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Crafty_Dog
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« on: July 09, 2007, 08:48:01 AM »

WSJ:

The Culture Gap
By BRINK LINDSEY
July 9, 2007; Page A15

Cut through all the statistical squid ink surrounding the issue of economic inequality, and you'll find a phenomenon that genuinely deserves public concern.

Over the past quarter-century or so, the return on human capital has risen significantly. Or to put it another way, the opportunity cost of failing to develop human capital is now much higher than it used to be. The wage premium associated with a college degree has jumped to around 70% in recent years from around 30% in 1980; the graduate degree premium has soared to over 100% from 50%. Meanwhile, dropping out of high school now all but guarantees socioeconomic failure.

In part this development is cause for celebration. Rising demand for analytical and interpersonal skills has been driving the change, and surely it is good news that economic signals now so strongly encourage the development of human talent. Yet -- and here is the cause for concern -- the supply of skilled people is responding sluggishly to the increased demand.

Despite the strong incentives, the percentage of people with college degrees has been growing only modestly. Between 1995 and 2005, the share of men with college degrees inched up to 29% from 26%. And the number of high school dropouts remains stubbornly high: The ratio of 17-year-olds to diplomas awarded has been stuck around 70% for three decades.

Something is plainly hindering the effectiveness of the market's carrots and sticks. And that something is culture.

Before explaining what I mean, let me go back to the squid ink and clarify what's not worrisome about the inequality statistics. For those who grind their ideological axes on these numbers, the increase in measured inequality since the 1970s is proof that the new, more competitive, more entrepreneurial economy of recent decades (which also happens to be less taxed and less unionized) has somehow failed to provide widespread prosperity. According to left-wing doom-and-gloomers, only an "oligarchy" at the very top is benefiting from the current system.

Hogwash. This argument can be disposed of with a simple thought experiment. First, picture the material standard of living you could have afforded back in 1979 with the median household income then of $16,461. Now picture the mix of goods and services you could buy in 2004 with the median income of $44,389. Which is the better deal? Only the most blinkered ideologue could fail to see the dramatic expansion of comforts, conveniences and opportunities that the contemporary family enjoys.

Much of the increase in measured inequality has nothing to do with the economic system at all. Rather, it is a product of demographic changes. Rising numbers of both single-parent households and affluent dual-earner couples have stretched the income distribution; so, too, has the big influx of low-skilled Hispanic immigrants. Meanwhile, in a 2006 paper published in the American Economic Review, economist Thomas Lemieux calculated that roughly three-quarters of the rise in wage inequality among workers with similar skills is due simply to the fact that the population is both older and better educated today than it was in the 1970s.

It is true that superstars in sports, entertainment and business now earn stratospheric incomes. But what is that to you and me? If the egalitarian left has been reduced to complaining that people in the 99th income percentile in a given year (and they're not the same people from year to year) are leaving behind those in the 90th percentile, it has truly arrived at the most farcical of intellectual dead ends.

Which brings us back to the real issue: the human capital gap, and the culture gap that impedes its closure. The most obvious and heartrending cultural deficits are those that produce and perpetuate the inner-city underclass. Consider this arresting fact: While the poverty rate nationwide is 13%, only 3% of adults with full-time, year-round jobs fall below the poverty line. Poverty in America today is thus largely about failing to get and hold a job, any job.

The problem is not lack of opportunity. If it were, the country wouldn't be a magnet for illegal immigrants. The problem is a lack of elementary self-discipline: failing to stay in school, failing to live within the law, failing to get and stay married to the mother or father of your children. The prevalence of all these pathologies reflects a dysfunctional culture that fails to invest in human capital.

Other, less acute deficits distinguish working-class culture from that of the middle and upper classes. According to sociologist Annette Lareau, working-class parents continue to follow the traditional, laissez-faire child-rearing philosophy that she calls "the accomplishment of natural growth." But at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, parents now engage in what she refers to as "concerted cultivation" -- intensively overseeing kids' schoolwork and stuffing their after-school hours and weekends with organized enrichment activities.

This new kind of family life is often hectic and stressful, but it inculcates in children the intellectual, organizational and networking skills needed to thrive in today's knowledge-based economy. In other words, it makes unprecedented, heavy investments in developing children's human capital.

Consider these data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, an in-depth survey of educational achievement. Among students who received high scores in eighth grade mathematics (and thus showed academic promise), 74% of kids from the highest quartile of socioeconomic status (measured as a composite of parental education, occupations and family income) eventually earned a college degree. By contrast, the college graduation rate fell to 47% for kids from the middle two quartiles, and 29% for those in the bottom quartile. Perhaps more generous financial aid might affect those numbers at the margins, but at the core of these big differentials are differences in the values, skills and habits taught in the home.

Contrary to the warnings of the alarmist left, the increase in economic inequality does not mean the economic system isn't working properly. On the contrary, the system is delivering more opportunities for comfortable, challenging lives than our culture enables us to take advantage of. Far from underperforming, our productive capacity has now outstripped our cultural capacity.

Alas, there is no silver bullet for closing the culture gap. But the public institutions most directly responsible for human capital formation are the nation's schools, and it seems beyond serious dispute that in many cases they are failing to discharge their responsibilities adequately. Those interested in reducing meaningful economic inequality would thus be well advised to focus on education reform. And forget about adding new layers of bureaucracy and top-down controls. Real improvements will come from challenging the moribund state-school monopoly with greater competition.

Mr. Lindsey is vice president for research at the Cato Institute and author of the just-published book, "The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture" (Collins, 2007).
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2007, 01:52:51 PM »


Second post of the day:

"The eight Democratic presidential candidates assembled in Washington recently for another of their debates and talked, among other things, about public education. They all essentially agreed that it was underfunded -- one system 'for the wealthy, one for everybody else,' as John Edwards put it. Then they all got into cars and drove through a city where teachers are relatively well paid, per-pupil spending is through the roof and -- pay attention here -- the schools are among the very worst in the nation. When it comes to education, Democrats are ineducable.... [N]ot a one of them even whispered a word of outrage about a public school system that spends $13,000 per child -- third-highest among big-city school systems -- and produces pupils who score among the lowest in just about any category you can name. The only area in which the Washington school system is No. 1 is in money spent on administration. The litany of more and more when it comes to money often has little to do with what, in the military, are called facts on the ground: kids and parents. It does have a lot to do with teachers unions, which are strong supporters of the Democratic Party. Not a single candidate offered anything close to a call for real reform" -- Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2007, 02:51:39 PM »

Harvard for Free
Higher education is about to change as elite universities decide what to do with their huge endowments.

BY FAY VINCENT
Thursday, December 13, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

On Monday Harvard said that next year it will substantially increase its financial aid to middle-class students, bringing its actual tuition costs down to or even below that of some state universities. This is possible because of Harvard's--and other universities'--growing financial success, and it is a signal of far-reaching changes that will ripple throughout higher education.

Superb investment returns have been generated by managers of the endowments of some of the elite private universities, including Harvard, Yale, and even of small liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Williams. The endowments of these four institutions range from $1.7 billion at Amherst to $35 billion at Harvard, and the investment managers are getting annual returns well in excess of 20%. This is more than the alumni of any of those institutions could possibly contribute, and by an enormous margin.

In 1970, when I became a trustee of Williams, the endowment stood at about $35 million. Even using constant dollars, the growth in the endowment since then has been astonishing. At June 30, 2007 it had reached approximately $1.9 billion.

Much (but not all) of this growth is due to the major diversification in the investment mixture adopted by trustees of these schools, who realized some 30 years ago that sticking with the ancient formulae of stocks and bonds was no longer prudent. The change came about because the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, persuaded Grinnell College in 1976 to invest some $13 million in a local TV station that he had identified as a golden opportunity.

Before then, boards at such places worried that nontraditional investments might raise legal issues, or subject them to criticism from alumni. But when the Buffett suggestion turned into a significant windfall of some $36 million for Grinnell in about five years, the rest of the endowment world got the point. I once asked Warren if he had planned to cause such a major switch in strategy. He assured me he had not. "I just saw it as a good buy," he said.





Now, however, these enormous endowments are beginning to raise some fascinating issues for all of higher education. The most obvious issue is whether these schools can seriously claim to have any further need for donations from alumni and friends.
And if, as seems likely, there is much less need for additional giving, does that not mean the administrations of these institutions can operate without the traditional checks and balances of informed alumni? The boards and administrations of the well-endowed schools can safely and proudly proclaim their independence.

In the past, it would have been impossible to ignore alumni. Perhaps an early indication of what I am raising is the recent tussle at Dartmouth over the number of trustees the alumni will be permitted to elect. There the administration has instituted a by-law change that will result in an increase in the number of trustees to be elected by the board, thereby decreasing the power of the alumni.

In the present circumstances, the administration and boards of these schools now control the money because the endowment is managed by internally controlled entities. Accordingly, the most important voice at Yale would have to be the estimable and much-respected David Swenson, who has managed the Yale endowment to astonishing annual returns of over 20% for 10 years. Yale's endowment is about $22.5 billion. What does this mean for the future of governance at Yale? I wonder.

Similarly, these powerful investment returns will change tuition pricing and financial aid--and not just at Harvard. A scholar who follows these matters closely recently told me that he anticipates that the elite private colleges and universities will, in the not-too-distant future, stop charging tuition to any student whose annual family income is below the top 5% of all American families--currently around $200,000.

We already have seen a competition among these schools as of late, with "Free to $30,000" replaced by "Free to $40,000" and now "Free to $60,000." In fact, a recent announcement at Phillips Exeter Academy, that they are offering a free boarding school education to admitted students whose families earn $75,000 or less, raised the stakes for higher education.

If a "Free to $200,000" policy were to be enacted at my alma mater, Williams College, it would cost them only something like $15 million in net tuition revenue out of an operating budget of $200 million. At Harvard, the percentage contribution would be even less. Given the endowment performance at places like Williams and Harvard, they could easily adjust to the loss in tuition revenue. But what about all the lesser-endowed schools that are much more heavily dependant on tuition to maintain their financial stability? How can Fairfield University--where I have served as a trustee--possibly forego tuition to that extent?

What this means is that the cost of the educational Mercedes will be less than the educational Ford. And when Harvard is cheaper than Fairfield, how can Fairfield increase tuition each year, when it will no longer have the umbrella of similar tuition increases being announced by places like Williams and Yale?

I suspect many of us have viewed a four-year college education as a commodity that is priced within a reasonably narrow range. In the past, the Fairfield cost was close to that at Williams. If, as is likely, the big guys drop tuition for all but the richest students, all this will change.

There is another aspect of the financial aid universe that will be affected by these changes in pricing. Currently, there are universities and colleges granting what are known as "merit scholarships." These are financial grants to students who have no demonstrated need.

The Ivies, and many well-endowed institutions, profess only to grant aid based on need. But in the present circumstances, merit grants are being used to tempt talented students away from the Ivies. Some students accept these grants, and decline admission offers at the very elite schools in order to save money for graduate school costs. Thus, Harvard and Williams may be losing attractive students for largely financial reasons. In those cases, the merit offers make money a solid reason to go to a school down the food chain.





If, as is likely, the big guys drop tuition, all this will change, too. And who can blame the elites for using what they have the most of--money and huge endowments.
Because there are so few of these super-rich schools, the effects of their changes in policies will be felt slowly. But like the change in investment strategy Warren Buffett innocently suggested some 30 years ago, the size and growth of their endowments will have significant and not easily anticipated consequences. The ripples of moves made in Cambridge and New Haven will be widely felt.

Mr. Vincent, a former commissioner of Major League Baseball, is the author of "The Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s Talk About the Game They Loved" (Simon & Schuster, 2006), the first in a multivolume oral-history project.

WSJ
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2008, 05:41:16 PM »

Defining Diversity Down
A proposal to make it easier to get into California colleges.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008 12:01 a.m. EST

The world gets more competitive every day, so why would California's education elites want to dumb down their public university admissions standards? The answer is to serve the modern liberal piety known as "diversity" while potentially thwarting the will of the voters.

The University of California Board of Admissions is proposing to lower to 2.8 from 3.0 the minimum grade point average for admission to a UC school. That 3.0 GPA standard has been in place for 40 years. Students would also no longer be required to take the SAT exams that test for knowledge of specific subjects, such as history and science.

UC Board of Admissions Chairman Mark Rashid says that, under this new system of "comprehensive review," the schools "can make a better and more fair determination of academic merit by looking at all the students' achievements." And it is true that test scores and grades do not take full account of the special talents of certain students. But the current system already leaves slots for students with specific skills, so if you think this change is about admitting more linebackers or piccolo players, you don't understand modern academic politics.

The plan would grant admissions officers more discretion to evade the ban on race and gender preferences imposed by California voters. Those limits became law when voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996, and state officials have been looking for ways around them ever since. "This appears to be a blatant attempt to subvert the law," says Ward Connerly, a former member of the University of California Board of Regents, who led the drive for 209. "Subjective admissions standards allow schools to substitute race and diversity for academic achievement."





One loser here would be the principle of merit-based college admissions. That principle has served the state well over the decades, helping to make some of its universities among the world's finest. Since 209, Asian-American students have done especially well, with students of Asian ethnicity at UCLA nearly doubling to 42% from 22%. Immigrants and the children of immigrants now outnumber native-born whites in most UC schools, so being a member of an ethnic minority is clearly not an inherent admissions handicap. Ironically, objective testing criteria were first introduced in many university systems, including California's, precisely to weed out discrimination favoring children of affluent alumni ahead of higher performing students.
The other big losers would be the overall level of achievement demanded in California public elementary and high schools. A recent study by the left-leaning Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA, the "California Educational Opportunity Report 2007," finds that "California lags behind most other states in providing fundamental learning conditions as well as in student outcomes." In 2005 California ranked 48th among states in the percentage of high-school kids who attend college. Only Mississippi and Arizona rated worse.

The UCLA study documents that the educational achievement gap between black and Latino children and whites and Asians is increasing in California at a troubling pace. Graduation rates are falling fastest for blacks and Latinos, as many of them are stuck in the state's worst public schools. The way to close that gap is by introducing more accountability and choice to raise achievement standards--admittedly hard work, especially because it means taking on the teachers unions.

Instead, the UC Board of Admissions proposal sounds like a declaration of academic surrender. It's one more depressing signal that liberal elites have all but given up on poor black and Hispanic kids. Because they don't think closing the achievement gap is possible, their alternative is to reduce standards for everyone. Diversity so trumps merit in the hierarchy of modern liberal values that they're willing to dumb down the entire university system to guarantee what they consider a proper mix of skin tones on campus.

A decade ago, California voters spoke clearly that they prefer admissions standards rooted in the American tradition of achievement. In the months ahead, the UC Board of Regents will have to decide which principle to endorse, and their choice will tell us a great deal about the future path of American society.


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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2008, 05:29:05 PM »

How dumb can we get?

It's bad enough that Americans are increasingly ignorant about science, art, history, and geography. What's frightening, says author Susan Jacoby, is that we're proud of it.

"The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble—in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism, and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ... and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.") Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science, and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

***

First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper, and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book—fiction or nonfiction—over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing, and videogames.

Does all this matter? Technophiles pooh-pooh jeremiads about the end of print culture as the navel-gazing of (what else?) elitists. In his book Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their "vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen." But these zombie-like characteristics "are not signs of mental atrophy. They're signs of focus." Balderdash. The real question is what toddlers are screening out, not what they are focusing on, while they sit mesmerized by videos they have seen dozens of times.

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time—as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web—seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events. It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.

No wonder negative political ads work. "With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information," the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in The New Yorker. "A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching."

As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible—and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate—featuring the candidate's own voice—dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.

***

The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin."

This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning and complexity than today's public. According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic–Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."

***

That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism—a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

***

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a "change election," the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

Susan Jacoby's new book is The Age of American Unreason.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2008, 10:44:10 AM »

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?
Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.
By ELLEN GAMERMAN
February 29, 2008; Page W1

Helsinki, Finland

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.

 
Finland's students are the brightest in the world, according to an international test. Teachers say extra playtime is one reason for the students' success. WSJ's Ellen Gamerman reports.
The Finns won attention with their performances in triennial tests sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by 30 countries that monitors social and economic trends. In the most recent test, which focused on science, Finland's students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland's combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD's test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch. About 400,000 students around the world answered multiple-choice questions and essays on the test that measured critical thinking and the application of knowledge. A typical subject: Discuss the artistic value of graffiti.

The academic prowess of Finland's students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country's secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. "We don't have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have," says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.

Visitors and teacher trainees can peek at how it's done from a viewing balcony perched over a classroom at the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, a city in central Finland. What they see is a relaxed, back-to-basics approach. The school, which is a model campus, has no sports teams, marching bands or prom.

 
Fanny Salo in class
Trailing 15-year-old Fanny Salo at Norssi gives a glimpse of the no-frills curriculum. Fanny is a bubbly ninth-grader who loves "Gossip Girl" books, the TV show "Desperate Housewives" and digging through the clothing racks at H&M stores with her friends.

Fanny earns straight A's, and with no gifted classes she sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up. She often helps lagging classmates. "It's fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class," Fanny says. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress.

At lunch, Fanny and her friends leave campus to buy salmiakki, a salty licorice. They return for physics, where class starts when everyone quiets down. Teachers and students address each other by first names. About the only classroom rules are no cellphones, no iPods and no hats.

TESTING AROUND THE GLOBE

 


Every three years, 15-year-olds in 57 countries around the world take a test called the Pisa exam, which measures proficiency in math, science and reading.
• The test: Two sections from the Pisa science test
• Chart: Recent scores for participating countries
DISCUSS

 
Do you think any of these Finnish methods would work in U.S. schools? What would you change -- if anything -- about the U.S. school system, and the responsibilities that teachers, parents and students are given? Share your thoughts.Fanny's more rebellious classmates dye their blond hair black or sport pink dreadlocks. Others wear tank tops and stilettos to look tough in the chilly climate. Tanning lotions are popular in one clique. Teens sift by style, including "fruittari," or preppies; "hoppari," or hip-hop, or the confounding "fruittari-hoppari," which fuses both. Ask an obvious question and you may hear "KVG," short for "Check it on Google, you idiot." Heavy-metal fans listen to Nightwish, a Finnish band, and teens socialize online at irc-galleria.net.

The Norssi School is run like a teaching hospital, with about 800 teacher trainees each year. Graduate students work with kids while instructors evaluate from the sidelines. Teachers must hold master's degrees, and the profession is highly competitive: More than 40 people may apply for a single job. Their salaries are similar to those of U.S. teachers, but they generally have more freedom.

Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says Mr. Schleicher, of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.

One explanation for the Finns' success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.

 
Ymmersta school principal Hannele Frantsi
Finland shares its language with no other country, and even the most popular English-language books are translated here long after they are first published. Many children struggled to read the last Harry Potter book in English because they feared they would hear about the ending before it arrived in Finnish. Movies and TV shows have Finnish subtitles instead of dubbing. One college student says she became a fast reader as a child because she was hooked on the 1990s show "Beverly Hills, 90210."

In November, a U.S. delegation visited, hoping to learn how Scandinavian educators used technology. Officials from the Education Department, the National Education Association and the American Association of School Librarians saw Finnish teachers with chalkboards instead of whiteboards, and lessons shown on overhead projectors instead of PowerPoint. Keith Krueger was less impressed by the technology than by the good teaching he saw. "You kind of wonder how could our country get to that?" says Mr. Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school technology officers that organized the trip.

Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn't translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: " 'Nah. So what'd you do last night?'" she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely "glue this to the poster for an hour," she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.

 
At the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, school principal Helena Muilu
Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.

Despite the apparent simplicity of Finnish education, it would be tough to replicate in the U.S. With a largely homogeneous population, teachers have few students who don't speak Finnish. In the U.S., about 8% of students are learning English, according to the Education Department. There are fewer disparities in education and income levels among Finns. Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school. (All 15-year-old students took the PISA test.) Finland has a high-school dropout rate of about 4% -- or 10% at vocational schools -- compared with roughly 25% in the U.S., according to their respective education departments.

Another difference is financial. Each school year, the U.S. spends an average of $8,700 per student, while the Finns spend $7,500. Finland's high-tax government provides roughly equal per-pupil funding, unlike the disparities between Beverly Hills public schools, for example, and schools in poorer districts. The gap between Finland's best- and worst-performing schools was the smallest of any country in the PISA testing. The U.S. ranks about average.

Finnish students have little angstata -- or teen angst -- about getting into the best university, and no worries about paying for it. College is free. There is competition for college based on academic specialties -- medical school, for instance. But even the best universities don't have the elite status of a Harvard.

 
Students at the Ymmersta School near Helsinki
Taking away the competition of getting into the "right schools" allows Finnish children to enjoy a less-pressured childhood. While many U.S. parents worry about enrolling their toddlers in academically oriented preschools, the Finns don't begin school until age 7, a year later than most U.S. first-graders.

Once school starts, the Finns are more self-reliant. While some U.S. parents fuss over accompanying their children to and from school, and arrange every play date and outing, young Finns do much more on their own. At the Ymmersta School in a nearby Helsinki suburb, some first-grade students trudge to school through a stand of evergreens in near darkness. At lunch, they pick out their own meals, which all schools give free, and carry the trays to lunch tables. There is no Internet filter in the school library. They can walk in their socks during class, but at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis.

The Finns enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, but they, too, worry about falling behind in the shifting global economy. They rely on electronics and telecommunications companies, such as Finnish cellphone giant Nokia, along with forest-products and mining industries for jobs. Some educators say Finland needs to fast-track its brightest students the way the U.S. does, with gifted programs aimed at producing more go-getters. Parents also are getting pushier about special attention for their children, says Tapio Erma, principal of the suburban Olari School. "We are more and more aware of American-style parents," he says.

Mr. Erma's school is a showcase campus. Last summer, at a conference in Peru, he spoke about adopting Finnish teaching methods. During a recent afternoon in one of his school's advanced math courses, a high-school boy fell asleep at his desk. The teacher didn't disturb him, instead calling on others. While napping in class isn't condoned, Mr. Erma says, "We just have to accept the fact that they're kids and they're learning how to live."

WSJ
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« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2008, 08:01:41 AM »

Twenty-Five Years Later, A Nation Still at Risk
By CHESTER E. FINN JR.
April 26, 2008; Page A7

Today marks the 25th anniversary of "A Nation at Risk," the influential Reagan-era report by a blue-ribbon panel that alerted Americans to the weak performance of our education system. The report warned of a "rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people." That dire forecast set off a quarter century of education reform that's yielded worthy changes – yet still not the achievement gains we need to turn back the tide of mediocrity.

