Flypaper

Liam Julian

It's dubbed "the dismal science" because economics offers conclusions that may "work," but which often ignore ethical and moral considerations. Today at Marginal Revolution, economist Alex Tabarrok makes the dismal case that we should pay organ donors for their, you know, organs. (Iran does it, he writes, and while the Mullahs' methods seem effective, "better follow-up of donors would be an improvement." Follow-up of donors, one would assume, is a pretty basic aspect of any??body-parts donation system.)

Evermore, it seems, education reformers are turning to economics for answers to education-related problems. Not a few commentators (including Mike and Diane Ravitch) have complained that many such economics-based answers eschew considerations of instruction and curriculum. Education's economic solutions also sometimes neglect to account for unintended consequences, many of which pose ethical problems.

Take, for example, the suggestion that schools pay students for good test scores or attendance (the latest instance of which comes from New Jersey). It doesn't render the repulsion that paying organ donors does, but it still involves ethical considerations (e.g., Is it right to pay a young person to do that which is expected of him, will benefit him, and his peers do for free?) and unintended consequences (e.g., creating students who work hard only when shown the money).

We debate such policies in terms of whether or not they'll work, but rarely do we scrutinize the collateral damage they may cause and ask if the possibility of their supposed benefits...

Liam Julian

Discussing Obama's "bitter" comments, George Will today argues that the sentiments "fulfill liberalism's transformation since Franklin Roosevelt."

What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them. When a supporter told Adlai Stevenson, the losing Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, that thinking people supported him, Stevenson said, "Yes, but I need to win a majority."

So let's stipulate that Will is right that some liberals hold under-educated Americans in contempt. Isn't it strange that many of these same liberals defend the very public education system that arguably created the "under-educated" masses? And that resist promising policies that might improve said education system, such as tough-minded accountability, high-quality charter schools, and a more limited role for teachers unions? If these liberals want more Americans to be "thinking people," why don't they jump on the education reform bandwagon?

I know: it's because for decades we've sold education reform as a solution to the crisis of urban America--closing achieving gaps and all--and not to the "crisis" of beer-guzzling, bible-thumping, shotgun-shooting rural white America. Maybe if No Child Left Behind broke out achievement data by religious affiliation (including Evangelical Christians) and cultural affiliation (including NASCAR fans), liberals would finally sign up....

Liam Julian

Today, on Morning Edition, NPR profiled 16-year-old Kristen Byrnes, who doesn't believe that global warming is caused by humans. Her website ("the official site of the Kristen Byrnes Science Foundation") is available here. NPR reported that Kristen is getting a lot of publicity for her efforts; she has even received a letter from Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

"Dear Kristen," the letter begins. "Thank you so much for your letter and e-mail and for your kind words. I appreciate your help in the fight against global warming alarmism. You are a common sense young lady and an inspiration to me. I want you to keep up the good work. We are winning."

Dear Senator Inhofe: Please stop encouraging ambitious but scientifically clueless young people like Kristen Byrnes to blindly challenge the authority of those who have spent decades researching the minutiae of climate change. We already have enough trouble from senators. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

Liam Julian

That Miami-Dade is considering convening a task force to investigate the testing mania that has reportedly caused some students to be hospitalized illustrates how little trust district officials often place in their principals. School Board member Solomon Stinson so noted. According to the Miami Herald, "he warned against micromanaging teachers and principals, who have a better grasp on student needs."

Eduwonk returned from a week's vacation to find our complaint in Gadfly that he was a bit too generous with his praise for AFT heir apparent Randi Weingarten. Specifically, we wondered why he would say that "most of the things that the teachers' unions want are in the interest of kids." His response?

Ummm...because it's true? This debate is too often framed by absolutists arguing that teachers unions are always at odds with what's good for kids or, conversely, that they never are and the interest of teachers and students are the same. Lots of things that teachers' unions want are good for kids, too. But some are not...

