No words can describe this travesty...

See previous coverage here.

Fordham hosted a panel event this morning about our recent report, High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB. (Video will be available shortly.) As the moderator I'm biased, but I thought it was a great conversation among study authors Tom Loveless and Steve Farkas and respondents Josh Wyner (of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation) and Ross Wiener (of Education Trust).

Among the more contentious points of debate was whether our teachers have to choose between focusing on their low achievers or their high achievers, or whether through the magic of "differentiated instruction" they can reach everybody exactly where they are. (I think by the end there was almost-unanimous support for grouping students by ability--"the red birds and the blue birds"--as a way to solve this riddle.)

But the heart of the discussion was whether "closing achievement gaps" should be the only objective of our education system. Josh, for example, made an eloquent plea for greater attention for high-achieving students who are also poor, and suggested that a new NCLB focus on closing the "advanced achievement gap" along with the "proficiency gap." That's fine, but doesn't that still leave out most of the nation's high achievers who, let's...

Liam Julian

Not really. But Rick Hess and Jay Greene do??see problems with Florida's Amendment 9, which teachers' unions and their allies are trying to keep off November's ballot. The two policy analysts don't like the amendment's conflation of vouchers and the "65-percent solution." We'll ask Rick to tell us more on tomorrow's Education Gadfly Show Podcast.

Liam Julian

The often educational Sherman Dorn believes that this recounting betrays an ahistorical mindset because "the early 1970s [were] a time when everyone was complaining about the misbehavior and immorality of youth." If the topic of discussion were the state of the nation overall, he would be??right. Rates of teen pregnancy were far higher in the early 1970s than they are today (although, teen pregnancy rates kept rising throughout the 70s and 80s). But the caller in question referred only to Douglass High School, and his claim that Douglass was a far better school in the early 70s than it is today seems to be corroborated by the HBO documentary. At the very least, it wasn't then the undisciplined free-for-all that it was in 2004-2005.

Liam Julian

Talk radio is always interesting--it can be hard to get a word in edgewise! But the callers can sometimes bring clarity. Certainly that was the case today when one gentleman, a Douglass High School alumnus,??called in to??say that when he was enrolled, in the early 1970s, bad behavior and teen pregnancy were actively stigmatized. Now, he pointed out, bad behavior goes unpunished and schools open up daycare centers next to the cafeteria. It is not incorrect to note that misguided policies share some of the blame for this shift, nor is it incorrect to note that such accommodations have probably incentivized undesirable outcomes.

Liam Julian

Regarding my review of Hard Times at Douglass High, a teacher (Mr. McDermott) who was featured in the documentary leaves a comment on Flypaper:

While I agree with much of your global criticism in the NRO article, I find your view of the teachers and staff distressingly shortsighted. All the teacher training and certification in the world cannot fully prepare you for what you're walking into each day at a school like Douglass. It's a constant give and take of expectations, discipline, and academic rigor. If you push too hard, the kids drop out. If you don't push enough, they run wild. Factor in the empty mandates from politicians that every child must succeed, add to it the diminished authority of the classroom teacher, and multiply it all by the impotent curricula created by educrats who are disconnected from the realities of classroom implementation, and you've got a formula for failure.

You think I wasn't pining to make literary allusions during my lesson they profiled in the documentary, to elevate it above the concrete here and now that these kids are mired in? I was following curriculum, sir. Curriculum that I, as a certified teacher, was mandated to work


Onetime Fordham-Ohio staffer Quentin Suffren writes in to say:

I would agree that the devil is in the details--but an opportunity could arise in the haggling over a statewide contract to educate more folks (I'm thinking taxpayers, parents among them) about how collective bargaining agreements work. This of course depends upon how the debate over contract stipulations takes place. An open and public debate over what a statewide contract should look like could let a lot of MA citizens in on some of the more archaic restrictions in many collective bargaining agreements. It could also serve as the basis for a broader debate about the costs of these agreements--and whether they are helping or hindering students. The result could be more practical agreement that offers districts greater flexibility to meet the needs of their students. Of course, all of this depends on whether the debate is a public one or, as many insiders might predict (perhaps rightly so), a swift back-room deal that places politics above a real opportunity at reform.

Perhaps I've only added to your two-mindedness, but well-shepherded and vigorously debated, a statewide contract initiative does have its plusses.

Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center turns in a strong counter-argument explaining why religious charter schools are a "Faustian bargain" that aren't "worth the spiritual costs":

A faith-based school without the faith does religion no favors. Devout Christians, Jews, Muslims and others may be tempted to take the money and start the school. But substituting "culture" for "religion" is no way to advance the mission of faith.

Perhaps so. That's why allowing truly religious charter schools would be even better, though Haynes calls that idea "a First Amendment oxymoron."?? So we're back to non-faith-based faith-based charter schools, such as the ones being born from Catholic schools in Washington, D.C. Yes, these schools must take their crosses off the walls, but they avoid being closed outright. As the Center for Education Reform's Casey Carter says in this National Review Online article about the conversion,

After working with local authorities, the Church has created the legal and the financial mechanisms to serve the same children with twice the financial resources.

Maybe such a "bargain" is bad for the Catholic faith, but it's a good deal for inner-city children, bless their little souls.


Liam Julian

Re Amber's fine post: The mayor of Gloucester, Massachusetts, announced that no evidence exists to support the claim that a group of young girls agreed to get pregnant and raise their babies together (although the girls' principal, who first said such a "pact" was made, has not retracted his earlier statements). Some don't buy it:

Gloucester resident Annette Dion, a 45-year-old private music teacher, said school and city officials should have done more to find out whether the girls truly made a pact to become pregnant. She said denying such a pact existed is "pretty naive."

"I don't think we heard the truth today," Dion said, adding that pop culture has glamorized teen pregnancy and that movies and celebrity pregnancies do not give girls an accurate picture of parenthood.

"My personal feeling, my impression, is they probably talked and discussed and thought it would be cool to get pregnant together," she said.

Brendan Henry, a 17-year-old going into his senior year at Gloucester, said the attention surrounding the alleged pact has taken the focus off bigger issues facing young people, including school underfunding. Still, he did not doubt that a pact could have existed.

"It definitely sounds like


Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts unveiled his education reform plan yesterday--sorta. He released a laundry list of new programs that he thinks will improve the "readiness" of Bay State students, mostly along the lines of the "broader, bolder" agenda (pre-K, health services for zero-to-five, etc.). What he didn't do is figure out how to pay for these goodies.

The most intriguing part of his plan wasn't mentioned by the governor yesterday but was floated in this Boston Globe story: a statewide teachers contract. An Administration official explained that such a measure could save time and money at the local level. That's probably true, but would be it good for school reform?

My gut says no, as a matter of realpolitik. Patrick was swept into office with the help of the state's teachers unions; they will never allow a flexible, district-friendly contract like the better ones we identified here. Instead, they will push for the lowest common denominator: a statewide contract just as restrictive as the worst of today's district contracts. That would tie all Massachusetts districts in the same red tape that currently afflicts just a few.

Still, in theory, a statewide contract...