Over twenty years ago, Bill Bennett popularized the term, "The Education Blob." The Blob is the seemingly infinite ocean of alphabet-soup organizations that lobby on behalf of educators and in opposition to any reforms that might upset the status quo. The teachers unions are the blobbiest of The Blob, but they have many allies in administrator associations, school board groups, professional associations, etc.

So to illustrate the intransigence of The Education Blob to adopt positive change, I hereby announce our new weekly feature, The Blobbiest Quote of the Week. And now, the inaugural winner...

Richard Flanary, the director of professional development services for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP for short), who was quoted in Thursday's Education Daily (available to subscribers only, of which I think there are about 74) responding to John McCain's call for greater authority for school principals:

Certainly we support greater spending autonomy, but there needs to be more clarity on the criteria on which principals make these decisions. Principals already?? have very busy schedules, and I would hate to think that they would get caught in a situation where they are the purveyors of funds.

Yes, that would...

Liam Julian

I wouldn't link so often to pieces on NRO if a) such pieces weren't so interesting and b) weren't so well written. Even that outlet's??more langorous languorous libations manage to refresh. Here's just such an article, by John Derbyshire, which uses??about 800 words more than needed to make its point but which is nonetheless fully enjoyable.??

Derbyshire notes that most Americans, accustomed to observing inequality in most things, bristle when inequality of "smarts" crosses their paths. "The problem with this smartocracy," he writes, "is, we have this itchy feeling that it's un-American." He makes many of the arguments usually associated with Charles Murray, who is not shy about pointing out that people with low I.Q.s are, generally, not going to do well in school and that not much can be done about it. (Murray makes precisely this argument in his forthcoming book, Real Education.)

Yes and no, of course. While it doesn't hurt to acknowledge that a bell curve exists in academic achievement, as in most things, it's tough to prove that the entire curve can't be moved--i.e., that "average" can't become better.

But Derbyshire is right that scads of people don't like...

Liam Julian

I heard this morning on NPR that murmers have it that Senator John McCain, in order to distract from Senator Barack Obama's European travels, will perhaps announce this week??his running mate. Looks like McCain plans to be in Louisiana on Wednesday, which is the state governed by Bobby Jindal, a sharp character who is reportedly high on McCain's vice presidential grocery list.

Jindal, though, is no longer on a??honeymoon with his state's voters.??He's not on a honeymoon with science, either.

Liam Julian

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush talks education.

I've gotten lots of feedback about my Education Gadfly column on extra-curricular activities; several friends have written gleefully to make the connection between my piece and Randi Weingarten's big speech last week, particularly its call for schools as community centers. (Checker made that connection in the Gadfly itself.)

That's all in good fun, and yes, on the surface, it might appear that we're talking about the same thing. But upon closer inspection, you'll find that our visions are actually polar opposites. First, here's Randi:

Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools--schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need... and suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical, and counseling clinics, or other services the community needs.

And now me:

Here's a suggestion: architects designing high schools of the future should skip the classrooms but keep the gym, the auditorium, and other common spaces. In other words, forget the "school" and build a "community center" instead. Kids could learn academics at home and come to the center for all the rest.

Randi's vision...

Japan's famously demanding education system figures significantly in Natsuo Kirino's new novel Real World, reviewed in Sunday's New York Times books section:

"Real World" begins with a matricide. No longer willing to cooperate with the expectations of the "total idiot" who forced him to attend a prestigious high school even though he lacked the aptitude to succeed in such an environment, Worm bludgeoned his mother to death in what Terauchi, whose worldview allows no possibility of forgiveness or salvation, dismisses as a mindless, infantile response to frustration....

Welcome to present-day Tokyo, where "air pollution advisories" announce the arrival of summer vacation and where vacation isn't a holiday from the 11-month academic year, but a break to be spent in cram schools taught by brainwashed college students who advocate studying hard enough to "spit up blood" as the avenue to a "tremendous confidence ... you can build on for the rest of your life."

I'm back after a week's vacation (yes, I believe in extra-curricular activities in my own life too) and see that Flypaper has been buzzing along. But I also notice that we failed to mention Jonathan Alter's hard-hitting Newsweek column taking the teachers unions to task for blocking meaningful school reform. Atler writes:

Teaching is arguably the only profession in the country with ironclad job security and a well-honed hostility to measuring results. Because of union resistance, NCLB measures only schools, not individual teachers. The result is that school districts fire on average only one teacher a year for poor performance. Before recent reforms (which have boosted test scores), New York City dismissed only 10 of 55,000 teachers annually. What business could survive that way?

Hear hear, though teachers are right that today's tests are hardly the best instruments for measuring their performance. But we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good; if we harnessed the resources we currently spend on our fifty-state system of tests for one common system, we could afford to measure subjects beyond reading and math, online, in a way that encouraged intellectually-challenging schoolwork rather than test prep....

Liam Julian

My take on yesterday's New York Times Magazine piece on "integration" is here . (I'm not employing around integration??so-called "contemptuous quotes "; I'm merely noting that the terms "integration" and "segregation," which once were used to denote, respectively,??the de jure??combination and separation of black and white students,??are today used in reference to de facto racial separation caused by housing patterns. But the two different meanings are too often conflated, which is why we must call attention to the way in which they're used.)

One part of the Times Magazine article that I didn't have enough space to explore??is the idea that new class+race school assignments hold much promise for significantly elevating academic achievement. This contention??is, I think, a real stretch, especially when so many other curricular and instructional and management reforms (many of which do not involve complicated schemes) would do so much more to boost student learning. I suspect that not a few diversity proponents have simply realized that fluffier justifications for busing pupils hither and yon??do not, for most parents, outweigh the flaws of complicated school assignment plans. Thus...

Liam Julian

Michelle Rhee gets some support from Senator Joseph Lieberman.