Liam Julian

The New York Times seems especially fascinated with smart kids who don't sleep with each other. First there was this story, and now there is this one, from last weekend. Both focus on Harvard. The second story reports, though, that abstinence movements/clubs are far more prevalent at high schools than on college campuses. That's too bad. While I don't disagree with the ideas that undergird such clubs (although some of their members, quite frankly, seem analogous to penguins who would join an anti-flight society), I do think that sex-related groups--be they for the act, against it, whatever--do not have a place at high schools. Sixteen-year-olds who wish to have sex and those who adamantly do not should do it or condemn it elsewhere. In schools, all the sanctioned chatter and controversy is a distraction from learning.

Hypothetical interlocutor disagrees: "But sex is a part of reality for many high-school kids, who need a safe place to explore sex-related ideas." Well, sex is a part of reality for many people in their 20s, 30s, and (I've heard it's true) 40s, 50s, 60s, and French in their 70s. But that doesn't make offices suitable places to hold...

Liam Julian

Spellings definitely thinks we should have a national way of calculating the number of dropouts. But a national way to calculate student achievement? No way! Are you nuts?

At Slate, the University of Virginia's Jim Ryan offers a brilliant plan to fix No Child Left Behind. Why so brilliant? Well, he agrees with us; his to-do list looks a lot like ours:

NCLB checklist

My favorite part is his smart description of the problem we identified in The Proficiency Illusion:

Schools must show annual improvements on test scores or face increasingly severe sanctions and the stigma of being labeled as failing. NCLB couples this punitive scheme with utter laxity regarding the standards and tests themselves. States get to develop their own standards, create their own tests, and set their own passing rates. Imagine if the EPA told the auto industry it would be fined heavily for polluting too much but let automakers decide for themselves what counts as "too much" pollution. That's basically how NCLB works.

Nice analogy, nice recommendations. Now we just need a new President who might actually be able to put these ideas into action....

Sixteen-year-old Jim Hennessy is angry. His rights have been violated, as has been his "personal freedom." What's at stake that caused the New York Times to give Jim's story prominent attention? Free speech? Religious expression? Not, it's worse; Darien High School had the audacity to require Jim and his peers to pass a breathalyzer test before entering a school dance.

"What you do off school grounds should be your own business," says Jim.

Um, yeah, Jim, maybe that's true if you stay off school grounds (and then it's your business and your parents' business). But setting sobriety as a prerequisite to school functions is hardly a step toward the Third Reich. Nor is it a panacea; as the local school board chairman admitted to the Times, "It doesn't solve the problem of teenage drinking. But it solves the problem of teenage drinking at school dances."

It's hard to fault Jim entirely, though. He's lived his entire life in the age of student "rights" guaranteed by the Supreme Court, no less (see here). Believing he has the right to attend school dances drunk is just the logical extension of decades of court decisions, you...

The New York Times reports today on the admissions crunch at Ivy League schools. Due to record numbers of applicants, Harvard's acceptance rate this year is down to a new low of 7.1 percent, and other schools are setting their own records as well. Why? The Times speculates, but focuses on demographics:

Many factors contributed to the tightening of the competition at the most selective colleges, admissions deans and high school counselors said, among them demographics. The number of high school graduates in the nation has grown each year over the last decade and a half, though demographers project that the figure will peak this year or next, which might reduce the competition a little.

Other factors were the ease of online applications, expanded financial aid packages, aggressive recruiting of a broader range of young people, and ambitious students' applying to ever more colleges.

I'd bet on that last point--students applying to more and more colleges. Anecdotally speaking, when I applied to colleges 16 years ago, submitting a handful of applications was the norm. Now that seems lazy.

As the International Herald Tribune reported in January, "'There was a time when kids applied to three...

And in other shockers, environmentalists don't like NASCAR and feminists don't like Vegas. Really, is anyone going to take this report by the teachers union-funded Great Lakes Center seriously? Consider this, from its press release:

Should transportation, food and custodial services be provided by employees of school districts, or should those services by outsourced to private companies? Does contracting out these services save the district money and add flexibility? According to a new report that takes an honest look at the evidence, the answer to each of these questions is, "sometimes, but many times not."

Well I'm glad the report took an "honest look." For its next work, we expect the Great Lakes Center to ask, "Should school boards negotiate aggressively with their teachers unions? Sometimes, but many times not."

At least that was my takeaway from from??today's "Editorial Observer" column about Barack Obama's race speech.* Don't worry, the Times thinks I'm racist too, for I opposed the country's old-style welfare system. I may have thought that I disagreed with the way it created dependency among the very people it was designed to help. And I may have believed that I supported welfare reform because it rewarded work and empowered poor people (especially poor women) with a message of hope and responsibility. But no, the Times??paraphrases William Julius William asserting that:

whites rebelled against welfare because they saw it as using their hard-earned taxes to give blacks "medical and legal services that many of them could not afford for their own families."

Yup, I just hated seeing those medical and legal services going to undeserving minorities. Come on!

Then the Times goes on to say, "For all the appeal of America's melting pot, the country's diverse ethnic mix is one main reason for entrenched opposition to public spending on the public good."

Wait a minute. Our country spends over $500 billion per year on our increasingly diverse public education system--more per-pupil than almost any...

In Sunday's Washington Post, Fordham Institute president Chester E. Finn debunks five of the most common (and harmful) myths pervading debates over No Child Left Behind. Good stuff, and I'm not just saying that because he's my boss.

Jeff Kuhner

Increasing numbers of U.S. Muslims are opting for home schooling. It's a bad idea for one simple reason: They are segregating themselves from mainstream American society. A recent piece in the New York Times on the struggles faced by Pakistani-American girls in Lodi, California, highlights the problems caused by home schooling. Although many Muslim, as well as Christian, Jewish and secular parents view it as a necessary alternative to the social ills plaguing public schools, such as drugs, violence, promiscuity, and the celebration of the hip-hop/celebrity culture (to name just a few), the adverse consequences on their children are very real and usually last a lifetime. The biggest problem is that home schooling by traditionalist religious communities perpetuates the creation of social ghettoes, whereby students are often alienated and disconnected from the larger American culture. It fosters a kind of balkanization that, ultimately, is not good for America or for the students.

Take the case of the Pakistani-American girls profiled in The Times article. Coming from traditional Islamic families, many of the girls were forced to leave public school and study at home. This is because their parents want them to cook and clean for their male...

This Associated Press story reports that the kinder-and-gentler Massachusetts Board of Education is "searching for gentler euphemisms to describe the state's failing schools after educators complained current labels damage teacher morale and student self-esteem." So instead of getting called "underperforming" they might be labeled a "Commonwealth priority."Are they joking? Is this an April Fool's Day joke? One of the primary theories behind standards-and-accountability is to shame schools (and their districts) into taking the tough actions to turn themselves around. Clear labels also alert parents to a problem so they can get involved-or get busy finding another option. It's hard to think of a better way to keep parents in the dark than to call their schools a "priority."

For their next act, maybe the board will suggest that Bear Stearns be labeled a "priority" investment firm. We can remember when the Massachusetts board was a model of toughness and foresight; where are their "priorities" now?