SUBJECT: The Big One

Roy! Guv-nor! How's it going? Eli driving you crazy yet?

Listen, I know it's been tough-sledding at Ed in '08 making education a top-tier issue in the election. Maybe the general will bring you better luck. But it's hard, what with the sinking economy, war in Iraq, worries about health care, $4/gallon gas, etc. I see you're making lemonade out of lemons, though, trying to link the education issue to the economy. That's smart. Plays on people's fears. It worked back in the 80s (The Japanese are coming! The Japanese are coming!) and it could work today (The Chinese are coming! The Indians are coming!). That just might spark enough interest to get you through November.

But I understand that you have ambitions to keep up the advocacy long past this election cycle. And that's where you've got a problem. For better or worse, eventually, the economy is going to turn around. The housing crisis will end, jobs will come back, and the American people will lose focus. Rather than fretting about competing with the rest of the world, their education concerns will turn to stupid worries about the "crisis of energy drinks" and such. (Remember the big education issue of the mid-90s? School uniforms, for Pete's sake!)

What you need, Roy, is something that scares the heck out of people and isn't...

Jeff Kuhner

New Jersey education officials have admitted that an African-American vice principal inappropriately punished 15 Hispanic elementary students in Camden. The principal forced the students in a fifth-grade bilingual class to spend a week eating their lunches while sitting on the gymnasium floor. This was "punishment" for behavioral problems in class.

Parents and activists claimed that the incident was another example of racism directed against Hispanics. State education officials, however, in a report released this week refute those allegations. Although the principal's actions were insulting and demeaning to the students, the report says they were not biased because similar punishments have been meted out to non-Hispanics.

Prejudice is not the issue; common sense--or the lack of it--is. I'm all for greater principal autonomy. I'm also for stricter discipline in the classroom. If students are disrupting a school's learning environment, they should be punished--and quite severely. Our schools have become way too lax in maintaining proper and respectful student behavior. But this principal's actions are beyond the pale. Besides hygiene considerations (eating off a floor is a sure way to contract unhealthy bacteria and germs), the punishment was degrading. These kids are not animals, and they should not be treated as such.

Whatever happened to principals notifying parents of students' disruptive, unruly behavior? If that doesn't do the trick, there are other tried-and-true measures, such as after-school detention, suspension, or if the students are especially bad, expulsion. In short, there are many effective ways to enforce discipline...

The Center for Education Reform released an analysis of 2006 charter school funding , claiming that charters receive 39 percent less funding than district schools, on average. That's a huge, unfair difference, if it's true.

But is it? Fordham's own such analysis three years ago found gaps that were very troubling, but only about half that size--22 percent on average. True, we only reviewed some of the states, and CER hits them all, but even state-by-state there are big variances. So who's right? If you were hoping for a nerdy data discussion this Friday, you've now found it, as I have a few major concerns about their work.

First, it's worrisome that they rely on a 2006 "Charter School Survey" for some of their data. Did they literally ask schools how much money they received ? Three years ago, Fordham's team found that the only way to get reliable charter information in many states was to unearth school-level audits and add them up. Any good analysis needs to involve something equally rigorous.

Second, it's a huge red flag that they cite the U.S. Census Bureau for district-level data. Our team found its district funding data often included some charter school funding, overstating the actual district-only budgets. These funds couldn't be separated out, making the data worthless.

Third, even accurate district data needs to be purged of certain revenues, like those for adult education, pre-K, or other programs outside of normal K-12 education,...

Amidst criticism over her principal firings, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has dismissed the principal of the school that her own kids attend.

Over at the Cato blog , Andrew Coulson reports that New Jersey lawmakers have taken a step toward approving a tax-credit scholarship program, much like what Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Iowa, and Rhode Island already have.

The best part of the post, however, is an anecdote from Coulson's book about what happened the last time such a plan was floated in the Garden State:

In late October of 1995, officials of the Pepsi company announced at Jersey City Hall that their corporation would donate thousands of dollars in scholarships to help low-income children attend the private school of their choice. The immediate response of the local public school teachers' union was to threaten that a statewide boycott of all Pepsi products could not be ruled out. Pepsi vending machines around the city were vandalized and jammed. Three weeks later, company officials regretfully withdrew their offer.

I know the protest mentality runs deep through the union ranks, especially when it comes to evil multinational corporations. But to boycott a company for giving away millions of dollars to poor kids? How do you justify that?

Photo by Flickr user janettowbin .

Jeff Kuhner

Code Pink, the anti-war group, is holding a rally protesting Berkeley's Marine Corps Recruiting Center. According to news reports, the organizers have urged the protestors to use witchcraft to end the Iraq war, telling them to come equipped with spells and pointy hats in order to cast spells for "peace."

