Liam Julian

Mike wants me to eat humble pie. I'd like??to, but his arguments haven't convinced me. He writes:

In a field where few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value, this particular study deserves praise, not pique.

He is, of course, conflating two fields: the education field, in which "few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value," and the nutrition science??field, in which studies often give us worthwhile conclusions (when their conclusions are??tempered??by common sense, of course). The two-year Philadelphia??food study has nothing to do with education; it's about whether kids who eat healthful foods for several hours a day will be??healthier. Of course they will!??

Mike presumes that schools require studies like Philadelphia's before they'll spend more money on better cafeteria-food options. Sadly, he's probably right. My point is, and has always been, that such studies are in reality??unnecessary and simply convolute that which should be clear as day: don't feed students garbage.

We don't study whether exposing kids to less mold makes them healthier--we know it does, which is why schools invest money in keeping up their facilities and are??attacked when they allow classrooms to deteriorate. School district leaders and Mike Petrilli may require longitudinal data to tell them that, for example,??exercise is important, healthful food makes healthy people, and the less anthrax one ingests the better.??But they shouldn't....

Just last week, Liam expressed skepticism about a scrupulous research study that found that serving kids healthier food and drink led to fewer of them getting fat:

Isn't it odd that a school embraces healthy food alternatives only after a two-year research study? It reminds one of the humorous dig at think tanks: that they study reality to see if it conforms to theory. In Philadelphia's schools, it seems, common sense has truly been vindicated. It is, in fact, correct that replacing soda and potato chips with healthful alternatives will make students healthier!

Chuckle all you want, Liam, but schools have limited resources and, as you say yourself, "schools are turning to unhealthier cafeteria-food options because of rising food prices." (So reports the Washington Post--on its front page, no less.) Why not admit that this well-designed research study could actually perform a worthwhile public service by stemming the rush from tofu to tater tots? In a field where few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value, this particular study deserves praise, not pique....

Liam Julian

Schools are turning to unhealthier cafeteria-food options because of rising food prices, reports the Washington Post. Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee seems to have the right idea: allow private contractors to supply lunches. One assumes that, for what schools currently spend, probably they could get more healthful and more varied food than is currently on offer.

Promise Academy in Harlem spends more per student, per day (in 2005, $5.87 at Promise covered costs for a pupil's breakfast, lunch, and snacks) than most public schools--but not that much more. And it is able to staff its kitchen with a Johnson and Wales University culinary school grad who churns out meals like whole wheat penne with fresh vegetables.

Thanks to scrupulous research, we now know that when kids eat healthful foods they grow healthier. Isn't it time schools exercised a little creativity and moved away from the chicken nuggets?

Over the weekend, the Washington Post Magazine ran a provocative piece by Jay Mathews about an excellent elementary school in Northern Virginia that has failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind for going on three years. What made the article interesting is that it didn't go for NCLB's jugular. Mathews writes:

While following [school principal] Hughey-Guy around the school one recent afternoon and talking to her teachers, I gave them every opportunity to blame the ravages of poverty, to blame the bureaucratic insistence on giving tests in English to children who have not had time to learn the language and, particularly, to blame the law. They declined to check any of those boxes. Whom did they blame? Themselves.

And, as Mathews explains, the next version of NCLB--expected to include an accountability system that looks at student progress over time, rather than just a snapshot, as the current one does--will surely find Barcroft to be A-OK. But experience to date indicates that the Barcrofts of the world are few and far between. In North Carolina, for example, when the state moved to a "growth model" (allowed by a federal pilot program), only a handful of schools in the state were let off the hook by the new system. Most of the schools "in need of improvement" under NCLB would remain so under NCLB version 2.0 because they aren't making nearly the dramatic progress necessary to catch their kids up to where they need to...

In Sunday's New York Times, Matthew Forney, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time, seeks to correct what he thinks may be a popularly-held hunch that China's growing class of educated urbanites will soon pressure the Chinese government to reform.

