Essential reading for non-essential personnel

The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), which gives public dollars to low-income students to escape low-performing schools for private schools of their choosing, has come under fire from the Department of Justice for “imped[ing] the desegregation processes” of two dozen school districts. Not so, says this new study in Education Next. In fact, the University of Arkansas authors find that the transfers resulting from the voucher program “overwhelmingly improve integration in the public schools students leave (the sending schools), bringing the racial composition of the schools closer to that of the broader communities in which they are located.” The government will eventually reopen, but here’s hoping that the DOJ lawsuit goes away permanently.

Reviewing the latest misguided barnburner by former Fordham trustee (and current rabble-rouser) Diane Ravitch, the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern has penned a scathing but fair rebuke. He points out that her newfound “educational romanticism”—characterized by her suggestion that all children read poetry and be freed from the demands of knowledge-rich curricula—does not just contradict her life’s work but is also terribly short-sighted, especially for low-income children: “If they’re not taught lots of content knowledge in the early grades,” Stern writes, “they’re doomed to fall further behind. They will never be able to read Walden or understand poetry.” He labels her bottomless blog a “propaganda hub for the national anti-corporate-reform coalition” with “all the subtlety of an Occupy Wall Street poster”; he faults her book for its “pie-in-the-sky” solutions; and he labels her career turn a tragedy. Sadly, we concur.

The debate continues over Amanda Ripley’s contention that America’s love of high school sports is partially to blame for the nation’s low academic achievement. On Atlantic.com, academics Daniel Bowen and Collin Hitt delivered a strong rebuke, arguing that high-quality school-sponsored sports actually increase academic success—and they offer evidence to back their contention. For his part, Jay Greene dubbed Ripley’s idea “flim-flam”: If the fact that Finland and South Korea both have higher test scores and pay less attention to sports than we do serves as evidence that sports are to blame, one could just as easily make the case that those countries’ higher rates of fish consumption is the variable to target. While we value the central point of her book—that other countries may indeed focus more on learning than ours—it seems the sports example may be a red herring. So bring on the fish—and the football.

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, has made his distaste for charter schools abundantly clear. As outlined in this Wall Street Journal piece, he has stated on numerous occasions his intent to toss out Mayor Bloomberg’s policy of giving charters free space in city buildings. Marc Sternberg, a deputy chancellor of the city’s Department of Education, and soon-to-be director of the Walton Family Foundation’s K–12 Systemic Education Reform focus area, called de Blasio’s tack “beyond regressive”: “This is the best of public education, and we welcome them into buildings that are as much theirs as they are ours.” Exactly.

This week’s contender for Most Cringe-Worthy News: In Michigan, Wednesday was “count day”—the day when a district’s school-attendance rolls will determine 90 percent of its state funding (the other 10 percent is determined by a second, less important count day in February). The infamously cash-strapped Detroit public school system resorted to bribing students to come to school, offering special barbeque lunches, popcorn, pony rides, raffles, and more. While we are sure the kids had fun, this is certainly not an acceptable school-finance system.

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