I've returned from a long weekend in New Hampshire to find my colleague Coby continuously questioning the concern that America's economic might will be damaged by her educational mediocrity. To be sure, I think these arguments can be overblown and politically unsustainable. Still, there is some pretty compelling evidence about the connection between a nation's educational achievement and economic growth. Take a look at this figure, for example, from a recent Education Next article by Eric Hanushek, Dean T. Jamison, Eliot A. Jamison and Ludger Woessmann. Coby, shouldn't we get a little nervous about the United States' lackluster performance?

Liam Julian

Nigeria's teachers' union threatens to unleash the "mother of all strikes."

(Gadfly has previously commented, in op-art form,??on Nigeria's trials.)

While Washington, D.C., works it way through a big debate about turning its inner-city Catholic schools into charters, a Catholic high school in Houston quietly made the conversion this month with very little fanfare. Three cheers for Houston's school board for saving this valuable community institution. It was a particularly gutsy move considering that a majority of all Americans and almost two-thirds of all Catholic Americans oppose turning Catholic schools into charters (as reported by our recent Catholic schools study).

Liam Julian

Fordham has previously come out in favor of religious charter schools. Here's Checker in 2003, here's Mike in 2007. And here's the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in 2008 ; the Wall Street Journal 's op-ed, which describes an Islamic school funded with taxpayer dollars,??is disquieting. We've previously covered in Gadfly Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, but we've done so, in my mind, in an unsatisfactory manner. (See our first mention here and our next mention, the following week, from Checker, here .)

To allow religious charter schools would set into action a wholly unsavory series of events, and we'd be confronted with all sorts of questions that don't have easy answers, such as, what is a religion? and what are acceptable religious beliefs? And after reducing our stock of questions, we'll eventually be left with these bits: Either we allow any and all religions to set up schools to teach any and all of their proclaimed beliefs, or we allow none. The latter seems healthier, so why not save ourselves all the trouble and put the kibosh on talk about religious charter schools?


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...

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,


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,...

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....