Monday, July 31, 2006

Visit to Milwaukee and the Milwaukee voucher program

I spent the day in Milwaukee a month or so ago, learning about the nation's oldest voucher program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which now has 15,435 students in 125 private schools, most of them religious.  I also visited both a religious school, St. Marcus Lutheran School, in which 80% of students receive vouchers, and a charter school, Milwaukee College Prep, that's closely modeled after KIPP.
Milwaukee families/students have an abundance of choice, the main elements of which are: 1) within the public school system, there is open enrollment, meaning students can apply to schools in any district with open seats; 2) for low-income families there's the voucher program; and 3) charter schools.
The program has been an enormous success: Since the choice program was enacted in 1990, among the public schools (which are supposedly hurt by vouchers and charters), real per pupil spending is up 27% enrollment is up, the dropout rate is way down, test scores are way up, etc.  And while data on the charter students hasn't been collected since 1995, the voucher students' high school graduation rate is 64% vs. 36% for the public schools.  Yet the media continues to report the naysayers party line that "the results are ambiguous."  What's ambiguous about this?!  And similar results have been achieved elsewhere.
One of the people on my email list recently emailed me saying that he opposed vouchers because they hurt the students left behind and that "America does not need two parallel school systems."  Here was my reply:
I disagree with your assertion that vouchers hurt the students left behind -- in fact, the data shows that even the students left behind BENEFIT (see the chapter, attached, from Jay Greene's book addressing this ("The Draining Myth")).  I also disagree that "America does not need two parallel school systems."  We have the most successful system of higher ed in the world (in marked contrast to our K-12 public system), in which there are THREE systems: religious schools like Georgetown and Notre Dame, private schools like Harvard and public schools like Berkeley.  The system is successful precisely BECAUSE there are competing systems and alternatives, BECAUSE students and their parents can choose which option is best, and BECAUSE failing institutions will generally be shut down, go out of business, or at the very least those responsible for the failure will be replaced.
As I've said before, I don't think vouchers are a magic bullet, but I think a properly structured choice program can be an important tool in the broad struggle to improve education.

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Education Department expands tutoring experiments

Kudos to Spellings -- this is exactly right:
The policy changes are part of a pattern of enforcement by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. She wants to show she can adapt -- waiving rules to get more kids in tutoring -- and yet be tough on states that do not comply, by threatening to pull their money.

Education Department expands tutoring experiments

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- The Bush administration says it again will bend the rules of the No Child Left Behind law, intending to get thousands more poor children into tutoring.

The Education Department said Wednesday it would expand two experiments that early signs indicate have helped more children get into tutoring. The step is an attempt to address a major snag under the 2002 law.

Only 10 percent to 20 percent of the more than 1 million poor children eligible for tutoring have signed up. That is considered a dismal rate of participation.

The policy changes are part of a pattern of enforcement by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. She wants to show she can adapt -- waiving rules to get more kids in tutoring -- and yet be tough on states that do not comply, by threatening to pull their money...

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Senegalese Teenager Wins Right to Study in the U.S.

What a wonderful story -- though this is, sadly, correct:

On the one hand, Ms. Cohen said, Amadou’s story is “a triumph of good government.” On the other, she added, “it’s about the nature of a system that only provides relief for one kid — with well-connected attorneys — at a time.”

Senegalese Teenager Wins Right to Study in the U.S.
Published: July 29, 2006

It was the unexpected success of his East Harlem high school robotics team in April that forced Amadou Ly, 18, to reveal his secret: He was an illegal immigrant from Senegal, left at 14 to fend for himself in hopes of completing an American education, but caught instead in what seemed like a losing battle against deportation.

But when the secret became front-page news in The New York Times, scores of strangers rallied to his side. To pressure the Department of Homeland Security on his behalf, volunteer lawyers built a team that included 6 senators, 23 members of the House of Representatives, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Senegalese ambassador. Word spread that even the man in the Oval Office had weighed in.

And yesterday, Amadou carried home the prize: a student visa that will allow him to stay in the United States legally and go to college...

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sharing fairly under Prop. 39 center of dispute

A very interesting article about the fight for facilities between charter schools and school districts in California.  Thank goodness for Prop. 39 -- in most states, there's little or nothing for charter schools, which is an onerous burden for them.

Sharing fairly under Prop. 39 center of dispute


July 28, 2006

When California voters approved Proposition 39 six years ago, it was mainly known for lowering the threshold for passing school bond measures.

These days, though, the law is in the legal spotlight for pitting two camps of public education against each other in a high-stakes fight over school buildings.

Proposition 39 also requires districts to share their campuses “fairly” with charter schools, alternative public schools that are self-governed.

How to share fairly is at the center of the dispute.

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Black and Blue

I know many Republicans would like to reach out to African-American voters and politicians, especially on the issue of school reform -- and I applaud this.  I don't think anyone is well served with African-Americans vote in lockstep -- and can be taken for granted by Democrats.  But Republicans have a high hurdle to overcome, as Krugman notes:
July 24, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Black and Blue

According to the White House transcript, here’s how it went last week, when President Bush addressed the N.A.A.C.P. for the first time:

THE PRESIDENT: “I understand that many African-Americans distrust my political party.”

AUDIENCE: “Yes! (Applause.)”

