. Many of them will probably drop out, and many people seem to think that's generally okay because at some point in time a 17-year-old has to take some responsibility for his own education and life. (Al Shanker, longtime AFT president,??believed in student accountability, too.)

To utter such thoughts today is generally??not acceptable in...

Last week the Wall Street Journal editors defended D.C.'s voucher program after the Washington Post reported that its days could be numbered. They made the decent point that "The $7,500 voucher is a bargain for taxpayers because it costs the public schools about 50% more, or $13,000 a year, to educate a child in the public schools." It would have been an excellent point, though, had they known and let it be known that in reality the district spends closer to $24,000 per pupil.

Mike thinks I'm overzealous in questioning the zeal with which ed reformers tie America's sub-par schools to forecasts of economic doom. There is, he argues, compelling evidence that economic growth is influenced by educational achievement, an arena where the United States typically trails lots of other countries. For instance, a recent Education Next article and an accompanying graph suggest that "cognitive skills," as measured by norm-referenced test scores, correlate positively with economic growth; the authors claim that "a highly skilled work force can raise economic growth by about two-thirds of a percentage point every year."

They also acknowledge, however, that the United States "has had a higher growth rate [from 1960 to 2000] than would be expected given its test scores and levels of school attainment." We can thank a number of factors for this lucky bit of American exceptionalism:

...the United States has other advantages, some of which are entirely separate and apart from the quality of its schooling. The U.S. maintains generally freer labor and product markets than most countries in the world. There is less government regulation of firms, and trade unions are less powerful than in many other countries. Put more broadly, the U.S. has generally less intrusion of government in the operation of the economy, including lower tax rates and minimal government production through nationalized industries. Taken together, these characteristics of the U.S. economy encourage investment, permit the rapid development of new products and activities by firms, and allow U.S. workers

...

Speaking of the economics-related back and forth between my colleagues here, a new report out by RAND last week compiles a series of papers presented at a November 2006 conference on U.S. economic competitiveness (yes, that took awhile). It's a pretty meaty compilation with lots of interesting good-news, bad-news data and insights from leading economists, engineers, and other scientists.

What caught my attention, though, was this news article that picked up on a particular stat in the lengthy report. We're told that "overseas talent" is helping to augment our science and engineering workforce since "70 percent of [foreign born students] elect to remain in the U.S. after completing their degrees." Phoebe Leboy, President of the Association for Women in Science, is apparently concerned that most immigrants "do not serve as good role models for our students" since children better identify with those who appear to come from a similar background. It got me thinking about the research on the question of teacher-student race and its relationship to student achievement, which has fascinated many a scholar. In short, the findings are mixed (yes, I know, we get tired of hearing that). Still, I prefer to think that a scientist's or engineer's strong content knowledge and passion for the subject matter is far more important in inspiring and challenging would-be scientists and engineers than is his skin color, accent, and/or nationality....

The Florida Teachers Union and friends sued the state on Friday to remove pro-voucher proposals from the November ballot, including a provision designed to restore, you guessed it, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was ruled unconstitutional in 2006 (D.C.'s version of the program may face a similar fate). The conspiracy theorists hold that the amendments are "part of a well-organized, well-financed campaign to outsource public schools" (yawn). Others believe that the issue needs to be decided by the voters as opposed to the union (or the courts)--a novel idea indeed.

A lot of normally smart and generally sincere??people have just made the dreadful blunder of affiliating themselves with Al Sharpton, one of America's more unlovable figures, whose fingerprints can be found on an appalling list of divisive, racist, anti-Semitic, violent,??and often bloody episodes over the past quarter century. (For starters, see??here and here.) This man doesn't deserve to be dignified with the label "civil rights leader" and we find ourselves wondering what the likes of Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Kati Haycock, Joe Williams,??and Andy Rotherham think they're doing. (For a full list of this dubious new coalition's members, see here.) Though many of the group's principles are sound (see here), if one is known by the company one keeps, a lot of people with solid reform reputations have just blemished them by association with Sharpton.

Update: Yet more evidence that Sharpton is greedy and opportunistic.

Liam Julian

Naomi Schaefer Riley takes it to the college-entrance-tests-are-biased crowd--especially those within it who profit from the very tests they decry.

Liam Julian

John J. Miller, who wrote a segment of Fordham's recent Catholic schools report, has a nice piece in the most recent National Review that traces the beginnings of school choice--charters and vouchers--in Washington, D.C. (Right now, it's available only to subscribers, but once the NR brass makes it public, I'll be sure to repost the link.) It helps clarify at least one thing about the city's Opportunity Scholarship Program, which Eleanor Holmes Norton and her Congressional colleagues??are planning to kill: The burden of explanation rests with them. That is, OSP supporters include a wide range of people: Conservative Republicans; liberal Democrats; Washington, D.C.'s mayor and schools chancellor; Marion Barry; private school administrators; parents whose students are enrolled through the program. If Norton and Congressional Democrats choose to stick their finger in the eyes of such a truly diverse and widespread crowd, they 1) will need to justify their actions with some convincing arguments (which have heretofore hid), and they should 2) be ready to receive some serious backlash. The battle is over a specific policy that involves only D.C., but it's??going to make??national news... and it's unlikely that our presidential contenders can be silent about it. (If McCain wants some easy education points [points he's mostly lacking], he might want to jump in on the right side of this fight.)...

Liam Julian

In a New Criterion article, Alan Charles Kors, a professor of history, points out the misperceptions that many college faculty members harbor. If only their presumptions were true!

Those often kindly teachers, however, do have a sense of urgent mission. Even if we put them on truth-serum, the academics who dominate the humanities and social sciences on our campuses today would state that K-12 education essentially has been one long celebration of America and the West, as if our students were intimately familiar with the Federalist Papers and had never heard of slavery or empire. Having convinced themselves that the students whom they inherit have been immersed in American and Western traditions without critical perspective--they do believe that--contemporary academics see themselves as having merely four brief years in which to demystify students, and somehow to get them to look up from their Madison and Hamilton long enough to gaze upon the darker side of American and Western life. In their view, our K-12 students know all about Aristotle, John Milton and Adam Smith, have studied for twelve years how America created bounty and integrated score after score of millions of immigrants, but have never heard of the Great Depression or segregation.

To avoid??accusations??that I??care not about the Joads or Martin Luther??King, Jr., I'll add this??bromide:??High school students should learn about the Great Depression and segregation, too....

Liam Julian

David Brooks writes today about the rift in left-leaning education circles. He rightly notes that one group, ostensibly bolder and broader, is actually, um,??regressive-er. The other realizes that schools need overhaul and innovation.

Where, Brooks wonders, does Obama stand? Maybe we'll know soon enough.

Pages