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Last summer, New Jersey's Star-Ledger ran a hard-hitting piece about the condition of education finance in the Garden State. It bemoaned a dismal school-system budget in which teachers had been laid off, extracurricular activities scrapped, and free transportation curtailed. But one budgetary category had been spared: special education.

?This is an area that is completely out of control and in desperate need of reform,? said Larrie Reynolds, superintendent in the Mount Olive School District, where special-education spending rose 17 percent this year. ?Everything else has a finite limit. Special education?in this state, at least?is similar to the universe. It has no end. It is the untold story of what every school district is dealing with.?

And so it is. Special education consumes a caloric slice of the education pie, comprising an estimated 21 percent of all education spending in 2005. That slice is growing, too. Forty-one percent of all increases in education spending between 1996 and 2005 went to fund it.

As Superintendent Reynolds indicated, special education is a field in urgent need of reform. Not only is its funding widely seen as sacrosanct?due to federal ?maintenance of effort? requirements, strong lobbies, nervous superintendents, entrenched habits, and a collective sense that nothing is quite enough for these kids?but America's approach to it is also antiquated. Despite good intentions and some reform efforts, the field is still beset by a compliance orientation that values process over...


The saga of Wake County, NC continues. This week, district superintendent Anthony Tata (formerly of the U.S. Army and then of DCPS) released two plans for Wake's new school-assignment policy. (Remember, Wake County, once a poster-district for socio-economic integration, saw its program scrapped in recent months by the district's new school board. Since then, the community has been struggling to find a middle ground?one which will neither ?resegregate? schools nor force students to bus over an hour to schools in order to fill quotas.)

The first plan, the green plan, or the Base Schools Achievement Plan is similar to the current assignment model?but with a twist. Students would be assigned to schools by achievement level (instead of by family income). No one school could have a concentration of low-achievers. This would, it is assumed, offer low-achievers access to some of the districts best teachers while reducing the number of high-poverty schools. A novel concept, but one with questionable feasibility in the long-term, especially as Wake County's population grows or declines.

The blue plan, aka the Community-Based Choice plan, elementary-school parents would choose between four to six schools, each linked to a middle and high school. Students get priority based on proximity and sibling enrollment, but the district has the right to factor in achievement balance when assigning schools. This plan would allow for long-term flexibility (though transportation costs from year to year would be difficult to budget) and offer stability of school assignment, but could potentially...

Liam Julian

Peter Thiel founded PayPal and was an initial investor in Facebook (cha-ching), and last September he announced creation of the Thiel Fellowship, a two-year program through which twenty people under the age of twenty are awarded $100,000 and?introduced into a network of tech entrepreneurs and innovators. Each?awardee?is to spend his two-year fellowship?developing?his own startup or project. Today, the winners were revealed, and some of them have educational aspirations. Dale Stephens, for instance, is head of UnCollege, a ?social movement? that believes ?unschooling??in other words, an entrepreneurial approach to education?in which individual students take charge of their learning by involving themselves in a mixture of self-directed projects, readings, introspection, etc.?should be an integral part of ?higher education.?

Nick Cammarata and David Merfield, according to the Thiel Foundation website, ?are working on OPEN, a project that aims to flip the industrial-scale classroom experience. OPEN is a tool used by teachers to create and share online lessons designed to be viewed at home by their own students, leaving class time free for more engaging activities.? Thiel was asked by Forbes if two fellows without a college degree could possibly reinvent education. Thiel replied, ?If you haven't been educated you have no credentials, if you have been educated you're a hypocrite for not encouraging people to do the same thing. It's a crazy catch 22.? He continued: ?What we somehow need to do is move away from this obsession with status, it may not be possible to get rid of status...

The Education Gadfly

So apparently today was Limerick Day and we were having some fun in the office, sending our own limericks around. Mike wanted to share a few of our laughs with you all.

First, Mike sent around this one:

There once was a man from Ohio.