But Mr. Bush didn’t talk about why African-Americans don’t trust his party, and black districts are always blue on election maps. So let me fill in the blanks.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

In Kindergarten Playtime, a New Meaning for 'Play'

This article is yet another variation on the attack on NCLB -- the tired old canard about "our kids are so busy cramming for the harsh testing required by NCLB that they don't even have time to play."  This story attempts to be especially heart-wrenching by focusing on the youngest children -- and of course making the ubiquitous point that rich white kids don't have to do this; only poor minority kids have to "suffer" under this terrible system.
What utter NONSENSE!
A) I'm highly skeptical that NCLB has turned kindergartens across the country into sweatshops.  Can anyone show me any EVIDENCE -- as opposed to the usual self-serving anecdotes that drive 99% of the debate on education in this country -- that supports this assertion?
B) I've seen ZERO evidence that American children, in general (at ANY age level), spend too much time slaving away academically and too little time playing.  That assertion is sort of laughable when you think about it.  All of the evidence is that our kids are getting their asses kicked by kids in other countries (think India, China, Eastern Europe, Japan, etc.), NOT because they're inherently less smart or more disadvantaged, of course, but for three primary reasons: first, our K-12 system is, overall, mediocre at best, so our students attend, on average, worse schools; second, they attend schools for fewer hours per year (see the first page of the presentation at for some data on this); and 3) our country has been so dominant for so long that we've gotten very complacent, so, for example, our kids are PLAYING virtually 100% of the time that they're not in school, while kids in other countries are attending after-school private tutoring, etc.  I'm not advocating that we adopt the norm in much of Asia, where children appear to work nonstop, but my primary point remains: there's NO evidence that American kids are working too hard and playing too little.
C) Finally and most importantly, the article doesn't acknowledge a critically important FACT: minority children in this country, by the time they arrive in kindergarten, are ALREADY two years behind their white counterparts, and the gap begins to widen immediately -- see the chart on the 2nd page of the presentation at, which shows both of these things for African-American kindergarteners (interestingly, the white-Latino gap, while equally wide, does not widen further in the first year on schooling, though it does widen over time). 
Given the critical need to close this achievement gap as quickly as possible and the FACT that, currently, our kindergartens are not only failing to close the gap, but actually WIDENING it, you think maybe a new approach might be worth trying for low-income, minority children?!?!?
And the slap at Achievement First is particularly idiotic, given its incredible track record of educating precisely these children and not just closing, but ELIMINATING the achievement gap -- see the final slides in the presentation at, which also cover Achievement First's "12 Lessons About School Reform", which should be required reading for anyone in the education business.
July 26, 2006
On Education

In Kindergarten Playtime, a New Meaning for ‘Play’

THE word “kindergarten” means “children’s garden,” and for years has conjured up an image of children playing with blocks, splashing at water tables, dressing up in costumes or playing house. Now, with an increased emphasis on academic achievement even in the earliest grades, playtime in kindergarten is giving way to worksheets, math drills and fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests.

Nowhere are the demands greater than at Achievement First East New York Charter School in Brooklyn, which holds classes through this month. On a recent Friday morning, 20 kindergartners in uniforms of yellow shirts and blue jumpers or shorts, many yawning and rubbing their eyes, filed into the classroom of Keisha Rattray and Luis Gonzalez. Some sat in plastic chairs lined up before the teachers for phonics and grammar drills, while others sat at computer screens, listening through headphones to similar exercises.

The classroom has no blocks, dress-up corners or play kitchens. There is no time for show and tell, naps or recess. There is homework every night. For much of the day, the children are asked to sit quietly with their hands folded as their teachers drill them in phonics, punctuation and arithmetic.

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Letter to the editor

A nicely written rebuttal to the "idiotic" Florida Today editorial I sent out in my last email

Dear Editor:

Your July 27 editorial calling for the end of vouchers based on the ETS study that found that public school and private school students perform about equally misses the point. The purpose of vouchers is not to send children to "better" private schools, but to give low-income parents the same educational options middle class and wealthy parents enjoy, thus spurring all forms of education to improve or risk losing students. Wealthy and middle class families have always had the option to move to a neighborhood with better public schools or enroll their children in private schools. It is only poor children, without vouchers, who are trapped in chronically underperforming schools.

Furthermore, vouchers do not divert taxpayer funds away from public schools. The Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship program awards only $3,500 for private school tuition, while public schools spend about $8,000 per student per year. The Collins Center found that equals a taxpayer savings of $600 million over ten years, which can be re-invested into public education. As for the claim that voucher programs are unaccountable, the Florida legislature passed a strong voucher accountability bill this year that requires standardized testing for voucher recipients and safety and financial compliance for participating schools. Who lobbied for the passage of this bill? The private schools and voucher parents!

Why would they do such a thing? Because they know these programs have been shown to improve public schools ("When Schools Compete: The Effects of Vouchers on Florida Public School Achievement," Jay P. Greene, Ph.D. and Marcus Winters) and their goal is to ensure a quality education for every child.


Mark Siler

Principal, West Melbourne Christian Academy

3150 Milwaukee Ave

Melbourne, Fl. 32904


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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Voucher boondoogle

It's remarkable to see the truly idiotic arguments people are making, based on the study released a couple of weeks ago.  Whether vouchers are a good idea has NOTHING to do with whether all public schools, in aggregate, are better or worse than all private schools, in aggregate!

Now it turns out the rationale private schools merit government funding because they perform better is largely conjecture.

The Bush administration -- and Florida lawmakers who stubbornly support vouchers -- need to back off the losing proposition and focus instead on bolstering public education.


Florida Today Editorial

Our View: Voucher boondoogle

Taxpayer dollars should be used to fund and improve nation's public schools

What, no celebration?

Public schools are generally doing as good or better than private schools in educating students, according to a study conducted by the Education Testing Service for the U.S. Department of Education.