After decades of furthering educational "equality," the 1983 commission admonished the country, it was time to attend to academic excellence and school results. Educators didn't want to hear this and a generation later many still don't. Our ponderous public-school system resists change. Teachers don't like criticism and are loath to be judged by pupil performance. In educator circles, one still encounters grumbling that "A Nation at Risk" lodged a bum rap.

Others heeded the alarm, though, and that report launched an era of forceful innovation and accountability guided by noneducators – elected officials, business leaders and philanthropists.

Such "civilian" leadership has brought about two profound shifts that the professionals, left to their own devices, would never have allowed. Today, instead of judging schools by their services, resources or fairness, we track their progress against preset academic standards – and hold them to account for those results.

We're also far more open to charter schools, vouchers, virtual schools, home schooling. And we no longer suppose kids must attend the campus nearest home. A majority of U.S. students now study either in bona fide "schools of choice," or in neighborhood schools their parents chose with a realtor's help.

Those are historic changes indeed – most of today's education debates deal with the complexities of carrying them out. Yet our school results haven't appreciably improved, whether one looks at test scores or graduation rates. Sure, there are up and down blips in the data, but no big and lasting changes in performance, even though we're also spending tons more money. (In constant dollars, per-pupil spending in 1983 was 56% of today's.)

And just as "A Nation at Risk" warned, other countries are beginning to eat our education lunch. While our outcomes remain flat, theirs rise. Half a dozen nations now surpass our high-school and college graduation rates. International tests find young Americans scoring in the middle of the pack.

What to do now? It's no time to ease the push for a major K-12 education make-over – or to settle (as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton apparently would) for reviving yesterday's faith in still more spending and greater trust in educators. But we can distill four key lessons:

First, don't expect Uncle Sam to manage the reform process. Not only does Washington lack the capacity to revamp thousands of schools and create alternatives for millions of kids, but viewing education reform as a federal obligation lets others off the hook. Yet some things are best done nationally – notably creating uniform standards and tests in place of today's patchwork of uneven expectations and noncomparable assessments. These we have foolishly resisted.

Second, retain civilian control but push for more continuity. Governors and mayors remain indispensable leaders on the ground – but the instant they leave office, the system tries to revert. The adult interests that rule it – teacher unions, yes, but also colleges of education, textbook publishers and more – look after themselves and fend off change. If three consecutive governors or mayors hew to the same agenda, those reforms are more apt to endure.

Third, don't bother seeking one grand innovation. Education reform is not about silver bullets. But huge gains can be made by schools that are free to run (and staff) themselves, attended by choice, expected to meet high standards, and accountable for their results.

Consider the more than 50 schools in the acclaimed Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) network. We don't have nearly enough today, but we're likelier to grow more of them outside the traditional system than by trying to alter the system itself.

Finally, content matters. Getting the structures, rules and incentives right is only half the battle. The other half is sound curriculum and effective instruction. If we can't place enough expert educators in our classrooms, we can use technology to amplify the best of them across the state or nation. Kids no longer need to sit in school to be well educated.

Far from delivering an undeserved insult to a well-functioning system, the authors of "A Nation at Risk" were clear-eyed about that system's failings, and prescient about the challenges these posed to America's future. Now that we're well into that future, we owe them a vote of thanks. But our most solemn responsibility is to keep the reform flag flying high in the wind that they created.

Mr. Finn, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is the author of "Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform Since Sputnik," published in February by the Princeton University Press.
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« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2008, 06:50:32 AM »

WSJ
Amazing Teacher Facts
June 14, 2008
This month 3,700 recent college grads will begin Teach for America's five-week boot camp, before heading off for two-year stints at the nation's worst public schools. These young men and women were chosen from almost 25,000 applicants, hailing from our most selective colleges. Eleven per cent of Yale's senior class, 9% of Harvard's and 10% of Georgetown's applied for a job whose salary ranges from $25,000 (in rural South Dakota) to $44,000 (in New York City).

Hang on a second.

Unions keep saying the best people won't go into teaching unless we pay them what doctors and lawyers and CEOs make. Not only are Teach for America salaries significantly lower than what J.P. Morgan might offer, but these individuals go to some very rough classrooms. What's going on?

It seems that Teach for America offers smart young people something even better than money – the chance to avoid the vast education bureaucracy. Participants need only pass academic muster and attend the summer training before entering a classroom. If they took the traditional route into teaching, they would have to endure years of "education" courses to be certified.

The American Federation of Teachers commonly derides Teach for America as a "band-aid." One of its arguments is that the program only lasts two years, barely enough time, they say, to get a handle on managing a classroom. However, it turns out that two-thirds of its grads stay in the education field, sometimes as teachers, but also as principals or policy makers.

More importantly, it doesn't matter that they are only in the classroom a short time, at least according to a recent Urban Institute study. Here's the gist: "On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers' effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience."

Jane Hannaway, one of the study's co-authors, says Teach for America participants may be more motivated than their traditional teacher peers. Second, they may receive better support during their experience. But, above all, Teach for America volunteers tend to have much better academic qualifications. They come from more competitive schools and they know more about the subjects they teach. Ms. Hannaway notes, "Students are better off being exposed to teachers with a high level of skill."

The strong performance in math and science seems to confirm that the more specialized the knowledge, the more important it is that teachers be well versed in it. (Imagine that.) No amount of time in front of a classroom will make you understand advanced algebra better.

Teach for America was pleased, but not exactly shocked, by these results. "We have always been a data-driven organization," says spokesman Amy Rabinowitz. "We have a selection model we've refined over the years." The organization figures out which teachers have been most successful in improving student performance and then seeks applicants with similar qualities. "It's mostly a record of high academic achievement and leadership in extracurricular activities."

Sounds like the way the private sector hires. Don't tell the teachers unions.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
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« Reply #8 on: June 18, 2008, 08:12:18 PM »

http://www.theamericanscholar.org/su08/elite-deresiewicz.html




"It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League dees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

It’s not surprising that it took me so long to discover the extent of my miseducation, because the last thing an elite education will teach you is its own inadequacy. As two dozen years at Yale and Columbia have shown me, elite colleges relentlessly encourage their students to flatter themselves for being there, and for what being there can do for them. The advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable. You learn to think, at least in certain ways, and you make the contacts needed to launch yourself into a life rich in all of society’s most cherished rewards. To consider that while some opportunities are being created, others are being cancelled and that while some abilities are being developed, others are being crippled is, within this context, not only outrageous, but inconceivable."
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« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2008, 06:54:43 PM »

The Declining Value
Of Your College Degree
By GREG IP

A four-year college degree, seen for generations as a ticket to a better life, is no longer enough to guarantee a steadily rising paycheck.

 
A college degree may not take you as far as you'd expect. However, WSJ's Jennifer Merritt reports on a few fields where a bachelor's degree still remains a worthy investment.
Just ask Bea Dewing. After she earned a bachelor's degree -- her second -- in computer science from Maryland's Frostburg State University in 1986, she enjoyed almost unbroken advances in wages, eventually earning $89,000 a year as a data modeler for Sprint Corp. in Lawrence, Kan. Then, in 2002, Sprint laid her off.

"I thought I might be looking a few weeks or months at the most," says Ms. Dewing, now 56 years old. Instead she spent the next six years in a career wilderness, starting an Internet café that didn't succeed, working temporary jobs and low-end positions in data processing, and fruitlessly responding to hundreds of job postings.

The low point came around 2004 when a recruiter for Sprint -- now known as Sprint Nextel Corp. -- called seeking to fill a job similar to the one she lost two years earlier, but paying barely a third of her old salary.

In April, Ms. Dewing finally landed a job similar to her old one in the information technology department of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where she relocated. She earns about 20% less than she did in 2002, adjusted for inflation, but considers herself fortunate, and wiser.

A degree, she says, "isn't any big guarantee of employment, it's a basic requirement, a step you have to take to even be considered for many professional jobs."

 MORE DATA

 
Trends in Education, SalariesFor decades, the typical college graduate's wage rose well above inflation. But no longer. In the economic expansion that began in 2001 and now appears to be ending, the inflation-adjusted wages of the majority of U.S. workers didn't grow, even among those who went to college. The government's statistical snapshots show the typical weekly salary of a worker with a bachelor's degree, adjusted for inflation, didn't rise last year from 2006 and was 1.7% below the 2001 level.

College-educated workers are more plentiful, more commoditized and more subject to the downsizings that used to be the purview of blue-collar workers only. What employers want from workers nowadays is more narrow, more abstract and less easily learned in college.

To be sure, the average American with a college diploma still earns about 75% more than a worker with a high-school diploma and is less likely to be unemployed. Yet while that so-called college premium is up from 40% in 1979, it is little changed from 2001, according to data compiled by Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank.

 FURTHER READING

 
• Ms. Goldin and Mr. Katz have a new book, "The Race between Education and Technology," that provides a historical analysis of the co-evolution of educational attainment and the wage structure in the United States through the twentieth century.
• Jared Bernstein is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. For more of his writings, visit the institute's Web site.
• Real Time Econ: College Grads, Incomes Stagnant, Turn Against GlobalizationMost statistics he and other economists use don't track individual workers over time, but compare annual snapshots of the work force. That said, this trend doesn't appear due to an influx of lower-paid young workers or falling starting salaries; Mr. Bernstein says when differences in age, race, marital status and place of residence are accounted for, the trend remains the same.

A variety of economic forces are at work here. Globalization and technology have altered the types of skills that earn workers a premium wage; in many cases, those skills aren't learned in college classrooms. And compared with previous generations, today's college graduates are far more likely to be competing against educated immigrants and educated workers employed overseas.

The issue isn't a lack of economic growth, which was solid for most of the 2000s. Rather, it's that the fruits of growth are flowing largely to "a relatively small group of people who have a particular set of skills and assets that lots of other people don't," says Mr. Bernstein. And that "doesn't necessarily have that much to do with your education." In short, a college degree is often necessary, but not sufficient, to get a paycheck that beats inflation.

MOST POPULAR WSJ VIDEO

 
 
• Solar Funding Soars in 1st Half
• Walt Mossberg on iPhone Apps
• Tech Diary: iPhone Worthy?
• 'Old Age' on HoldEconomists chiefly cite globalization and technology, which have prompted employers to put the highest value on abstract skills possessed by a relatively small group, for this state of affairs. Harvard University economists Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin argue that in the 1990s, it became easier for firms to do overseas, or with computers at home, the work once done by "lower-end college graduates in middle management and certain professional positions." This depressed these workers' wages, but made college graduates whose work was more abstract and creative more productive, driving their salaries up.

Indeed, salaries have seen extraordinary growth among a small number of highly paid individuals in the financial sector -- such as fund management, investment banking and corporate law -- which, until the credit crisis hit a year ago, had benefited both from the buoyant financial environment and the globalization of finance, in which the U.S. remains a leader.

Richard Spitzer is one of those beneficiaries. He received his undergraduate degree in East Asian studies in 1995 from the College of William and Mary and graduated from Georgetown University's law school in 2001. The New York firm for which he works, now called Dewey & LeBoeuf, has a specialty in complex legal work for insurance companies. There, Mr. Spitzer has developed an expertise in "catastrophe bonds." An insurance company sells such bonds to investors and pays them interest, unless an earthquake, a hurricane or unexpected surge in deaths occurs.

Experts in these bonds are "probably a rarefied species -- there's only a few law firms that do them," says Mr. Spitzer, 35 years old. He typically spends two to four months on a single deal, ensuring that details like timing of payments or definition of the triggering event are precise enough to avoid disputes or default.

MORE FROM CAREER JOURNAL

 
• In a Sinking Industry? Jump to Another Ship
• Turning That Layoff Into Career CatalystMr. Spitzer's salary has doubled to $265,000 since joining in 2001, in line with salaries similar firms pay.

But not all law graduates are so fortunate; many, especially those from less-prestigious schools, have far lower salaries and less job security. Similarly, some computer-science graduates strike it rich. But their skills are not as rare as they were in the early 1980s, when the discipline took off, and graduates today must contend with competition from hundreds of thousands of similarly qualified foreign workers in the U.S. or overseas.

That helps explain Ms. Dewing's experience. She was raised in a family that prized education. Both her parents went to college on the G.I. Bill, which pays tuition costs for servicemen and some dependents. Four of their six children earned college degrees. In 1979, she earned a bachelor's degree in government and politics from George Mason University in Virginia. Several years later, then a single mother, she decided to get a degree in computer science.

Her first job out of college was with the federal government, earning about $35,000 in today's dollars. "For 16 years I had no trouble at all finding jobs," she said. Earlier this decade she ended up at Sprint designing databases -- a specialty called "data modeling" that isn't widely taught in schools and usually requires hands-on experience.

In 2002 Sprint, reeling from the collapse of the telecommunications industry, initiated a wave of layoffs that eventually totaled 15,000 workers in 13 months, Ms. Dewing among them. She remained in the Kansas City area, posting her résumé on job boards. When recruiters called, she would usually put her expected salary at something close to her old salary. As time went by without an offer she lowered it steadily, to $60,000. She found herself competing for jobs with employees of outsourcing firms brought over from India on temporary visas, such as the H-1B.

A few months ago, Ms. Dewing got a call from a recruiter calling on behalf of Wal-Mart. Company officials pressed her during her interview on how she had kept up her data-modeling ability during her six years away from the specialty. She noted that while at Sprint she had revived the Kansas City chapter of a data modelers' professional association and, long after being laid off, continued to attend its seminars where invited experts would describe the latest advances. She even cited her short-lived Internet café as evidence of how she could solve diverse problems.

When she landed the job, she says, "I felt, 'All right, I'm a professional again.'" Even so, Ms. Dewing has a newfound appreciation for how insecure any job can be and how little a college degree by itself stands for. "There is enough competition for entry-level positions that employers are going to ask, 'What else have you done in your life besides go to college?'" she says. "And in information technology, a portfolio of hands-on experience with programming is a really good thing to have."
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« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2008, 11:34:57 AM »

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121858688764535107.html

For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time
By CHARLES MURRAY
August 13, 2008; Page A17

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place.

Finding a better way should be easy. The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.

Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.

The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree.

The model is the CPA exam that qualifies certified public accountants. The same test is used nationwide. It is thorough -- four sections, timed, totaling 14 hours. A passing score indicates authentic competence (the pass rate is below 50%). Actual scores are reported in addition to pass/fail, so that employers can assess where the applicant falls in the distribution of accounting competence. You may have learned accounting at an anonymous online university, but your CPA score gives you a way to show employers you're a stronger applicant than someone from an Ivy League school.

The merits of a CPA-like certification exam apply to any college major for which the BA is now used as a job qualification. To name just some of them: criminal justice, social work, public administration and the many separate majors under the headings of business, computer science and education. Such majors accounted for almost two-thirds of the bachelor's degrees conferred in 2005. For that matter, certification tests can be used for purely academic disciplines. Why not present graduate schools with certifications in microbiology or economics -- and who cares if the applicants passed the exam after studying in the local public library?

Certification tests need not undermine the incentives to get a traditional liberal-arts education. If professional and graduate schools want students who have acquired one, all they need do is require certification scores in the appropriate disciplines. Students facing such requirements are likely to get a much better liberal education than even our most elite schools require now.

Certification tests will not get rid of the problems associated with differences in intellectual ability: People with high intellectual ability will still have an edge. Graduates of prestigious colleges will still, on average, have higher certification scores than people who have taken online courses -- just because prestigious colleges attract intellectually talented applicants.

But that's irrelevant to the larger issue. Under a certification system, four years is not required, residence is not required, expensive tuitions are not required, and a degree is not required. Equal educational opportunity means, among other things, creating a society in which it's what you know that makes the difference. Substituting certifications for degrees would be a big step in that direction.

The incentives are right. Certification tests would provide all employers with valuable, trustworthy information about job applicants. They would benefit young people who cannot or do not want to attend a traditional four-year college. They would be welcomed by the growing post-secondary online educational industry, which cannot offer the halo effect of a BA from a traditional college, but can realistically promise their students good training for a certification test -- as good as they are likely to get at a traditional college, for a lot less money and in a lot less time.

Certification tests would disadvantage just one set of people: Students who have gotten into well-known traditional schools, but who are coasting through their years in college and would score poorly on a certification test. Disadvantaging them is an outcome devoutly to be wished.

No technical barriers stand in the way of evolving toward a system where certification tests would replace the BA. Hundreds of certification tests already exist, for everything from building code inspectors to advanced medical specialties. The problem is a shortage of tests that are nationally accepted, like the CPA exam.

But when so many of the players would benefit, a market opportunity exists. If a high-profile testing company such as the Educational Testing Service were to reach a strategic decision to create definitive certification tests, it could coordinate with major employers, professional groups and nontraditional universities to make its tests the gold standard. A handful of key decisions could produce a tipping effect. Imagine if Microsoft announced it would henceforth require scores on a certain battery of certification tests from all of its programming applicants. Scores on that battery would acquire instant credibility for programming job applicants throughout the industry.

An educational world based on certification tests would be a better place in many ways, but the overarching benefit is that the line between college and noncollege competencies would be blurred. Hardly any jobs would still have the BA as a requirement for a shot at being hired. Opportunities would be wider and fairer, and the stigma of not having a BA would diminish.

Most important in an increasingly class-riven America: The demonstration of competency in business administration or European history would, appropriately, take on similarities to the demonstration of competency in cooking or welding. Our obsession with the BA has created a two-tiered entry to adulthood, anointing some for admission to the club and labeling the rest as second-best.

Here's the reality: Everyone in every occupation starts as an apprentice. Those who are good enough become journeymen. The best become master craftsmen. This is as true of business executives and history professors as of chefs and welders. Getting rid of the BA and replacing it with evidence of competence -- treating post-secondary education as apprenticeships for everyone -- is one way to help us to recognize that common bond.

Mr. Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from his forthcoming book, "Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality" (Crown Forum).

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« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2008, 09:22:20 AM »

FOR some years now, many elite American colleges have been downgrading the role of standardized tests like the SAT in deciding which applicants are admitted, or have even discarded their use altogether. While some institutions justify this move primarily as a way to enroll a more diverse group of students, an increasing number claim that the SAT is a poor predictor of academic success in college, especially compared with high school grade-point averages.

Are they correct? To get an answer, we need to first decide on a good measure of “academic success.” Given inconsistent grading standards for college courses, the most easily comparable metric is the graduation rate. Students’ families and society both want college entrants to graduate, and we all know that having a college degree translates into higher income. Further, graduation rates among students and institutions vary much more widely than do college grades, making them a clearer indicator of how students are faring.

So, here is the question: do SATs predict graduation rates more accurately than high school grade-point averages? If we look merely at studies that statistically correlate SAT scores and high school grades with graduation rates, we find that, indeed, the two standards are roughly equivalent, meaning that the better that applicants do on either of these indicators the more likely they are to graduate from college. However, since students with high SAT scores tend to have better high school grade-point averages, this data doesn’t tell us which of the indicators — independent of the other — is a better predictor of college success.

Instead, we need to look at the two factors separately. And we can, thanks to the recent experience of the State University of New York, America’s largest comprehensive university system, where I was provost from 1997 to 2006. SUNY is blessed with many different types of campuses, mirroring most of the collegiate options (other than small elite private institutions) that characterize contemporary higher education. The university also collects a gold mine of student data, including statistics on pre-admission academic profiles and graduation rates.

In the 1990s, several SUNY campuses chose to raise their admissions standards by requiring higher SAT scores, while others opted to keep them unchanged. With respect to high school grades, all SUNY campuses consider applicants’ grade-point averages in decisions, but among the total pool of applicants across the state system, those averages have remained fairly consistent over time.

Thus, by comparing graduation rates at SUNY campuses that raised the SAT admissions bar with those that didn’t, we have a controlled experiment of sorts that can fairly conclusively tell us whether SAT scores were accurate predictors of whether a student would get a degree.

The short answer is: yes, they were. Consider the changes in admissions profiles and six-year graduation rates of the classes entering in 1997 and 2001 at SUNY’s 16 baccalaureate institutions. Among this group, nine campuses raised the emphasis they put on the SAT after 1997. This group included two prestigious research universities (Buffalo and Stony Brook) and seven smaller, regional colleges (Brockport, Cortland, New Paltz, Old Westbury, Oneonta, Potsdam and Purchase).

Among the campuses that raised selectivity, the average incoming student’s SAT score increased 4.5 percent (at Cortland) to 13.3 percent (Old Westbury), while high school grade-point averages increased only 2.4 percent to 3.7 percent — a gain in grades almost identical to that at campuses that did not raise their SAT cutoff.

Yet when we look at the graduation rates of those incoming classes, we find remarkable improvements at the increasingly selective campuses. These ranged from 10 percent (at Stony Brook, where the six-year graduation rate went to 59.2 percent from 53.8 percent) to 95 percent (at Old Westbury, which went to 35.9 percent from 18.4 percent).

Most revealingly, graduation rates actually declined at the seven SUNY campuses that did not raise their cutoffs and whose entering students’ SAT scores from 1997 to 2001 were stable or rose only modestly. Even at Binghamton, always the most selective of SUNY’s research universities, the graduation rate declined by 2.8 percent.

The change is even more striking if we compare experiences of three pairs of similar SUNY campuses that, from 1997 to 2001, took sharply divergent paths. First, Stony Brook and Albany, both research universities: over four years, at Stony Brook the average entering freshman SAT score went up 7.9 percent, to 1164, and the graduation rate rose by 10 percent; meanwhile, Albany’s average freshman SAT score increased by only 1.3 percent and its graduation rate fell by 2.7 percent, to 64 percent.

Next, Brockport and Oswego, two urban colleges with about 8,000 students each: Brockport’s average freshman SAT score rose 5.7 percent to 1080, and its graduation rate increased by 18.7 percent, to 58.5 percent. At the same time, Oswego’s freshman SAT average rose by only 3 percent and its graduation rate fell by 1.9 percent, to 52.6 percent.

Finally, Oneonta and Plattsburgh, two small liberal arts colleges with 5,000 students each: Oneonta’s freshman SAT score increased by 6.2 percent, to 1069, and its graduation rate rose 25.3 percent, to 58.9 percent. Plattsburgh’s average freshman SAT score increased by 1.3 percent and its graduation rate fell sharply, by 6.3 percent, to 55.1 percent.

Clearly, we find that among a group of SUNY campuses with very different missions and admissions standards, and at which the high school grade-point averages of enrolling freshmen improved by the same modest amount (about 2 percent to 4 percent), only those campuses whose incoming students’ SAT scores improved substantially saw gains in graduation rates.

