Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw makes the case in Sunday's New York Times that the technological progress of the last few decades has eclipsed the country's pace of educational advancement, thus driving up wages for skilled workers relative to the unskilled.

Liam Julian

The New York Times reviews some handwringing about??that which??America's k-12 schools have wrought. (Checker, too, has reviewed William Damon's book; the piece is??here.)

Liam Julian

Coby informs us (directly below):

I find a flaw in Liam's reasoning. First of all, the point of the Times blog post is not that the market does a poor job of gauging wine quality, but that there are a lot of shoppers in the market who don't care about the quality of the wine they're swilling.

That's cool. But I never claimed that the market does a poor job of gauging quality; the market merely responds to people's preferences. I wrote that popularity shouldn't become a synonym for quality. That a gazillion people enjoy plonk doesn't make??it a quality beverage--but the market will respond, of course, and churn out more plonk for purchase.

We don't want this to happen with schools. I do not believe, as Coby does, that so many of those who imbibe sub-par wines are aware that their glasses are actually??half-nasty. (I'm even less convinced that people whose kids attend shoddy schools are aware of the lack of learning taking place.) But if, as Coby writes, people know what's good and what isn't and simply "don't care about the quality of the wine they're swilling," will they ever care about the quality of the schools their children are attending?

Liam Julian

Herewith an argument from the The Pour (yes, the New York Times wine blog) about why rigid standards--and not popularity--is the adequate gauge of quality.

Fordham comes under attack from our libertarian-leaning friends because we support choice with accountability--i.e., we're not content to let the market decide which schools are great and which aren't, because when quality counts, the market is often wrong.

It's one thing, of course, to let the market determine which wines people drink, or which television shows are most popular. But if you know anything about wine, as Eric Asimov notes in his blog post, you also know that most people drink low-quality stuff. (This doesn't necessarily reflect wine prices. Plenty of fine, interesting bottles cost $10, but most people will buy the $10 American Chardonnay instead.)

Even when presented with lots of choices, parents won't necessarily pick for their children the best schools on offer. And some schools on offer may look nice but actually be places when learning goes to die.??The consequences of attending such a school are far worse than a distasteful sip. Which is why standards in the k-12 educational arena are so important--because quality counts for so much.

President Bush weighed in on the crisis of Catholic school closures at this morning's National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. He also plugged the White House Summit on inner-city children and faith-based schools, scheduled for Thursday:

The purpose of the summit is to highlight the lack of educational options facing low-income urban students. And we are going to bring together educators and clergy and philanthropists and business leaders, all aiming to urge there to be reasonable legislation out of Congress and practical solutions to save these schools--and more importantly, to save the children.

Hear hear, but the chances of said legislation passing in the 277 days until Bush leaves office are slim to none. But all is not lost; Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was at the breakfast too. Maybe he can help clear the way for Catholic charter schools.

Liam Julian

The Discovery Institute's David Klinghoffer defends the link--made by the new Ben Stein movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--between Nazis and Darwinism. I wish I could write on this with more authority, but the D.C. advanced screening of Expelled was canceled.

I just don't get it, though. Klinghoffer's piece points out how Hitler used evolution and Darwinism in his propaganda and his personal thought. But nowhere does??Klinghoffer discuss why inclusion of such historical instances is at all appropriate in a film that purports to investigate how evolution is taught in modern-day American science classes.

I think it's safe to say that Expelled is inaccurately juxtaposing Nazis with those who defend teaching evolution in public schools. The New York Times reviewer wrote that Expelled is "[o]ne of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time," and I'm inclined to believe her.

Usually bad ideas flow from academia into our K-12 system. (Think moral relativism, the decline of the core curriculum, dubious pedagogical approaches.) But now one of public education's worst features--its hyper-unionized workforce--is finding its way into higher ed. At least that's the intent of a bill introduced yesterday by Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative George Miller (respective chairmen of their chambers' education committees) that would allow graduate students who serve as teaching or research assistants to bargain collectively. This is only likely to drive up tuition and drive down quality.

Colleges and universities: we feel your pain. But maybe this is some sort of Karmic payback for all the damage you've done to our elementary and secondary schools.

Update: The AFT says higher education is already hyper-unionized.

Liam Julian
Liam Julian

I was just chatting about this after a recent and jolting visit to some of New York's Chelsea galleries--today's art is not judged by how it looks or the skill of the artist who produced it. It's all about ideology, which is a shame.

But to bring it back to k-12, the article's larger point is that writing about art has become inscrutable. An example from the Whitney Biennial:

Bove's "settings" draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings.

That's bad. But this tripe isn't limited to the art world; lousy writing is prevalent in all subjects because it's what students are taught (when they're taught). Just today, one finds yet another article (this one's from the U.K.) in which corporate bosses complain that their work-forces lack basic skills, including writing. Seventy-two percent are concerned about the quality of written English. A dose of Strunk & White??("Make every word tell," "Be obscure clearly") in our schools would do everyone--managers, employees,??museum patrons--a lot of good.