You'd think that good news might elicit some accolades from an agency charged with overseeing problematic No Child Left Behind mandates to significantly improve public school students' achievement by 2013.


The news was released minus banners or balloons and with no comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings earlier this month.

The study analyzed reading and math scores from 2003 in grades four and eight at thousands of public and hundreds of private schools.

Here's what it found:

* Once test scores are adjusted to take into account variables such as income level, race, and parents' education level, differences in student achievement are near zero and of no significance.

Public school students, except for in eighth-grade reading, generally match the performance of private school peers. The exception was in 4th grade math, where public school students did better.

* The report also compared Catholic, Lutheran and what it calls conservative Christian schools to all public schools.

No significant differences were noted except in Grade 8 mathematics. There, students at Lutheran schools did best, significantly better than public school students, while those attending conservative Christian schools did worse than public school students.

Sounds like even-steven to us.

After ETS -- a private, nonprofit that develops and administers millions of achievement tests such as the SAT -- delivered its ideology-free analysis to education officials, they stamped it with a caution downplaying its usefulness.

We smell a skunk.

If the report is of such "limited utility," why waste taxpayer dollars on it?

Perhaps we'd have heard a different tune if the report's conclusions had been more favorable to private schools.

As it is, they fly in the face of claims by "school choice" proponents' that private schools do a better job than public ones, and thus should be funded with taxpayer dollars, through vouchers.

That didn't stop Spellings from announcing a new $100 million plan for national school vouchers called "opportunity scholarships" on July 18, flanked by GOP leaders.

We've argued before that vouchers are the wrong approach to improving education for American children. They divert taxpayer money from struggling public schools.

In the case of Florida voucher programs, that money has been handed to private schools that aren't held accountable or required to meet standards imposed on public schools, including taking the FCAT.

Now it turns out the rationale private schools merit government funding because they perform better is largely conjecture.

The Bush administration -- and Florida lawmakers who stubbornly support vouchers -- need to back off the losing proposition and focus instead on bolstering public education.

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The Relationship Blend

Brooks is exactly right, especially the part about fundamentally reforming schools!  But if you're a typical Democrat, that would involve some an uncomfortable confrontation so -- SURPRISE! -- the proposed solution is to spend a lot more money, even if there's little evidence that it will work.  This aspect of my party drives me NUTS! 

These are some of the smartest and best people in politics today. And yet their proposals won’t work. Tuition tax credits and grants have not produced more graduates in the past and they will not do so in the future. Bridget Terry Long of Harvard meticulously studied the Clinton administration’s education tax credits and concluded that they did not increase enrollment. Sarah E. Turner of the University of Virginia concludes, “Very broad-based programs such as tuition subsidies or across-the-board grants to low-income students are likely to have minimal effects on college completion while imposing large costs.”

It’s easy to see why politicians would want to propose tax credits as a way to bribe middle-class parents into voting for them. But if you actually want to increase the share of college graduates, you have to get into the ecology of relationships.

You have to promote two-parent stable homes so children can develop the self-control they need for school success. You have to fundamentally reform schools.

July 27, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

The Relationship Blend

In the world of public policy, there are ecologists and engineers. The ecologists believe human beings are formed amid a web of relationships. Behavior is shaped by the weave of expectations and motivations that we pick up from the people around us every day.

The engineers believe all this relationship talk is so much mush. They believe behavior is shaped by incentives. You give people the resources they need and socially productive, rational behavior will usually follow.

Most politicians are ecologists who turn into engineers once in office. They know how much relationships mattered to their own success. But in government, the major tool they have is a budget appropriation. So suddenly every problem turns into a question of resources.

This transition, unfortunately, leads to a misleading view of human nature and often, policy failure.

A case in point: Over the past three decades there has been a gigantic effort to increase the share of Americans who graduate from college. The federal government has spent roughly $750 billion on financial aid. Yet the percentage of Americans who graduate has barely budged. The number of Americans who drop out of college leaps from year to year...

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Echo Chamber: The National Education Association's Campaign Against NCLB; the NEA's response

1) The Education Sector recently released a report (authored by the prolific Joe Williams) called: Echo Chamber: The National Education Association's Campaign Against NCLB.  You can read it at:  Here's the summary:
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, opposes the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the first version of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act that the powerful union has not backed. The NEA has launched a high-profile legal and political battle against NCLB. It has also carried out another, less visible campaign against the law, pouring money into organizations that echo the union's criticisms of NCLB but often leaving the public unaware of the organizations' financial ties to the union.
2) The NEA -- SURPRISE! -- denies opposing NCLB, saying it "is fundamentally flawed and major changes need to happen. And nobody is more qualified to lead that effort than those who are on the front lines every day—the 2.8 million members of NEA."  What a crock!  To read the NEA's rebuttal of this report ("EIGHT MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT NEA AND ITS WORK TO IMPROVE NCLB"), including ridiculous attacks on The Education Sector and Joe Williams, see:

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Here's Andy Rotherham's take on the NEA's behavior

Here's Andy Rotherham's take on the NEA's behavior:
The NEA is increasingly like North Korea, things aren't going well so they're lashing out. At Q&E Kevin Carey dissects the latest missives from Dear Leader.

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Why Spellings's sudden change of heart?

An interesting article on why Spellings may have gotten serious on enforcing NCLB's transfer provisions.  Amazing statistics, esp. the first bullet!