Demeaning the SAT has become fashionable at campuses across the country. But college administrators who really seek to understand the value of the test based on good empirical evidence would do well to learn from the varied experiences of New York’s state university campuses.

Peter D. Salins is a professor of political science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
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SB_Mig
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« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2008, 02:04:07 PM »

Carried over from another thread:

Quote
**If a school takes any state or federal money, then they had better be ready to meet some standards that demonstrate that the school isn't just teaching only how evil America, western civilization and any random heteosexual white male is.**

Who sets the standards? State? Federal? County? School district? Teachers? Parents?

How do we then police those standards? Is it not conceivable that this could lead to fluctuations in the quality/content of material being taught, depending on the political climate from year to year? What happens to parents who are not satisfied with the quality of education their child is receiving? What recourse do they have?

I honestly can't think of viable solutions to our current educational crisis. A reworking of the entire system might work, but where to begin?
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« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2008, 04:24:59 PM »

Ideally, there should be no federal funding for schools, as it is state/local level issue. How do we make the leap to higher education 2.0? That's a good question I don't have an implementation plan for.
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« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2008, 05:41:14 PM »

Right now most parents face a monopsony.  Charter schools would end that without spending any more than we currently spend.

Agree with GM about getting the Feds out of education through high school.
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« Reply #15 on: November 20, 2008, 09:24:50 AM »

Charter schools are a start in the right direction.
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« Reply #16 on: November 24, 2008, 02:12:51 AM »

Michelle and Barack Obama have settled on a Washington, D.C., school for their daughters, and you will not be surprised to learn it is not a public institution. Malia, age 10, and seven-year-old Sasha will attend the Sidwell Friends School, the private academy that educates the children of much of Washington's elite.

 
APVice President-elect Joe Biden's grandchildren attend Sidwell -- as did Chelsea Clinton -- where tuition is close to $30,000 a year. The Obama girls have been students at the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where tuition runs above $21,000. "A number of great schools were considered," said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama. "In the end, the Obamas selected the school that was the best fit for what their daughters need right now."

Note the word "selected," as in made a choice. The Obamas are fortunate to have the means to send their daughters to private school, and no one begrudges them that choice given that Washington's public schools are among the worst in America.

Most D.C. parents would also love to be able to choose a better school for their child, but they lack the financial means to do so. The Washington Opportunity Scholarship Program each year offers up to $7,500 to some 1,900 kids to attend private schools, but Democrats in Congress want to kill it. Average family income for kids in the voucher program is about $22,000.

Mr. Obama says he opposes such vouchers, because "although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom." The example of his own children refutes that: The current system offers plenty of choice to kids "at the top" while abandoning those at the bottom.
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« Reply #17 on: February 14, 2009, 06:49:31 AM »

excerpt:

What comes through when Mr. Bush is asked about education is how radical his views are. He would toss out the traditional K-to-12 scheme in favor of a credit system, like colleges have.

"It's not based on seat time," he says. "It's whether you accomplished the task. Now we're like GM in its heyday of mass production. We don't have a flourishing education system that's customized. There's a whole world out there that didn't exist 10 years ago, which is online learning. We have the ability today to customize learning so we don't cast young people aside."

This is where Sweden comes in. "The idea that somehow Sweden would be the land of innovation, where private involvement in what was considered a government activity, is quite shocking to us Americans," Mr. Bush says. "But they're way ahead of us. They have a totally voucherized system. The kids come from Baghdad, Somalia -- this is in the tougher part of Stockholm -- and they're learning three languages by the time they finish. . . . there's no reason we can't have that except we're stuck in the old way."

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« Reply #18 on: March 20, 2009, 09:46:34 AM »


  MSNBC.com


High school held cage fights, records show
Staff allegedly staged 'gladiator-style' brawls for troubled students
The Associated Press
updated 5:54 p.m. CT, Thurs., March. 19, 2009
DALLAS - The Dallas school system was rocked by allegations Thursday that staff members at an inner-city high school made students settle their differences by fighting bare-knuckle brawls inside a steel cage.

The principal and other employees at South Oak Cliff High knew about the cage fights and allowed the practice to continue, according to a 2008 report by school system investigators.

"More than anything, I'm in shock and disbelief — shocked that this could ever occur and shocked that it would be condoned by a professional administrator," said Jerome Garza, a member of the Dallas school board.

The report, first obtained by The Dallas Morning News, describes two instances of fighting in an equipment cage in a boys' locker room between 2003 and 2005. It was not clear from the report whether there were other fights.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the newspaper that there were "some things that happened inside of a cage" and called the fights "unacceptable."

No criminal charges were ever filed, and there was no mention in the report of whether anyone required medical attention or whether any employees were disciplined. A district spokesman would not comment.

The allegations came to light during a grade-fixing investigation that eventually cost the high school its 2005 and 2006 state basketball titles. School officials were suspected of altering students' grades so that they could remain eligible to play for South Oak Cliff, a perennial basketball powerhouse in one of the poorer sections of the city.

In an interview with the Morning News, Donald Moten, who retired as principal last year, denied any fights were held.

"That's barbaric. You can't do that at a high school. You can't do that anywhere," Moten said. "Ain't nothing to comment on. It never did happen. I never put a stop to anything because it never happened."

'Gladiator-style entertainment'
In the report, a teacher was quoted as saying Moten told security personnel to put two fighting students "in the cage and let `em duke it out," according to the report.

The report said a hall monitor, Gary King, told investigators he witnessed the head of campus security and an assistant basketball coach place two students in the cage to fight.

Another hall monitor, Reno Savala, told investigators he came upon two students fighting in the cage "bare-fisted with no head or eye protection." Savala said the assistant coach was watching the fight and broke it up when Savala told him to.

"It was gladiator-style entertainment for the staff," Frank Hammond, a fired counselor who has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the district, told the newspaper. "They were taking these boys downstairs to fight. And it was sanctioned by the principal and security."

Hammond did not actually witness any of the fights, according to the report.


Garza, the school board member, said the board should look into whether criminal charges should be filed. He expressed frustration that the allegations were not brought to the board's attention earlier.

"If, in fact, it bears out that this did occur, clearly the administration had a responsibility to inform the board in the proper manner and in a timely fashion," he said.

Dallas police said they have no record of any investigation by the department. The district attorney's office would not comment.

The allegations come about 10 days after law enforcement authorities reported that careworkers at a Corpus Christi institution forced mentally disabled residents to fight each other and recorded the brawls for their entertainment.


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29774152/?gt1=43001



MSN Privacy . Legal
© 2009 MSNBC.com
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« Reply #19 on: April 03, 2009, 03:55:07 PM »

D.C. Vouchers: Better Results at a QUARTER the Cost

Posted by Andrew J. Coulson

The latest federal study of the D.C. voucher program finds that voucher students have pulled significantly ahead of their public school peers in reading and perform at least as well as public school students in math. It also reports that the average tuition at the voucher schools is $6,620. That is ONE QUARTER what the District of Columbia spends per pupil on education ($26,555), according to the District’s own fiscal year 2009 budget.

Better results at a quarter the cost. And Democrats in Congress have sunset its funding and are trying to kill it. Shame on them.

If President Obama believes his own rhetoric on the need for greater efficiency in government education spending and for improved educational opportunities, he should work with the members of his own party to continue and grow this program.

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/04/03/dc-vouchers-better-results-at-a-quarter-the-cost/
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« Reply #20 on: April 20, 2009, 05:00:08 PM »

April 20, 2009
How Members of the 111th Congress Practice Private School Choice

by Lindsey Burke

Backgrounder #2257

Policies that give parents the ability to exercise private-school choice continue to proliferate across the country. In 2009, 14 states and Washington, D.C., are offering school voucher or education tax-credit programs that help parents send their children to private schools. During the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions, 44 states introduced school-choice legislation.[1] In 2008, private-school-choice policies were enacted or expanded in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Utah[2]--made possible by increasing bipartisan support for school choice.[3]

On Capitol Hill, however, progress in expanding parental choice in education remains slow. Recent Congresses have not implemented policies to expand private-school choice. In 2009, the 111th Congress has already approved legislative action that threatens to phase out the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a federal initiative that currently helps 1,700 disadvantaged children attend private schools in the nation's capital.

Congress's Own School Choices

At the same time, many Members of Congress who oppose private-school-choice policies for their fellow citizens exercise school choice in their own lives. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), the chief architect of the language that threatens to end the OSP, for instance, sends his children to private school[4] and attended private school himself.[5]

Since 2000, The Heritage Foundation has surveyed Members of Congress to determine whether they had exercised private-school choice by ever sending a child to private school. In 2009, this survey was updated for the new Congress. This survey included a new element--whether members themselves had ever attended private school. The new survey revealed that 38 percent of Members of the 111th Congress sent a child to private school at one time. (See Appendix Table A-1.) Of these respondents,

44 percent of Senators and 36 percent of Representatives had at one time sent their children to private school;
23 percent of House Education and Labor Committee Members and nearly 40 percent of Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Members have ever sent their children to private school;
38 percent of House Appropriations Committee Members and 35 percent of Senate Finance Committee Members have ever sent their children to private school; and
35 percent of Congressional Black Caucus Members and 31 percent of Congressional HispanicCaucus Members exercised private-school choice.[6](See Chart 1.)


The survey also showed that 20 percent of Members had attended private school themselves. (See Appendix Table A-2.) Among average citizens, approximately 11 percent of American students are enrolled in private schools.[7] These survey results suggest that Members of Congress are significantly more likely than the general public to choose private schools for their own children and to have attended private schools themselves.

Private-school choice is a popular practice among both congressional Republicans and Democrats. Thirty-eight percent of House Republicans and 34 percent of House Democrats have ever sent their children to private school. In the Senate, 53 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Democrats have exercised private-school choice for their children. Thirty five percent of Congressional Black Caucus Members have sent a child to private school. Only 6 percent of black students overall attend private school.[8]

Members' Educational Backgrounds

In 2009, Heritage also surveyed private-school attendance by the Members of Congress themselves. Many were beneficiaries of a private secondary education. Seventeen percent of responding Senators and 20 percent of responding Representatives attended private high schools. Overall, 20 percent of Members of Congress attended private school, nearly twice the rate of the American public. Specifically, 20 percent of responding Senate Democrats attended private school, as did 13 percent of Senate Republicans. Similarly, 21 percent of House Democrats attended private high school along with 20 percent of House Republicans.

The 2009 study examined two facets of school choice: 1) whether Members of Congress practiced private-school choice for their children, and 2) whether they were themselves beneficiaries of a private secondary education. Some Members attended private school and also chose that option for their children. Of respondents who themselves went to private school and had children, 64 percent chose to send a child to private school.

Policy Implications

The 111th Congress will have the opportunity to enact policies that give parents greater ability to choose the best school for their children. Specifically, Congress could reform major programs like No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to give states the option of using federal funding to give parents vouchers to send their children to a private school of their choice. In addition, Congress could support private-school choice by expanding education savings accounts and reforming other social programs to allow greater parental direction.

One opportunity to maintain and expand private-school choice would be by reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The D.C. School Choice Incentive Act of 2003 provided additional funding for public and charter schools in Washington, D.C. The act also created the OSP, the first federally funded school voucher program in the country. Through the OSP, low-income children are awarded tuition scholarships worth up to $7,500 to attend private schools. In the current 2008-2009 school year, the program is helping more than 1,700 children attend a private school of their parents' choice.

Recent legislative activity in Congress is threatening the future of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. In March, President Obama signed into law the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 1105), which requires reauthorization by Congress as well as authorization by the D.C. City Council in order for the OSP to continue.[9] So, without a reauthorization vote by Congress, children would no longer be able to receive scholarships after the 2009-2010 school year, ending the successful program. As the omnibus legislation was considered by the Senate, Senator John Ensign (R-NV) offered an amendment that would have struck the reauthorization requirement. The amendment was voted down in the Senate 39-58.[10] According to the Heritage Foundation's survey of Congress, Senator Ensign's amendment would have been approved if Members who exercised school choice for their own children had voted in favor of the amendment. Congress is expected to consider reauthorization this spring.

Why Congress Should Support Private School Choice

Across the country, state and local policymakers are increasingly enacting private-school-choice programs. Eleven states and the District of Columbia now offer voucher programs, and seven states offer scholarship tax credits.[11] Private-school scholarship programs benefited approximately 171,000 children in 2008--a growth of 89 percent since 2004.[12] Recent experience suggests that school-choice policies are gaining momentum in state legislatures across the country. From 2007 to 2008, 44 states introduced school-choice legislation, and in 2008, both Georgia and Louisiana enacted school-choice measures.[13] In Georgia, a new scholarship tax credit encourages businesses and individuals to make donations to non-profit groups that award private-school scholarships. In Louisiana, a school voucher program is helping low-income children in New Orleans attend private schools.[14]

Parental Demand for School-Choice Programs. Many parents recognize the benefits of being able to choose a school that best fits their child's academic needs, and school-choice programs are popular as a result. In the nation's capital, there were four applicants for each available slot in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program since the program began in 2004; nearly 20,000 students participated in Milwaukee's voucher program in 2008; and in Florida, more than 19,000 students with disabilities are currently attending private schools of their parents' choice through McKay Scholarships, which provide vouchers to attend any public or private school in the state.[15] Members of Congress also recognize the positive benefits of school choice, evidenced by the fact that they have sent their own children to private schools at a rate far exceeding that of general public enrollment in private school.

Improved Family Satisfaction. Parents who are able to exercise school choice for their children report being more satisfied with their children's school and education than parents whose children attend an assigned public school.[16] Parents of children attending a chosen public school--in districts offering public-school choice or with public charter schools--or private school are also more satisfied with the teachers, academic standards, and discipline, compared to parents of children in an assigned public school.[17] In Washington, D.C., the OSP has produced similar results. Parents of children receiving scholarships report increased satisfaction with their children's school and overall academic experience. Parents reported positive changes in their children's outlook on learning, improved homework habits, and the ability to make a choice in their children's education as the reasons for their high levels of satisfaction.[18] Parents of children enrolled in school-choice programs are satisfied with their experiences and feel that their children are safer in school and excel academically.[19]

Improved Academic Achievement. School choice improves student learning.[20] Studies of school-voucher programs have shown that children benefit academically from the opportunity to attend a private school.[21] Students enrolled in the popular D.C. OSPimproved academically and achieved higher reading levels than students who had not been awarded a voucher.[22]

Encouraging Public School Improvement. School choice boosts improvement in public schools through competition. Research has shown that competition spurred by school choice has had a positive effect on public education in Arizona, Michigan, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[23] School choice programs demonstrate that parents want more from public schools, improving the overall effectiveness of public education.[24] When families are provided with a choice in their children's education, public schools are pushed to offer a product that meets their needs and are no longer able to stay in business by virtue of existing as the only educational game in town.

Supporting Private School Choice in the 111th Congress

Members of Congress have the opportunity to protect and expand private-school choice during the 111th Congress. To begin, Members can--and should--support the reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program to continue to give low-income families in the nation's capital the power to choose a safe and effective school for their children. If all of the Members of Congress who either attended private school or chose a private school for their own children support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, its reauthorization will be assured.

Average citizens and Members of Congress alike have shown that they value the educational opportunities that school choice provides, and that they recognize the importance of a safe and effective education for their children. This is especially true for Members of Congress, many of whom learned this lesson early when they enjoyed their own private education. The 111th Congress has embraced school choice in practice--with 44 percent of the Senate and 36 percent of the House having ever sent their children to private school. Furthermore, 21 percent of Senators and 20 percent of Representatives attended private high schools themselves.

While Members of the 111th Congress have embraced school choice for their own families, they should also support policies that give other families the opportunity to choose their children's schools. All families should have the opportunity to send their children to a school that is safe and offers a quality education.

Lindsey Burke is a Research Assistant in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The Heritage Foundation. Gregory Markle and Leigh Sethman, Heritage Foundation interns, contributed to this paper.
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« Reply #21 on: April 20, 2009, 05:00:27 PM »

Appendix




Methodology

As of April 1, 2009, there were 531 filled congressional seats. Due to four pending races at the time of survey collection, Congress did not comprise a full 535 members. In the Senate, 58 Democrats and 41 Republicans comprised the 99 elected members at the time of this survey. One disputed race in Minnesota between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman was unresolved. In the House, 254 Republicans and 178 Democrats comprised the 432 elected members. Three seats were vacated by Presidential appointments, and had yet to be filled at the time of publication. The seats of President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Kristen Gillibrand, who resigned from the House to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, and Hilda Solis, who was appointed as Secretary of Labor, remain unfilled and account for the three-Member discrepancy in the House.

In addition, there are currently two Independents in Congress--Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) and Senator Bernie Sanders (VT). Both Senators caucus with Democrats, so for the purposes of this survey, they are counted as Democrats.

The Heritage Foundation conducted two separate surveys to determine how Members of Congress practice private-school choice for their children and to determine the private-school-choice history of the Members themselves. For both surveys, Members were informed that their names and identifying characteristics would remain anonymous.

Methodology relating to how Members of Congress practiced school choice for their children. Information on where Members of Congress sent their children to school was gleaned from previous iterations of the Heritage survey, when available, and from calls placed to the offices of new and returning Members of the 111th Congress. Prior responses were combined with new information to obtain the highest response rate possible. To obtain information on whether Members of Congress sent their children to public or private school, three methods were employed in the 2009 survey: 1) placing calls and e-mail inquiries directly to congressional offices, 2) conducting open-source searches on the Internet, and 3) using information from previous Heritage surveys.

Members were specifically contacted if they were part of the freshman class of the 111th Congress; had provided a "no" answer in previous versions of the Heritage survey, meaning they had not yet sent a child to private school; or had in previous versions of the survey indicated that their children were not yet of school age (in those cases, Heritage later contacted the Members again). After these categories of Members were contacted by phone, open-source searches were conducted in order to obtain any missing information. Open-source searches included Member biographies, Members' congressional Web sites, campaign Web sites, and newspaper articles.

Between February 13 and March 13, 2009, The Heritage Foundation contacted the staff of new Members of the 111th Congress and existing Members from whom a previous survey response had not been obtained. Staff were asked whether the Member had children and, if so, whether those children had at any point in their elementary and secondary education attended private school. Members were classified as having exercised private-school choice if they had sent at least one child to private school at any point in time. Using this methodology, which included calls and e-mails placed to congressional offices, information from previous versions of the Heritage survey, and information gleaned from open-source searches, the response rate for the survey was 87 percent for Senators, and 81 percent for Representatives, with an overall response rate of 82 percent for the entire Congress. This response rate was higher than the 2007 survey response rate of 72 percent for Senators and 69 percent for Representatives.[25]

Methodology concerning where Members themselves attended secondary school. The private-school background of the Members themselves was obtained primarily through open-source searches, which included Member biographies, Members' congressional Web sites, campaign Web sites, and newspaper articles, in combination with calls and e-mails to congressional offices. Members whose information was unavailable publicly were contacted by phone or e-mail and asked if they had attended a public or private secondary school.

Not every Member of Congress responded to the Heritage survey, and for some Members there was no public information. In total, information was available for 416 of 531 Members of Congress, representing 78 percent of Congress.


[1]"School Choice Yearbook 2008-09," Alliance for School Choice, 2009, at http://www.allianceforschoolchoice.org/UploadedFiles/ResearchResources
/Yearbook_02062009_finalWEB.pdf (March 30, 2009).

[2]Ibid.

[3]In Arizona, an expansion of the corporate tax credit was enacted under a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature; in Louisiana, a voucher program for students in New Orleans was enacted under a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature; and, in Pennsylvania, an expansion of the earned income tax credit was made possible under a Democratic governor, a Democratic House, and a Republican Senate. From "School Choice Yearbook 2008-09."

[4]Glenn Thrush, "Ensign Gets Personal with Durbin," Politico, March 10, 2009, at http://www.politico.com/blogs/glennthrush/0309/Ensign_gets
_personal_with_Durbin_.html (March 31, 2009).

[5]"Biography," U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin, at http://durbin.senate.gov/aboutrjd.cfm(March 31, 2009).

[6]For a full breakdown of survey statistics, see the methodology in the Appendix.

[7]Evan Feinberg, "How Members of Congress Practice Private School Choice," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2066, September 4, 2007, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/bg2066.cfm.

[8]"Outlook," Council for American Private Education, December 2001, at http://www.capenet.org/Outlook/Out12-01.html(March 31, 2009).

[9]Text of H.R. 1105, Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-1105(March 31, 2009).

[10]"S.Amdt. 615: To strike the restrictions on the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program," at http://www.govtrack.us/
congress/amendment.xpd?session=111&amdt=s615(March 31, 2009)

[11]"School Choice Yearbook 2008-09."

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Dan Lips, Jennifer Marshall, and Lindsey Burke, "A Parent's Guide to Education Reform," The Heritage Foundation, 2008, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/upload/EducationReform-web.pdf.

[17]Ibid.

[18]Lindsey Burke, "D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Study Supports Expansion," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 2297, February 18, 2009, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/wm2297.cfm.

[19]Thomas Stewart et al., "Family Reflections on the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program," School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, January 2009, at http://www.uaedreform.org
/SCDP/DC_Research/2009_Final.pdf(March 31, 2009).

[20]Lips, Marshall, and Burke, "A Parent's Guide to Education Reform."

[21]Patrick J. Wolf, "School Voucher Programs: What the Research Says About Parental School Choice," Brigham Young University Law Review, No. 2 (2008).

[22]Shanea Watkins, "Safer Kids, Better Test Scores: The D.C. Voucher Program Works," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 1965, June 20, 2008, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/wm1965.cfm.

[23]Lips, Marshall, and Burke, "A Parent's Guide to Education Reform."

[24]Dan Lips, "School Choice: Policy Developments and National Participation Estimates in 2007-2008," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2102, January 31, 2008, at http://www.heritage.org/Research
/Education/bg2102.cfm.

[25]Feinberg, "How Members of Congress Practice Private School Choice."


    
http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/bg2257.cfm
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« Reply #22 on: April 25, 2009, 08:17:42 AM »

Here's a quiz: Which of the following rejected more than 30,000 of the nation's top college seniors this month and put hundreds more on a waitlist? a) Harvard Law School; b) Goldman Sachs; or c) Teach for America.

