Clearly blogging is having a dumbing-down effect on my punditry. Though it is silly ("unwise"? "counter-productive"? "cynical"?) to expect 100 percent of students to attain proficiency and for proficiency to still mean something, as our friends in South Carolina recently discovered.

Corey Bower seems to think so. He points to this passage from this New York Times piece about some affluent suburban public schools that are adopting a "global studies" curriculum:

Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, cautioned that American schools were already giving short shrift to American history and government and could not afford to layer global studies on top of already stretched curriculum.

"In some of these trendy schools, there is an ethos that we are all citizens of the world, and that's all that matters," he said. "Students need to be taught to be American citizens first."

To be fair to Corey, the reporter's paraphrasing of my views wasn't entirely accurate. By all means schools should be teaching students about the rest of the world; that's why Fordham reviewed the states' world history standards, for example. But it appears that the school profiled in the article is finding time for "global studies" by trimming American history and civics. Given that schools are already narrowing history out of the curriculum, I found this disturbing. And it's hardly "reactionary" or "anti-world" to believe...

Dean Millot at Edbizbuzz seems to think so.

I'm tempted to leave it at that, because, as Millot himself implies, this debate is pulling us further and further away from education policy and more and more into the realm of the bizarre. But it's not every day that I'm likened to one of the most despicable characters of the 20th century so, alas, let me respond.

Millot argues that the term "terrorist" is "hyperbolic" because the Weather Underground did not practice "the deliberate indiscriminate use of force against innocents to strike fear in the general public." Instead, they "just" blew up government buildings, taking care not to injure anyone.

This strikes me as semantic jujitsu (the Weathermen did use violence to forward their political aims), but I'm certainly happy to concede that what Al Qaeda perpetrates, for example, is much, much, much worse.

Still, were the Weathermen's actions defensible? Hardly. Sometimes we at the Fordham Institute are considered "bomb throwers"--but only figuratively. We tend to disagree strongly with the teachers unions, but it would be morally reprehensible for us to call on school...

Jeff Kuhner

Nothing is more emblematic of the rampant intellectual incoherence and moral equivalence of our age than the current debate about whether Bill Ayers is a "terrorist." Dean Millot at Edbizbuzz calls Mike a "McCarthyite"--one of the most vicious slanders in the political lexicon--for stating the obvious: Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist who shouldn't be part of the American Educational Research Association's leadership team. Leaving aside the AERA issue (and I don't think any respectable group should have a person who committed and championed violence to pursue political goals as a member, never mind as one of its leaders), how can Ayers's actions as part of the radical Weather Underground not be categorized as terrorism?

''I don't regret setting bombs,'' Ayers told the New York Times in an interview published (of all days) on September 11, 2001. ''I feel we didn't do enough.'' Well, he and the Weathermen did plenty: They launched a series of bombings against New York City Police Headquarters, the Capitol building, and the Pentagon during the early 1970s. Their goal was to bring violent Marxist revolution and the Vietnam War to the streets of America--or as they frequently called it, "Amerika," to connote...

Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise writes today that high schools are scaling back "honors" courses as they boost their AP and IB offerings. Some suspect that Post reporter Jay Mathews's Challenge Index, which ranks high schools based on their participation in AP and IB, is pressuring schools to abandon honors classes for the more rigorous college-prep programs.

Whatever the reasons, critics are probably right that the mid-level rigor of an honors course was a good fit for lots of kids who now will have to either languish in unchallenging lower-level classes or strain themselves in AP or IB. Still, one could argue that the trend is encouraging. First, more college-prep classes mean higher expectations and ultimately, one hopes, higher all-around achievement.

Second, it's great to see schools embodying two simple but overlooked concepts that gave the world unprecedented gains in productivity and prosperity in the last couple centuries: division of labor and comparative advantage. The folks at AP and the folks at IB focus all their time and energy on making rigorous, comprehensive, well-balanced tests and curricula. By employing their services and products, teachers can focus their time and energy on teaching. Maybe critics are right...

Yesterday's Sunday Times (UK) featured a piece on New York City's student pay-for-performance plan, spearheaded by Harvard economist Roland Fryer. The article also explores more generally the latest efforts to solve the crises facing America's black community, contrasting two main approaches with some expressive terminology:

The education initiative has pushed Fryer to the forefront of a national debate that has previously owed more to emotional political bias than scientific rigour. On Fryer's left is the black "ghettocracy", the angry old guard of black liberation. Led by rabble-rousing preachers such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jack-son, it tends to blame everything on racism or white malice.

On his right is the "Afristocracy", the conservative black elite led by Bill Cosby, one of America's most popular comedians, who has repeatedly taken black youths to task for being stupid, ill-mannered slackers. "They think they're hip," Cosby once said. "They can't read, they can't write, they are laughing and giggling and they're going nowhere."

Interesting, as always, to see how we're viewed by our cousins across the pond.

Photo by Fran Collin from The American....

Video games supposedly made America's youth lazy and fat; maybe video games can make them active and lean.

Liam Julian

Flypaper is the source for this Chroncle of Higher Education story, which profiles McCain's education team. We revealed McCain's edvisors last week, here.

With overwhelming votes in its House and Senate, South Carolina is racing to revamp its state assessment system and, apparently, lower its standards dramatically. The Spartansburg Herald Journal says:

The change could drastically increase the number of schools meeting NCLB requirements. Currently, only students who score proficient or advanced attain the proficient level required under NCLB. Under the new system, those who score "met" or "exemplary" would qualify.

It's a shame, but perhaps not surprising, as South Carolina currently boasts some of the toughest proficiency standards in the country. Its legislators are only reacting to No Child Left Behind's perverse incentives. Secretary Spellings: are you willing to let go of the "100 percent proficient by 2014" madness yet?

Liam Julian

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist/political cartoonist??David Horsey comments on the now-disbanded Office of Equity, Race, and Learning Support of Seattle Public Schools.

The director of the office, Caprice Hollins, gained notoriety for a variety of offensive acts. Most noted was the page she put up on the district's Web site that asserted Seattle's public schools bought into the belief that such things as planning for the future, emphasizing individualism and defining standard English were examples of cultural racism.

Horsey has a follow-up blog post here.