The final straw for Spellings may have been LAUSD's and Compton's howler of a response, which was made all the more ridiculous by the results of a recent poll.  Of the 409 parents surveyed:

  • 86% do not know their children are in a failing school
  • 2% report to have received a letter from their school informing them of the school’s failing designation
  • Of the 46 parents who knew their child’s school was failing, only 9 of them (19%) had received written notification from the school
  • 54% were not aware that their child is eligible to transfer to another school
  • 63% would transfer their children if money was not an issue
  • 82% would transfer their children in they were eligible to exercise the “parent choice” provision of NCLB
  • 73% are likely to transfer their child knowing that the child qualifies to transfer to a different or better school at no cost

In light of numbers like these, you'll forgive our skepticism at this statement from LAUSD superintendent Roy Romer from the NPR story


Why Spellings's sudden change of heart?

Alexander Russo looks at the USDE's ultimatum to California to make good on NCLB transfer provisions, notes that the USDE had pretty much given up enforcing NCLB choice, and asks, "So what I want to know is are they going after other states about lack of choice -- I'm told they haven't -- and what prompted the action now? Was it the threat of lawsuits, a fit of self-improvement, or what?"

As to whether they are going after other states, we certainly can't say.  But our administrative action in Los Angeles and Compton might have been part of what got Spellings moving.  As Clint pointed out at the time, “The No Child Left Behind Act isn’t worth the paper it’s written on so long as children are forced to remain in failing schools."

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Demanding vs. Doing

Kudos to the New York Times for this editorial, supporting Spellings!

In addition, many of the states have adopted what some have described as an elaborate shell game, setting allegedly high standards for teachers that are then ignored at hiring time. This is especially common in inner-city school districts, which typically have more than twice as many uncertified teachers as affluent districts in the suburbs do.

We hope that Secretary Spellings is serious about solving this problem. To do so, however, she will need to hold the line against a long-established pattern of misrepresentation and foot-dragging in the states. That will mean leveraging the billions of dollars that the federal government spends on education in a way that actually rewards the states that perform well while punishing those that don’t.

Demanding vs. Doing
Published: July 26, 2006, NYT editorial

The story of the No Child Left Behind Act is all about the huge gap between setting standards and creating the conditions in which those standards can be met. One of the law’s most critical provisions requires that all public school teachers in core academic courses be “highly qualified” by this year. But as The Times’s Sam Dillon reported yesterday, not a single state has met the deadline.

The fault lies partly with the early appointees of the Bush administration who controlled the Education Department when the law was passed. They virtually ignored the teacher qualification provision, and the states got the message that they could follow the bad old status quo as long as they wished. Happily, the current education secretary, Margaret Spellings, appears to be taking the law at its word. She recently required states to submit plans showing how they would supply impoverished students with qualified and more experienced teachers...

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The civil rights community finally speaking up

In the last email on "Most States Fail Demands in Education Law", I forgot to highlight these lines:
But Ms. Spellings faces pressure for firm enforcement of the law from a broad array of groups, including corporations and civil rights organizations.
Criticism also came from civil rights groups that wanted the law to eliminate educational disparities between whites and minorities
This is REALLY promising, as the civil rights community [let me be really tactful here...I know I can do it if I try hard enough!] could do a lot more in this fight...

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

L.A. Story: Can a Parent Revolution Change Urban Education's Power Structure?

More kudos to Steve Barr!

L.A. Story: Can a Parent Revolution Change Urban Education's Power Structure?

By Joe Williams and Tom Mirga

 >>Download the full PDF of this report.

In 1990 Steve Barr "rocked the vote" in America by helping to engineer an upswing in voting among 18- to 24-year-olds with the help of musicians and other pop culture icons. Now the 47-year-old political operative and education entrepreneur is tapping into the frustrations of working-class parents in Los Angeles to rock the city's public schools to their core.

Barr, the founder and chief executive of a nonprofit network of Los Angeles charter schools, is rallying thousands of mostly Latino parents to the cause of school reform and using that political clout to force changes in the 727,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation's second-largest school system.

In mid-July he sought California State Board of Education approval to open as many of the independent, innovative public schools as the state board thinks practical between 2007 and 2012—without interference from LAUSD, which normally plays a prominent role in the process. The state board, which has granted a charter school operator such sweeping freedom only once before, is expected to approve Barr's request in September.

Barr, however, claims that he will not use the power if he receives it, at least not immediately. Instead, he is using the threat to create new charter schools, publicly funded but largely autonomous elementary and secondary schools, to persuade the politicians, bureaucrats and union leaders who run LAUSD to reorient its 858 schools around six principles—small, safe schools with no more than 500 students, high expectations and a college-preparatory curriculum for all students, local control with extensive professional development and accountability, more dollars directed into the classroom, parent participation and keeping schools open later for community use. These are the guiding tenets of Barr's Green Dot charter network, which now numbers five high schools and will double to 10 this fall, bringing the total number of charter schools in the city to 105.

"It's just insurance," Barr said of his petition to the state board. "We will exhaust all efforts to work with the district but just in case we have this in our hip pocket."1

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pay teachers more, demand results

This is an important and worthy initiative -- a grand, bipartisan bargain:

With student performance still dismal 23 years after a federal report proclaimed "a nation at risk," it's just possible that a decisive, bipartisan "grand bargain" can be struck to improve the public schools.

The deal would be: Republicans agree to more equitable distribution of school funding -- including higher teacher pay -- while Democrats agree that teachers should be paid for performance, not just seniority.

Two national initiatives give rise to hope that that the decades-long right-left battle over education, accountability versus money, can be broken at last and the public schools improved.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched a project along with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, the liberal Center for American Progress and the moderate America's Promise that will start by publishing report cards on each state's progress on school reform.

