Liam Julian

The Wall Street Journal editors defend D.C.'s voucher program.

I was expecting a bit more from Eduwonk's $5 billion challenge. The winner, just announced, would use the money to

Create a new role for the classroom called an "Associate Teacher" that works with a teacher for 2 years before becoming a full-fledged teacher. Every classroom team would include a teacher, an associate teacher and a teacher assistant. It would cost a lot of money to run, but would help meet the needs of all children.

This might improve teaching quality a bit, but it would leave a lot to fix in the teaching profession, let alone American education writ large, which was the subject of the challenge.

For instance, this plan would do nothing to raise the quality of teaching candidates, who typically have lower SAT and ACT scores and come from less-competitive universities than their peers in other professions. Furthermore, even when districts ramp up recruiting efforts, bureaucratic and union barriers often deter the most qualified candidates from taking the jobs anyway. Why use the $5 billion for a bit of professional development (of questionable utility) when you could try to attract better candidates from the get-go?

Nor does the "associate teacher" plan do anything to fix the dysfunctional school culture that spurs so many qualified teachers to switch to careers that are more professionally rewarding and less of a threat to one's sanity. The $5-billion teacher will still waste valuable time and energy battling with incompetent administrators. She'll still bump...

I don't know, Liam, what will be the "quality" of the coming decades' progress. Nor, do I think, does Bauerlein. That's why I asked, "How can he can plausibly say, utterly ignorant of how the world will look even ten years from now, whether this uncharted future of human cognition will improve or degrade our lives?"

Indeed, the very point of the little river metaphor that sparked your reservations is that, lacking much insight into the standards and mores of the future, we can't very well judge the quality of progress.

I still don't like the snarky title of Mark Bauerlein's new book on how technology is blunting our reading and comprehension skills, but a recent piece in the Atlantic persuades me that he's at least right to claim that computers are changing how we think.

What's really great about the article, though, is that writer Nicholas Carr seriously wrestles with the question of what these changes mean for individuals and for society:

In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue's characters, "cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful".... Socrates wasn't wrong--the new technology did often have the effects he feared--but he was shortsighted. He couldn't foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom)....

Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom.

Indeed, what makes Bauerlein's arguments so difficult to stomach is that the state of affairs he bemoans cannot fairly be judged in the context of a static today; on the contrary, we must consider how it...

Al Sharpton has already turned heads by pairing with Pat Robertson to promote Al Gore's new environmental organization. Now he's taking on failing urban schools with his preferred enemy in that field, New York schools chancellor Joel Klein. Way to go, Al.

Photo by Flickr user hellochris.

Education Week reports today that data collected from the states by the U.S. Department of Education show the percentage of core classes in the nation taught by highly-qualified teachers is around 94 percent for 2006-2007. The numbers for high-poverty schools are slightly lower, but still pretty high--illustrating once again that the gaping loophole in the teacher quality provision known as HOUSEE invites states to game the system. North Dakota, for instance, boasts a full 100 percent of its core-subject classes taught by highly-qualified teachers. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's 100 percent in high-poverty schools, low-poverty schools, elementary schools, and secondary schools--every single core class taught by a highly-qualified teacher who demonstrates content knowledge expertise.

Others have already spoken about this problem quite eloquently. And though we admit to spotting a silver lining in here for charter schools, the fact remains that these latest overinflated data are just downright silly. Barnett Berry at the Center for Teaching Quality says as much:

The way states define highly-qualified teachers and what counts and doesn't count varies, ... rendering cross-state comparisons useless.

True, and the same adjective applies to the data themselves....

Liam Julian

The Weekly Standard looks at the Obama-Ayers connection.

The California Charter Schools Association published an important study yesterday that's making news today . Its findings from Los Angeles are consistent with previous charter research : L.A. charter schools tend to outperform similar, nearby public schools; "mature" charter schools outperform start-ups; and charters are particularly effective for African-American students.

What was refreshingly different was the local district's reaction. Consider this from the Los Angeles Times :

Ramon C. Cortines, L.A. Unified's newly appointed senior deputy superintendent, said the report pointed to how traditional schools could learn from charters--a strikingly different attitude from that typically expressed by district officials.

"I think that what it says is that they have some best practices, and those should be replicated in the district in all schools," he said. "I would say the same about islands of excellence in the Unified district.... We need to each learn from each other."

He said the district Monday held the first in a series of meetings that will bring together principals from charters and traditional schools to discuss how they can learn from one another.

I'm not going to presume that these meetings are going to lead to much, but they are a step in the right direction. Hooray, Ray!...

Liam Julian

Mike is too gentle with this broader, bolder initiative. First, a chicken and egg problem arises. Improving education is generally touted as the seminal route by which the nation can decrease social and economic inequality--but the bolder, broader folks think that decreasing social and economic inequality is crucial if America is to improve k-12 education. Puzzling. And then there's all this:

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that policies aimed directly at education-related social and economic disadvantages can improve school performance and student achievement. The persistent failure of policy makers to act on that evidence--in tandem with a school-improvement agenda-is a major reason why the association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong.

Note the part I've bolded. What does it mean? Are readers to believe that the "association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong" because policy makers haven't confronted every type of inequality at the same time, in tandem with school-improvement agendas? While we're at it, perhaps the authors can go even broader by adding some foreign affairs components and connecting the whole, overarching scheme to a plan to provide housing for every family and daisies for all schoolchildren?

You get the point. The recommendations--"Pay more attention to the time students spend out of school," "Increase investment in health services," etc.--are each, in and of themselves, incredibly large and complicated and expensive policy projects. To loop them all together in a mish mash; to insert...