Flypaper

No, I'm not referring to Linda Darling-Hammond, but to William Ayers, the "distinguished professor" at the University of Illinois-Chicago who first distinguished himself by blowing up a Greenwich Village townhouse while building a bomb. as a terrorist.* The media has been looking into Senator Obama's connections to this former Weatherman for at least a week, and last night George Stephanopoulos brought it up at the Philadelphia debate. Obama's response:

George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George.

But he's not a professor of English, he's a professor of education. What other institution would give a former Weatherman a full professorship?

Nor are we late to this story; see Checker's take on Ayers from 2001.

ADDENDUM: Sol Stern has covered the Bill Ayers story too.

* Multiple sources have informed me that Ayers wasn't in the Greenwich Village townhouse that blew up, though he was implicated in several terrorist activities....

An anonymous source tells Flypaper that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Senator Edward Kennedy were yacking it up at Nationals Field Park this morning while waiting for Pope Benedict XVI to arrive. We're praying that they were discussing how to salvage the D.C. school voucher program, which helps 2,000 needy Washington children attend private schools, including Catholic schools, but which is expected to come under attack from Democrats in Congress. Hey, one can dream.

Liam Julian

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is an expert at being overshadowed, first by Tony Blair and now by the pope. Brown is in D.C. today, and he's scheduled to meet with President Bush and presidential candidates Clinton, McCain, and Obama. Let's hope none picks up any of the prime minister's education ideas.

Bravo to Andres Alonso, Baltimore's schools superintendent, for launching a campaign to recruit 500 volunteers to work in the city's schools. It's one of his smartest responses to last week's horrible teacher attack (his other was declaring "zero tolerance" for that sort of violence). Alonso's spokesman says that "people want to help, and they want a concrete way to help."

Indeed. To be sure, Baltimore needs a broad-based, systematic approach to solving its discipline problems. (Consider that students have been expelled 112 times this year alone for attacking teaches.) But rallying parents and the larger community is smart. Perhaps Alonso, a long-time New Yorker, remembers the public's overwhelming interest in doing something to help after the 9/11 attacks. Or learned from the Bush Administration's failure to enlist the public in making sacrifices or performing community service in a time of war. Whatever his thinking, it shows great leadership to turn an awful incident into an opportunity for positive action.

Liam Julian

The Los Angeles Times featured some debate about Ben Stein's new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which seeks to expose how a cult of Darwinism has overtaken our public-school science classes. I like Ben Stein, but I'm pretty skeptical about this film, and the reputable reviews are generally negative. Moreover, it reportedly draws connections between today's science classes and Nazi Germany, which is bizarre.

I wish I could write something more authoritative, but the people in charge of screening the film in D.C. had to cancel because of sound problems, which indicates either a) that after scanning the list of potential attendees, the promoters decided showing the film would be a bad idea, or b) incompetence. Neither inspires confidence in Expelled's worth.

Jeff Kuhner

If you're a school administrator and you want to purchase HDTVs, home-theater equipment, iPods, camcorders (you name it) for personal use on the taxpayer's dime, then I've got a place for you: The Northshore School District in Seattle.

The Seattle Times reports that a Northshore contract provision allows for these kinds of questionable purchases for its approximately 90 top administrators. And here's the kicker: When the administrators leave their jobs they get to take the equipment with them.

"To buy things for purely personal use out of taxpayer money, that's what outraged us," said Donna Lurie, who represents the Northshore Education Office Professionals Association, which represents support staff in the district.

Ms. Lurie should be outraged. Northshore administrators already make, on average, over $100,000 a year along with an excellent benefits package. Unlike, say, teachers, who are underpaid and struggling to make ends meet, these administrators seem to be doing very well for themselves. The last thing they need is to haul off electronic goods at taxpayers' expense. What makes this even more outrageous is that the district is suffering from a budget crunch, needing to slash $3.4 million in 2008-2009. The administrators' lavish--and totally unnecessary--perk is siphoning off finite resources, which could be put to better use.

The administrators insist there's nothing illegal about all of this. True. But it is unethical and unseemly. District budgets should focus on putting the interests of students and teachers first--not padding the expense accounts of already-generously compensated...

A year ago today the Village Voice published a lengthy article on the New York City public schools' so-called "rubber rooms," where teachers accused of misconduct are held while their cases are pending. The story is so outrageous it seemed worth revisiting. Frankly, tales like this make it hard to fathom just how poorly-run are many public school districts.

Rubber room hours match that of a typical school day--Argyris would sign in at 8:30 a.m. and be released at 3:20 in the afternoon, with a 50-minute lunch break. Like something out of a dystopian fairy tale, however, this school had no children, just a few cafeteria workers, social workers, and custodians who shared the same lot.

In 2000, there were 385 teachers assigned to rubber rooms. Last month, that number had climbed to 662. Argyris, while she sat and stared at a wall, was paid $62,646 a year. The DOE pays about $33 million a year just in salaries to the teachers in rubber rooms--an amount that doesn't include the salaries of investigators working on the cases of rubber room teachers, the upkeep of the reassignment centers, or the substitute teachers who replace employees like Argyris.

Some teachers spend up to three years in the rubber rooms while their cases float glacially through the district offices. They spend their time reading, playing chess, working on screenplays, knitting--one couple who met in a rubber room "had converted a corner of the room into a small love nest, complete...

Talk about bizarre piggybacking and ahistoricism.

Ronald Reagan didn't make many missteps, but one blunder that's widely acknowledged by just about everyone who follows education was the White House's bungled initial reception of A Nation at Risk in 1983. The "vision" that the President laid out on that occasion had just about nothing to do with what the Excellence Commission said or recommended. It was ships passing in the night.

After dawn broke, Reagan and his team (including Ed Meese) realized that the Commission's report had struck a nerve--even though it had absolutely nothing to do with school choice or with reducing the federal role in education. Whereupon the President began gallivanting around the land with Education Secretary Ted Bell--18 joint events in 11 weeks, it says on page 99 of my book.

But as he traveled he sang from the Commission's hymnal (higher standards, tougher courses, better teachers, etc.), not the one that our good friends at Heritage (and Senator DeMint) are trying posthumously to place in his hands.

"Finger scan replaces tickets in lunch line"

This in Idaho, no less, which is one of only five states not to use a unique statewide student identifier (like a social security number) in its data system--out of privacy concerns, one surmises.

Liam Julian

Would you or someone you know love to work in education policy? Are you confused about where to start? Then the??Fordham Fellows program might be for you! The deadline fast approaches....

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