Good for Klein!

A star figure at the second annual Aspen Institute Ideas Festival -- attended by several hundred, mainly liberal intellectual and financial glitterati -- was Joel Klein, the former Clinton aide who is now chancellor of New York City public schools.

Klein made a riveting case that teachers-union contracts are the main obstacle to improving urban education.

"The contract protects the interests of adults at the expense of kids," he told a rapt audience, describing how it bars pay differentials based on student performance and service in difficult schools; makes it impossible for principals to fire underperforming teachers; and allows teachers to choose their own professional development tracks, regardless of supply-and-demand needs, such as those for more math and science teachers.

And Wendy is, of course, absolutely right:
At Aspen, Wendy Kopp, founder of the nationally celebrated Teach for America volunteer program, said teacher quality and school leadership are far more important than money in determining student success.

Pay teachers more, demand results

Morton Kondracke, Detroit News

With student performance still dismal 23 years after a federal report proclaimed "a nation at risk," it's just possible that a decisive, bipartisan "grand bargain" can be struck to improve the public schools.

The deal would be: Republicans agree to more equitable distribution of school funding -- including higher teacher pay -- while Democrats agree that teachers should be paid for performance, not just seniority.

Two national initiatives give rise to hope that that the decades-long right-left battle over education, accountability versus money, can be broken at last and the public schools improved...

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A 'Senior Moment' or a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

Studies like this show the critical importance of a person's mindset in determining intellectual performance. Similar studies have been done with inner-city kids and -- surprise! -- those that were told they're smart and can achive, DO ACHIEVE at higher levels.

Researchers refer to this self-undermining as a stereotype effect, and they have documented it in many groups. In studies, women perform less well on math exams after reading that men tend to perform better on them. Similarly, white men perform less well when they are told that they are competing in math against Asian students.

People over 65 also slump on memory tests when they are reminded of the link between age and mental decline.

This reminds me of a particularly infuriating and heart-breaking moment during the Oprah show in April on "American Schools in Crisis" when the host talked to a little African-American girl:
Mr. COOPER: Just a year ago, 11-year-old Paulette was struggling in her old school.

PAULETTE: At my old school, my teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. I told her that I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. And that’s when our teacher said, ‘Girl, please, like you’re really going to become a plastic surgeon, you’re dumber than a bump on a log.’

Mr. COOPER: That teacher was wrong. At KIPP, Paulette’s on the honor roll.
I can't think of anything that has made me angrier than when I heard that.

July 18, 2006

A ‘Senior Moment’ or a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

Resigning yourself to old age may produce the very mental lapses that most people fear will strike them in their golden years.

In a paper appearing in the current issue of the journal Social Cognition, psychologists report that men and women in late middle age underperformed on a standard memory test when told they were part of a study including people over age 70.

Inclusion with an older group — an indirect reminder of the link between age and memory slippage — was enough to affect their scores, especially for those who were most concerned about getting older, the authors concluded.

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The Moynihan Challenge

Even if one doesn't believe that the data supporting vouchers (and charter schools for that matter) is compelling, given that we all know how awful the status quo is, shouldn't the hurdle for supporting experimentation be that we should be willing to try a wide range of ideas as long as there's no evidence that it does harm (rather than the current standard that there has to be absolute proof that it will be a huge success)? The article below captures this argument nicely:

The first person in the nation who can send me two random assignment school-choice studies showing significant declines in either academic performance or parental satisfaction will win a steak dinner. I'll even throw in drinks and dessert — the whole nine yards. You have one month to send the studies to Feel free to forward this to your anti-school-choice friends and invite them to play. The more the merrier.

If opponents of school choice can offer no proof to back their assertions, they deserve neither my steak nor anyone's confidence, leaving everyone to wonder: where's the beef?


The Moynihan Challenge
Back up the hot air, win a steak dinner.

By Matthew Ladner

National Review

The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., N.Y.) related an insightful anecdote in his book Miles to Go. Senator Moynihan asked Laura D'Andrea Tyson of the Clinton Administration for two supportive studies justifying the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a favored program.

Moynihan received two studies the following day, but after reading them, noted that both studies actually concluded similar programs had failed to produce any positive results. In response, Moynihan wrote the following in a letter to Tyson:

In the last six months I have been repeatedly impressed by the number of members of the Clinton administration who have assured me with great vigor that something or other is known in an area of social policy which, to the best of my understanding, is not known at all. This seems to me perilous. It is quite possible to live with uncertainty, with the possibility, even the likelihood that one is wrong. But beware of certainty where none exists. Ideological certainty easily degenerates into an insistence upon ignorance.

Pronouncements by school-choice opponents are rife with such ideological certainty. After columnist Jon Talton of the Arizona Republic, for example, used a Sunday column to describe a school-choice program that passed the Arizona legislature with bipartisan support as "right-wing utopianism," I publicly posed my own Moynihan challenge.

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Who will speak truth on D.C. schools?

Washington DC spends so much money -- in the $16,000-$17,000 range per student per year, roughly DOUBLE the national average -- and gets so little for it -- the statistics are truly horrifying (among the worst of any city in the nation) -- that it's hard to see how voucherizing the whole damn thing could make things any worse -- and I'll bet it would quickly make things A LOT better!

So in the hope somebody will stand up with courage to risk speaking frankly and forcefully, here are three actions to consider:

First, the city should take over the school system, then give principals the authority to hire and fire teachers and to manage school-based budgets. When the education unions resist passively or actively, announce that there will be no negotiations for new contracts when those currently in force end, and that all positions will be declared vacant. The education unions’ stranglehold on the educational welfare of the District’s children must end.