 
Getty Images
Teach for America CEO Wendy Kopp.
If you've spent time on university campuses lately, you probably know the answer. Teach for America -- the privately funded program that sends college grads into America's poorest school districts for two years -- received 35,000 applications this year, up 42% from 2008. More than 11% of Ivy League seniors applied, including 35% of African-American seniors at Harvard. Teach for America has been gaining applicants since it was founded in 1990, but its popularity has exploded this year amid a tight job market.

So poor urban and rural school districts must be rejoicing, right? Hardly. Union and bureaucratic opposition is so strong that Teach for America is allotted a mere 3,800 teaching slots nationwide, or a little more than one in 10 of this year's applicants. Districts place a cap on the number of Teach for America teachers they will accept, typically between 10% and 30% of new hires. In the Washington area, that number is about 25% to 30%, but in Chicago, former home of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, it is an embarrassing 10%.

This is a tragic lost opportunity. Teach for America picks up the $20,000 tab for the recruitment and training of each teacher, which saves public money. More important, the program feeds high-energy, high-IQ talent into a teaching profession that desperately needs it. Unions claim the recent grads lack the proper experience and commitment to a teaching career. But the Urban Institute has studied the program and found that "TFA status more than offsets any experience effects. Disadvantaged secondary students would be better off with TFA teachers, especially in math and science, than with fully licensed in-field teachers with three or more years of experience."

It's true that only 10% of Teach for America applicants say they would have gone into education through another route, but two-thirds stay in the field after their two years. One program benefit is that its participants don't have to pass the dreadful "education" courses that have nothing to do with what they'll be teaching. Those courses are loved by unions as a credentialing barrier that makes it harder to get into teaching.

Some districts may be wising up. Mississippi's education superintendent has asked Teach for America to double the size of its 250-member corps in the poor Delta region and is encouraging local superintendents to raise hiring caps. Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has also sharply increased the percentage of corps members among its new teachers, to 250.

But why have any caps? Teach for America young people should be able to compete on equal terms with any other new teaching applicant. The fact that they can't is another example of how unions and the education establishment put tenure and power above student achievement.
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« Reply #23 on: May 08, 2009, 12:31:55 PM »

The Harlem Miracle
DAVID BROOKS
Published: May 7, 2009
The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results. You go visit an inner-city school, job-training program or community youth center and you meet incredible people doing wonderful things. Then you look at the results from the serious evaluations and you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.

That’s why I was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: “The attached study has changed my life as a scientist.”

Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children’s Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, but weren’t selected.

They found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.

Let me repeat that. It eliminated the black-white achievement gap. “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes,” Fryer wrote in a subsequent e-mail. What Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone’s founder and president, has done is “the equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. It’s amazing. It should be celebrated. But it almost doesn’t matter if we stop there. We don’t have a way to replicate his cure, and we need one since so many of our kids are dying — literally and figuratively.”

These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right. The Promise Academy does provide health and psychological services, but it helps kids who aren’t even involved in the other programs the organization offers.

To my mind, the results also vindicate an emerging model for low-income students. Over the past decade, dozens of charter and independent schools, like Promise Academy, have become no excuses schools. The basic theory is that middle-class kids enter adolescence with certain working models in their heads: what I can achieve; how to control impulses; how to work hard. Many kids from poorer, disorganized homes don’t have these internalized models. The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.

To understand the culture in these schools, I’d recommend “Whatever It Takes,” a gripping account of Harlem Children’s Zone by my Times colleague Paul Tough, and “Sweating the Small Stuff,” a superb survey of these sorts of schools by David Whitman.

Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school.

They also smash the normal bureaucratic strictures that bind leaders in regular schools. Promise Academy went through a tumultuous period as Canada searched for the right teachers. Nearly half of the teachers did not return for the 2005-2006 school year. A third didn’t return for the 2006-2007 year. Assessments are rigorous. Standardized tests are woven into the fabric of school life.

The approach works. Ever since welfare reform, we have had success with intrusive government programs that combine paternalistic leadership, sufficient funding and a ferocious commitment to traditional, middle-class values. We may have found a remedy for the achievement gap. Which city is going to take up the challenge? Omaha? Chicago? Yours?
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« Reply #24 on: May 27, 2009, 11:04:57 AM »

I use to make failed restaurants work. Nowadays I make failed civil service institutions work. This guy makes failed schools work. I'd sign up with him in a heartbeat.

The Instigator
By Douglas McGray, New America Foundation
The New Yorker | May 10, 2009

[Education Secretary] Duncan revealed that he was interested in committing several billion dollars of the education stimulus package to a Locke-style takeover and transformation of the lowest-performing one per cent of schools across the country. . . "You seem to have cracked the code," Duncan told Barr.

Steve Barr stood in the breezeway at Alain Leroy Locke High School, at the edge of the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, on a February morning. He's more than six feet tall, with white-gray hair that's perpetually unkempt, and the bulk of an ex-jock. Beside him was Ramon Cortines--neat, in a trim suit--the Los Angeles Unified School District's new superintendent. Cortines had to be thinking about last May, when, as a senior deputy superintendent, he had visited under very different circumstances. That was when a tangle between two rival cliques near an outdoor vending machine turned into a fight that spread to every corner of the schoolyard. Police sent more than a dozen squad cars and surged across the campus in riot gear, as teachers grabbed kids on the margins and whisked them into locked classrooms.

The school's test scores had been among the worst in the state. In recent years, seventy-five per cent of incoming freshmen had dropped out. Only about three per cent graduated with enough credits to apply to a California state university. Two years ago, Barr had asked L.A.U.S.D. to give his charter-school-management organization, Green Dot Public Schools, control of Locke, and let him help the district turn it around. When the district refused, Green Dot became the first charter group in the country to seize a high school in a hostile takeover. ("He's a revolutionary," Nelson Smith, the president and C.E.O. of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said.) Locke reopened in September, four months after the riot, as a half-dozen Green Dot schools.

"Last year, there was graffiti everywhere," Barr said. "You'd see kids everywhere--they'd be out here gambling. You'd smell weed." He recalled hearing movies playing in classroom after classroom: "People called it ghetto cineplex." Barr and Cortines walked to the quad, where the riot had started. The cracked pavement had been replaced by a lawn of thick green grass, lined with newly planted olive trees.

"It's night and day," Cortines said.

In the past decade, Barr has opened seventeen charter high schools--small, locally managed institutions that aim for a high degree of teacher autonomy and parent involvement--in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, as well as one in the Bronx. His charter-school group is now California's largest, by enrollment, and one of its most successful. Green Dot schools take kids who, in most cases, test far below grade level and send nearly eighty per cent of them to college. (Only forty-seven per cent of L.A.U.S.D. students graduate with a high-school diploma.) As of 2006, Green Dot's standardized-test scores were almost twenty per cent higher than L.A. Unified's average, and, adjusting for student demographics, the state Department of Education grades their performance a nine on a scale of one to ten; L.A.U.S.D. schools rate only a five.

Barr himself has a colorful reputation. He drives a decommissioned police car, a Crown Victoria with floodlights, which he bought from a friend, the former Fox executive who launched the network's reality show "Cops." ("It's faster than anything on the road," he told me, and when he wants to change lanes "people move out of the way.") He met his wife, an Alaskan radio reporter twenty years his junior, at a Burning Man festival seven years ago, and married her in Las Vegas three weeks later. And this is how he talks about working with what is arguably the country's most troubled big-city school system: "You ever see that movie 'Man on Fire,' with Denzel Washington? There's a scene in the movie where the police chief of Mexico City gets kidnapped by Denzel Washington. He wakes up, he's on the hood of his car under the underpass, in his boxers, his hands tied. Denzel Washington starts asking him questions, he's not getting the answers he wants, so he walks away from him, and leaves a bomb stuck up his ass." Barr laughed. "I don't want to blow up L.A.U.S.D.'s ass. But what will it take to get this system to serve who they need to serve? It's going to take that kind of aggressiveness."

Green Dot's ascent stems mostly from Barr's skill as an instigator and an organizer. Outrageous rhetoric is a big part of that, and it's not uncalculated. "It takes a certain amount of panache to call the head of the union a pig fucker," Ted Mitchell, the president of the California State Board of Education, said. (Those weren't Barr's words exactly.) "Steve has this 'Oh, shucks, you know me--I can't control my mouth' persona. It allows him to get away with murder." But, Mitchell points out, "he's a public curmudgeon and a private negotiator." And he has built Green Dot to be a political force unlike anything else in the world of education. For instance, Barr runs the only large charter organization in the country that has embraced unionized teachers and a collectively bargained contract--an unnecessary hassle, if his aim was to run a few schools, but a source of leverage for Green Dot's main purpose, which is to push for citywide change. "I don't see how you tip a system with a hundred per cent unionized labor without unionized labor," he said.

First period at Locke was ending. Kids swarmed the halls, shoving and laughing and posturing and flirting for every last second of their five minutes of freedom. Barr was quiet with Cortines, almost solicitous. Cortines, for his part, seemed eager for peace. After years of failed attempts to fix Locke, nobody could ignore how much Green Dot had accomplished in a matter of months.

Another fight between Barr and L.A.U.S.D. seemed inevitable, though. After Cortines left, Barr said, "Ray and I have had conversations about Fremont High School," another large troubled school, in South Los Angeles. But Cortines, he knew, was hesitant. "I've been clear that we can talk," Cortines told me later. "I can't necessarily deliver. I still think we have to look at the evidence from Locke." Data like test scores, graduation rates, and student retention won't be available until later this year.
Barr doesn't want to hear it. "Nobody can tell me that a small, autonomous, well-funded school, where the parents are involved, where accountability is put on that staff, is not the right way to go," he said. "We get along really well, but I get fucking impatient."

Cortines didn't know that Barr was already planning his next assault on the district, one he described to me as "Armageddon." He planned to target five to ten of the largest, worst-performing schools in Los Angeles, and then submit a hundred charters for new schools to be clustered around them. Then he would give the district a choice: it could either dissolve most of the central bureaucracy, and turn over hiring, firing, and spending decisions to neighborhood schools, or surrender leadership of the schools to Green Dot. If the district refused both options, Barr would open his new schools and begin stealing thousands of students, and the millions of dollars in funding that follow them. "If I take ten Locke High Schools, they can't survive," he said.

But, just weeks after Cortines's visit to Locke, Barr got a call from the new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He flew to Washington, D.C., at the end of March, for what he expected to be a social visit. At the meeting, Duncan revealed that he was interested in committing several billion dollars of the education stimulus package to a Locke-style takeover and transformation of the lowest-performing one per cent of schools across the country, at least four thousand of them, in the next several years. The Department of Education would favor districts that agreed to partner with an outside group, like Green Dot. "You seem to have cracked the code," Duncan told Barr.

Duncan was interested in the fact that Barr was targeting high schools, not elementary or middle schools. "The toughest work in urban education today is what you do with large failing high schools," Duncan told me. These schools get less study and less attention from charter groups and education reformers, most of whom feel that ninth grade is too late to begin saving kids. "Teach for America, NewSchools Venture Fund, the Broad Foundation--all these folks are doing extraordinary work in public education," Duncan said. "Nobody national is turning around large failing high schools."

When Barr got back to Los Angeles, he told me, "We're being asked, 'Could you guys do five schools in L.A. next year? Could you expand beyond L.A.?' If you'd asked a month ago, 'What about Green Dot America?,' I would have said, 'No way.' But if this President wants to get after it I'm going to reconsider."

***

Barr opened his first school in August of 2000, at the edge of Lennox, a poor, mostly Spanish-speaking community near Los Angeles International Airport, under a landing path. The local high school, Hawthorne, was a few miles away. "Where the Beach Boys went," Barr said. "Now it's a dropout factory."

He announced plans for the school at a middle-school gymnasium crowded with families. "I told the parents, 'When you come to this school, seven thousand dollars follows you' "--the rough sum that California paid a charter school to educate a child. " 'That's your money. I will treat that like tuition.' " He promised them a school that was safe, local, and accountable. He said he'd need their help. And he gave everyone his home phone number and said that they could call him anytime. By the end of the night, he had a hundred and forty kids committed to his ninth-grade class. Suddenly, he said, "I started shaking."

"I'm standing in front of these parents, who have no money--all they have is their kids," he recalled. "And they're trusting me. I didn't have a facility yet, and I didn't have a staff. It was February, and school was opening in August. I walked out to the parking lot and threw up."

Opening a school was an unlikely move for Barr. He had done fundraising for California politicians, helped organize the Olympic-torch relay before the 1984 Summer Games, and spent three years as an on-air television reporter. He co-founded Rock the Vote, and worked on Bill Clinton's 1992 Presidential campaign. But he'd never thought much about education. In fact, he'd been a mediocre student.

Barr was born in 1959, just south of San Francisco, and lived with his mother in Monterey, near the military base, where she worked as a dental assistant and a cocktail waitress. When he was six, he and his younger brother spent a year in foster care. Later, they made their home in a trailer in Missouri, before moving back to California.

In school, Barr was a good athlete, and popular. Every teacher knew his name. His brother, Mike, was quiet and overweight. Mike tried playing in the band for a while. ("Why do you give the chubby kid a tuba?" Barr asked, sighing. "Do you know how hilarious it is seeing a chubby kid try to get on the bus with a tuba?") But soon Mike got lost in their large high school. Steve graduated, and went on to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Mike dropped out, and never really settled into an adult life. Eventually, he was in a motorcycle accident. After a series of surgeries, he lost his leg. He won a settlement, but that attracted the wrong friends. "You take a poor kid who has problems and give him a lot of money . . ." Barr said. When Barr was thirty-two, Mike died of a drug overdose. His mother died shortly afterward, and Barr began to drift.

He discovered charter schools by accident. When President Clinton went to San Carlos to visit California's first charter school, Barr tagged along, and encountered the school's founder, Don Shalvey, and a Silicon Valley businessman, Reed Hastings, who had just founded Netflix. Shalvey and Hastings were about to draw up a ballot initiative that would increase the number of charter schools in California. Barr decided to help. "He came out of nowhere," Hastings said. And he brought a very different approach. He persuaded them, for instance, to try to make peace with the California Teachers Association. "He helped us realize we were perhaps overly simplistic in demonizing the union as the enemy," Hastings said. "It turned out C.T.A. was open to a stronger charter law."

As Barr worked on the campaign, he started to think about his own years in school, and his brother's. High school, he decided, was the point where their lives diverged. When the charter-school measure passed, he broke up with his girlfriend, moved out of their apartment, gave up his convertible, and rented a decrepit place in Venice, sight unseen. He moved in on Christmas morning, to a room strewn with needles, vomit, and feces. "I'm thirty-nine, I'm alone," he said. "Merry fucking Christmas." He tied his chocolate Lab, Jerry Brown, in the corner, put on the Harry Belafonte album his mother used to play every Saturday morning, when they did chores together, and scrubbed the apartment.

A year and a half later, he opened Animo Leadership Charter High School, near Lennox. (He said that in Spanish animo can mean "courage" or "valor," but he prefers a Mexican surfing buddy's translation: "Get off your ass.") He hired five of his seven teachers straight out of college and rented classrooms at a night school. When one of the teachers quit in the first couple of weeks, he replaced her with his office manager. Barr worked mostly without pay for the next few years, spending the last of his savings and his brother's settlement, and doing such damage to his finances that Costco revoked his membership. He pitched in a lot himself. "Maybe the most fun I had was going to test-drive school buses," he said.
And he starting a surfing club. "There were a handful of kids at the school who were really fricking cool but weren't being reached somehow," he said. "There was a kid named Ricky. He was smart, charismatic. All the girls loved this guy. There was another girl named Stephanie, who I think had a crush on Ricky." They agreed to find twenty-five kids who would show up before school, at 6 A.M.

"We were driving to the South Bay, Manhattan Beach. It was real quiet," Barr recalled. "Halfway out there, one of the kids said, 'Mr. Barr, do you have to know how to swim to surf?' " Half the kids couldn't. Barr put his head in his hands and laughed.

"The Manhattan Beach school system, they actually have surfing in gym class, so you have all these blond-haired, blue-eyed kids in the water," Barr continued. "And here come these kids from Lennox. The Lennox surf team." He mimicked a slow, tough walk. "Their gear's a little off, you know, they're all Latino, and a couple of black kids. I remember them getting triple takes."

At the end of its first chaotic year, Barr's school beat Hawthorne High School in every measurable outcome. "When the scores come out, I have to call Shalvey"--Barr's charter-school mentor--"and ask him, 'Are they good?' " Barr said. " 'Cause I don't fucking know. I don't know how to read test scores." The night school eventually moved, and Animo Leadership took over the entire campus. Last year, U.S. News & World Report ranked it among the top hundred public high schools in the country.

***

A pair of skinny Latino boys with shoulder-length hair cruised down Locke's breezeway on their skateboards. Zeus Cubias, an assistant principal, turned and glared. It was a few minutes after the last bell, and the two kids had swapped their uniform polos for black band T-shirts.

"What did I tell you? Don't act the fool," Cubias said sternly, as the boys picked up their skateboards. He turned to the taller boy. "Especially when you're wearing a Guns N' Roses shirt. Don't embarrass the shirt." The boy laughed. "Next time, I'm taking boards," Cubias said.

Cubias is compact and athletic, with floppy hair, a tidy beard, and three earrings. "I'd be doing the same thing when I was a kid," he admitted. He grew up just a few blocks down the street, and graduated from Locke, class of '92. He showed me his freshman yearbook. "Here's the Jheri Curl mullet," he said, flipping through the faces. "Ghetto business in the front, ghetto party in the back. And here's me, sporting my own mullet."

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« Reply #25 on: May 27, 2009, 11:05:53 AM »

The high school opened in 1967, two years after the Watts riots. Named for Alain Leroy Locke, the country's first African-American Rhodes Scholar, it was set on a twenty-six-acre plot near the edge of the neighborhood, and was meant to be a symbol of rebirth. But by the time Cubias was a freshman, jobs and middle-class families had disappeared; the school, like the neighborhood, became infamous. Security guards with metal-detecting wands would interrupt class to spot-check boys.

As a freshman, Cubias landed in remedial and English as a Second Language classes. "I had a Spanish name," he said. Most Latinos in Watts were recent immigrants, and there were so many kids, and so few counsellors, that it was hard to keep everyone straight. Locke had grown huge. Los Angeles went more than thirty years without building a new high school, even as the city's population swelled; schools like Locke, meant for about fifteen hundred kids, doubled their enrollment, packing classrooms and erecting cheap, prefabricated units in their parking lots. Cubias ditched class a lot and got bad grades. But a substitute covering his English class thought he seemed out of place and recommended him for an honors class. When he showed up the first day, he recalled, he met a girl with black hair and ojos tapatíos--almond-shaped eyes--who carried a novel wherever she went. He was smitten. "I had heard about kids who read books, but they were, like, mythical," Cubias said, laughing. He asked a counsellor to give him the same class schedule as the girl, and in that instant he passed from one world to another. She took all honors classes, on her way to graduating as valedictorian.

"These poor high schools, you have an Advanced Placement track, and the teachers only believe in triage, so they put the kids who have a chance in that track," Barr explained. "It's built on the back of the other three tracks."

Cubias ended up scoring a 5 on his A.P. calculus exam, which no Locke student had ever done before, and went to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Even before he left Locke, he knew that he wanted to come back and teach there. "Now, I'm bilingual, and a math teacher, with a University of California certification," Cubias said. "In this district, I'm gold." But when he first went downtown to apply for a teaching position and said that he wanted a job at Locke he was told, "You don't have to teach there. You're qualified to teach at this place, or this place, or this place."

The interviewer thought she was doing him a favor. "These schools like Locke and Fremont and Jordan, they just get the leftovers," Cubias said. Locke would have substitutes covering unfilled teaching positions well into the school year. New hires were often uninspiring and unprepared. "Damn the day the University of Phoenix started offering teaching credentials," he added.

In the spring of 2007, a rumor spread through the school. Teachers and parents were summoned to a community meeting at the middle school down the street. The room was packed. Cubias took a seat near the front. The superintendent at the time got up to speak. He said that the district was interested in handing over leadership of Locke High School to a charter organization, Green Dot.

For Cubias, this was worse than neglect--to be abandoned by the district and relegated to some white guy he'd never met. "We'll see about that," he said.

***

The sudden announcement stunned United Teachers Los Angeles, the neighborhood, and Locke's staff, even the principal. Almost immediately, the superintendent began shying away from the deal. Barr had learned by now to have a backup plan ready. If the district refused to give him Locke, he'd just open a bunch of Green Dot schools in Watts and take the kids.
Green Dot had become more professional since Barr's early days at Animo Leadership. But it had also become more radical. When case-study writers from Harvard Business School asked Barr to describe the inspiration behind Green Dot's model, he didn't cite other schools; he named the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He hired an opposition researcher to investigate Green Dot and see what enemies might use against him. He started a citywide group called the Los Angeles Parents Union, an activist alternative to the Parent-Teacher Association, in the hope of mobilizing foot soldiers for Green Dot's escalating war against the district. He even put a school-board member on his payroll--"a mole," Barr said--to report back on closed meetings. Judged purely on test scores, or scholastic reputation, another group, Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, is probably the premier charter-school-management organization in Los Angeles. "They're brilliant about academics," Barr said. But, as a political organization that happens to run great schools, Green Dot is unique.

As Barr became more political, he began to worry about the limits of the charter movement. "There's this cult around charter schools," Barr said. "They're not even close to being the answer." Opening a new school like Animo Leadership takes an enormous amount of effort and money. Barr has to find a big building in the right neighborhood, and convert it into classrooms, and fill it with new teachers and administrators, and sell the idea to parents and community leaders. This is all before any public dollars arrive. Four years after Barr started Animo Leadership, he had a nice school of about five hundred students. But that barely registered in a district with around seven hundred thousand. Barr began to covet district schools with thousands of students. (Locke had almost three thousand.) "We were trying to figure out how to get out of the charter-school business, and how to get into the helping-schools-transform business," he said.

Barr tested a new strategy at Jefferson High School, a place that is much like Locke, a few miles to the north. In 2005, over the course of a year, he met with the superintendent to try to negotiate a deal to transform the institution into a series of small autonomous schools. When talks broke down, Barr hired a field staff from the neighborhood. They worked out of a housing project across the street from the school and collected ten thousand signatures from local parents. When the district still balked, Barr gathered a thousand parents and marched to L.A.U.S.D.'s central office, towing the paperwork for five new Green Dot schools in little red wagons. Jefferson remained an L.A.U.S.D. school. But the following fall more than half of its incoming freshmen entered the lottery for a spot at one of Barr's schools. "When Green Dot was able to walk into a neighborhood, build strong coalitions with neighborhood groups, and begin to drain the school, I think that sent a shock wave through the system," Ted Mitchell, the president of the State Board of Education, said.
Barr was ready to do the same thing at Locke. "What I didn't foresee was the teachers rising up," he said. A group from the school--Zeus Cubias and a few others--sent word that they wanted a meeting. Barr agreed to meet them at a nearby community center. Fifty or sixty teachers sat on one side, in a semicircle; Barr sat alone, facing them.
"Locke is a cash cow," he explained to them. It attracted more state and federal funding than schools in richer neighborhoods--"money-that's-thrown-at-a-failed-school kind of money," he said. "According to our analysis, only about sixty per cent of that money makes it into the classroom."

