Flypaper

In a recent Bloggingheads.tv video, Glenn Loury of Brown University and Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute discuss Mayor Bloomberg's "cash for grades" program.

MacDonald argues, and Loury more or less agrees, that the program institutes "a caste system" since it assumes that "some of us do things because we understand it's right, or because it's in our long-term self interest, whereas the other group we're just gonna treat like rats in a Skinner behavioral science exam."

Of course, the government frequently intervenes in the lives of those who presumably don't know what's in their long-term interest. Governments do what they do mostly to protect certain segments of society from themselves. Food stamps, housing projects, Medicaid, free or reduced lunch, NCLB???these all cultivate a kind of caste system. Americans have their very own untouchables just like everyone else.

The big difference is that the directness of the cash payouts in Bloomberg's plan reeks of paternalism, while in the examples above the nanny-state scent must travel through the byzantine air ducts of massive bureaucracies before it reaches our noses. When you get down to it, though, they're both stinky government cheese.

Liam Julian

The New York Times seems especially fascinated with smart kids who don't sleep with each other. First there was this story, and now there is this one, from last weekend. Both focus on Harvard. The second story reports, though, that abstinence movements/clubs are far more prevalent at high schools than on college campuses. That's too bad. While I don't disagree with the ideas that undergird such clubs (although some of their members, quite frankly, seem analogous to penguins who would join an anti-flight society), I do think that sex-related groups--be they for the act, against it, whatever--do not have a place at high schools. Sixteen-year-olds who wish to have sex and those who adamantly do not should do it or condemn it elsewhere. In schools, all the sanctioned chatter and controversy is a distraction from learning.

Hypothetical interlocutor disagrees: "But sex is a part of reality for many high-school kids, who need a safe place to explore sex-related ideas." Well, sex is a part of reality for many people in their 20s, 30s, and (I've heard it's true) 40s, 50s, 60s, and French in their 70s. But that doesn't make offices suitable places to hold abstinence rallies. Many of the people who complain ad nauseum that sex now pervades every aspect of our lives are also the ones who open the door and usher it in....

Liam Julian

Spellings definitely thinks we should have a national way of calculating the number of dropouts. But a national way to calculate student achievement? No way! Are you nuts?

At Slate, the University of Virginia's Jim Ryan offers a brilliant plan to fix No Child Left Behind. Why so brilliant? Well, he agrees with us; his to-do list looks a lot like ours:

NCLB checklist

My favorite part is his smart description of the problem we identified in The Proficiency Illusion:

Schools must show annual improvements on test scores or face increasingly severe sanctions and the stigma of being labeled as failing. NCLB couples this punitive scheme with utter laxity regarding the standards and tests themselves. States get to develop their own standards, create their own tests, and set their own passing rates. Imagine if the EPA told the auto industry it would be fined heavily for polluting too much but let automakers decide for themselves what counts as "too much" pollution. That's basically how NCLB works.

Nice analogy, nice recommendations. Now we just need a new President who might actually be able to put these ideas into action.

Sixteen-year-old Jim Hennessy is angry. His rights have been violated, as has been his "personal freedom." What's at stake that caused the New York Times to give Jim's story prominent attention? Free speech? Religious expression? Not, it's worse; Darien High School had the audacity to require Jim and his peers to pass a breathalyzer test before entering a school dance.

"What you do off school grounds should be your own business," says Jim.

Um, yeah, Jim, maybe that's true if you stay off school grounds (and then it's your business and your parents' business). But setting sobriety as a prerequisite to school functions is hardly a step toward the Third Reich. Nor is it a panacea; as the local school board chairman admitted to the Times, "It doesn't solve the problem of teenage drinking. But it solves the problem of teenage drinking at school dances."

It's hard to fault Jim entirely, though. He's lived his entire life in the age of student "rights" guaranteed by the Supreme Court, no less (see here). Believing he has the right to attend school dances drunk is just the logical extension of decades of court decisions, you might say. What would help is the Court deciding, a la Clarence Thomas, that minors don't have free speech rights--much less the right to get bombed. I'd drink to that....