Second, guarantee every District parent a voucher equal to the current per-pupil expenditure and make it redeemable at the certified school of the parent’s choice.


Who will speak truth on D.C. schools?

Editorial, The Washington DC Examiner Newspaper, The Examiner

Jul 17, 2006

WASHINGTON - A steady parade of candidates for the District of Columbia City Council was marched through The Examiner’s office recently, and more are coming. Listening to the candidates’ presentations has been frustrating.

While the blame must fall heavily upon the mayor and members of the current City Council and School Board, it is disappointing that hardly any of the candidates go beyond the usual political rhetoric to offer radically different approaches to the District’s most pressing and long-standing problem: the shameful failure of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Year after year, no other public school system in America spends so much and yet produces so little for its graduates.

The paucity of courageous, fresh thinking on this issue among council candidates is especially depressing because it’s been clear for years that the usual D.C. approach -- spend more money on the latest public education fads, hire more bureaucrats and kow-tow to the special interests -- not only hasn’t worked but has cheated generation after generation of the District’s children of even minimally acceptable educations...

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U.S. Gives Charter Schools A Big Push in New Orleans

I missed this news last month. New Orleans right now is one of the most innovate education experiments ever conducted.

U.S. Gives Charter Schools A Big Push in New Orleans

By SUSAN SAULNY (NYT) 619 words
Published: June 13, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, June 12 - Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced Monday that $24 million in federal aid had been awarded to Louisiana for the development of charter schools, more than doubling what the state has already received to help create such schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The grant is likely to cement the role of New Orleans -- where the public school system is barely functional -- as the nation's pre-eminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools. The schools are paid for with public money but are usually operated by nonprofit groups or parent organizations.

There are at least 45 charter schools in Louisiana, with most having opened since Hurricane Katrina. The highest concentration is in New Orleans, where the school system is now dominated by charter operators. Eighteen of the 25 schools open in New Orleans are charter schools, receiving public financing but operating independently.

With the arrival of so many charter schools so quickly, a majority of the city's students will be part of the experiment, whether they want to be or not, because the number of traditional public schools has dwindled to seven...

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Spinning a Bad Report Card

Three cheers to John Tierney for shredding the ridiculous conclusions that people were drawing from the lame study comparing public and private schools that came out last week.
July 18, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Spinning a Bad Report Card

Thanks to a new federal report comparing public and private schools, there’s no doubt that public schools have one huge advantage: the leaders of their unions are unrivaled masters of spin.

They didn’t merely celebrate the report’s release on Friday, they complained that the Bush administration tried to bury it by releasing it for the weekend. They spun so well that the report was treated as a public-school triumph that “casts doubt on the value of voucher programs,” as The Wall Street Journal described it.

But if anything, the report from the Education Department did just the opposite. It concluded, after compensating for socioeconomic differences and other factors, that public-school students score slightly better on tests in fourth grade, while private-school students score slightly better in eighth grade. Given a choice, would you rather be ahead in the fourth inning or later in the game?

But even if you ignore that trend, even if you focus on the overall similarity of the scores in both types of school, that’s still bad news for public schools. Their students ought to be scoring higher if you believe in the unions’ favorite prescription for improving education: more money...

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Education discussion turns chaotic

More chaos in New Haven. Good for ConnCAN! We need a lot more forums like this one, in which the entrenched forces of the status quo show their true colors -- and which draw a lot of media coverage.


Education discussion turns chaotic

Maria Garriga, New Haven Register


-NEW HAVEN — What was supposed to be an ordinary panel discussion about the achievement gap in education disintegrated Saturday into a wild fracas with city school officials and parents — led by the superintendent — shouting down panelists.

As two police officers stood by at a Southern Connecticut State University student center, nearly 100 New Haven school officials, parents and supporters said they were sick of the schools being portrayed as ineffective.

"You’re attacking New Haven," shouted parent Essie Barrows, mother of a student at James Hillhouse High School.

"You’ve got to target parents and not the school system," she said.

This was the second time this month that school officials disrupted a meeting about public school reform. Two weeks ago, public school teachers and principals attended a meeting by an advocacy organization called Teach Our Children and blasted the group for its protest of a New Haven principal who had been arrested for drunk driving in February.

Supt. of Schools Reginald Mayo said he flew in from San Francisco to attend Saturday’s forum. The panel was organized by ConnCAN, a nonprofit group that supports public school reform and charter schools.

Mayo and Brian Perkins, president of the New Haven Board of Education, circulated through the crowd and did not attempt to quell the uproar.

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Some S.A. teachers working around the clock for students

A nice article about KIPP Aspire in San Antonio -- and about one of many aspects of KIPP that EVERY school in America should be doing. THIS is the kind of thing I (and, I think, virtually all Americans) would enthusiastically pay teachers more for:

To recognize the long hours and hard work that the teachers at KIPP put in, they're getting paid more than most teachers in Texas. The average salary for teachers in Bexar County is $44,000. However, the average salary for a teacher here is $52,000.


Some S.A. teachers working around the clock for students

Web Posted: 07/15/2006 12:46 AM CDT

Ainsley Earhardt

KENS 5 Eyewitness News

It's not uncommon for a doctor or a locksmith to be on call — but what about a teacher? The staff at a San Antonio middle school is going above and beyond the call of duty to keep their students at the head of the class.

"You have to love teaching and be willing to live, eat and breathe it — all the time," teacher Amanda Delabar said.