A gigantic district like L.A.U.S.D. has layer upon layer of bureaucracy. Locke had two full-time employees who painted over graffiti. Bathroom monitors were contractually limited to bathroom-related supervision. Locke often came in well under budget, yet students still shared textbooks, because the surplus was locked up in some unnecessary line item. Byzantine chains of accountability made it almost impossible to isolate problems and fix them.

"There was yelling back and forth," Barr said. "A lot of the time I just sat there, let them work their shit out. A young Latino math teacher, big guy, fucking six foot five, he broke down and started crying." The teacher feared that although Green Dot might get more kids to college, the most vulnerable kids, the hardest cases, might slip away. It's a big knock against charter schools--sometimes fair, sometimes unfair--that only a traditional public school teaches all kids. "We bombarded him," Cubias said. Barr came back with the same answer again and again: "How will it be worse than what you have now?"

Even if they agreed about the district's ills, many teachers worried about Green Dot's contract. At around thirty pages, it would be only a tenth as long as their contract with L.A.U.S.D. "Union contracts are written in response to bad systems," Barr said. (A. J. Duffy, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, counters, "Our view of a decent contract is it will provide longevity of teaching staff." Too many charter schools, he argues, churn through young teachers.) Green Dot offered no tenure and no lifetime benefits. But salaries would be about ten per cent higher; it spends more than sixty per cent of its staff budget on teacher salaries, a good deal more than L.A.U.S.D., Green Dot claims. Green Dot's union--affiliated with the statewide teachers' association rather than with the more defensive one in Los Angeles--would protect them from arbitrary dismissal. And Barr promised teachers more freedom in the classroom. At his schools, the principals lay out firm curricular guidelines, in keeping with California state standards and Green Dot benchmarks, but teachers are free to huddle, and decide what to teach and how to teach it, for the most part, as long as students pass quarterly assessments.

"After about five and a half hours, one teacher said, 'Let's face it, the only time the district comes out here is when a kid gets killed,' " Barr recalled. "Another teacher said, 'And the only time our union comes out is when Green Dot's mentioned.' Somebody said, 'What can we do?' "

Barr explained that California lawmakers had created an option for schools to abandon the district for a charter arrangement if at least fifty per cent of tenured teachers vote to secede. "We'd be interested in that," Barr said.

Barr had a stack of petition forms sent to the school. Cubias, an English teacher named Bruce Smith, and the principal, Frank Wells, began circulating them. Barr wasn't sure he had the votes. Locke's young teachers were mostly untenured and ineligible. The older faculty tended to be deeply skeptical of what Barr was selling. "A lot of these teachers have been on the front lines during the whole demise of our public education system," he said. "Now, every year or two, there's some new reform. You get reform fatigue: 'Oh, God, another God-damned bright idea from the business world.' " Out of a total tenured faculty of seventy-three, Barr needed thirty-seven votes to take the school. That meant all the eligible younger teachers and a decent number of the older ones. Smith and Wells started canvassing between bells. "It was a sneaky inside job, but there was no other way to do it," Smith said.

District administrators were furious. They sent school police to find Wells and escort him off school property. But it was too late: Barr's allies had the signatures. Two days later, television crews gathered across the street for a press conference. Kids milled around and stared. Smith sneaked into a bathroom to write a speech. "I've got security guards carrying walkie-talkies, saying, 'He's walking down the hall,' " Smith recalled. "I'm pretty nervous." He hid in a stall, and scribbled notes for his remarks on an index card: "Do what we're doing: take back your schools."

Within days, the district and the teachers' union counterattacked. "To take over a whole school--it was scandalous!" Karen Wickhorst, a French teacher and, at the time, a site representative for United Teachers Los Angeles, recently recalled. "A big public school! It was so underhanded."

The district banned Barr from the school and summoned teachers to a meeting. Duffy, the union president, and the district's regional administrator addressed the teachers. "They scared the shit out of everyone," Barr said. Seventeen teachers revoked their signatures.

Barr set up a war room at Green Dot's offices. He wrote the number "17" on a whiteboard. Organizers mapped out the teachers who had rescinded their votes--their issues, their biases--as well as new teachers they might swing. "It was like chasing down Senate votes," Barr said. He got up at five, and met teachers at a doughnut shop before school. He went to their houses for dinner, and showed up at church on Sunday. Allies would sneak him onto the school grounds through a back gate, and he'd hold court in a gym teacher's office.
They got all seventeen votes back--but not one more. And Barr began to look ahead. "After the press conference, a dozen different schools contacted me," he said. They were ready to lead their own insurrections. "If I'd been prepared, I could have run the table," Barr said.

Some of his closest confidants, though, worried that even one big high school might be too many. "Most people around him, including me, said, 'Oh, man, Locke is going to kill you,' " Reed Hastings, of Netflix, said. "Creating new schools is easy politics. It's ribbon-cutting, it's new opportunities. Taking over a school--it's district property, those are union jobs. I was afraid he would put in a lot of effort and not succeed. Or he'd get the conversion done and the difficulty of running the school would overwhelm him. And if he did a bad job it would be a black mark for everyone."

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« Reply #26 on: May 27, 2009, 11:06:10 AM »

A tall girl, her hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail, reached up to tape a bright hand-painted poster ("Valentines Day Candygrams") above a row of lockers.

"You're showing your butt crack," a boy walking by said.

"So? Everyone has one."

"I don't."

"Idiot." She rolled her eyes. The boy looked back over his shoulder and grinned.

Locke's hallways are now filled with these handmade signs--for dances, tryouts, movie nights, college tours. They used to be banned; kids would vandalize them. Instead, there was graffiti. "Everywhere you walked," Shannan Burrell, a junior, said. "About six out of ten, it was gang tags."

Shannan is curvy and baby-faced, with rosy brown skin. Her hair was in a bright-purple wrap. She lived nearby, with her mother, in a yellow house, close enough to walk to school in the morning (keeping quiet, looking straight ahead) but outside Locke's immediate neighborhood, which was a good thing. "It's dirty," she said. "Gangbangers out 24/7." She wears a necklace that spells out the name "Jerome" in curling, glittering script. He was her best friend, before he was shot and killed around the corner, when she was in ninth grade. "It was random," she said softly. "He was a schoolboy, for real."

When she entered Locke, three years ago, she liked it. "It was fun--wandering around the halls, around the campus," she said. "Just wilding out." She'd drop into classroom after classroom, looking for friends. "Like 'Come outside real quick,' " she said, laughing. "Quick" usually meant for the rest of class. "And we wouldn't just go to our lunch--we'd go to all of them," she said. "Why are we going to go to class if nobody ever says nothing?" But in her sophomore year she started getting in fights. "I felt like, at Locke, you have to earn your reputation," she explained. "And I earned mine, after like my third fight. But then, after that, it seemed like girls wanted to challenge me. So it got worse." She fought once or twice a week. Her grades were terrible.

She was eating with the football players, in the shade of the quad's only tree, when the riot began. Suddenly, everyone around her was fighting. A boy she'd never seen before punched her. "I wanted to cry, bad," she said. "But it ain't inside me to cry." Instead, she fought back. A few weeks later, she left her mother's house and moved in with her adult sister, about an hour away. But in the fall she decided to go back to Locke. She'd heard that there were going to be changes.

Old-timers and union loyalists who left Locke after the takeover insisted that Green Dot would find a way to weed out problem kids. Others, such as Cubias, worried that uniforms and the promise of tougher discipline would simply keep bad kids away. But teachers and administrators went out into the neighborhood to visit hundreds of parents and students and encourage them to reënroll. Eighty-five per cent of Locke students returned. (In a normal year, only seventy per cent would come back from summer break.) That meant hundreds more than either Green Dot or the city had projected.

"When I got to school, I was laughing at everyone else--I was, like, 'Ha, you got on a uniform,' " Shannan said. "They're, like, 'Ha, you got on a uniform, too!' " Green Dot split the incoming ninth grade into five new small schools, like the schools around Jefferson. Three of them ended up in buildings off campus; the other two were in Locke's prefabricated units, walled off by tall black fences. Then they split the upper three grades into two academies, one for each wing of Locke's original building. Each school had its own bell schedule, its own lunch period, its own entrance, and its own color polo shirt. Shannan drew white.

Locke's teachers were all dismissed and asked to reapply. Only about thirty per cent got their jobs back. Shannan's English teacher, Mr. Sully, was one of them. "He just, he a nice teacher," she said. "He keep you on your toes. If you ain't doing something, he'll make you do something." Dozens of kids told me this--that teachers make them do stuff now, whether they want to or not. Almost immediately, Shannan stopped ditching. For one thing, she couldn't get away with it anymore. ("They don't play," she said.) She stopped fighting, too.

Sully passed a new novel out to Shannan's class--"a book called 'The Bluest Eye,' " Shannan said. She was unimpressed with the cover and the first page. "I was like, 'Mr. Sully, this book about to be stooopid.' And he said, 'What did I say?' And I said, 'O.K., I won't use "stupid," but this book is about to be not interesting.' He sat me down and had a strong conversation with me." She agreed to give it a few pages. Then the character Claudia, a fighter, made her first appearance. "I hear her talk about beating up a girl name Rosemary, a little white girl. I was like, 'Oh, I'm going to read this!' " She giggled. "It's turned out to be a good book," she said. "That's the funny thing."

"There is no secret curriculum-and-instruction sauce at Green Dot at all," Don Shalvey said. "Steve hires good people. They're just doing old-school schooling."

Shannan doesn't like every class. Physics, she said, is boring. So is a test-preparation and college-readiness class, mandatory for most Green Dot students. But she tries to do the work now. When I asked her why, she thought about it for a long time. "Honestly, it didn't matter how you did before," she said. "Wasn't nobody really looking at Locke kids"--meaning to go to college. That's not true, of course, but it felt true to Shannan. "Now, if I make a bad grade, I'm like, 'Please, can I make it up?' "

There are problems that Green Dot can't fix on its own, however. According to Cubias, at least forty per cent of Locke's students come from single-parent households. "Another fifteen per cent are in foster care," he said. Green Dot requires parents to get involved at school, a minimum of thirty-five hours a year, but they can't make every parent a good influence. (Recently, after a girl tangled with a classmate, an assistant principal called the girl's mother, and when the woman showed up she started screaming at the other student.) Security can stop neighborhood gangs from tagging the halls or hoisting couches up to Locke's roof, which was a hangout last year, but they can't keep gangs out of kids' lives.
I made plans to attend classes with Shannan the next day, but when I arrived at her first-period class, English with Mr. Sully, she wasn't there. I called her house after school. The phone line was dead. (Her mother, a quiet, serious woman, has been out of work for at least two years. Her father has been in jail since around the time Shannan was a toddler.) When we finally talked, her voice was so flat that I didn't recognize it.

"I'm not going to be in school this week," she said. "I have to take care of family business."

"Did someone get hurt?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Was it a car accident or something?"

"Much worse," she said. "It's not something I want to talk about." Several days passed before she returned to classes.

There remain problems to address inside Locke, too. Fall semester was difficult. "We made so many mistakes," Cubias said. September was almost wholly devoted to coping with the crush of unexpected students. Administrators struggled to find good teachers who were still on the job market. Clubs and activities suffered. "It's hard to see incremental changes," a new principal, Veronica Coleman, said. "That turned into some low-level frustration for both students and teachers."

Sully told me that Locke is significantly calmer, and administrators are more present. And Green Dot got rid of the teachers who did little for students. But the takeover also chased away some good, experienced staff. Locke's overwhelmingly new and mostly young faculty members are learning how to work together. Sully still has problems with chronic truancy. He still sees kids out of uniform. And when Locke's test scores, their first since the takeover, come back this fall they are almost certain to be the lowest among Barr's schools. Sully guesses that the school might see a small bounce, but anything more than that would surprise him. Kids in Locke's upper grades have spent as many as three years in one of the city's worst academic environments. And, for the first time at a Green Dot school, there is no lottery process for admission. There is no waiting list. Locke is serving every kid in the neighborhood, including ones whose parents, in another neighborhood, would never research alternatives to the big traditional school. "Every child who is in his other schools is there because they have an advocate," Cortines said. "Not so at Locke. They took the whole population."

Even security remains a challenge. Green Dot blanketed the schoolyard with guards from a private security firm, club-bouncer burly, carrying handguns and pepper spray. Gangs have nowhere near the profile they once did, and fights, once a daily occurrence, are rare. Still, in mid-April, a student was shot, across the street, just before first period. And guards have occasionally displayed a heavy hand. Twice this year, they pepper-sprayed students; in both cases, Cubias said, they should have been able to cool the kids down before it came to that, but they were trained to secure facilities, not to supervise adolescents.

Yet, when I wandered around campus during lunch periods and between classes, looking for disgruntled kids, I never found any.

"The whole atmosphere is different," a Latino boy, sketching graffiti in a notebook, said. "The teachers pay more attention to you."

"You actually get through the lessons you're supposed to get through," Jamie, an African-American girl with straightened swept-back hair, said, as she picked at French fries with her friend Andrea.

"I noticed that, too," Andrea said.

"Last year, my grades got so bad--I got four D's! My will to get good grades improved," Jamie said.

"Will Locke be perfect?" Cortines asked. "I don't care. If they make mistakes, they'll find a way to do things differently. What we do in regular schools is keep doing the same thing, even if it doesn't work."

***

Barr is always talking about "the tribes." Union leaders and reformers, in his view, spend too much time fighting one another instead of finding common interests. Charter groups and unions agree on limiting central bureaucracy, giving teachers fewer students and more freedom, and concentrating funds in the classroom, but they mostly go at each other over tenure and the right to unionize. Ultimately, Barr's project isn't about fixing one broken school; he thinks he can resolve that impasse. His grander ambitions, as much as Green Dot's experience in Watts, are what brought him to Arne Duncan's office in March.

Duncan asked Barr what it would take to break up and remake thousands of large failing schools. "One, you have to reconstitute," Barr told him--that is, fire everyone and make them reapply or transfer elsewhere in the district. "Arne didn't seem to flinch at that," he said. "Second, if we can figure out a national union partnership, we can take away some of the opposition." Duncan asked Barr if he could persuade Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, to support the idea. "I'd love to do that," she told Barr, but she also expressed concerns. "She said, 'I can't be seen as coming in and firing all these teachers.' " So they talked about alternatives, like transferring teachers or using stimulus money for buyouts.

Cortines has also agreed in principle to a partnership in Los Angeles. "We'll find out very quickly what he thinks a partnership is," Barr said. "I think a partnership is Locke, period." Federal money, Barr noted, and an alliance with the national union "will force Mr. Duffy"--the U.T.L.A. president--"to come along." Green Dot could take over as many as five Los Angeles schools in 2010, and maybe more.

This month, Barr expects to meet again with Weingarten and her staff and outline plans for a Green Dot America, a national school-turnaround partnership between Green Dot and the A.F.T. Their first city would most likely be Washington, D.C. "If we're successful there, we'll get the attention of a lot of lawmakers," Barr said.

There are risks for Barr in this kind of expansion. It will be months, and maybe years, before there's hard evidence about what Green Dot has accomplished at Locke. And that one takeover put a real strain on the organization. "If they were to take over another high school in Los Angeles, they could handle that," Steve Seleznow, the deputy director of education for the Gates Foundation, said. "I'm not sure they have the capacity to do five at once." Then he paused. "I'm sure Steve has the appetite for it," he added, and laughed. Barr's impatience and his willingness to overextend himself are a bigger part of Green Dot's institutional culture than any theory of education.

In the meantime, Barr and his supporters continue to campaign. On a recent morning, outside 135th Street Elementary School, in Gardena, near Watts, a gregarious woman with a streak of gray through her black curls, wearing a Los Angeles Parents Union sweatshirt, passed a sheet of paper to a young Latino man in a Sears Appliance Repair jacket. He was accompanied by two little girls with matching Hannah Montana backpacks. "Would you like to sign a petition to transform Perry Middle School and Gardena High School?" she asked. She waved down a car that showed no sign of stopping, and bent over at the window when it did. "Do you have time to sign my petition to transform Perry Middle School and Gardena High School?" she asked. Immediately, the driver pulled over. Organizers are now in many neighborhoods, targeting elementary schools, telling parents that they have time to blow up and rebuild their middle schools and high schools before their kids enroll.

Everyone signed up. It's like that whenever she goes out. "People know something is wrong," she told me. "But they think it's their kids. Or it's their neighborhood. Or it's because they're poor. If we have to, we'll build a whole bunch of little charters around the school and take the students," the woman said, loud enough for half the block to hear. "We're going to get the change one way or another."

http://www.newamerica.net/publications/articles/2009/instigator_13230
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« Reply #27 on: May 31, 2009, 12:50:11 PM »

May 31, 2009
Oppression Liberators Need not Apply

George Joyce
This is a job announcement from the website of one of America’s top inner-city public charter schools located in Oakland, California (no kidding):

“AIPCS is always in search of teachers and staff who are smart, ambitious, and
motivated to teach inner-city youth. We are looking for hard working people who
believe in free market capitalism to join our family at AIPCS.

“AIPCS believes in setting a high standard for ALL students regardless of race, ethnicity, language, economic standing, etc.”

“Multi-cultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots, and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply.”

“If you believe ‘hard work’ is the key to academic success for minority students, poor students, and all other students, we encourage you to submit the following documents by fax or email.”

Let me get this straight.  An inner-city public charter school job announcement specifically discriminates against the following applicants: socialists, multiculturalists, “ultra liberal zealots, and college-tainted oppression liberators.” 

Takes your breath away doesn’t it?  In a time when white conservatives have been viciously abused for merely thinking along these lines, the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland openly and courageously protects its young students from America’s mostly harmful liberal educrats.  The result is a flourishing academic environment that produces some of California’s top scores and manages to send its students to places like MIT and Cornell.

Although AIPCS started out in the late 90’s with a multicultural and Native American motif its lagging performance changed when the school was taken over in 2000 by Ben Chavis, a Lumbee Indian who tossed out the “basket weaving” in his words and decided to go traditional.  In a recent Los Angeles Times story, Chavis demonstrates little patience for teachers who make the classroom an ideological bully pulpit instead of a place where the kids come first:

"You think the Jews and the Chinese are dumb enough to ask the public school to teach them their culture?"

Chavis, in other words, has exposed a nasty little secret the liberal educrats would like to keep well-hidden.  Here it is: compassionate teachers are those who are hard on their students and who train the kids to be independent and successful.  Selfish teachers are those who arrest the development of young minds by using the classroom to affirm their own political beliefs.  In short, one group thinks about others and the other group thinks about power.

Thomas Hobbes, in his great work Leviathan, once explored in chilling detail the relationship between self-interest and what some might claim is “compassion.”  In the Age of Obama, it might behoove Americans of all colors to think about the two sides of this very volatile and often destructive coin.

Hat Tip: lucianne.com


Page Printed from: http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2009/05/oppression_liberators_need_not.html at May 31, 2009 - 01:47:41 PM EDT
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« Reply #28 on: May 31, 2009, 01:12:21 PM »

BbyG is right; it is an excellent article in this morning's LA Times.  Here is a link to the entire article:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-charter31-2009may31,0,7064053.story
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« Reply #29 on: June 04, 2009, 10:03:15 AM »

Saving Milwaukee’s Best
By the Editors

Milwaukee is home to America’s most vibrant school-choice program: More than 20,000 students participate, almost all of them minorities. They have made academic gains and boast higher graduation rates than their peers in public schools. They even save money for taxpayers. Inevitably, Democrats in the state capital are trying to eviscerate the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

They’ve wanted to gut school choice for years, at the behest of teacher-union patrons who believe education should be a government monopoly. Until recently, Republicans have stood in the way. That changed following last year’s elections. Now, for the first time since the advent of school choice in Milwaukee two decades ago, Madison is a one-party capital. The governor, Jim Doyle, is a Democrat. Members of his party control both the state assembly and the state senate. School choice is in their crosshairs.

Last week, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved a series of auditing, accrediting, and instructional requirements that will force successful voucher schools to shift resources away from classrooms and into administration. Several schools will have to comply with new bilingual-education mandates, even though many immigrant parents choose those schools precisely because they emphasize the rapid acquisition of English instead of native-language maintenance.

Lawmakers also propose to strip funding for school choice. With the value of each voucher reduced, private schools will see their payments fall. Meanwhile, public schools will watch their budgets increase by hundreds of dollars per student. This is on top of what is already a startling financial asymmetry: Taxpayers currently hand over $13,468 per student to Milwaukee Public Schools, compared to just $6,607 per student in the school-choice program. In 2008 alone, school choice saved the public almost $32 million, according to Robert M. Costrel of the University of Arkansas. Since 1994, the figure is $180 million. The savings would be even larger if more students used vouchers.

At the National Press Club last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he opposed school choice: “Let me explain why. Vouchers usually serve 1 to 2 percent of the children in a community.  . . .  But I don’t want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98, 99 percent down.” It was a bizarre statement: Why not simply let more than 1 or 2 percent enjoy the benefits of school choice? In Milwaukee, they actually do. It’s the largest urban school-choice program in the country, dwarfing the size of the one in Washington, D.C., whose de-funding by congressional Democrats has drawn so much criticism. Roughly one in five of Milwaukee’s school-age children receive vouchers. All of them must fall below an income threshold. Researchers say that the program is beginning to show systemic effects. In other words, it doesn’t merely help its participants. It also gives a lift to non-voucher students because the pressure of competition has forced public schools to improve.

Sometimes onerous regulations are at least well-intentioned blunders. Not these. The enemies of school choice in Madison know exactly what they’re doing. In the name of “accountability,” they attack the quality of voucher schools with deadly precision. The goal is to make them as mediocre as the public schools they routinely outperform — and to leave parents, once again, without a choice.

