Flypaper

In his "Department of Human Behavior" column in today's Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam considers Nudge, a new book by University of Chicago professors Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler. In it, they argue for "libertarian paternalism." Says Sunstein:

We agree with people who want to allow the market to flourish, so we are libertarians in that sense. On the other hand, we don't believe you can just have markets and then declare victory. It is legitimate to be paternalistic in terms of steering people in directions that will increase the likelihood they will do well.

The authors are particularly enamored with "default" policies, such as having companies enroll new employees in retirement savings programs unless they opt out. Vedantam explains:

When new employees are told that retirement accounts will be started for them unless they object, for example, most sign up cheerfully. When told that the accounts will not be started unless they opt in, most employees do not sign up because not having the account is then the default choice.

Defaults work in education, too. One of the primary goals of the American Diploma Project, for instance, is getting states to adopt a common, rigorous curriculum as the default for high school students. If they'd rather take a "general" or "vocation" track, rather than this college-prep route, students have to proactively opt out. It appears to be an effective way to encourage more kids to take tougher courses.

And you might also argue...

Hillary Clinton made news last night by appearing on Jay Leno and joking about coming under sniper fire in Burbank. But she also talked issues (this is Hillary Clinton after all) and mentioned that "I want to end the No Child Left Behind program because I don't think it's working the way it was promised." So how did Leno's audience react? Watch here (the action starts at about 6:11):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JVjDm1WB5Q&feature=related

It's one thing when liberal activists or teachers union conventions give this kind of treatment to NCLB; when a live studio audience of the most mainstream of mainstream television shows reacts like this, you know the federal law is in trouble.

Well, only if you consider Italian, French lit, Latin lit, and computer science part of the core curriculum. For better or worse, few American students and their teachers treated these as even part of the peripheral curriculum (by last count, only 1,600 students nationwide were taking the AP Italian course, for example). That's why the College Board is trimming those Advanced Placement courses from its offerings, according to this Washington Post story. A minor retrenchment for the A.P. program? Yes. A major attack on Western civilization? No.

In an article from the March 31 issue of the New Yorker (the piece doesn't seem to be available online at the moment), Peter Hessler reports on one family's rise to (relative) affluence in the small Chinese village of Sancha:

Sancha was just beyond the Great Wall, and occasionally a weekend motorist from the city found his way to the makeshift sign. Cao Chunmei, Wei Ziqi's wife, cooked pork and local vegetables. They charged three and a half dollars for a meal; guests could see the Great Wall from the table.

The Weis' income increases sixfold in seven years. Their son, Wei Jia, attends boarding school. Here's how Hessler describes Wei Jia's education:

...his father travelled to Shayu for parent-teacher conferences. These were group affairs: all adults met the teacher at once. If a child was doing poorly, everybody heard, and the shame provided additional motivation.

That was the second rule listed on Wei Jia's semester report cards: "Cherish the honor of the group." (The first rule involved loving the nation.) These reports were more than thirty pages long, and they evaluated the boy from every possible perspective. There were physical measurements: height, weight, eyesight, hearing, chest circumference, and lung capacity (for Wei Jia, fourteen hundred millilitres in the first semester of fourth grade). Each of these statistics was compared with the national average. (According to the report, the lung capacity of a fourth-grade male should be 2,123 millilitres.) The teacher gave most grades, but parents also offered

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Move over, Mike Huckabee . According to this AP story , it looks like John McCain might prefer Jeb Bush as his education secretary???if he manages to win the fall campaign.

This moving Washington Post op-ed is by the father of Amy Wilkins (Education Trust's V.P.) and helps to explain Amy's (and Ed Trust's) bona fides in the civil rights community.

When I first started reading this Slate piece by Alexander Russo ("Chicago School Days: Obama's lackluster record on education"), I felt my head spinning. Not only would I have to reassess my admittedly optimistic views of Barack Obama, I'd also have to concede that Russo might (in this case, at least) know what he's talking about.

Then I finished the article and reclaimed my equilibrium. As it turns out, I wouldn't have to change my mind on either front.

Here's the rub. Russo dives into an important dispute from a decade ago that is little known to national audiences: whether Chicago's local school councils???a.k.a., "mini school boards"???should have the power to fire school principals, as a 1988 law allows. At issue was an ugly history of minority-dominated boards firing white principals for little reason other than their race. By the mid 1990s, Paul Vallas, Chicago's then-superintendent, wanted to strip the boards of this authority because he was tired of good principals getting thrown under the bus. As a state senator, Obama shadow-boxed around the issue, Russo claims, and then eventually sided with the local boards once the issue was resolved in their favor (not surprising for a former community organizer).

I don't know whether Russo captured that part of the story accurately or not, but his analysis for what this could mean for NCLB is preposterous:

Based on Obama's actions in Chicago in 1999, it's hard to imagine him taking charge of the continuing debate

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Liam Julian

Deciding such matters isn't easy. At the end of the day, though, California's court settlement is the right one. If high school diplomas are to have any integrity, if they are to represent that their possessors have acquired the minimum academic skills necessary for work, then all recipients must demonstrate that they can read and do math at a basic level.

It is no doubt difficult to deny diplomas to special education students who have put in gobs of time and effort to work their way through the grades. Certainly such pupils deserve something for their efforts (a certificate of completion, perhaps). But the bottom line (where one necessarily finds himself after doing the relevant syllogisms) is this: Any senior who cannot pass California's exit exam???which can be retaken indefinitely, beyond graduation, and on which the receipt of passing scores requires only the most basic knowledge and skills???is unprepared to competently fill most work positions in a modern economy. The signaling of work-related competency is, supposedly, what high school diplomas are meant for.

Liam Julian

Reportedly, police found equations in his freezer. (See here.)

In the latest episode of Fordham Factor, Mike hypothesizes that the addition of a writing component to the SAT exam may be partly responsible for the recent rise in twelfth-grade NAEP writing scores.

Is it possible that a privately-run, consumer-driven testing company could do as much if not more to improve student achievement than NCLB, which costs taxpayers billions of dollars?

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