Unassociated

As I write, the House of Representatives has just completed floor action on the education bill and the Senate is expected to return to it soon. The Senate has a bunch more amendments to consider, some of them important, some of them even germane. The House (under White House pressure and facing Democratic defections) rebuffed all efforts to make major changes in the committee-drafted bill, which is to say it kept the testing provision, deep-sixed all voucher attempts and sidestepped "Straight A's". With the Senate-House conference still in the future, the final shape of this measure is remains somewhat cloudy.

Several points are worth noting, however, starting with the fact that this is an immense piece of legislation, more than 900 pages long. Tucked into it are hundreds of provisions dealing with everything imaginable, from "impact aid" to school technology to Indian education to sundry teacher issues. Numerous pork-barrel projects and narrow-interest programs are protected. All sorts of weird provisions can be spotted. Their implications will roll on for years to come. Yet the number of people who have actually read the full text of both Senate and House bills can probably be counted on one's fingers. Few lawmakers voting on these provisions are on that list. Lamentably, most who have focused on this bill at all-mainly Beltway insiders-are paying attention only to specific items of direct interest to them or their group. How these features will interact with each other is anybody's guess.

If, for example, you're interested in...

 By Howard Fuller, PhD and Kaleem Caire.

This report, co-authored by the original founder and current head of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, presents a strong argument suggesting that school choice opponents deliberately mislead the public about features of the nation's preeminent school choice program in Milwaukee, WI, as well as school choice issues generally. The many examples presented, in great detail, are convincing as well as appalling. Some of the deceptions spread should be familiar: voucher programs "cream" the best students away from public schools; participating private schools get to handpick the students they will serve (even NBC's Tom Brokaw perpetuated this one on the Nightly News, despite the fact that the Wisconsin law clearly prohibits it); voucher programs are meant to destroy public education; and voucher programs do not improve the academic achievement of voucher students. (If you have any doubt that these accusations aren't true, please visit www.schoolchoiceinfo.org or email me at KLAmis@aol.com.) The report also examines how school choice opponents disingenuously equate school choice with the "Balkanization" of society and racial segregation. Fortunately we have Milwaukee-based leaders of the school choice movement ready to fight for the truth...and for the kids. You can read this report online at http://www.schoolchoiceinfo.org/, or call (414) 765-0691 to order a copy.

by Emanuel Tobier (Manhattan Institute, May 2001)

How much money would it take to turn around New York City's failing public schools? Would unlimited resources even make a dent in the achievement gap? In a May 2001 Manhattan Institute Civic Bulletin, Emanuel Tobier presents seven facts that ought to be considered before placing more cash into the hands of the Board of Ed. Among his troubling findings: 1) even as the average amount spent per pupil has risen by 48 percent since 1970, only 50 percent of the City's students graduate high school within four years; 2) only 55 percent of current spending goes toward instruction; and 3) New York State (and City) spending already approaches the highest in the land. Tobier doesn't deny that more money might help New York City's struggling schools, but he sensibly concludes that how the dollars are spent is far more consequential than how many of them are spent. Check out the bulletin online at http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cb_26.htm.

Fans of "direct instruction," and those who would like to learn more about it, will want to examine this new report from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. It was catalyzed by three facts: (a) Direct Instruction, properly done, is a teaching method (and curriculum) that is known to be effective, particularly with younger children and especially in reading. (b) Direct Instruction is nonetheless shunned by most of the public education establishment, notably including teacher preparation programs. (c) Despite that, Wisconsin has elements of what might be termed a D.I. insurgency or, at least, underground movement, i.e. some schools are actually using it. So scholars Mark Schug, Sara Tarver and Richard Western went off to investigate how Direct Instruction works "on the ground." The result is interesting and heartening. D.I. indeed works?though its implementation is a challenge for many teachers, meaning that their training would have to be recast in order for it to be used extensively. Yet its use could minimize the extent and cost of remediation and some special education. This one is worth your while. Contact the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. at P.O. Box 487, Thiensville, WI 53092. Phone (262) 241-0514. Fax (262) 241-0774. E-mail wpri@execpc.com. Or surf to http://www.wpri.org.

Crack education journalist Jay Matthews reacted to anti-testing articles in a thoughtful column appearing only in the electronic version of the Washington Post. He wonders why parents of schoolchildren in Scarsdale didn't ask their principals and teachers why they let state-mandated tests scare them into test prep activities that reduce time for inspired teaching when the test would surely have been a cinch for their kids. He observes that ending the state testing system could mean returning "to the days of baby-sitter schools, when low-income kids were kept as comfortable as possible until being handed a meaningless high school diploma and dumped on the job market."

"Trying to Clear Up the Confusion," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post online

On May 23, 2001, the New York Times ran three major stories demonstrating cognitive dissonance about educational approaches. On the front page, we learned about Ms. Moffett, a first-year teacher assigned to a low-performing school who is extremely frustrated because she is required to follow lesson plans instead of doing what she wants, which is to demonstrate her creativity. Her mentor teacher advises her to adhere to the instructions that come with the "Success for All" reading program, but Ms. Moffett clearly feels cheated, and the story line implies that it's unjust to bar this novice teacher from "doing her own thing" with students.