National Review Online - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MWI0Y2ZiNGEzMzU0MGVhMDBjNzZhYTc1OTA3NGEwZGU=
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« Reply #30 on: June 05, 2009, 03:23:31 PM »

We Don't Need No Education

Obama wants to make college grants into an entitlement. Bad idea.

Michael C. Moynihan | June 5, 2009

Ask random members of the professoriate at my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and many will confide that too many people—not too few, as recently suggested by President Barack Obama—are attending college these days. This opinion is impolite and impolitic (perhaps, in the context of the American university, we should say "un-PC"). But years of furtive conversation with academics suggest it is commonly held. And one can see why. To the professor with expertise in Austro-Hungarian history, for instance, it is unclear why his survey course on the casus foederis of World War I is a necessary stop in a management-level job training program at Hertz.

This is not to say that some Americans should be discouraged from participating in a liberal arts education. As the social scientist Charles Murray writes in his book Real Education, "Saying 'too many people are going to college' is not the same as saying that the average student does not need to know about history, science, and great works of art, music, and literature. They do need to know—and to know more than they are currently learning. So let's teach it to them, but let's not wait for college to do it."

Take this bullet point, proudly included in a November 2008 press release from the Boston public school system: "Of the [Boston public school] graduates from the Class of 2000 who enrolled in college (1,904), 35.5 percent (675 students) earned a degree within seven years of high school graduation. An additional 14 percent (267 students) were still enrolled and working toward a degree." In a news conference celebrating these dismal numbers, Mayor Tom Menino called for a "100 percent increase" in the number of city students attending college, though offered no suggestions on how to ensure that those students actually graduate or are properly prepared to handle undergraduate studies. Besides, if 14 percent of those enrolled are still ambling towards a degree after eight years, is Menino convinced that the pursuit of a university education was the right decision for these students, rather than, say, vocational training?

Alas, these numbers are not uncommon. (They're often worse in other major American cities.) Citing a recent study by two education experts at Harvard University, former Secretary of Education Margret Spellings sighed, "The report shows that two-thirds of our nation's students leave high school unprepared to even apply to a four-year college." Nevertheless, a huge number of these students are matriculating to four-year universities, incurring mountains of debt, and never finishing their degrees.

The devalued undergraduate degree is one thing when the people doing the devaluing have privately financed their education. It is quite another when the federal government foots the bill. While America debates the merits of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the nationalization of General Motors, and how to fix a broken health care system, the Obama administration has been quietly planning a massive expansion of the Pell Grant program, "making it an entitlement akin to Medicare and Social Security." Read that sentence again. As we spiral deeper into recession and debt, our dear leaders in Washington are considering the creation of a massive entitlement akin to the expensive, inefficient, and failing Medicare and Social Security programs.

According to a report in The Washington Post, Obama's proposals "could transform the financial aid landscape for millions of students while expanding federal authority to a degree that even Democrats concede is controversial." It is a plan that has met with outspoken—though likely toothless—resistance from Republicans. Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, suggested that the president reform existing entitlements before creating new ones. And, as noted in the Post, Obama is facing resistance from his own side of the aisle as well, with Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) expressing skepticism towards both the price tag and the necessity of such an expansion.

Beyond the massive cost of expanded Pell Grants, Ohio University economist Richard Vedder argues that, historically, "it is hard to demonstrate that enhanced federal assistance has either significantly expanded college participation or brought about much greater access to higher education by those who are financially disadvantaged." If the idea is expanded into an entitlement, Vedder sees rising demand for higher education leading to significantly higher costs. "When someone else is paying the bills, costs always rise."

With more than 40 percent of students who enter college dropping out before graduation, Vedder's suggestion that "a greater percentage of entering college students should be attending community colleges, moving up to four year universities only if they succeed well at the community college level," seems sound. But the idea pushed by President Obama that, regardless of a student's career aspirations, secondary education is a necessity in 21st century America, ensures that an undergraduate education will become a required (very expensive) extension of every high school diploma.

To the average high school senior, the American university has become an institution that one simply must slog through to reach a higher salary. As one college dropout recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I am determined to finish my degree. A high school job isn't cutting it these days." The former student, the reader is told, simply wants "to do something else with her life," though it is unclear just what that something else is. Perhaps she'll figure that out after getting the degree.

As Charles Murray observed in The Wall Street Journal, "Our obsession with the BA has created a two-tiered entry to adulthood, anointing some for admission to the club and labeling the rest as second-best." But not to worry. If Obama's plan for a secondary education entitlement is foisted upon us—the final cost of which remains anyone's guess—we might soon have a one-tiered system where everyone is second-best.

Michael C. Moynihan is a senior editor of Reason.

http://www.reason.com/news/show/133973.html
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« Reply #31 on: June 06, 2009, 08:08:44 AM »

Well said.
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« Reply #32 on: June 26, 2009, 09:09:21 AM »

I Have to Admit, I Was Wrong

Posted by Andrew J. Coulson

I’ve just discovered that my calculation of DC education spending per pupil was wrong, and I have to publish a correction.

I wrote back in March that total DC k-12 spending, excluding charter schools, was $1,291,815,886 during the 2008-09 school year. That still appears to be correct. But to get the per-pupil number I divided total spending by the then-official enrollment count: 48,646. It now turns out that that number was rubbish. PRI’s Vicki Murray just pointed me to this recent DCPS press release that identifies a new audited enrollment number for the same school year:  44,681 students.

If that number excludes the 2,400 special education students that the District has placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $27,400.

If the new audited enrollment number does include the students placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $28,900.

Hmm. Let me think. What was that average tuition figure at the private schools serving DC voucher students….? Oh yes:  $6,600, according to the federal Department of Education.

In case you don’t know, that’s the program in which, after three years, voucher-receiving kids are reading two grade levels ahead of their public school peers — also according to the Dep’t. of Education (see the linked study, above).

It is also the program that President Obama has doomed to die, because of the, uh…, because, um…, why did he do that again?!?!

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/06/26/i-have-to-admit-i-was-wrong/
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« Reply #33 on: June 26, 2009, 01:26:11 PM »

Taxpayers pay about 30k per student for a terrible education.  An alternative is proven far better at roughly 1/5 the cost.  And we can't win this argument??!!

Figuring an average class size of 25, we are using up taxpayer money at the rate of about $725,000 per classroom.  We should be able to get a good union teacher for that.  Can't really see any room for waste or abuse (sarc.)...  sad
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« Reply #34 on: June 26, 2009, 01:40:55 PM »

Deep thought inspired somewhere in my readings the past couple of days - maybe it was here.

Obama and the leftist machine contend that healthcare would be better if we spent less.  Let's apply same principle to education!
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« Reply #35 on: July 15, 2009, 06:50:46 AM »

By STEPHANIE SIMON
The fight over school curriculum in Texas, recently focused on biology, has entered a new arena, with a brewing debate over how much faith belongs in American history classrooms.

The Texas Board of Education, which recently approved new science standards that made room for creationist critiques of evolution, is revising the state's social studies curriculum. In early recommendations from outside experts appointed by the board, a divide has opened over how central religious theology should be to the teaching of history.

Three reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

 
Associated Press
 
Don McLeroy, a member of the Texas State Board of Education.
"We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it," said Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister and one of the reviewers appointed by the conservative camp.

Three other reviewers, all selected by politically moderate or liberal members of the board, recommended less-sweeping changes to the existing curriculum. But one suggested including more diverse role models, especially Latinos, in teaching materials. "We have tended to exclude or marginalize the role of Hispanic and Native American participants in the state's history," said Jesús F. de la Teja, chairman of the history department at Texas State University.

Social studies teachers from Texas are meeting this summer to write new standards. They can accept, reject or modify the six reviewers' suggestions, all of which were made individually. The teachers' recommendations are sent to the 15-member board of education, a conservative-dominated body that has authority to revise standards.

The three reviewers appointed by the moderate and liberal board members are all professors of history or education at Texas universities, including Mr. de la Teja, a former state historian. The reviewers appointed by conservatives include two who run conservative Christian organizations: David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, a group that promotes America's Christian heritage; and Rev. Marshall, who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God's judgments on the nation's sexual immorality. The third is Daniel Dreisbach, a professor of public affairs at American University.

Discuss
Have there been any curricula debates in your communities? Have you ever looked at your children's history texts? Discuss the issues with other readers in WSJ's Juggle blog.
The conservative reviewers say they believe that children must learn that America's founding principles are biblical. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man's fall and inherent sinfulness, or "radical depravity," which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances.

The curriculum, they say, should clearly present Christianity as an overall force for good -- and a key reason for American exceptionalism, the notion that the country stands above and apart.

"America is a special place and we need to be sure we communicate that to our children," said Don McLeroy, a leading conservative on the board. "The foundational principles of our country are very biblical.... That needs to come out in the textbooks."

But the emphasis on Christianity as a driving force is disputed by some historians, who focus on the economic motivation of many colonists and the fractured views of religion among the Founding Fathers. "There appears to me too much politics in some of this," said Lybeth Hodges, a professor of history at Texas Woman's University and another of the curriculum reviewers.

Some outside observers argue that curriculum analysts should be trained academics. "It's important to have trained historians establishing the framework," said David Vigilante, associate director of the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The conservative Christian reviewers, in turn, are skeptical of the professional historians' emphasis on multiculturalism, views stated most forcefully by Mr. de la Teja but echoed by Ms. Hodges. Reaching for examples of achievement by different racial and ethnic groups is divisive, Mr. Barton said, and distorts history.

The standards that the school board eventually settles on won't dictate day-to-day lesson plans; that is up to individual teachers. But they will offer clear guidelines for educators -- and also for publishers.

Nearly every state has its own curriculum standards, and there are scores of social studies texts to choose from at most grade levels, so what happens in Texas won't necessarily affect other states. But the Texas market is huge, so most big publishers aggressively seek approval from the board, in some cases adopting the majority's editing suggestions nearly verbatim.

While the battle in Texas is just heating up, the tug-of-war over how to present history dates back nearly 150 years, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a New York University professor of education. A single paragraph in a third-grade text might seem insignificant. But it is a powerful symbol, he said, "because schools remain the most important venue for teaching our kids who we are."
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G M
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« Reply #36 on: July 25, 2009, 10:51:44 PM »

http://hotair.com/archives/2009/07/25/video-why-california-really-really-needs-race-to-the-top-funds/

Liberals are smart.
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #37 on: July 28, 2009, 12:11:32 PM »

Mission Not to Accomplish
July 28, 2009
By Michael Rizzo
In his first State of the Union Address, President Obama boldly asked for every American to commit to obtaining an additional year of higher education or training. He also set a goal that by 2020, “America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” There are two problems with this education plan. First, we have already achieved it. Second, even if we were not already the world leader in higher education attainment, it is far from clear that we would want to be.
 
OECD data seem to indicate that the U.S. no longer is the world leader in the share of its population obtaining a college degree (trailing Canada and Japan). However, at 29.4 percent, the percentage of Americans aged 25 or older with a college degree has never been higher (this trend holds for blacks and Hispanics, albeit at lower levels). Twenty years ago the share was below 20 percent – so our increase during that time has been nearly 50 percent. The U.S. is making substantial progress in educating its population at the postsecondary level. What is the problem?

Apparently, other countries are making progress at an even faster rate. U.S. improvement was only 15th best among 22 advanced countries whose group average increase was 75 percent since 1985, including Portugal, Austria, Spain, Korea, Italy, and Ireland – which have each doubled their college attainment rates. For a variety of reasons the OECD data report higher educational attainment than data from other sources. Economists Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee have extensively studied cross-country data, made adjustments for attainment by age and differences in the higher education systems across countries, and have found that the college attainment rate in the United States was over 50 percent larger than in the next most educated country, Korea. One reason for such dramatic differences is that the over-65 population in the U.S. is far more accomplished than their counterparts across the world – the OECD data look only at the 25-64 year old cohort.

Country   2000 College Attainment Rate   1985-2000 growth
US    30.3%    49%
Korea    19.1%    120%
Australia    16.9%    36%
Belgium    16.0%    84%
New Zealand    16.0%    37%
Japan    15.0%    50%
Canada    14.3%    39%
Finland    13.4%    68%
Greece    13.1%    58%
Sweden    13.1%    36%
Netherlands    12.5%    60%
Denmark    12.2%    16%
Germany (since 1990)    11.0%    41%
Ireland    11.0%    100%
Norway    11.0%    83%
UK    10.8%    50%
France    9.4%    74%
Spain    9.2%    130%
Switzerland    9.1%    36%
Austria    8.6%    169%
Italy    8.3%    118%
Portugal    6.0%    186%
Source: Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee and author’s calculations   
Education in a Vacuum

Discussions about attainment statistics typically proceed under the inauspicious assumption that they are relevant. Rarely mentioned are reasons why such goals are important, and whether securing more higher education in particular is the best way (or even a good way) to achieve certain goals.

Is the president’s goal to increase the output and productivity of the American economy beyond what it would otherwise be? If so, then expanding the pool of graduates might do the trick if the number of Americans receiving a college diploma was the sole causal factor in determining economic growth. Alas, it is not. Education is but one of many ingredients in a mysterious growth recipe. Producing valuable goods and services requires the “right” mix of physical capital, labor skills, technological advances, institutions (such as secure property rights, the rule of law, customs and mores that promote trust, and so forth) and more than a sprinkle of luck. This mix differs across countries and over time and the recipe is wholly unknowable to any individual or group of individuals – in fact there is no recipe to follow. Every professional and lay social scientist to ever walk the face of the earth has gone to his grave trying to solve the mystery of growth – I do not expect any in our generation to enjoy a better fate.

More education has to be a good thing. After all, receiving more schooling can’t make you less productive, right? Education is like exercise, reading, spending time with one’s children, and sleeping – each of these is good for you. It is obvious that dedicating more attention to each of these is good. It is obvious … and wrong – for both individuals and societies as a whole.

While investing in each of these likely generates enormous benefits when starting from scratch, at some point each additional unit invested generates fewer benefits than the one before it – just as eating that fourth doughnut brings you less satisfaction than did the second. What if these so-called “diminishing returns” never set in for education? In a world of scarce time and resources, they must, albeit indirectly. Dedicating more resources to the production of educated workers must come at the expense of resources dedicated to creating other important capital goods, institutions, or consumption goods. An individual cannot dedicate 24 hours in a day to everything, nor can society dedicate all of its resources to everything. Put another way, if merely leading the world in educational attainment is desirable, why not aim to have every American receive a college degree? Better yet, why not aim to have every American earn a Ph.D.?

Is Education Necessary?

Leaving aside the possibility that higher education serves only a signaling function there is still room to ask the question: is education a necessary condition for economic achievement? A good deal of economic evidence points to a strong positive relationship across countries between educational attainment and economic growth. Given the small sample sizes involved in these studies and the difficulty of controlling all the factors influencing growth I would not stake much money defending these findings. To illustrate just one difficulty, were you to collect data on the time people spent on Facebook I am sure it would show up as a strong positive in growth estimations.

There are notable exceptions to the received wisdom. Several African countries made commitments to education since 1970 that were comparable to the countries with successful growth stories from that time, with no considerable economic growth to speak of. Hong Kong became one of the wealthiest regions in the world before it began any substantial investments in education. Within the United States there is a surprisingly small correlation between “economically dynamic states” and the level of educational attainment. In fact, the rank order correlation between how dynamic the state’s economy is and its share of bachelors degrees is only 0.34. While clearly some of the most dynamic states such as Massachusetts and California have terrific educational systems, other dynamic states such as Oklahoma, while short on college graduates, use some of the other “ingredients” mentioned above to promote their development. To be clear, I am not arguing that education is not important. What this does show is that neither is it a guarantee of success, nor lack of it a guarantee of failure.

Education and Human Capital

Education qua education is not a bad thing. It is nonetheless a mistake to conflate formal education with accumulating relevant human capital – the bundle of skills, experience, discipline, etc. required for an individual to produce things of value (broadly considered).

Colleges indeed develop social skills, help individuals identify with peers, and inculcate productive behavior – particularly important for students that did not grow up in an environment conducive to these habits. However, college also contains a considerable consumption component (this is no longer the exclusive domain of elite four-year colleges), and as information technology continues to advance at a breathtaking pace, so too does the opportunity for individuals to acquire important human capital outside of the academy. Despite the dizzying array of colleges, the forgoing factors might give one pause before urging the masses of Americans to attend college as the best way for them to accumulate human capital. These same factors are making it increasingly likely that the super-talented will eschew such formal training in favor of more customized real-life education.

Suppose that education is synonymous with human capital accumulation. Focusing on average educational attainment still makes the erroneous assumption that a year of additional education to every citizen increases the stock of human capital the same for each citizen, and also overlooks the possibility that changes in the quality of different levels of educational attainment may be more or less valuable investments than sending more people to college. For example, improving the stock of useful knowledge might be better accomplished by encouraging existing college graduates to obtain advanced degrees, with no change in high school graduate behavior. Alternatively, it might mean the same aggregate level of college completions, but changing who goes to college and who does not. It would be a wondrous coincidence if having lots of Americans complete four years of formal higher education was the appropriate way to increase the stock of human capital in America.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

There are practical obstacles to reaching the president’s goal. Despite the measured and well publicized benefits of going to college, one-third of high-school graduates never attend, and roughly 50 percent of those that do attend actually remain until completion. To those of us who have taught large introductory courses (even in highly ranked universities) these figures are unsurprising. Aside from the considerable difficulty many of my students have writing, a number of them have basic vocabulary difficulties – as words such as scrutiny, anomaly, ascertain, isolate and mitigate continue to vex them.

It is a mathematical fact that as we expand college enrollments beyond what they are today, the average quality of students will go down. And while evidence is very strong that the current returns to receiving a college degree are quite large, increasing the supply of college-educated labor (everything else constant) puts downward pressure on these returns. Are political leaders and the educational establishment prepared for this, particularly if these trends -- by significantly increasing the enrollment of poorly prepared students at non-elite colleges -- increase the advantages of attending a prestigious college?

As enrollments increase, so too will financial pressures at most colleges. Student demand has recently surged in the U.S. and despite the fact that real state expenditures have been increasing at healthy clips over that time, per student expenditures have not kept pace. Proposals on the table to expand educational attainment include refundable tax credits and an expansion of Pell Grants – but these present a problem for many state colleges and universities in the form of an unfunded type of mandate. While they may help students afford college attendance, tuition and fees reflect only a small portion of the total cost of educating students at even the lowest cost colleges. Institutions with little excess capacity may find themselves in an increasingly difficult financial position particularly if they face political pressure to keep tuition low. Such supply issues are commonly overlooked in proposals that focus on expanding access on the demand side.

Skinning the Cat

The U.S. is already the world leader in its financial commitment to higher education – dedicating almost three percent of GDP to the sector (a share that has been rising, not falling, over time). Spending more might make sense, but rarely in these discussions does one encounter the question, “At what cost?” Does it make sense to sacrifice more and better carpenters or professional baseball players just to lead the world in college completions? Perhaps I am overplaying that hand. But there are many ways for individuals and societies to improve their human capital and productivity without relying on political forces to put more people through college.

Migration is one of the most powerful ways for an individual to augment human capital. International immigration vividly demonstrates this – a poor person living on $2 per day who migrates to the United States to accept a minimum wage job would experience a 20-fold increase in living standards just by moving here. Migration within the United States from areas with low-capital and low-productivity toward areas with more capital and higher productivity will have a similar effect. If the U.S. wishes to raise its average education levels, it would be far cheaper to simply encourage more immigration of educated workers from abroad. While such a move would undoubtedly alleviate some of America’s Social Security and Medicare problems, its low savings “problem” and its inner-city problems, it is a political non-starter.

Incidentally, that the rest of the world is “catching up” to the U.S. in educational attainment is cause for celebration, not alarm. For American consumers (we are all among them) this will mean access to innumerable new medicines, literature, advanced materials, etc. no less than if Americans were creating them. As the world grows wealthier and more connected, the market for American sourced goods and services is dramatically extended, as is the number of ideas for Americans to capitalize on – expanding opportunities for Americans without a formal education. Japanese auto-maker Toyota, for example, plans on producing its hybrid Prius here in the United States. Is this reason to worry about Japanese educational attainment surpassing ours?

Michael Rizzo is a lecturer in economics at the University of Rochester. He notes: “At the risk of being accused of taking away the party punch bowl, readers should know that I stand to benefit a great deal if more Americans partook in the college experience since I teach large numbers of introductory and intermediate economics students for a living.”

http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2009/07/28/rizzo
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DougMacG
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« Reply #38 on: September 08, 2009, 06:53:35 PM »

I didn't watch the speech but the word is that it generally positive and motivational.  Congrats to our district and principal for their decision to not interrupt the day with it.

This could go under glibness, but we won't see the same speech to adults in America tellinig them they can all make a valuable contribution etc. instead of telling them the rich could pay more and then we would have more money to spend on them...

From the speech: "I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. "

  -  Which means fighting selfish Republicans to get bigger funding increases and greater federal government control over your local schools.

To any smug liberals out there:  Since education is not a federal power, YES, I find that political and offensive.

If he was doing everything he could for the worst districts instead of for the teachers' unions he would support school VOUCHERS, IMHO.
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« Reply #39 on: September 10, 2009, 03:28:21 PM »

School Safety in Washington, D.C.: New Data for the 2007-2008 School Year
by David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D., Don Soifer and Dan Lips
WebMemo #2609
As American students head back to school, many parents will worry about their children's safety at school during the upcoming year.[1] School safety will likely be a top concern of families living in Washington, D.C.

This WebMemo is a summary of a CDA Report by The Heritage Foundation and Lexington Institute that presents an analysis of 911 calls originating from schools in D.C. for the 2007-2008 school year, the most recent full school year for which data were available.

School Safety by the Numbers

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 11.3 percent of D.C. high school students reported being "threatened or injured" with a weapon while on school property during the previous year--a rate well above the national average.[2] A 2009 evaluation published by the U.S. Department of Education reported that 17 percent of the parents of the first cohort of children participating in the program listed school safety as their most important reason for seeking a scholarship.[3]

The CDA Report found:

In D.C. public schools, there were 912 incidences of violent crime, 1,338 incidences of property crimes, and 1,250 other incidences;
In D.C. charter schools, there were 17 incidences of violent crime, 28 incidences of property crimes, and 37 other incidences; and
In D.C. private schools, there were 28 incidences of violent crime, 131 incidences of property crimes, and 73 other incidences.
School Safety in the District of Columbia

To help policymakers and the public understand the issue of school safety in D.C. schools, The Heritage Foundation submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) requesting records of crime incidents in D.C. public, private, and charter schools.[4] The MPD filled this request by providing 911 tape data of calls for crime and emergency incidents at the addresses of D.C. schools. The data presented in this WebMemo are limited to crime-related incidents reported to the MPD during the 2007-2008 school year, excluding the summer months. The figures reflect the level of crime-related incidents reported to the police during all hours of the day and night during the 2007-2008 school year.

