For months we've observed John McCain's general lack of interest in education. That appears to be starting to change. First there was his big education speech at his high school alma matter. And now, CBS News correspondent Andante Higgins reports that McCain's recent trip to Memphis has stirred a new passion in him for K-12 school reform. A few days later, he told reporters joining him on his campaign plane:??

One thing that's brought home to you when you visit Memphis and talk with much of the leadership in the African-American community, their number one issue probably is education--the disparity between the inner cities and America and the suburbs. I think we need a much larger nation [sic] discussion and debate on that issue. Not just re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. We're going to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but we better start looking at the disparity really between different school systems in America.

Sounds like a mix between George W. Bush and John Edwards. For those of us claiming that McCain doesn't care about education, it sounds like we're going to need to start singing a different tune....

Mike has a fair point that schools can't do everything. He might have added that it's hard to picture most high school teachers being able to confidently explain variable interest rates or balloon payments, or any students bothering to listen. But Liam reaches from that to imply that Bernanke is suggesting teaching financial literacy to 12 year olds--that wasn't what he said (he was talking about high school).

But more to the point, it's just wrong, and contradicts the Gadfly piece Liam refers to, to flatly dismiss the idea that financial literacy wouldn't have prevented the current financial crisis. It might very well have. If more people had basic financial knowledge, they would be far smarter about buying homes they could actually afford, about taking loans they could pay back, and about accepting terms that were not "predatory" or overly dependent on variable interest rates. How to help people get that education is the key policy problem. Mike is probably right (as is Liam) that it's not in high schools--so where, and how?

Liam Julian

Via The Gradebook: Florida could be next to join the American Diploma Project, which Fordham helped develop several years ago.

Liam Julian

National Review's Phi Beta Cons blog is engaged in discussion of the same topic that we are. See here and here.

Liam Julian

I understand where Mike is coming from here. But the version of American Government currently in classrooms states that "science doesn't know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all." It also contains a sentence stating that global warming is "enmeshed in scientific uncertainty."

Mike notes that because the disputed statements occur in a U.S. government textbook, they "are more forgivable than if they appeared in a geology text... There is a policy debate about global warming." But the scientific basis of climate change, not the policy, is what is questioned by Dilulio and Wilson. Whether that happens within a science textbook, a math textbook, or a U.S. government textbook is irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant where the scientific basis of evolution is questioned. If, for example, a U.S. government textbook noted that evolution "is controversial, mostly because it is enmeshed in scientific uncertainty," Fordham would no doubt take exception.

Mike writes that "science class should be for science." Then shouldn't U.S. government class be for U.S. government?

I'll admit to watching some of last night's Hollywood-glitzy American Idol Gives Back show. Hey, you don't have to be under ten (like my nieces) to appreciate the talents of Miley Cyrus, or to enjoy Robin Williams pretending to be the winner of "Russian Idol." (Best joke: his father won "Anti-American Idol" in 1978.) A cynic would argue that the production was a platform for big stars to flatter their sense of generosity. But I'm not a cynic--I was a camp counselor after all--and I even teared up at a couple of video segments showing kids living in awful conditions around the world.

The event raises gobs of money for the "American Idol Gives Back Foundation," which then forwards the funds to a selection of charities. That's all well and good. But I couldn't help but notice that the two recipients they picked that were most related to education were the Children's Defense Fund--an old-style, true-blue liberal advocacy group--and Save the Children--and old-style, true-blue liberal charity. "Venture philanthropy" this is not.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; this is Hollywood. But it would have been fun to see some money go to KIPP, or Teach For America, or anything with a more systematic, strategic approach than the after-school programs and book drives that these older charities have been implementing for decades. Maybe next year American Idol could give back... to the future....

Liam asks "how Fordham can defend literature that goes against the scientific consensus on climate change while pillorying literature that goes against the scientific consensus on evolution." On its face, this is a fair question. But there are some important distinctions. Most importantly, we regularly rail against states or schools that question the science on evolution--in their science standards or science classes. We frequently argue that the right place to debate "Intelligent Design" and the like is in a current affairs or philosophy class. But science class should be for science.

In this case, the target of the Associated Press article was a U.S. government textbook. So the textbook's statements on global warming--which I think went up to the line but didn't quite cross it, in terms of the "scientific consensus"--are more forgivable than if they appeared in a geology text. There is a policy debate about global warming--even if we agree that it's happening, and humans are causing it, it's not clear what should be done--and that's a debate reasonably addressed by government and civics classes. "Intelligent design for global warming" this is not....

Liam Julian

Coby writes:

Many KIPP schools are better than most urban schools because they alleviate more of the burdens of poverty. There should be more such schools.

But KIPP is able to alleviate many of poverty's burdens in large part precisely because it has the support of, as I wrote, committed parents, students, and staffs. Sure, we want more schools like KIPP. But we have to realize that there are, for example, only so many teachers who will work 12-hour days, be on-call until 9 p.m., and willingly accept a measly salary for their efforts. KIPP's brand of paternalism is the right kind--one that surrounds students with a high-achieving culture--and other schools would do well to adopt parts of it. But to embrace educational paternalism, history suggests, is to embrace the creation and spread of lousy programs (e.g., Head Start) that are a waste. At the national level, the concept will be corrupted and money wasted.

Coby's last point is right, but only on a small scale:

But ultimately, I'd argue, the level of paternalism a school offers its students should be left to the school to decide, and parents can decide whether or not to send their kids there.

Update: Another, perhaps simpler way of saying this is that KIPP doesn't buff out poverty's deepest dents and doesn't try to. Students who come to KIPP already have those dents buffed out; they and their parents are already in a positition that allows KIPP's incentives...

Liam Julian

Fordham's new Catholic schools report, released today, is here. USA Today covers it here.

Liam Julian

Why is it necessary to measure student behavior by race? Test scores are in this way disaggregated to prevent schools from ignoring struggling low-income and minority students, who in the past were often written-off as beyond hope. (Monitoring test scores by race is still problematic, I think, for lots of reasons, but at least its basic justification is strong.)

But what is the justification for observing in a study that black youngsters do worse with "Essential Life Skills"? Should teachers put extra effort into, I dunno, making sure that their minority pupils are suspended less frequently, making sure that their poor pupils don't act out in class?