Now that's original. Perhaps we at Fordham should take a page from Code Pink's playbook and come to work dressed as witches. We can all beef up on witchcraft, and start casting spells for universal proficiency in K-12 reading and math. We should even ask President Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to help us mix our secret brew. But that would only confirm for the Bush-haters that the administration is possessed by evil, demonic spirits.

Most ed reformers are drawn to their calling by one, or sometimes both, of two considerations: civil rights and economics. The first concern addresses the achievement gap between mostly white, upper-class students and their mostly minority, low-income peers. That this gap exists--and that it's shameful and unacceptable--is undeniable.

The claims of the economics crowd, however, are less unassailable. Landmark report after landmark report warns us that, unless we adopt the following thirty-six-point plan to fix our schools, we face a future of indentured servitude to the emerging behemoths of the East. But, in fact, there's little evidence to support such claims, just as there wasn't in the eighties and nineties when Japan was on its supposedly inexorable march toward world domination.

Thankfully, Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews has written an accessible and persuasive response to the economic armageddon crowd in the latest Wilson Quarterly. Choice lines:

Our best public schools are first-rate, producing more intense, involved, and creative ??A-??plus students than our most prestigious colleges have room for. That is why less-known institutions such as Claremont McKenna, Rhodes, and Hampshire are drawing many freshmen just as smart as the ones at Princeton. The top 70 percent of U.S. public high schools are pretty good, certainly better than they have ever been, thanks to a growing movement to offer Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate ??courses.

Our real problem is the bottom 30 percent of U.S. schools, those in urban and rural communities full of ??low-??income children. We


Backed against the wall by recent labor controversies, the United Federation of Teachers has launched a counter-offensive:

The city teachers union is accusing education officials of using a double standard by yanking teachers from classrooms when they're accused of wrongdoing but letting similarly accused principals stay on.

The complaint seems to stem from a single incident in the Bronx where a principal was accused of employing corporal punishment but has not been disciplined.

Two things jump out here. First, why take for granted that managers should be held to the same standards as other employees? Principals--just like movie-theater managers, law firm partners, and vice presidents for national programs and policy at education think tanks--have different duties and responsibilities than the employees they lead. Central administrators, therefore, should have different criteria for evaluating the performance and behavior of principals and teachers. It's not a double standard--it's an entirely different set of standards, and it's a perfectly sensible approach for any hierarchical organization.

On the other hand, in practice, most urban school district central offices seem to do a pretty poor job of overseeing their principals (although some are trying to buck the trend). The UFT may very well be right that the principal in question deserves some kind of punishment. And I suspect (thanks to feedback from an NYC teacher) that there are several teachers in the rubber rooms and on the Absent Teacher Reserve who are there not because they're poor teachers, but...

Liam Julian

Over at Quick and the Ed, Kevin Carey turns in a lengthy post, replete with percentages and bullet points, that draws lessons from Ed Sector's newest report, Waiting to Be Won Over. His second sentence shocks, then awes, then shocks again:

In recent decades, America has experienced a steady de-unionization of the private sector workforce. This is a real problem, particularly in an era of declining economic security and increasing inequality (problems that partially stem from de-unionization itself).

To??assert that??the loss of jobs in, say,??Michigan and Ohio stems from de-unionization??certainly has originality going for it, if not much veracity. To??maintain that the??steady decline of Ford and General Motors--neither of which can compete with Japanese car makers in large part because they pay something like $2200 more in labor costs per car than does Toyota--is??the??product??of de-unionization is... well, it's definitely new.??

Further down the post, Carey writes about public sector unions??and notes "the??fact that most teacher are quite open to reforms of traditional labor arrangements that many teachers unions fail to actively support at best, and oppose at worst."

His first example is that "55% [of teachers] agreed that the process for removing teachers who are ???clearly ineffective and shouldn't be in the classroom' is ???very difficult and time-consuming.'" Somehow, this statistic??doesn't??transport me to joyfulness. That just over half of k-12 educators find "very difficult and time-consuming"??the Byzantine process of attempting to fire a??public-school teacher is, instead, a tad??depressing.??It doesn't say much for the teachers themselves,...

While childlike Liam takes Checker to task for questioning the incalculable contributions of twenty-somethings, in Boston they're rehiring retirees in the wake of laying-off young teachers. And in this case, the local teachers union head gets it right:

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said that by relying heavily upon retirees to return to their old jobs, the school system risks never training a new generation of workers.... "Institutionally, it's a weak way to replace your skilled employees," Stutman said.

Hmm, teachers unions standing up for younger teachers over older ones? This is new.