The nearby column by Richard Rothstein, the newspaper's regular commentator on education, warns that homework increases the gap between students from middle-class and low-income homes, because advantaged parents can help their children. Rothstein warns that it is "unconscionable for educators to exacerbate inequality by assigning homework" unless government first supplies afterschool study centers.

To complicate matters, a news story on the same day contradicts both Ms. Moffett's yearning to be creative and Mr. Rothstein's dire warnings about the deleterious impact of homework done at home. Kate Zernike writes about the stunning success of public schools in Mount Vernon, New York, where fourth-grade reading scores soared between 1999 and 2001. Mount Vernon, she points out, is "a poor cousin" in a county that includes elite schools like those of Scarsdale (where many students, abetted by their parents, recently boycotted the state tests). Sixty percent of Mount Vernon's...

In a sideshow to the main debate over ESEA, the Senate passed an amendment on May 3 that would add $18.1 billion to the federal budget for special education over the next 10 years and would change special ed funding into an entitlement that Congress would be required to fund regardless of budget considerations.  This measure has drawn criticism from the White House and others for not addressing the need to reform special ed before pumping more funds into it. 

What would "reform" of special ed look like? Rethinking Special Education for a New Century, a new collection of 14 papers released last week, catalogues the most pressing problems of the federal special ed program and offers some principles to guide the program's reauthorization in 2002. Published jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the Progressive Policy Institute, the report recommends—among other things—that Washington make IDEA performance-based rather than compliance-based and focus on prevention and early intervention wherever possible.

 In a New York Times article on May 13, Kate Zernike shows how the Greenwich, CT school district has done similar things, balancing its special ed budget and bringing the percentage of children in special education down from 17 to 13 percent (as well as reducing the number of lawsuits). Greenwich has also strengthened its general education curriculum so that students are less likely to fall behind and move into special education, and has installed an early-reading program that relies more heavily on phonics.

Would that more communities learned from...

Thirty percent of students surveyed in grades 6 through 10 have been involved in either bullying or being bullied themselves, according to a study released by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) earlier this month. Widening concern over bullying in schools has its roots in school shootings, many of which were conducted by students who had been the victims of long-term bullying, notes Ben Soskis in this week's New Republic, but the anti-bullying movement may be overreacting. When does behaving childishly (or like a teen-ager) become bullying? The NICHD study itself includes in its definition of bullying all sorts of things that ordinary kids do, such as spreading rumors and shunning other children.  

The same inability to distinguish between childish behavior and the homicidal tendencies has fed a growing movement among phys ed teachers to ban dodge ball, based on evidence from a recent symposium about the game that appears in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, a movement that has been mocked by liberals and conservatives alike in the past week.  Banned in Austin (Texas), dodge ball has been relegated to the "physical education hall of shame," joining musical chairs and duck, duck, goose, which fell into disrepute years ago because they may give rise to self-esteem problems, according to Neil Seeman, writing in the National Review Online. 

The impulse behind these attempts to protect the young from every form of angst and social pain also lies behind zero tolerance policies aimed at...

The Education Trust's newsletter, Thinking K-16, is usually worth a look. The Winter 2001 issue is especially fine, being devoted almost entirely to a careful but exceptionally lucid discussion of U.S. high school results during the period since the Nation at Risk report of 1983 and the declaration of national education goals in 1989. How have we fared? ask authors Kati Haycock and Sandra Huang. Their one sentence summary: "In general, the data suggest an object at rest in a world that is rapidly rushing by." Data from an array of sources are here compiled, analyzed and presented in exceptionally concise and clear ways. You'll want this one. Phone (202) 293-2605 or surf to www.edtrust.org.

Wendy Kopp

Like many skillful leaders whose successes throw them before the public's eye, Wendy Kopp has her share of detractors, including some within the ranks of the unique teaching corps she created. She has been criticized for never having taught herself and for placing inexperienced, uncredentialed teachers in classrooms all over the country (even though most principals adore their Teach for America teachers and are begging for more). And despite the fact that she has nearly single-handedly funneled more than 5,000 high-achieving college graduates into some of the most troubled schools in America—and consequently created a group of devoted advocates for equity in education (the author included)—Ms. Kopp nonetheless gets harangued for her reluctance to add herself to the already-crowded arena of education talking heads opining on innumerable policy issues.

Thus, her new book, which is heavy on the Teach for America story but light on policy talk and personal opinions about education reform, has been criticized for not taking a strong stand on the day's hot-button issues. But this book is vintage Kopp and provides the reader with an interesting glimpse into this reticent but supercharged leader.

Ms. Kopp conceived of Teach for America during her senior year at Princeton and simply set out to make it happen. Nothing, it seems, could distract her from this mission, although there were discouraging moments. She tells of staff revolts, disgruntled corps members, and the constant state of financial crisis that kept her scurrying from one prospective funder to another just to...

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