The New York Times reports today on the admissions crunch at Ivy League schools. Due to record numbers of applicants, Harvard's acceptance rate this year is down to a new low of 7.1 percent, and other schools are setting their own records as well. Why? The Times speculates, but focuses on demographics:

Many factors contributed to the tightening of the competition at the most selective colleges, admissions deans and high school counselors said, among them demographics. The number of high school graduates in the nation has grown each year over the last decade and a half, though demographers project that the figure will peak this year or next, which might reduce the competition a little.

Other factors were the ease of online applications, expanded financial aid packages, aggressive recruiting of a broader range of young people, and ambitious students' applying to ever more colleges.

I'd bet on that last point--students applying to more and more colleges. Anecdotally speaking, when I applied to colleges 16 years ago, submitting a handful of applications was the norm. Now that seems lazy.

As the International Herald Tribune reported in January, "'There was a time when kids applied to three or four schools, then to six or seven schools, and now, 10 or more is not uncommon,' said John Maguire, a higher education consultant." We're in a vicious cycle, where students need to apply to more schools simply because everyone else is applying to more schools. This effect--if indeed there...

And in other shockers, environmentalists don't like NASCAR and feminists don't like Vegas. Really, is anyone going to take this report by the teachers union-funded Great Lakes Center seriously? Consider this, from its press release:

Should transportation, food and custodial services be provided by employees of school districts, or should those services by outsourced to private companies? Does contracting out these services save the district money and add flexibility? According to a new report that takes an honest look at the evidence, the answer to each of these questions is, "sometimes, but many times not."

Well I'm glad the report took an "honest look." For its next work, we expect the Great Lakes Center to ask, "Should school boards negotiate aggressively with their teachers unions? Sometimes, but many times not."

At least that was my takeaway from from??today's "Editorial Observer" column about Barack Obama's race speech.* Don't worry, the Times thinks I'm racist too, for I opposed the country's old-style welfare system. I may have thought that I disagreed with the way it created dependency among the very people it was designed to help. And I may have believed that I supported welfare reform because it rewarded work and empowered poor people (especially poor women) with a message of hope and responsibility. But no, the Times??paraphrases William Julius William asserting that:

whites rebelled against welfare because they saw it as using their hard-earned taxes to give blacks "medical and legal services that many of them could not afford for their own families."

Yup, I just hated seeing those medical and legal services going to undeserving minorities. Come on!

Then the Times goes on to say, "For all the appeal of America's melting pot, the country's diverse ethnic mix is one main reason for entrenched opposition to public spending on the public good."

Wait a minute. Our country spends over $500 billion per year on our increasingly diverse public education system--more per-pupil than almost any nation on earth. Over the last twenty years, more and more of these dollars have been targeted (along with major reforms like No Child Left Behind) at our most diverse, most needy schools.

Good grief, what kind of mean-spirited nation do the Times editors think they live in?

...

In Sunday's Washington Post, Fordham Institute president Chester E. Finn debunks five of the most common (and harmful) myths pervading debates over No Child Left Behind. Good stuff, and I'm not just saying that because he's my boss.

Jeff Kuhner

Increasing numbers of U.S. Muslims are opting for home schooling. It's a bad idea for one simple reason: They are segregating themselves from mainstream American society. A recent piece in the New York Times on the struggles faced by Pakistani-American girls in Lodi, California, highlights the problems caused by home schooling. Although many Muslim, as well as Christian, Jewish and secular parents view it as a necessary alternative to the social ills plaguing public schools, such as drugs, violence, promiscuity, and the celebration of the hip-hop/celebrity culture (to name just a few), the adverse consequences on their children are very real and usually last a lifetime. The biggest problem is that home schooling by traditionalist religious communities perpetuates the creation of social ghettoes, whereby students are often alienated and disconnected from the larger American culture. It fosters a kind of balkanization that, ultimately, is not good for America or for the students.

Take the case of the Pakistani-American girls profiled in The Times article. Coming from traditional Islamic families, many of the girls were forced to leave public school and study at home. This is because their parents want them to cook and clean for their male relatives and siblings. It was also done to prevent the girls from being exposed to liberating female cultural mores, such as wearing Western clothes and spending free time after school with friends.

"Some men don't like it when you wear American clothes - they don't think it is a...

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