On the contrary, says Forney, "Educated young Chinese, far from being embarrassed or upset by their government's human-rights record, rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people you'll meet."

He goes on:

The most obvious explanation for this is the education system, which can accurately be described as indoctrination. Textbooks dwell on China's humiliations at the hands of foreign powers in the 19th century as if they took place yesterday, yet skim over the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s as if it were ancient history. Students learn the neat calculation that Chairman Mao's tyranny was "30 percent wrong," then the subject is declared closed. The uprising in Tibet in the late 1950s, and the invasion that quashed it, are discussed just long enough to lay blame on the "Dalai clique," a pejorative reference to the circle of advisers around Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

"Of course," he acknowledges, "the nationalism of young Chinese may soften over time. As college graduates enter the work force and experience their country's corruption and inefficiency, they often grow more critical."

That seems like a smart observation. One can't imagine why young city-dwellers should be especially inclined to question textbooks that exaggerate or lie outright about the glories...

Liam Julian

National Review's John J. Miller recently wrote a portion of our Catholic schools report. Also recently, Miller turned in a NR piece (subscription required) about Wikipedia in which he mentioned Fordham and Mike (Petrilli):

In the current issue of Education Next, Michael Petrelli of the Fordham Foundation complains that Wikipedia's entry on school vouchers contains an abundance of negative commentary, including the claim that vouchers encourage "taxpayer-subsidized ???white flight' from urban public schools." Petrelli points out that the vast majority of students who receive vouchers in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. - the few places where private-school-choice programs actually exist - are not white.

Here's the cool part:

Shortly after Petrelli published this observation, a Wikipedian added it to the school-voucher entry. Anybody who reads it now will learn that the white-flight claim is empirically false. "I guess it means that Wikipedia seems to be self-correcting," says Petrelli.

Over at CATO, Andrew Coulson blogs about our Catholic schools report, and says:

It's hard to compete when the other??guy (read:??state-run schools) spends about twice as much per pupil but gives his service away for "free."

It's hard but not impossible. Andrew should check out our chapter on Wichita, which explains how that diocese has made Catholic schools free, too, for all Catholics. They did it by asking all parishioners to tithe a significant portion of their salaries; the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. You might say that Church members agreed to pay a voluntary tax. I wonder what the libertarians at CATO would think about that.

Liam Julian

Check out this, from The Corner, on Mexico's corrupt teachers' union.

Gadfly has not ignored Mexico's union venality: see here and here. And neither have we failed to note that if education south of the border was stronger, there would be far fewer reasons for Mexicans to attempt illegal entry into the U.S.

Liam Julian

"Carney releases education plan for Del."

Step right up and get??your new??education plan! Public schools, private schools--everyone's a winner!

Liam Julian

This week's Economist contains a special report on "digital nomadism," the ability to work, and to connect to family or friends, from just about anywhere. When Coburn Ventures, a consulting firm, first started up, its to-do list was as follows: 1) get BlackBerries, 2) start contacting clients, and 3) find office space at some point. Eight months later, the seven-employee firm decided that it didn't actually need office space; everyone enjoyed the freedom and autonomy of nomadic work.

Twenty years ago, few people would have guessed that businesses could be successfully run without offices. Nonetheless, evermore companies, such as Coburn Ventures, are doing just that.

One can assume that education will go this route, especially private providers that are actively competing against one another for students. Who wouldn't want their kids to attend a virtual school that saved tons of money on facilities and reinvested those dollars into hiring the best teachers and giving students a lot of personal attention?

Education Sector's Bill Tucker penned for The Gadfly several weeks ago a nice overview of how virtual education is aiding high-school reform. (Bill based his article on a report he wrote last summer.) Virtual education is expanding, and as it does, it's taking sundry different shapes. Twenty years from today, will we perhaps have entered an age of educational nomadism?...