Incidents of Crime Reported at Schools

While this data set shows that the police department responded to many fewer calls to charter and private schools, this information should be interpreted with caution, and readers should be careful to understand the differences among public, charter, and private schools when drawing comparisons.[5]

Public Schools. During the 2007-2008 school year, 3,500 incidences of crime were reported to the MPD from D.C. public schools. These incidents occurred during all days and times during the school year.

The 912 violent incidents (1.9 violent incidents per 100 students) included one homicide.[6]
Simple assault, the most prevalent type of violent incident reported, accounted for 648 reports (1.3 per 100 students). In addition, there were 114 aggravated assaults (0.2 per 100 students).
There were 1,338 incidences of property crime reported (2.9 per 100 students).
The most prevalent property incident was theft, of which there were 446 reported incidents (1.0 per 100 students).
There were 1,250 incidents of other crime-related activities, including 461 reported incidents of disorderly conduct (1.0 per 100 students).
The sound of gunshots was reported in 49 incidents.
Public Charter Schools. During the 2009-2010 school year, 82 incidences of crime were reported to 911 from D.C. charter schools. These included:

17 reported violent incidents (0.08 per 100 students), all of which were simple assaults;
28 incidents of property crime (0.1 per 100 students);
21 thefts (0.1 per 100 students), the most prevalent type of property incident;
Three incidents of disorderly conduct (0.01 incidents per 100 students); and
Two reports of gunshots.
Private Schools. During the 2009-2010 school year, 232 incidences of crime were reported to 911 from D.C. private schools. These included:

28 violent incidents (0.16 per 100 students);
14 simple assaults (0.09 per 100 students), which were the majority of the reported violent incidents;
131 incidents of property crime (0.77 incidents per 100 students);
58 thefts (0.35 per 100 students), the most prevalent type of property incident; and
30 incidents of disorderly conduct (0.17 per 100 students).
School Choice and School Safety

One strategy for improving students' ability to attend safe schools is to give families the opportunity to choose which schools their children attend. Since 2004, thousands of low-income children living in the District have attended private school thanks to the federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships worth up to $7,500 for private school tuition to qualifying students.

However, Congress and the Obama Administration have taken several steps that threaten to end the program. For example, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter notifying the families of 216 students who had recently been admitted to the scholarship program that their children would no longer be eligible for scholarships.[7] The department's decision to withdraw these scholarships forced these low-income families to find new schools for their children for the upcoming school year. Many will likely have no choice but to attend the assigned public schools in their neighborhoods.

The Heritage Foundation obtained a list of the 70 public schools to which these students have been assigned since the Department of Education withdrew their Opportunity Scholarships. Overall, these 70 schools for the 2007-2008 school year had many reported incidents of violence and crime.

The MPD received reports of 2,379 crime-related incidents from these schools, including 666 violent incidents (2.7 per 100 students), of which one was a homicide.
Simple and aggravated assault was the most prevalent violent incident, consisting of 555 reported assaults (2.3 per 100 students).
The schools reported 855 property-crime incidents (3.5 per 100 students), including 278 thefts (1.1 incidents per 100 students).
There were also numerous reports of other crime-related incidents, including 306 incidents of disorderly conduct (1.3 per 100 students) and 43 reports of gunshots.
What Policymakers Should Do

The CDA Report supports previous evidence that school crime and violence are problems for many students in the nation's capital. District and federal policymakers should ensure that all children have access to a safe learning environment. Policymakers, school officials, and the MPD should study the best practices of the safest schools and implement the most effective strategies for reducing violence and crime throughout the District.

In addition, Congress and D.C. officials should expand school choice and give more families the power to choose safe and effective schools for their children. For example, Congress and D.C. policymakers should reauthorize and expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. This should include allowing new students to receive scholarships so that more disadvantaged children can attend private schools.

At the same time, the District of Columbia should maintain its strong charter school law, authorize infrastructure and support for charter schools, and encourage the growth of its safest and most successful charters.

David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation. Don Soifer is Executive Vice President of the Lexington Institute. Dan Lips is Senior Policy Analyst in Education in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The Heritage Foundation.


[1]In 2007, a Gallup national survey found that 24 percent of responding parents feared for the safety of their oldest child while at school. See Gallup News Service, "The Divide Between Public School Parents and Private School Parents," September 7, 2007, at http://www.gallup.com/poll/28603/divide-between-public-school-parents-private-school-parents.aspx (August 13, 2009).

[2]U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2008, table 4.2, April 2009, at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/crimeindicators2008/tables/
table_04_2.asp (August 6, 2009).

[3]School safety was the second-most-cited reason after school quality. See Patrick Wolf et al., "Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts after Three Years," U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, March 2009, at http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/2009
4050/pdf/20094050.pdf (August 6, 2009).

[4]For more information, see Shanea Watkins and Dan Lips, "D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Improving Student Safety," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 2437, May 13, 2009, at http://www.heritage.org
/research/education/wm2437.cfm.

[5]First, different policies for handling security may partially explain the varying levels of reported crime by school type. For example, the MPD has responsibility for security for D.C. public schools, while charter schools and private schools in the District of Columbia have different arrangements for the provision of school security, including contracting with private security providers. Second, school administration can influence the level of crime and disorder that occurs in schools. Schools that provide students with understandable rules, accompanied by appropriate rewards and sanctions, appear to have less disorder. Lastly, criminogenic (risk) factors may explain differences in reported incidents of crime at these schools. Charter and private schools may be located in safer neighborhoods than D.C. public schools. In addition, the students enrolled in charter and private schools may have behavioral characteristics that are markedly different from those of students attending public schools.

[6]The single homicide was committed at Moten Elementary School on Wednesday, October 3, 2007. At approximately 9:54 a.m., police were called to the scene after a body was found near the rear of Wilkinson Elementary School, where Moten Elementary School was located. See press release, "Homicide in the Rear of Pomeroy Road, SE," Metropolitan Police Department, October 3, 2007, at http://newsroom.dc.gov/show.aspx/
agency/mpdc/section/2/release/11937/year/2007 (August 12, 2009).

[7]Editorial, "Presumed Dead," The Washington Post, April 11, 2009, p. A12, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/10/AR2009
041003073.html (August 19, 2009).

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/wm2609.cfm
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« Reply #40 on: September 21, 2009, 08:22:32 PM »

THE RUBBER ROOM
The battle over New York City’s worst teachers.
by Steven Brill
AUGUST 31, 2009

One school principal has said that Randi Weingarten, of the teachers’ union,“would protect a dead body in the classroom.”

n a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

“You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it,” says Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago.
Neither the Mayor nor the chancellor is popular in the Rubber Room. “Before Bloomberg and Klein took over, there was no such thing as incompetence,” Brandi Scheiner, standing just under the Manhattan Rubber Room’s “Handle with Care” poster, said recently. Scheiner, who is fifty-six, talks with a raspy Queens accent. Suspended with pay from her job as an elementary-school teacher, she earns more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, and she is, she said, “entitled to every penny of it.” She has been in the Rubber Room for two years. Like most others I encountered there, Scheiner said that she got into teaching because she “loves children.”

“Before Bloomberg and Klein, everyone knew that an incompetent teacher would realize it and leave on their own,” Scheiner said. “There was no need to push anyone out.” Like ninety-seven per cent of all teachers in the pre-Bloomberg days, she was given tenure after her third year of teaching, and then, like ninety-nine per cent of all teachers before 2002, she received a satisfactory rating each year.

“But they brought in some new young principal from their so-called Leadership Academy,” Scheiner said. She was referring to a facility opened by Klein in 2003, where educators and business leaders, such as Jack Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric, hold classes for prospective principals. “This new principal set me up, because I was a whistle-blower,” Scheiner said. “She gave me an unsatisfactory rating two years in a row.Then she trumped up charges against me and sent me to the Rubber Room. So I’m fighting, and waiting it out.”

The United Federation of Teachers, the U.F.T., was founded in 1960. Before that, teachers endured meagre salaries, tyrannical principals, witch hunts for Communists, and gender discrimination against a mostly female workforce (at one point, there was a rule requiring any woman who got pregnant to take a two-year unpaid leave). Drawing its members from a number of smaller and ineffective teachers’ groups, the U.F.T. coalesced into a tough trade union that used strikes and political organizing to fight back. By the time Bloomberg took office, forty-two years later, many education reformers believed that the U.F.T. and its political allies had gained so much clout that it had become impossible for the city’s Board of Education, which already shared a lot of power with local boards, to maintain effective school oversight. In 2002, with the city’s public schools clearly failing, the State Legislature granted control of a new Department of Education to the new mayor, who had become a billionaire by building an immense media company, Bloomberg L.P., that is renowned for firing employees at will and not giving contracts even to senior executives.

Bloomberg quickly hired Klein, who, as an Assistant Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, was the lead prosecutor in a major antitrust case against Microsoft. When Klein was twenty-three, he took a year’s leave of absence from Harvard Law School to study education and teach math to sixth graders at an elementary school in Queens, where he grew up. Like Bloomberg, Klein came from a world far removed from the borough-centric politics and bureaucracy of the old board.

Test scores and graduation rates have improved since Bloomberg and Klein took over, but when the law giving the mayor control expired, on July 1st, some Democrats in the State Senate balked at renewing it, complaining that it gave the mayor “dictatorial” power, as Bill Perkins, a state senator from Manhattan, put it. Nevertheless, by August the senators had relented and voted to renew mayoral control.

One thing that the legislature did not change in 2002 was tenure, which was introduced in New York in 1917, as a good-government reform to protect teachers from the vagaries of political patronage. Tenure guarantees teachers with more than three years’ seniority a job for life, unless, like those in the Rubber Room, they are charged with an offense and lose in the arduous arbitration hearing.

In Klein’s view, tenure is “ridiculous.” “You cannot run a school system that way,” he says. “The three principles that govern our system are lockstep compensation, seniority, and tenure. All three are not right for our children.”

randi Scheiner says that her case is likely to be heard next year. By then, she will have twenty-four years’ seniority, which entitles her to a pension of nearly half her salary—that is, her salary at the time of retirement—for life, even if she is found incompetent and dismissed. Because two per cent of her salary is added to her pension for each year of seniority, a three-year stay in the Rubber Room will cost not only three hundred thousand dollars in salary but at least six thousand dollars a year in additional lifetime pension benefits.

Scheiner worked at P.S. 40, an elementary school near Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town. The write-ups on Web sites that track New York’s schools suggest that P.S. 40 is one of the city’s best. I spoke with five P.S. 40 parents, who said that Scheiner would have had nothing to “blow the whistle” about, because, as one put it, the principal, Susan Felder, is “spectacular.”
Scheiner refused to allow me access to the complete file related to her incompetence proceeding, which would detail the charges against her and any responses she might have filed, saying only that “they charged me with incompetence—boilerplate stuff.” (Nor could Felder comment, because Scheiner had insisted that her file be kept sealed.) But Scheiner did say that she and several of her colleagues in the Rubber Room had brought a “really interesting” class-action suit against the city for violations of their due-process and First Amendment rights as whistle-blowers. She said that the suit was pending, and that she would be vindicated. Actually, she filed three suits, two of which had long since been dismissed. And, a month and a day before she mentioned it to me, the magistrate handling the third case—in a move typically reserved for the most frivolous litigation—had ordered Scheiner and her co-plaintiffs to pay ten thousand dollars to the city in court costs, because that filing was so much like the second case. This third case is pending, though it no longer has a lawyer, because the one who brought these cases has since been disbarred, for allegedly lying to a court and allegedly stealing from Holocaust-survivor clients in unrelated cases.

It takes between two and five years for cases to be heard by an arbitrator, and, like Scheiner, most teachers in the Rubber Rooms wait out the time, maintaining their innocence. One of Scheiner’s Rubber Room colleagues pointed to a man whose head was resting on the table, beside an alarm clock and four prescription-pill bottles. “Look at him,” she said. “He should be in a hospital, not this place. We talk about human rights in China. What about human rights right here in the Rubber Room?” Seven of the fifteen Rubber Room teachers with whom I spoke compared their plight to that of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay or political dissidents in China or Iran.

It’s a theme that the U.F.T. has embraced. The union’s Web site has a section that features stories highlighting the injustice of the Rubber Rooms. One, which begins “Bravo!,” is about a woman I’ll call Patricia Adams, whose return to her classroom, at a high school in Manhattan, last year is reported as a vindication. The account quotes a speech that Adams made to union delegates; according to the Web site, she received a standing ovation as she declared, “My case should never have been brought to a hearing.” The Web site account continues, “Though she believes she was the victim of an effort to move senior teachers out of the system, the due process tenure system worked in her case.”

On November 23, 2005, according to a report prepared by the Education Department’s Special Commissioner of Investigation, Adams was found “in an unconscious state” in her classroom. “There were 34 students present in [Adams’s] classroom,” the report said. When the principal “attempted to awaken [Adams], he was unable to.” When a teacher “stood next to [Adams], he detected a smell of alcohol emanating from her.”

Adams’s return to teaching, more than two years later, had come about because she and the Department of Education had signed a sealed agreement whereby she would teach for one more semester, then be assigned to non-teaching duties in a school office, if she hadn’t found a teaching position elsewhere. The agreement also required that she “submit to random alcohol testing” and be fired if she again tested positive. In February, 2009, Adams passed out in the office where she had to report every day. A drug-and-alcohol-testing-services technician called to the scene wrote in his report that she was unable even to “blow into breathalyzer,” and that her water bottle contained alcohol. As the stipulation required, she was fired.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the U.F.T. until this month (she is now the president of the union’s national parent organization), said in July that the Web site “should have been updated,” adding, “Mea culpa.” The Web site’s story saying that Adams believed she was the “victim of an effort to move senior teachers out” was still there as of mid-August. Ron Davis, a spokesman for the U.F.T., told me that he was unable to contact Adams, after what he said were repeated attempts, to ask if she would be available for comment.

In late August, I reached Adams, and she told me that no one from the union had tried to contact her for me, and that she was “shocked” by the account of her story on the U.F.T. Web site. “My case had nothing to do with seniority,” she said. “It was about a medical issue, and I sabotaged the whole thing by relapsing.” Adams, whose case was handled by a union lawyer, said that, last year, when a U.F.T. newsletter described her as the victim of a seniority purge, she was embarrassed and demanded that the union correct it. She added, “But I never knew about this Web-site article, and certainly never authorized it. The union has its own agenda.” The next morning, Adams told me she had insisted that the union remove the article immediately; it was removed later that day. Adams, who says that she is now sober and starting a school for recovering teen-age substance abusers, asked that her real name not be used.

he stated rationale for the reassignment centers is unassailable: Get these people away from children, even if tenure rules require that they continue to be paid. Most urban school systems faced with tenure constraints follow the same logic. Los Angeles and San Francisco pay suspended teachers to answer phones, work in warehouses, or just stay home; in Chicago they do clerical work. But the policies implemented by other cities are on a far smaller scale—both because they have fewer teachers and because they have not been as aggressive as Klein and Bloomberg in trying to root out the worst teachers.

It seems obvious that by making the Rubber Rooms as boring and as unpleasant as possible Klein was trying to get bad teachers to quit rather than milk the long hearing process—and some do, although the city does not keep records of that.

“They’re in the Rubber Room because they have an entitlement to stay on the payroll,” says Dan Weisberg, the general counsel and vice-president for policy of a Brooklyn-based national education-reform group called the New Teacher Project. “It’s a job. It’s an economic decision on their part. That’s O.K. But don’t complain.” Until January, Weisberg ran the Department of Education’s labor-relations office, where, in 2007, he set up the Teacher Performance Unit, or T.P.U.—an élite group of lawyers recruited to litigate teacher-incompetence cases for the city.
“When we announced the T.P.U., the U.F.T. called a candlelight vigil”—at City Hall—“to protest what they called the Gotcha Squad,” says Chris Cerf, a deputy chancellor, who, like Klein and Weisberg, is an Ivy League-educated lawyer. “You would think candlelight vigils would be reserved for Gandhi or something like that, but you could hear this rally all the way over the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Randi Weingarten is unapologetic. “We believed that the way this Gotcha Squad was portrayed in the press by the city unfairly maligned all the teachers in the system,” she says. Weingarten, who was a lawyer before becoming a teacher and a U.F.T. officer, is a smart, charming political pro. She always tries to link the welfare of teachers to the welfare of those they teach—as in “what’s good for teachers is good for the children.”

Cerf’s response is that “this is not about teachers; it is about children.” He says, “We all agree with the idea that it is better that ten guilty men go free than that one innocent person be imprisoned. But by laying that on to a process of disciplining teachers you put the risk on the kids versus putting it on an occasional innocent teacher losing a job. For the union, it’s better to protect one thousand teachers than to wrongly accuse one.” Anthony Lombardi, the principal of P.S. 49, a mostly minority Queens elementary school, puts it more bluntly: “Randi Weingarten would protect a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.”

“For Lombardi to say that,” Weingarten said, “shows he has no knowledge of who I am.”

hould a thousand bad teachers stay put so that one innocent teacher is protected? “That’s not a question we should be answering in education,” Weingarten said to me. “Teachers who are treated fairly are better teachers. You can’t have a situation that is fear-based. . . . That is why we press for due process.”

Steve Ostrin, who was assigned to a Brooklyn Rubber Room fifty-three months ago, might be that innocent man whom the current process protects. In 2005, a student at Brooklyn Tech, an élite high school where Ostrin was an award-winning social-studies teacher, accused him of kissing her when the two were alone in a classroom. After her parents told the police, Ostrin was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child. He denied the charge, insisting that he was only joking around with the student and that the principal, who didn’t like him, seized upon the incident to go after him. The tabloids ran headlines about the arrest, and found a student who claimed that a similar thing had happened to her years before, though she had not reported it to the police. But many of Ostrin’s students didn’t believe the allegations. They staged a rally in support of him at the courthouse where the trial was held. Eleven months later, he was acquitted.

Nevertheless, the city refused to allow him to return to class. “Sometimes if they are exonerated in the courts we still don’t put them back,” Cerf said, adding that he was not referring to Ostrin in particular. “Our standard is tighter than ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ What would parents think if we took the risk and let them back in a classroom?”

Ostrin’s case may be vexing, but it is a distraction from the real issue: how to deal not with teachers accused of misconduct but with the far larger number who, like Scheiner, may simply not be teaching well. While maintaining that the union in no way condones failing teachers, Weingarten defends the elaborate protections that shield union members: “Teachers are not . . . bankers or lawyers. They don’t have independent power. Principals have huge authority over them. All we’re looking for is due process.”

Dan Weisberg, of the New Teacher Project, independently offered a similar analogy for the other side: “You’re not talking about a bank or a law firm. You’re talking about a classroom—which is far more important—and your ability to make sure that the right people are teaching there.”

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« Reply #41 on: September 21, 2009, 08:24:11 PM »

By now, most serious studies on education reform have concluded that the critical variable when it comes to kids succeeding in school isn’t money spent on buildings or books but, rather, the quality of their teachers. A study of the Los Angeles public schools published in 2006 by the Brookings Institution concluded that “having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.” But, in New York and elsewhere, holding teachers accountable for how well they teach has proved to be a frontier that cannot be crossed.

ne morning in July, I attended a session of the arbitration hearing for Lucienne Mohammed, a veteran fifth-grade teacher. Mohammed, unlike most teachers sent to the Rubber Room, agreed to allow the record of her case to be public. (Her lawyer declined to make her available for an interview, however.) She had been assigned to P.S. 65, in Brooklyn’s East New York section, and was removed from the school in June of 2008, on charges of incompetence.

Mohammed’s case was the first to reach arbitration since the introduction of an initiative called Peer Intervention Program (P.I.P.) Plus, which was created to address the problem of tenured teachers who are suspected of incompetence, not those accused of a crime or other misconduct. P.I.P. Plus was included in the contract negotiated by Klein and Weingarten in 2007. The deal seemed good for both sides: a teacher accused of incompetence would first be assigned a “peer”—a retired teacher or principal—from a neutral consulting company agreed upon by the union and the city. The peer would observe the teacher for up to a year and provide counselling. If the observer determined that the teacher was indeed incompetent and was unlikely to improve, the observer would write a detailed report saying so. The report could then be used as evidence in a removal hearing conducted by an arbitrator agreed upon by the union and the city. “We as a union need to make sure we don’t defend the indefensible,” Weingarten told me. Klein and Weingarten both say that a key goal of P.I.P. Plus was to streamline incompetency arbitration hearings. It has not worked out that way.

The evidence of Mohammed’s incompetence—found in more than five thousand pages of transcripts from her hearing—seems as unambiguous as the city’s lawyer promised in his opening statement: “These children were abused in stealth. . . . It was chronic . . . a failure to complete report cards. . . . Respondent failed to correct student work, failed to follow the mandated curriculum . . . failed to manage her class.” The independent observer’s final report supported this assessment, ticking off ten bullet points describing Mohammed’s unsatisfactory performance. (Mohammed’s lawyer argues that she began to be rated unsatisfactory only after she became active with the union.)

This was the thirtieth day of a hearing that started last December. Under the union contract, hearings on each case are held five days a month during the school year and two days a month during the summer. Mohammed’s case is likely to take between forty and forty-five hearing days—eight times as long as the average criminal trial in the United States. (The Department of Education’s spotty records suggest that incompetency hearings before the introduction of P.I.P. Plus generally took twenty to thirty days; the addition of the peer observer’s testimony and report seems to have slowed things down.) Jay Siegel, the arbitrator in Mohammed’s case, who has thirty days to write a decision, estimates that he will exceed his deadline, because of what he says is the amount of evidence under consideration. This means that Mohammed’s case is not likely to be decided before December, a year after it began. That is about fifty per cent more time, from start to finish, than the O.J. trial took.

While the lawyers argued in measured tones, Mohammed—a slender, polite woman who appeared to be in her early forties—sat silently in one of six chairs bunched around a small conference table. The morning’s proceedings focussed first on a medical excuse that Mohammed produced for not showing up at the previous day’s hearing. Dennis DaCosta, an earnest young lawyer from the Teacher Performance Unit, pointed out that the doctor’s letter was eleven days old and therefore had nothing to do with her supposedly being sick the day before. The letter referred to a chronic condition, Antonio Cavallaro, Mohammed’s union-paid defense counsel, replied. Siegel said that he would reserve judgment.