OK, we're listening, can you name even a handful of the "lots of things" that unions want that are good for kids, too? We'll concede, when it comes to the AFT, that it seeks a common core curriculum, which would certainly be good for the kiddos. What else?...

Senator McCain's wife Cindy was a teacher and a "rodeo queen." One of his key education advisors, Lisa Graham Keegan, was state superintendent and a rodeo star. A coincidence?

Today, Liam turns in a nice NRO piece on Fairfax County, Virginia's, recently published report that finds that the "'moral character and ethical judgment' of its white and Asian pupils is more developed than that of its black and Hispanic pupils."

These conclusions, drawn from hosts of disparate data about attendance, disciplinary infractions, and teacher observations, have the unfortunate characteristic of being both offensive and useless. Fairfax finds that its black students have more character flaws than its white students--now what?

Liam goes on to argue that No Child Left Behind, by initiating this fetish with "disaggregated data," is to blame for deepening America's obsession with race--and that Congress ought to make NCLB colorblind by focusing on the progress of individual students--not racial groups--over time.

I agree, Liam, that moving to a "growth model" could help move us beyond raw racial calculations (even though schools will find that many of the individual students who need to make the most progress are African-American and Hispanic). But I still think our country is better off having faced NCLB's racial breakdowns and the local conversations they've forced about the achievement gap. Yes, Fairfax County has taken it several steps too far, but other communities in America have faced up to their achievement gaps for the first time ever, and that's worthy of celebration, not scorn....

Fordham has argued that principals need to function more like CEOs, handling not just a school's academic mission but also the many complexities of running a small organization. Yet when we asked principals how they view themselves and their responsibilities, we concluded that "they see their role as ???middle manager'--not CEO."

Now the National Association of Elementary School Principals weighs in. NAESP's "Vision 2021" predicts that by the year 2021--the hundredth anniversary of NAESP--principals will be CLOs, or Chief Learning Officers. As reported in Education Week, "In those schools of the future, principals will shift away from a managerial role," using new technologies, focusing on data, and developing "learning communities." But who will run the school as an organization? Here the NAESP gets timid:

Some experts argue that no one person can do the job of principal and new structures are required, like a team of leaders including a business manager or chief of operations and a chief academic officer. Whatever the future configuration, principals will practice learner-centered leadership and seek leadership contributions from multiple sources to balance management and leadership roles.

"Leadership contributions"? Someone needs to be in charge of the school as a whole, to make sure that the school's finances, staffing, facilities, and instructional model are in synch. So who's the boss? If the NAESP is any indication, it seems we were right--today's principals aren't exactly clamoring for this responsibility....

Jeff Kuhner

Apparently, it's the teacher's fault when students assault them in the classroom--that's how it is, at least, at Reginald F. Lewis High School in Baltimore. Last week, The Baltimore Sun reported that Jolita Berry, after asking a girl in her art class to sit down, was confronted by the student, who threatened to beat her up.

According to Berry, she warned the student: "Back up, you're in my space. If you hit me, I'm gonna defend myself."

But she didn't protect herself. Instead, egged on by classmates, the student viciously pummeled Berry, who lay on the ground defenseless as someone videotaped the ghastly attack on his or her cell phone. The incident was later posted on MySpace.

What's scandalous is not just that a teacher was beaten to a pulp, or that most students in the classroom can be seen reveling in this act of barbarism, but that Berry--not the assailant--was blamed by the principal, Jean Ragin, for having "triggered" the incident by saying she would defend herself. The assault--and the principal's irresponsible and cowardly response--has rightly outraged concerned parents, including Baltimore's mayor, Sheila Dixon.

"That principal might need to be disciplined because no teacher should be disrespected in the classroom," Dixon said at a morning news conference last week.

Dixon added that Ragin's response was "unfair to that teacher." That's putting it mildly.

Adding insult to injury, Berry says that the principal refused to remove the student from school grounds after...

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