The hope is seeing all of the students go to college, and for the teachers that dream is worth the sacrifices. KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program, is nationwide. It's free public education that targets what they refer to as "underserved 5th through 8th graders."

The workload is heavy at KIPP Aspire Academy. Students are in school until 5 p.m., and teachers are required to be on-call.

"We provide the teachers a cell phone so they're on-call for homework help for the students in evenings or weekends," school director Mark Larson said.

All the teachers get cell phones, and all the students get a list of their phone numbers.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Complaint Gap

Tierney with some good points about a crisis that isn't:
I’m not hoping to see men and boys lobbying for their own gender-equity boondoggles, because a lot of them don’t need special help either. The students in most trouble are poor African-Americans and Latinos — especially the boys, but also the girls. They’ll never have an easy time making their complaints heard. But it would be a start if we all stopped pretending that middle-class girls were the ones being shortchanged.
July 15, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

The Complaint Gap

The 1992 report was titled “How Schools Shortchange Girls,” and it set off a national outcry. In response to women’s pleas, Congress passed “gender equity” legislation declaring girls an “underserved” group and providing money to deal with the crisis.

Last Sunday, The Times published an article by Tamar Lewin exhaustively chronicling how men are lagging behind women in college. The article provoked an outcry too — but not from men. For every letter from a man, The Times got 10 letters from women, most of them still worried about females being shortchanged.

It could be argued — I can already anticipate the deluge of letters from one sex — that men are blasé because they have so many other advantages, and that women are worrying because they still face so many kinds of discrimination. Maybe. But to me it looks more like another type of gender divide: the Complaint Gap.

That 1992 report looks ridiculous in retrospect, now that those supposedly shortchanged women outnumber men at college by a nearly 3-to-2 ratio, with a notably sharp disparity among lower-income students. But even at the time of the report, women had already been a majority on campus for more than a decade.

The report was issued with a warning that “gender bias in our schools” is “compromising our country,” but at the time girls were doing better than boys by most measures. On standardized tests, they were a little behind in math but farther ahead in reading. They took more advanced-placement exams and were less likely to be held back a year or to drop out of school.

The idea of widespread bias against girls was especially ludicrous considering that most teachers in grade school and high school were women, and that the girls got higher grades than boys. It was like publishing a wake-up call titled, “How the Vatican Shortchanges Italian Clergy.”

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School Cellphone Ban Violates Rights of Parents, Lawsuit Says

I hope this lawsuit is quickly dismissed, as schools should certainly have the authority to ban cell phones entirely if they wish -- but surely there's room for a compromise. There ARE situations in which children need to have cell phones either before or after school, such as this case:

Until he graduated last year, her oldest, Devin, 17, traveled more than an hour each way, taking two subway trains from their home in Brooklyn to Washington Irving High School in Manhattan near Union Square.

Her middle son, Andre, 13, also has an hourlong trip on the A and L trains to his public school, the Institute for Collaborative Education, at 15th Street and First Avenue.

Because Ms. Colon works full-time at Keyspan, the Brooklyn gas company, she relies on the older children to take care of the youngest one after school. Devin and Andre use their cellphones to coordinate who will pick up Taylor, who is going into fifth grade at Public School 261 in Brooklyn.

Why not ban all cell phones unless the parent writes a note to the principal explaining the need and giving the principal discretion? The default option would be that the student would have to keep the phone off (not on vibrate) during school hours, and in his/her locker or backpack. If the student is ever seen using the phone, even to check text messages, then the principal could require that the student drop off the phone in the principal's office at the beginning of each day, to be retrieved at the end of each day -- or simply ban the phone for good.

July 14, 2006

School Cellphone Ban Violates Rights of Parents, Lawsuit Says

Carmen Colon, a divorced mother raising three sons in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, considers herself a law-abiding citizen. But New York City’s ban on students carrying cellphones in the schools is one rule she will not abide by, she said yesterday.

Until he graduated last year, her oldest, Devin, 17, traveled more than an hour each way, taking two subway trains from their home in Brooklyn to Washington Irving High School in Manhattan near Union Square...

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Why Newark Matters; Newark Mayor Chases Suspect, but His Guards Make the Grab

I hadn't heard that Cory was chasing down robbers -- I love it! It made a good lead-in to a NYT editorial today:
July 15, 2006

Why Newark Matters

After helping the police chase down a robbery suspect in downtown Newark the other day, Mayor Cory Booker shouted at the man, “Not in our city anymore.” The new mayor’s words and actions may have been melodramatic, but they symbolized the hopes he has raised for Newark, and for other struggling small cities that are watching his progress.

Newark, a city of 270,000, has struggled for years under the burdens of crime, poverty, failing schools and corruption. Mr. Booker has come to power on the promise that he can succeed where others have failed. His personal magnetism, his command of the issues and his willingness to challenge conventional wisdom have attracted national attention to Newark’s plight.

Not long after his inauguration on July 1, Mr. Booker announced a typically ambitious plan to reorganize Newark’s notoriously inefficient municipal government over the next 100 days. A more cautious public official might have added, as John F. Kennedy did in his inaugural address, that such problems cannot be solved in 100 days, or 1,000 days, or even in the life of a single administration. Instead, Mr. Booker has set a deadline and invited Newark residents to hold him to it.

His urgency is understandable. Newark’s moment is now. If the city is to rid itself of corruption and shady dealing, if its demoralized police force is to be reinvigorated, and if businesses are to be convinced that the city is a sound investment, Mr. Booker cannot afford to linger.

