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Liam Julian

I don't relish piling on, but David Brooks's column today, ?The New Humanism,? timed to coincide with the release of his new book The Social Animal, is intellectual cotton candy. ?Over the course of my career,? he begins, ?I've covered a number of policy failures.? Not exactly: he has covered and commented on a number of policy failures and not infrequently has been one of the most-enthusiastic supporters of the failed policies in question. Brooks later says we should avoid ?an overly simplistic view of human nature.? How about avoiding an overly simplistic view of policy? Not long ago, Brooks wrote a column called ?The Harlem Miracle? in which he twice stated that Promise Academy ?eliminated the black-white achievement gap? (it didn't). ?We may have found a remedy for the achievement gap,? he gushed. Simplistic.

His new hobby horse is brain science, which?by telling us that reason and emotion are not separate but symbiotic; that the unconscious mind is most of the mind; that we are, at base, ?social animals???will have a giant effect on the culture? and will ?change how we see ourselves.? ?Who knows,? he writes, ?it may even someday transform the way our policy makers see the world.? And how might those policy makers sharpen their vision? Brooks gave an example yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered: ?The reality of education is that people learn from people they love. But if you mention the word love at a congressional hearing, they look at you like...

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Amy Fagan

We all know that Checker Finn?has an uncanny?ability to turn a phrase and get right to the heart of the matter. Well, here are a few (very) noteworthy Finn quotes from recent news stories.

From an Education Week article, Leaders Call for Shared Curriculum Guidelines, March 9, 2011:

Mr. Finn, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, said he doesn't regard national standards or curriculum as ?the devil's curse? if they're high-quality and voluntary. ?It's dumb to have good standards not accompanied by good curriculum,? he said.

From a Bloomberg News story about changing the ?last hired, first fired? rule, Teacher Security Blanket May Shred as Governors Hit ?Ignorance Factories,' March 7, 2011:

Changing the system would be a ?pretty substantial boost? to student performance, said Chester Finn Jr., who was assistant secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1988. He is president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit research group focused on improving K-12 education.

?Just as some schools are dropout factories, there are teachers that are ignorance factories,? Finn said in a telephone interview. ?You're going to have to let some people go, so why not get rid of the people who aren't getting the job done??

From a NY Times piece, Teachers Wonder, Why the Scorn?, March 2, 2011

Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education policy...

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Liam Julian

In the new Washington Monthly Steven M. Teles, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins, reviews Frederick M. Hess's recently published book The Same Thing Over and Over. Teles is particularly attentive to ?Hess's argument? that ?where education is concerned, democracy is distinctly inferior to liberty??or, put another way, that debating educational issues, even in democratic fashion, in unlikely to yield ?definitive settlement,? while liberty allows individuals to make their own, individual choices. Teles quotes Hess: ?The frustrating truth is that there are no permanent solutions in schooling, only solutions that make sense in a given time and place.? One wonders if such a statement couldn't be applied to, well, lots of things. And if that statement is true, what, frankly, is the point of most of the ed-policy organizations now extant? If all education policy is local, even individual, then why have the U.S. Department of Education? Teles finds in Hess's book the instruction that ?Instead of doubling down on a particular set of supposedly research-driven 'best practices,' we should hedge our bets by allowing radical new models of schooling and eccentric and unproven ideas to gain entry into the system . . .? But while we go along, merrily experimenting, we might remember that we are experimenting on children, who have no real autonomy and rely on adults to provide them a decent education. Adults ? policy makers, administrators, parents ? may be fired up about new, innovative, ?eccentric and unproven? ways of teaching, but it is...

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Almost fifteen years ago, I was sitting in the main auditorium at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, getting ready to start my sophomore year at a public, residential magnet school that billed itself as a "pioneering educational community." What I remember most is how much the dean of students talked about the possibility of failure during that orientation speech. She repeatedly drove home the fact that IMSA was a laboratory, that the things we tried there ? curriculum, instructional methods, even our ways of living together as a community ? might actually leave us worse off than if we'd stayed in our home schools. If we bought into this, though, these experiments could provide a lot of value not only to us but to schools around the state and across the country. It was far and away the most exciting moment of my young life.

Liam's post earlier made me think of this moment. I take his point that the subjects of experiments in education are kids who depend on adults for a good education and often can't recover from disastrous experiences at school. Even if the imperfect solutions found through such experiments can be brought to meaningful scale and used successfully for a while, the cost of failure can be high.

School kids can weather innovative departures from the status quo better than adults, though. Human children are blessed with innate curiosity ? a trait our educational system seems uniquely efficient at driving out...