Whose prose was full of much style.

He said with a grin.

My name's Checker Finn.

I wonder today who I'll rile?

.....To which Checker replied, "Whom not who."

Mike said he KNEW that was coming, and began a new one, "There once was a grammar stickler?."

Checker took it from there:

There once was a grammar stickler,

who on certain small matters is fickler.

But when a pronoun's in use,

he just can't stand abuse.

In truth, he behaves like a prickler.

Happy Limerick Day everyone!


Yet more proof that to some anti-reformers, adults inside the education system are more important than everyone else ? a guest blogger at Valerie Strauss's place says reformers lack empathy:

?When you are basing the effectiveness of teachers on lots of softer things, whether the kids feel good, whether the classroom is happy, whether we're creative (don't get me wrong, those things are important), but if the kids can't read?that's not acceptable,? former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee asserted indignantly in a recent interview with Charlie Rose, defending the standardized test-based reform movement that she has touted to an applauding media. [...]

From the perspective of corporate reformers and complicit Democrats, who employ the language and ideology of corporate America, public schools are factories designed to manufacture potential employees, human products who can compete effectively on the global market, and help the United States ?Win the Future.? This is a striking departure from the original mission of public schools, which conceived of our schools as not just skills centers, but civil institutions which cultivate democratic values ? empathy, compassion, citizenship, creativity, and other ?softer things.?

Given yesterday's news that half of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate (PDF), this is a strange charge to make against reformers. Empathy is precisely what drives people to label a system unacceptable when it leads to outcomes like this. Having grown up in a working-class family, I know what that lack of basic skills means for...

Liam Julian

Yesterday's post, ?Save the interns: Part 1,? noted that higher education is frequently complicit in, and occasionally precipitates, the misrepresentation as ?internships? of mundane, tedious jobs to be staffed by unpaid workers. Universities lend their credibility to employers?who seek?to conceal the true nature of such faux-internships; in return, these schools are able to collect tuition money from students while avoiding the attendant chore of educating them.

Ross Perlin, who covers this ground in his new book Intern Nation, believes that ?some in the Academy? have assisted in mixing ?the cocktail of ideological motivations, justifications, and half-hearted excuses behind the internship boom.? And they have done so not only by dispensing pro-internship propaganda but by drowning the internship idea in syrupy education-speak, ?using philosophies such as ?situated learning' and ?experiential education' to present internships in an appropriately educational light.? The former, situated learning, is founded upon the notion that knowledge is?passed on?socially, in certain environments, between individuals; Perlin quotes professor Paul Hager, for instance, who has written that the traditional ?learning-as-product? view is outdated, a relic of a ?mass production mindset reminiscent of the industrial era.? It seems likely that most education school professors would not reject classroom teaching as wholly anachronistic but would concur that situated learning should be a seminal part of the academic experience.

And while most students probably would profit from directed situated learning, it and theories like it have been broadened beyond usefulness. They have, Perlin writes, often ?proven to be an invitation...


The U.S. didn't triumph over terrorism today but its brave fighting men won a crucial battle when they rid the world of Osama bin Laden. Bravo for them?and may his soul suffer eternal damnation.

This achievement inevitably recalled memories of 9/11 and is bound to cause educators across the land to ask themselves how best to teach their young charges about what happened on that beautiful/dreadful autumn morning and about the terrorism threat that has never ceased.

Allow me to remind one and all that, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Fordham brought out a publication on that exact topic: "September 11: What Our Children Need to Know." You can find it on our website, containing some twenty-three short essays from some of the most thoughtful people I know. I offer it as a valuable resource for teachers and other adults trying to help children (or adults, for that matter) put the events of the past 24 hours into perspective.

Near it on our website, you will also find "Terrorists, Despots and Democracy: What Our Children Need to Know," which Fordham published the following August (2003), containing yet more material for educators (and others) to use in teaching kids about these events and their background.

Please have a look. I just did, and...