Tech school, private school, and those damn reformers

Today's Times (unless you read it online yesterday or the day before), covers some fertile educational ground in three important arenas.

A Little Shakespeare in Welding Class, Please! The deep recession has exposed a few education ribs in the nation's torso the last couple of years. And Motoko Rich has an excellent report about the impact budget cutbacks are having on the technical and trade schools.

The administration has proposed a 20 percent reduction in its fiscal 2012 budgdet for career and technical education, to a little more than $1 billion, even as it seeks to increase overall education funding by 11 percent.

The silver lining ? and best part of the story -- is toward the end, when Rich addresses the problem, as she writes, that ?the skills that employers most frequently say are in shortest supply are critical thinking, the ability to work in teams and communication, not specialized training.? ??She cites a Pioneer Institute study pointing out that manuals for many of these trade jobs, like plumbing and auto mechanics, require Grade 14 reading level and that more technical schools are realizing that even kids destined for blue-collar and busted-knuckle jobs should know how to read and write.

On the Avenue Seeing Benno Schmidt with hard-hat in hand does not mean that the former president of Yale is opening a trade school ? especially when he's standing next to education entrepreneur Chris Whittle and media executive Alan Greenberg.? What the three are doing, says the Times, is building The Best School $75 Million Can Buy on Manhattan's West side.? I could do that.? But this, say these educational entrepreneurs,? is just the first of what will be a stable of ?world school? campuses built for the rich all over the globe. (Best see Mike's Understanding Upper-Middle-Class Parents.)

It is a wonderful tale of wretched excess in a city famous for it ? it's not the $40,000 tuition as much as the education ambition: ?a school where Singapore math and British geography collide with Julliard-level violin instruction, in 20 shining schools around the world.?

The big question will be whether Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone students, just a few miles north, will make these rich kids eat academic crow on the state tests.

Don't Let the Smoke Get in Your Eyes Which is the segue to saying that? it's tough to see Paul Tough, who wrote an excellent book on Geoffrey Canada (Whatever It Takes), jump on the nit-picky, anti-reform bandwagon with his new essay in the Times Magazine, ?No, Seriously: No Excuses.? ?Following the lead of Diane Ravitch, who took out after several charter schools (including Urban Prep in Chicago and ?Bruce Randolph in Denver) that had the unfortunate accident of being praised by Barack Obama and Arne Duncan, Tough piles on by poking fun at them for trying to defend themselves.

To point out the obvious: These are excuses. In fact, they are the very same excuses for failure that the education-reform movement was founded to oppose.

Do we really care?? Most of the criticism by Ravitch and her disciples is more sophistry than substance and, in light of the Dresden-like conditions that continue to pervade our inner city schools (not to mention the systemic cheating scandals in status quo districts like Atlanta), it seems a bit like so much fiddling while Rome burns.

As Bill Tucker says at Ed Next, schools like Urban Prep and Bruce Randolph may not be perfect, but they are more likely ?part of the solution, not the problem.?

I think Bill, Benno, Paul and Motoko should get together and figure this out.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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