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Liam Julian

Columnist David Brooks has a new New York Times blog that, he writes, will ?be about who you are and why you do what you do.? His description is not a promising start. I wonder if Brooks hasn't been drinking too much of the same intoxicating brain-science elixir that turned Malcolm Gladwell into a really rich author of bestselling, nutrient-less pop. Brooks, recall, recently made the claim, apropos the Tiger Mother (another rich author of nutrient-less pop), that brain science shows that, for adolescent girls, interacting in groups of peers is way, way more difficult than mastering the violin. Such are the bizarre conclusions that brain science, when worshipped as determinative, produces. Brooks's first blog post is about higher education. ?I spend a lot of time on college campuses,? he writes, ?and I'm not sure these distinctions [i.e., college rankings] have any meaning. If you put me in a room with 25 students for an hour, I couldn't tell if they were from Harvard or Arizona State. There are smart students all over.? There are smart students all over, sure, but if Brooks can't tell the difference between 25 randomly selected Harvard students and 25 randomly selected Arizona State students he probably shouldn't be writing columns for the Times.*

The latest New York Review of Books has a long piece about colleges by another Brooks, Peter,?a vaunted professor of the humanities, draped with Ivy League laurels, who concludes in his last line that American universities ?deserve better...

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The Supreme Court's near-unanimous decision allowing protests at military funerals is getting a lot of attention this week, raising questions about the limits of free speech. In the education realm, buzz is building about an Arizona charter school teacher who got fired for refusing to remove a bumper sticker from her car. (It reads, "Have you drugged your kid today?") [quote]

From 3,000 feet away, the school's decision to terminate her contract strikes me as highly questionable. (Supposedly some parents were upset with the anti-Ritalin, anti-anti-depressants message, which I guess they found unfair or mean.) But regardless, the bigger question is whether her free speech rights were violated. On that score, it seems to me (not a lawyer, mind you) that it's not a hard call: if she was parking her car on school grounds, then there's little question: she had no broad right to free speech.

Click to play Click to listen to Mike and Rick discuss the firing of the Arizona charter school teacher on Chris Irvine's What's Up With That? from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

The courts have long held that employers can limit the expression of their employees. That's doubly true for schools, which can regulate the speech of their teachers, at least while they are working in their official capacity. To rule otherwise would be preposterous--to say that teachers have the right to teach whatever they'd...

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Liam Julian

Here's the abridged backstory: In 2006, Heidi Zamecnik, then a student at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, arrived at school wearing a T-shirt that instructed readers to ?Be Happy, Not Gay.? The dean told Zamecnik to shed the shirt (and, presumably, to put on another one) or go home. The student declined. The dean called the pupil's mother, and the two adults determined the clothing's message would be acceptable were it revised to be more proactive?i.e., if it were changed to, ?Be Happy, Be Straight.? But post-phone-call, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, ?the dean instead had a female counselor cross the words ?Not Gay' off Zamecnik's shirt so it simply read ?Be Happy.'? Zamecnik was mad! And she sued. And Tuesday the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor, noting in an opinion written by Judge Richard Posner that a ?school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality.? Posner continued:

The school argued (and still argues) that banning ?Be Happy, Not Gay? was just a matter of protecting the ?rights? of the students against whom derogatory comments are directed. But people in our society do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or even their way of life.

?Beliefs.? ?Way of life.? How about identity? The Wall Street Journal reports that ?Nate Kellum, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys who represented...

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Amy Fagan

Earlier this week the Education Writers Association (EWA) announced the winners of its 2010 National Awards for Education Reporting. You can check out the list of winners here.

Among the numerous categories and awards, Bill Turque of the Washington Post took first prize in large market print?for beat reporting (he covers DC schools); ?a team from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Hechinger Report took first prize in large market print for their series, Building a Better Teacher. First prize for beat reporting in small market print went to Julie Mack of the Kalamazoo Gazette. And the Chronicle of Higher Education racked up several awards.

There?were?many more winners. Congrats to all?of?them.

--Amy Fagan

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Amy Fagan

Fordham's president, Chester E. Finn, Jr., has been in front of the camera a lot lately. On Friday he talked to ABC World News for a segment they did about teacher tenure/seniority rules and the AFT's recent proposal on the topic (as a sidenote, Mike Petrilli was quoted in a NY Times article on this issue last week). Then, on Sunday, Finn was part of an NBC Nightly News segment about the impact of budget crises on schools and teachers.

-- Amy Fagan

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Amy Fagan

Fordham folks have done a number of radio interviews recently to discuss our new study, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011. I wanted to share just a few examples. Fordham VP Mike Petrilli talked to a DC-area network; Kathleen Porter-Magee shared thoughts with a South Carolina station (Kathleen is senior director of Fordham's high quality standards program); and here's a great interview with Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr., when he was a guest on Bill Bennett's Morning in America.

--Amy Fagan

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