Flypaper

Liam Julian

Michael Winerip has a new book out. The NY Times reviewed it this Sunday, too.

The Oregonian reports that its state board of education last week gave the green light to "virtual" charter schools in the state, but put them on a "short cord." Under the "compromise," such schools will be limited to 100 students per grade, all of whom must ask their home school districts for permission to go virtual. The enrollment cap is a major disappointment. Such a "slow growth" policy might make sense in states without any virtual school experience; getting a foot in the door is a decent political strategy, and creates an opportunity for the schools to prove themselves, demonstrate parental demand via long waiting lists, and build momentum for more flexible state policies. But Oregon is no stranger to virtual education; it is already home to the 1,800 student Connections Academy, which by all accounts is doing well. Another 900-student school, the Oregon Virtual Academy, operated by K12*, was slated to open in the fall. It's hard to see this cap as anything but a boon to the traditional public school system--and its unions--and a slap in the face to parents looking for a school that fits their child's needs.

But even worse is the veto power given to local school districts that don't want their students attending these schools. In an age when the value of "public school choice" is widely agreed upon, I can't think of any other "inter-district" plan where the "sending" district can block children at the schoolhouse door. Of course this...

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Peggy Noonan turns in another characteristically perceptive "Declaration" for Saturday's Wall Street Journal--though one with uncharacteristically hokey imagery about a new house (Obama) and an old house (McCain). But her advice to the Arizona Senator is well worth heeding: "get serious."

In the most successful political careers there is a purpose, a guiding philosophy. Not an ideology--ideology is something imposed from above, something abstract dreamed up by an intellectual. Philosophy isn't imposed from above, it bubbles up from the ground, from life. And its expression is missing with Mr. McCain. Political staffs inevitably treat philosophy as the last thing, almost an indulgence. But it's the central fact from which all else flows. Staffs turn each day to scheduling, advance, fundraising, returning the billionaire's phone call. They're quick to hold the meeting to agree on the speech on the economy. But they don't, can't, give that speech meaning and depth. Only the candidate can, actually.

Senator McCain, she argues, is "defined by his maverickness."

That's who he is. (It's the theme of his strikingly good memoir, "Worth the Fighting For.") He stands up to power. He faces them down. It's not only a self image, it's a self obsession. But it has left him seeming passionate only about those issues on which he's been able to act out his maverickness, such as campaign finance and immigration. He's passionate about McCain-Feingold because . . . because people don't understand how right he is, and how wrong they are. He's

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Jeff Kuhner

News update: School officials have decided to go easy on an eighth-grader caught purchasing contraband goods. Was it guns, drugs, or tobacco? Actually, none of the above. It was candy--and not even the hard-core kind like Snickers or M&M's, which if consumed in large quantities can really pack on the pounds (trust me, I know). It was a bag of Skittles.

For this "offense," Michael Sheridan, an eighth-grade honors student in New Haven, Connecticut, was suspended for a day, barred from attending an honors dinner, and stripped of his title as class vice president. You can read the full story here.

Following local media reports and a public uproar, Superintendent Reginald Mayo said in a statement last week that he and Principal Eleanor Turner will clear Michael's record and restore him to his student council post.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the growing loss of common sense and proportional judgment in our nation's schools than Skittlesgate. Apparently, the New Haven school system banned candy sales in 2003 as part of a district-wide school "wellness" policy. Leaving aside whether prohibiting candy sales is something schools should be concerned about (whatever happened to teaching reading, writing and, math?--things schools aren't doing very well), buying a bag of Skittles from a classmate hardly warrants a suspension . Back in the good old days when I was an eighth-grader, suspensions were meted out for serious offenses: school violence and destruction of property, vicious bullying, and verbal abuse of teachers.

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One of the most anticipated events of Pope Benedict's upcoming trip to Washington is his address to 200 Catholic educators at Catholic University, scheduled for April 17. One might hope that His Holiness would focus on the tragic demise of inner-city Catholic schools throughout the country, but the Washington Post reports that his objective is likely to be more theological, reining in wayward colleges who aren't sticking to the script on church teachings.

One Vatican official recently called the lack of public funding for Catholic schools in America "an outrage"; forgive me, Father, but I believe it would be just as outrageous for the Pope to come to DC and say nothing about the terrible decline of Catholic schools here and around the country. If the Pope thinks Georgetown isn't hewing closely enough to Catholic doctrine, just wait till he sees what happens in the seven Catholic schools in the District that are converting to charter schools as their option of last resort. There the problem won't be incorrect or incomplete dogma--these schools won't be teaching any dogma at all.

Someone needs to save the Catholic schools. If not the Pope, then who?

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Gadfly Studios

On March 10, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute demanded an inquiry into scandalous efforts by the executive and legislative branches to sabotage the Reading First program.

httpv://youtube.com/watch?v=xSrUEHjwt1I

Meanwhile, First Lady Laura Bush managed to give a speech about literacy this week and not mention Reading First at all. A real profile in courage.

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Margaret Spellings addressed the Reading First state directors on Thursday and complained about Congress's "devastating" budget cut of the program. It's about time. If she had shown even an iota of courage 18 months ago, when the so-called scandal first broke, the program might have remained in-tact. But as Sol Stern shows in painful detail, she and the rest of the Administration headed for cover instead. Such decisions have consequences, Madame Secretary, consequences that are all too real for the 4,000-odd schools likely to see their Reading First funds disappear.

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Liam Julian

An article in Tuesday's New York Times references an experiment in which researchers served icy vodka tonics to some college students and icy tonic water to others. Both drinks tasted the same. After two hours or so, the subjects who received non-alcoholic beverages were just as amorous and unrestrained as those who had been downing the good stuff.

Does this study offer any wisdom for fixing our worst k-12 schools? Perhaps telling awful teachers that they are, in fact, actually doing a fine job will impel them to act just as competent as their truly skillful peers? Probably not, but the alcohol study is nonetheless interesting.

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