Here are more of the details on Cory chasing the robber:

When Mr. Booker reached the group, he began shouting at the robber: “Not in our city anymore! These days are over!”

Mr. Valentin and Mr. Isaac were recently selected to be guards for Mr. Booker, who recently received death threats from gang leaders in prison.

“These guys, who obviously sprint faster than their mayor, saved a situation from getting far worse,” Mr. Booker said with a laugh.

“I was embarrassed by my own security detail, which I will never forgive them for.”

July 14, 2006

Newark Mayor Chases Suspect, but His Guards Make the Grab

Mayor Cory A. Booker began his term on July 1 in Newark vowing to reduce crime with a program of zero-tolerance policing.

Yesterday afternoon, the new mayor — along with two police officers in his security detail — had a firsthand opportunity to put that policy into effect.

In a city known for rampant crime and a murder rate that has been rising even as it has been generally falling nationwide, it is not unheard-of to see crimes take place in broad daylight.

Sometimes they even take place in front of City Hall.

Mayor Booker and his guards left Newark’s City Hall around 12:30 p.m. yesterday for a meeting and stumbled upon what appeared to be a confrontation across the street: a police officer and a man in a standoff on Broad Street. The officer held a gun and the man wielded a pair of scissors.

The police later said that the man had just robbed a customer in the City National Bank of hundreds of dollars. In escaping the bank, the man was brushed by a car and fell.

When a nearby police officer went to help him, the man tried to stab the officer with the scissors, but missed, Mr. Booker said. The officer drew his gun as the suspect was running away.

Mr. Booker, 37, who played tight end on Stanford University’s football team, said, “I took off my jacket and gave chase.”

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Long-Delayed Education Study Casts Doubt on Value of Vouchers

It is no surprise that opponents of vouchers would try to twist the study released yesterday (see my previous email) to make it appear to be negative for vouchers, when in fact it says NOTHING WHATSOEVER -- either pro or con -- about vouchers. Even if we assume that, nationwide, the average private school is no better than the average public school, what does this have to do with vouchers, which in almost all cases are aimed at students at the WORST public schools, and give parents the option of sending their kids NOT to a random private school, but to one they've chosen (in most cases, studies have shown, a far better school).

I would expect a teacher union newsletter to have a moronic headline like this -- "Long-Delayed Education Study Casts Doubt on Value of Vouchers" -- but the Wall Street Journal?!?! Sigh...

Here's John Kirtley's take: "What is even more outrageous is that the headline of the story in the WSJ about the public and private school study was "Study Casts Doubt On Vouchers". Huh? How does it do that? Was this a study of children who used a voucher program? Or a study on public school students in an area where other children used vouchers? Or a study on the effect of the mere threat of competition from a voucher program on the public schools (like Hoxby did in Florida)? Of course not, none of these things. And yet we have have a headline, in the WSJ no less, like this. Shameful journalism that will be parrotted by the union."

The report, which examined test scores in reading and mathematics among fourth and eighth graders, casts doubt on the value of voucher programs that give students public money to attend private schools. Although voucher proponents contend that private education is often superior to public schooling, the federally commissioned study found that better test scores by private-school students can largely be attributed to differences in the students themselves, not their teachers and institutions.

The findings confirm a study of the same data, released earlier this year, by researchers at the University of Illinois. "This once again shows that private-schools are not the silver bullet that voucher advocates say they are," said Howard Nelson, a researcher for the American Federation of Teachers, a union of 1.3 million members that has long opposed vouchers.


Long-Delayed Education Study Casts Doubt on Value of Vouchers

July 15, 2006; Page A5

Students in public schools perform just as well as their private-school peers when test scores are adjusted for race, socioeconomics and other factors, according to a long-delayed study released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report, which examined test scores in reading and mathematics among fourth and eighth graders, casts doubt on the value of voucher programs that give students public money to attend private schools. Although voucher proponents contend that private education is often superior to public schooling, the federally commissioned study found that better test scores by private-school students can largely be attributed to differences in the students themselves, not their teachers and institutions...

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Let Principals Lead

This NYT editorial is right on the mark. I can understand the arguments for teachers being unionized, but principals are MANAGEMENT and shouldn't have a union. If a principal doesn't perform, he/she should be removed. Kudos to Bloomberg and Klein for this innovative program -- and to the 300+ principals who signed up for it. Hopefully this is a big first step to taking this program to EVERY school.

One of the longest-running labor disputes in New York City involves the impasse between the school system and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. The union’s last contract ran out three years ago, and there are no signs of a resolution. The disagreements are myriad, but there is one overriding problem: the union has no business representing its star members, school principals.

New York schools chancellors have long bridled at a nonsensical labor arrangement under which principals are regarded as rank-and-file members of a labor union, and not as the managers that the job requires them to be. To make matters worse, the principals make up only about a quarter of the union’s membership, which also includes assistant principals and administrators — who clearly hold the balance of power in the union and who are supposed to be supervised by the principals.

For a long time, the city seemed to solve the problem by following the union’s lead and treating the principals like rank-and-file workers. Fortunately, that has changed.

Recently, more than 300 principals signed sweeping new accountability agreements that gave them more control over school budgets and curriculums, and freedom from regulations that many schools have found cumbersome. Most crucially, the so-called empowerment schools have been promised additional money, which can be used for innovative programs.

Let Principals Lead
NYT editorial, July 14, 2006

One of the longest-running labor disputes in New York City involves the impasse between the school system and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. The union’s last contract ran out three years ago, and there are no signs of a resolution. The disagreements are myriad, but there is one overriding problem: the union has no business representing its star members, school principals.

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