Next came some discussion among the lawyers and Siegel about Defense Exhibit 33Q, a picture of Mohammed’s classroom. The photograph showed a neatly organized room, with a lesson plan chalked on the blackboard. But, under questioning by her own lawyer, Mohammed conceded that the picture had been taken, in consultation with her union representative, one morning before class, after the principal had begun complaining about her. The independent observer’s report had said that as of just a month before Mohammed was removed—and three months after the peer observer started observing and counselling her, and long after this picture was taken—Mohammed had still not “organized her classroom to support instruction and enhance learning.”

The majority of the transcript of the twenty-nine previous hearing days was given over to the lawyers and the arbitrator arguing issues that included whether and how Mohammed should have known about the contents of the Teachers’ Reference Manual; whether it was admissible that when Mohammed got a memo from the principal complaining about her performance, her students said, she angrily read it aloud in class; whether it was really a bad thing that she had appointed one child in her class “the enforcer,” and charged him with making the other kids behave; whether Mohammed’s union representative should have been present when she was reprimanded for not having a lesson plan; and whether the independent observer was qualified to evaluate Mohammed, even though she came from the neutral consulting company that the union had approved.

When the bill for the arbitrator is added to the cost of the city’s lawyers and court reporters and the time spent in court by the principal and the assistant principal, Mohammed’s case will probably have cost the city and the state (which pays the arbitrator) about four hundred thousand dollars.

Nor is it by any means certain that, as a result of that investment, New York taxpayers will have to stop paying Mohammed’s salary, eighty-five thousand dollars a year. Arbitrators have so far proved reluctant to dismiss teachers for incompetence. Siegel, who is serving his second one-year term as an arbitrator and is paid fourteen hundred dollars for each day he works on a hearing, estimates that he has heard “maybe fifteen” cases. “Most of my decisions are compromises, such as fines,” he said. “So it’s hard to tell who won or lost.” Has he ever terminated anyone solely for incompetence? “I don’t think so,” he said. In fact, in the past two years arbitrators have terminated only two teachers for incompetence alone, and only six others in cases where, according to the Department of Education, the main charge was incompetence.

Klein’s explanation is that “most arbitrators are not inclined to dismiss a teacher, because they have to get approved again every year by the union, and the union keeps a scorecard.” (Weingarten denies that the union keeps a scorecard.)

Antonio Cavallaro, the union lawyer, admitted that the process “needs some ironing out.”

Dan Weisberg says that because of the way cases are litigated by the union it’s impossible to move them along. He notes that, unlike in a criminal court, where the judge has to clear his docket, there is no such pressure on an arbitrator. One of Weisberg’s main concerns is the principals, who have to document cases and then spend time at the hearings. “My goal is to look them in the eye and say you should do the hard work,” he says. “I can’t do that if the principal is going to be on the stand for six days.”

Daysi Garcia, the principal of P.S. 65, is a Queens native and is considered by Klein to be a standout among the principals who attended the first classes of the Leadership Academy. She told me that, despite the five days she had to spend testifying, and the piles of paperwork she accumulated to make a record beforehand, she would do it again, because “when I think about the impact of a teacher like this on the children and how long that lasts, it’s worth it, even if it is hard.”

he document that dictates how Daysi Garcia can—and cannot—govern P.S. 65 is the U.F.T. contract, a hundred and sixty-six single-spaced pages. It not only keeps the Rubber Roomers on the payroll and Garcia writing notes to personnel files all day but dictates every minute of the six hours, fifty-seven and a half minutes of a teacher’s work day, including a thirty-seven-and-a-half-minute tutorial/preparation session and a fifty-minute “duty free” lunch period. It also inserts a union representative into every meaningful teacher-supervisor conversation.

The contract includes a provision that, this fall, will allow an additional seven hundred to eight hundred teachers to get paid for doing essentially no teaching. These are teachers who in the past year—or two or three—have been on what is called the Absent Teacher Reserve, because their schools closed down or the number of classes in the subject they teach was cut. Most “excessed” teachers quickly find new positions at other city schools. But these teachers, who have been on the reserve rolls for at least nine months, have refused to take another job (in almost half such cases, according to a study by the New Teacher Project, they have refused even to apply for another position) or their records are so bad or they present themselves so badly that no other principal wants to hire them. The union contract requires that they get paid anyway.

“Most of the excessed teachers get snapped up pretty fast,” Lombardi, the principal of P.S. 49, says. “You can tell from the records and the interviews who’s good and who’s not. So by the time they’ve been on the reserve rolls for more than nine months they’re not the people you want to hire. . . . I’ll do almost anything to avoid bringing them into my school.” These reserve teachers are ostensibly available to act as substitutes, but they rarely do so, because principals don’t want them or because they are not available on a given day; on an average school day the city pays more than two thousand specially designated substitute teachers a hundred and fifty-five dollars each.

Until this year, the city was hiring as many as five thousand new teachers annually to fill vacancies, while the teachers on the reserve list stayed there. This meant that, in keeping with Klein’s goals, new blood was coming into the schools—recruits from Teach for America or from fellowship programs, as well as those who enter the profession the conventional way. Now that New York, like most cities, is suffering through a budget crisis, Klein has had to freeze almost all new hiring and has told principals that they can fill openings only with teachers on the reserve list or with teachers who want to transfer from other schools.

Even so, the number of teachers staying on reserve for more than nine months is likely to exceed eleven hundred by next calendar year and cost the city more than a hundred million dollars annually. Added to the six hundred Rubber Roomers, that’s seventeen hundred idle teachers—more than enough to staff all the schools in New Haven.

The teachers’-union contract comes up for renewal in October, and Klein told me that he plans to push for a time limit of nine months or a year for reserve teachers to find new positions, after which they would be removed from the payroll. “If you can’t find a job by then, it’s a pretty good indicator that you’re not looking or you’re not qualified,” he said.

n Chicago, reserve-list teachers are removed from the payroll after ten months. Until December, the head of the Chicago school system was Arne Duncan, who is now President Obama’s Education Secretary. Duncan has consistently emphasized improving the quality of teachers by measuring and rewarding—or penalizing—them based on performance. “It’s my highest priority,” he told me.

Leading Democrats often talk about the need to reform public education, but they almost never openly criticize the teachers’ unions, which are perhaps the Party’s most powerful support group. In New York, where Weingarten is a sought-after member of Democratic-campaign steering committees, state legislators and New York City Council members are even more closely tied to the U.F.T., which has the city’s largest political-action fund and contributes generously to Democrats and Republicans alike. As a result, in April of 2008 the State Legislature passed a law, promoted by the union, that prohibited Klein from using student test data to evaluate teachers for tenure, something that he had often talked about doing.

Scores should be used only “in a thoughtful and reflective way,” Weingarten told me. “We acted in Albany because no one trusted that Joel Klein would use them to measure performance in a fair way.”

Reformers like Cerf, Klein, Weisberg, and even Secretary Duncan often use the term “value-added scores” to refer to how they would quantify the teacher evaluation process. It is a phrase that sends chills down the spine of most teachers’-union officials. If, say, a student started the school year rated in the fortieth percentile in reading and the fiftieth percentile in math, and ended the year in the sixtieth percentile in both, then the teacher has “added value” that can be reduced to a number. “You take that, along with observation reports and other measures, and you really can rate a teacher,” Weisberg says.

In a speech in July to the National Education Association, a confederation of teachers’ unions, Duncan was booed when he mentioned student test data. But he went on to say that “inflexible seniority and rigid tenure rules . . . put adults ahead of children. . . . These policies were created over the past century to protect the rights of teachers, but they have produced an industrial factory model of education that treats all teachers like interchangeable widgets.”

Duncan’s metaphor was deliberate. He was referring to “The Widget Effect,” a study of teacher-assessment processes in school systems across the country, published in June by the New Teacher Project and co-written by Weisberg. “Our schools are indifferent to instructional effectiveness,” the study declared. Under the subhead “All teachers are rated good or great,” it examined teacher rating processes, and found that in districts that have a binary, satisfactory-unsatisfactory system, ninety-nine per cent of teachers receive a satisfactory rating, and that even in the few school districts that attempt a broader range of rating options ninety-four per cent get one of the top two ratings.

The report lays out a road map for “a comprehensive performance evaluation system,” and recommends that for dismissals “an expedited one-day hearing should be sufficient for an arbitrator to determine if the evaluation and development process was followed and judgments made in good faith.” Lucienne Mohammed’s lawyer spent the equivalent of a day disputing whether she should have been familiar with her training materials.

In seven years, Klein has increased the percentage of third-year teachers not given tenure from three to six per cent. Unsatisfactory ratings for tenured teachers have risen from less than one per cent to 1.8 per cent. “Any human-resources professional will tell you that rating only 1.8 per cent of any workforce unsatisfactory is ridiculous,” Weisberg says. “If you look at the upper quartile and the lower quartile, you know that those people are not interchangeable.”

The Rubber Rooms house only a fraction of the 1.8 per cent who have been rated unsatisfactory. The rest still teach. There are fifty Rubber Roomers—half of one per cent of all New York City teachers—awaiting removal proceedings because of alleged incompetence, as opposed to those who have been accused of misconduct.

“If you just focus on the people in the Rubber Rooms, you miss the real point, which is that, by making it so hard to get even the obvious freaks and crazies that are there off the payroll, you insure that the teachers who are simply incompetent or mediocre are never incented to improve and are never removable,” Anthony Lombardi says. In a system with eighty-nine thousand teachers, the untouchable six hundred Rubber Roomers and eleven hundred teachers on the reserve list are only emblematic of the larger challenge of evaluating, retraining, and, if necessary, weeding out the poor performers among the other 87,300.

hile Mohammed’s hearing was lumbering on in June, the newsletter of the Chapel Street Rubber Room, in Brooklyn—where Mohammed had spent her school days since 2008—was being handed out by two of its teacher-editors. They were standing under a poster of the room’s mission statement: “TRC”—Temporary Reassignment Center— “Is a Community.” The newsletter’s banner exhorted its readers to “Experience. Share. Enrich. Grow.” Articles included an account of a U.F.T. staff director’s visit to Chapel Street and an essay by one of the room’s inhabitants about how to “quit doubting yourself,” entitled “Perception Is Everything.”

The walls of the large, rectangular room were covered with photographs of Barack Obama and various news clippings. Just to the right of a poster that proclaimed “Bloomberg’s 3 Rs: Rubber Room Racism,” a smiling young woman sat in a lounge chair that she had brought from home. She declined to say what the charges against her were or to allow her name to be used, but told me that she was there “because I’m a smart black woman.”

I asked the woman for her reaction to the following statement: “If a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances to improve but still does not improve, there’s no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.”

“That sounds like Klein and his accountability bullshit,” she responded. “We can tell if we’re doing our jobs. We love these children.” After I told her that this was taken from a speech that President Obama made last March, she replied, “Obama wouldn’t say that if he knew the real story.”

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« Reply #42 on: September 21, 2009, 08:24:35 PM »

But on July 24th President Obama and Secretary Duncan announced that they would award a large amount of federal education aid from the Administration’s stimulus package to school systems on the basis of how they address the issue of accountability. And Duncan made it clear that states where the law does not allow testing data to be used as a measure of teacher performance would not be eligible.

Duncan has fashioned the competition for this stimulus money as a “Race to the Top,” offering four billion dollars to be split among the dozen or so states that do the most to promote accountability in their schools. “That could mean five hundred million dollars for New York, which is huge,” Weisberg says. “But New York won’t be able to compete without radical changes in the law.” Such changes would have to include not only the provision forbidding Klein to use test scores to evaluate teachers (which Weisberg is most focussed on) but also provisions, such as those mandating teacher tenure, that are at the core of the teachers’-union contract. Klein has already come up with a debatable technical argument that the testing restriction won’t actually disqualify New York from at least applying for the money (because the restriction is about using test scores only for tenure decisions). Still, having that law on the books would obviously undercut an application claiming that New York should be declared one of the most accountable systems in the country—as would many provisions of the union contract, such as tenure and compensation based wholly on seniority.

We’ll soon see whether the lure of all that federal money will soften the union position and change the political climate in Albany. If it does, Bloomberg and Klein—who are determined reformers and desperate for the money—would have a chance to turn the U.F.T. contract into something other than a straitjacket when it comes up for renewal, in October. The promise of school funds might also push the legislature, which controls issues such as tenure, to allow a loosening of the contract’s job-security provisions and to repeal the law that forbids test scores to be used to evaluate teachers. If the stimulus money does not push the U.F.T. and the legislature to permit these changes, and if Duncan and Obama are serious about challenging the unions that are the Democrats’ base, the city and the state will miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in education aid. More than that, publicly educated children will continue to live in an alternate universe of reserve-list teachers being paid for doing nothing, Rubber Roomers writing mission statements, union reps refereeing teacher-feedback sessions, competence “hearings” that are longer than capital-murder trials, and student-performance data that are quarantined like a virus. As the Manhattan Rubber Room’s poster says, it’s the children, not the teachers, who are fragile and need to be handled with care. ♦

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill?currentPage=all
ILLUSTRATION: RICHARD THOMPSON
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« Reply #43 on: September 22, 2009, 06:21:29 AM »

After I was thrown out of private school  wink I wound up in public school in NYC and this article reminds me deeply of my two years in the public school system.  IMO the article does not exagerate.

I would only add more about the political powere of the UFT.
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« Reply #44 on: September 24, 2009, 11:06:48 AM »

'Creaming" is the word critics of charter schools think ends the debate over education choice. The charge has long been that charters get better results by cherry-picking the best students from standard public schools. Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford economist, found a way to reliably examine this alleged bias, and the results are breakthrough news for charter advocates.

Her new study, "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," shows that charter students, typically from more disadvantaged families in places like Harlem, perform almost as well as students in affluent suburbs like Scarsdale. Because there are more applicants than spaces, New York admits charter students with a lottery system. The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable."

According to the study, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, New York charter applicants are more likely than the average New York family to be black, poor and living in homes with adults who possess fewer education credentials. But positive results already begin to emerge by the third grade: The average charter student is scoring 5.8 points higher than his lotteried-out peers in math and 5.3 points higher in English. In grades four through eight, the charter student jumps ahead by 5 more points each year in math and 3.6 points each year in English.

Charter students are also shrinking the learning gap between low-income minorities and more affluent whites. "On average," the report concludes, "a student who attended a charter school for all of the grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86% of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English."

The New York results are not unique. In a separate study, Ms. Hoxby found Chicago's charters performing even better than the Big Apple's. Using the same methodology, other researchers have seen similar results in Boston.

Charters are also a bargain for taxpayers. Nationwide on average, per-pupil spending is 61% that of surrounding public schools. New York charters spend less than district schools but more than the national average because, unlike district schools, they generally have no capital budget and must pay rent from operating expenses.

Little wonder President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pressuring states to become more charter-friendly. Why the Administration can't connect the dots from the evidence to other effective school choice reforms, such as vouchers, can only be explained by union politics. Caroline Hoxby has performed a public service by finally making clear that "creaming" is a crock.
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« Reply #45 on: September 24, 2009, 01:04:34 PM »

In conjunction w/ Crafty's piece posted above, it ought to be clear that throwing money at education isn't the answer. It's interesting to note that Duncan isn't the only one in BHO's admin who is trying to stifle debate by calling all arguments that do not conform with his preferred course "tired."

Duncan’s NCLB Reauthorization Push Shows Extreme Tunnel Vision

Posted by Andrew J. Coulson

In a major speech to be delivered today, education secretary Arne Duncan will call for an end to ”‘tired arguments’ about education reform” and ask for input in crafting a ”sweeping reauthorization” of the federal No Child Left Behind act. His decision not to openly debate the merits of reauthorization — to simply assume it — guarantees the tiredness and futility of the discussion.

Americans have spent $1.85 trillion on federal education programs since 1965, and yet student achievement at the end of high school has stagnated while spending per pupil has more than doubled — after adjusting for inflation. The U.S. high school graduation rate and adult literacy rates have been declining for decades. The gap in achievement between children of high school dropouts and those of college graduates hasn’t budged by more than a percent or two despite countless federal programs aimed at closing it.

The secretary himself acknowledges that after more than half a century of direct and increasing federal involvement in schools, “we are still waiting for the day when every child in America has a high quality education that prepares him or her for the future.

In light of the abject and expensive failure of federal intrusion in America’s classrooms, it is irresponsible for the Secretary of Education to assume without debate that this intrusion should continue.  Cutting all federal k-12 education programs would result in a permanent $70 billion annual tax cut. Given the stimulative benefits of such a tax cut it is also fiscally irresponsible for the Obama administration to ignore the option of ending Congress’ fruitless meddling in American schools.

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/09/24/duncans-nclb-reauthorization-push-shows-extreme-tunnel-vision/
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G M
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« Reply #46 on: September 24, 2009, 09:42:17 PM »

http://hotair.com/archives/2009/09/24/school-indoctrination-video-retrieved/

If you don't want to have your kids indoctrinated like this, you must be raaaaaAAAAAAaaaaaaaacist!
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #47 on: September 30, 2009, 06:57:30 PM »

Chart of the Day — Federal Ed Spending

Posted by Andrew J. Coulson

The debate over No Child Left Behind re-authorization is upon us.

Except it isn’t.

In his recent speech kicking off the discussion, education secretary Arne Duncan asked not whether the central federal education law should be reauthorized, he merely asked how.

Let’s step back a bit, and examine why we should end federal intervention in (and spending on) our nation’s schools… in one thousand words or less:



While the flat trend lines for overall achievement at the end of high school mask slight upticks for minority students (black students’ scores, for instance, rose by 3-5 percent of the 500 point NAEP score scale), even those modest gains aren’t attributable to federal spending. Almost that entire gain happened between 1980 and 1988, when federal spending per pupil declined.

And, in the twenty years since, the scores of African American students have drifted downard while federal spending has risen stratospherically.

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/09/30/chart-of-the-day-federal-ed-spending/
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #48 on: October 21, 2009, 08:02:24 AM »


The New Untouchables Sign in to Recommend
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: October 20, 2009

Last summer I attended a talk by Michelle Rhee, the dynamic chancellor of public schools in Washington. Just before the session began, a man came up, introduced himself as Todd Martin and whispered to me that what Rhee was about to speak about — our struggling public schools — was actually a critical, but unspoken, reason for the Great Recession.

There’s something to that. While the subprime mortgage mess involved a huge ethical breakdown on Wall Street, it coincided with an education breakdown on Main Street — precisely when technology and open borders were enabling so many more people to compete with Americans for middle-class jobs.

In our subprime era, we thought we could have the American dream — a house and yard — with nothing down. This version of the American dream was delivered not by improving education, productivity and savings, but by Wall Street alchemy and borrowed money from Asia.

A year ago, it all exploded. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.

“Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness, particularly at the middle and bottom ranges,” argued Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor. “This loss of competitiveness has weakened the American worker’s production of wealth, precisely when technology brought global competition much closer to home. So over a decade, American workers have maintained their standard of living by borrowing and overconsuming vis-à-vis their real income. When the Great Recession wiped out all the credit and asset bubbles that made that overconsumption possible, it left too many American workers not only deeper in debt than ever, but out of a job and lacking the skills to compete globally.”

This problem will be reversed only when the decline in worker competitiveness reverses — when we create enough new jobs and educated workers that are worth, say, $40-an-hour compared with the global alternatives. If we don’t, there’s no telling how “jobless” this recovery will be.

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.

As the Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz explains it: “If you think about the labor market today, the top half of the college market, those with the high-end analytical and problem-solving skills who can compete on the world market or game the financial system or deal with new government regulations, have done great. But the bottom half of the top, those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want, have done poorly. They’ve been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.”

Those at the high end of the bottom half — high school grads in construction or manufacturing — have been clobbered by global competition and immigration, added Katz. “But those who have some interpersonal skills — the salesperson who can deal with customers face to face or the home contractor who can help you redesign your kitchen without going to an architect — have done well.”

Just being an average accountant, lawyer, contractor or assembly-line worker is not the ticket it used to be. As Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind,” puts it: In a world in which more and more average work can be done by a computer, robot or talented foreigner faster, cheaper “and just as well,” vanilla doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all about what chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherry you can put on top. So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.

Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #49 on: November 18, 2009, 04:22:39 PM »

Union blocks teacher bonuses
By Edward Mason  |   Wednesday, November 18, 2009  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Coverage

Photo by Matthew West
Grinchlike union bosses are blocking at least 200 of Boston’s best teachers from pocketing bonuses for their classroom heroics in a puzzling move that gets a failing grade from education experts.

The Boston Teachers Union staunchly opposes a performance bonus plan for top teachers - launched at the John D. O’Bryant School in 2008 and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Exxon Mobil foundations - insisting the dough be divvied up among all of a school’s teachers, good and bad.

“It’s insanity,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the nonpartisan Pioneer Institute. “They’re less concerned about promoting the interest of individual members than maintaining control over their members.”

The incentive program pays Advanced Placement teachers $100 bonuses for each student who passes the test, and up to $3,000 a year for meeting other goals. Students also can also receive $100 for passing.

“(The union) is standing in the way of innovation,” school Superintendent Carol R. Johnson told the Herald. “I think we have to realize we can’t do business as usual. . . . We have to be willing to make changes and give kids the opportunities they need.”

The program also pays for after-school study sessions for AP classes, which can count toward college credit and which some universities use to evaluate applicants.

The incentive program - part of a series of innovations Boston Public Schools wants to roll out - includes drawing outside money to the city’s cash-strapped schools to boost academic performance.

Union head Richard Stutman bristled at criticism he doesn’t have his members’ interest at heart. “We’re not taking money away from teachers,” Stutman claimed.

He also objected to the suggestions his union is a foe of school reform, insisting he backs the incentive program - so long as the bonus goes to all teachers, not just AP instructors.

“There’s no one solely responsible for the development of these students,” Stutman said. “They should all share in the money.”

But by thwarting performance bonuses, the union is hurting students, argued Morton Orlov, president of the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative at MassINSIGHT, the business-backed group that administers the bonuses.

Orlov said the 10 state schools that accept the bonuses saw a 39 percent increase in students who passed the AP exam.

“You can think of this as smart money,” Orlov said.

Ligia Noriega, headmaster at the Excel High in South Boston, wants the bonus program at her school.

“These incentives push people to work a little bit harder,” Noriega said. “We have to start thinking outside the box.”

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1212771
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