Liam Julian

Augustine Romero defends the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American/Raza Studies Department (read about it here), of which he is the senior director. I'm unconvinced by his words.

During Saturday's "Saddleback civil forum" with candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, pastor Rick Warren asked a single education question. (That he asked an education question at all was probably viewed as a major victory by Ed in '08.)

80 percent of Americans recently polled said they believe in merit pay. Now, for teachers, do you--I'm not asking do you think all teachers should get a raise. Do you think better teachers should be paid better? They should be paid more than poor teachers?

What a lame question. Not because merit pay isn't important, or because there aren't differences between the candidates. (Obama basically said "maybe" and McCain basically said "yes.")

It's lame because it has almost nothing to do with federal education policy. The program that all of this merit pay pandering is about--the Teacher Incentive Fund--provides $100 million per year to a handful of school districts. That's one-quarter of one percent of the federal K-12 budget. To be sure, this program has been an important driver of innovation, but it's tiny, and it impacts just a slender number of American schools.

What's especially disappointing is that Warren asked a number of...

Introducing Monday's uber-wonk special: Tom Loveless vs. Gregory Camilli on high-achieving students in the era of NCLB! This one has it all: "straw man" accusations; differing interpretations of NAEP; and, rest assured, a happy ending on "common ground."

Want to enjoy all the action? Start by reading Tom Loveless's report on high-achieving students, then peruse Gregory Camilli's review of said study for the union-funded Think Tank Review Project, then enjoy Loveless's response.

With my prodding, Michael Goldstein, the sometimes guest blogger at Eduwonk and founder of the fantastic (and, I would argue, paternalistic) MATCH Charter School in Boston, writes in to add his two bits to the debate around David Whitman's new book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism:

I certainly look forward to reading the book. And I think you did a service in publishing it. And I wonder how it will square with Jay Mathews's book on same topic.

Certainly this nugget is on target. "Unlike the often forbidding paternalistic institutions of the past, these schools are prescriptive yet warm; teachers and principals, who sometimes serve in loco parentis, are both authoritative and caring figures. Teachers laugh with and cajole students, in addition to frequently directing them to stay on task."

But I'd have to read more to understand what he means by "serve in loco parentis." And I hesitate with "paternalistic."

I agree with you that there's an initial "Uh oh" reaction by school leaders because it's probably bad marketing for us, Cosby-izing


Jay Mathews thinks David Whitman's new book, released by Fordham on Friday, is "splendid," but he doesn't like the subtitle.

(Previous thoughts about that here and here.)

Gadfly Studios

The Education Olympics resume after a weekend hiatus--for some competitors, that is. Students from Finland and Hong Kong were spotted engaging in some last-minute cramming, while the Americans played Nintendo Wii. The outcome was predictable. Complete results at

I'm just going to assume that the last couple paragraphs of Jay Mathews's column today are tongue in cheek. He thinks that the word "paternalism" is loaded enough that it has a negative effect on the largely positive work of attitudinal schools like KIPP and its ilk. Fine. He wants to have a competition to replace the word "paternalism" with something a little less loaded. Fine. But then we get this:

Among other things, the label makes these inner-city successes sound like a guy thing, when in fact many of their principals and most of their teachers are women.

I'm stumped. Is this a joke? I wish I could be generous and assume that Jay's intentions were innocent, na??ve even, but then I got to this:

Although I don't think it is such a hot name either, maternalistic schools works better for me than paternalistic. The ones I have looked at energetically recruit and train teachers who will give their small campuses a family feeling, with firm rules for behavior but warmth and respect for each child, more Meryl Streep than Robert De Niro, more Laura Bush than George Patton.

Wow, Jay, stereotype much? After we get...

At least that's how I imagine it. As displaced students return to the Big Easy, the 2008-2009 school year will prove to be mighty interesting. Since Katrina washed away the school system, New Orleans is in a unique situation: it gets to start from scratch. And while "scratch" also includes a host of hurricane-induced problems (post-traumatic stress, homelessness etc.) it also means that more than 50 percent of schools are either new or converted charters. This is good news. The Times-Picayune reports that schools are competing for students , encouraged by reform minded superintendent Paul Vallas. And while the bad will sprout up with the good, there is neither the infrastructure nor the extra cash to keep the failed schools open. Paul Tough takes to the pages of the New York Times Magazine to expound upon the attitudes of young reformer-principals, teachers, and administrators--all of whom know that this is a boom or bust year. A veritable army of 20- and 30-somethings have descended on New Orleans with their market values. To top it off, millions of recovery cash dollars are being spent on school building renovations and construction to support this growth....

Jay Greene, no lefty he, doesn't like the "paternalism" label either. He writes in an email:

Paternalism is the wrong word for this.?? Paternalism would be doing a fatherly (root: pater) thing without the recipient wanting it.?? But in the case of KIPP, the parents have chosen the school in part because they emphasize these values.?? That is, the recipient (the family) chose KIPP at least in part because they emphasized these values that the family wanted emphasized.

This case also shows how there is no value-free education.?? Education is an extension of child-rearing and the values in a school should be the values that the family would want.?? Any school that tries to avoid emphasizing values is in fact emphasizing values--just not the ones they may have wanted.

I don't think Jay's right that "paternalism" always implies that recipients are being forced to do something against their will. Whitman distinguishes the "old paternalism"--where this stereotype might fit--from a "new paternalism" that is more benevolent. Consider policies that allow individuals with gambling addictions to voluntarily place themselves on lists to be barred from entering casinos. It's voluntary and it's paternalistic.


Liam Julian

Much of the disagreement caused by the use of the term paternalism in David Whitman's new book stems, I think, from a reticence to acknowledge reality. That's unfortunate--education policy already suffers from a dearth of invested persons willing to call things what they are.

Take, for instance, the reluctance of Eric Adler, who co-founded the SEED School, to have paternalism in any way attached to his institution. Whitman writes:

Eric Adler, cofounder of the SEED School in Washington, D.C., argues that calling a school paternalistic implies that its staff is asserting that it "knows better than others--like parents or the neighborhood"--which values schools should transmit. "I don't think SEED asserts that we ???know better,' we just assert that we have more resources with which to teach."

I get it. Adler has no reason to ascent to the labeling of his school as paternalistic and every reason to rebut it. But his statement is untrue. SEED (where students are held to rigid standards of discipline and conduct, and where they live for five days a week) is inarguably asserting, albeit implicitly, that it "knows better." SEED is not set up to complement the values of its students' neighborhoods;...