Archive for the Education Category

Peter Berkowitz

A Boot Camp for Citizenship

America’s crisis of civic education is acute, requiring a major change in the way students are taught about the workings of American government and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. So contends David Feith, an opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal, in his introduction to Teaching America, a well-crafted collection of essays from a distinguished and diverse group of authors—progressives and conservatives, policy makers and professors, jurists and political commentators.

The case for civic education—what might have been called “civics” in an earlier generation—is straightforward. Just as, say, doctors who receive defective medical training will be handicapped in the performance of their professional tasks, so too citizens whose civic education is lacking will be less than competent as members of an extended political community. Studying the Constitution—not to mention American political ideas and institutions—can help us all to exercise our rights, respect the rights of others, and weigh the merit of contending policies. More generally, as Feith notes, civic education can nourish a common culture by showing that partisan disputes often reflect conflicting interpretations of a shared commitment to freedom and equality.

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Jeremy Carl

When Subsidies Fizzle

“Nobody knows anything.”

William Goldman, a legendary screenwriter, made this observation about predicting the box-office success of movies before they open, but his comment could just as easily be about projecting the success of specific renewable-energy technologies before they are widely deployed. And that is why subsidizing the deployment of individual renewable-energy technologies—picking winners, in other words—is a bad idea, both for fiscal responsibility and for the long-term health of the clean-technology economy itself.

This does not mean that governments should do nothing. The support for basic scientific research and even applied R&D is one of the few governmental expenditures that actually produce a good societal return on investment. Funding a broad and sustained clean-tech R&D effort by government, academia, and even, subject to tight restrictions, within industry, makes a lot of sense.

But loan guarantees to private firms, whether those are Solyndra (bankrupt), Beacon Power (bankrupt), or Fisker Automotive (for a 20 mpg hybrid sports car), are a bad idea. The Obama administration has tried to combine an energy policy, a stimulus policy, and a jobs policy all in one, with the net result being both policy incoherence and charges of corruption, incompetence, and conflict of interest. As Larry Summers, then–Treasury secretary, wrote at the time of the Solyndra investment in an internal e-mail: “Government makes a crappy VC.”

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Michael Petrilli

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post created a stir this weekend with an American Journalism Review articleripping mainstream education reporting for being uncritical of school reform. His comments were particularly pointed when it came to television coverage of the subject, especially NBC’s.

NBC has concentrated on initiatives favored by self-styled education reformers. The network has been particularly generous to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting teacher merit pay proposals and privately run charter schools – an agenda strongly opposed by many public school teachers, labor unions and educators.

During its first “Education Nation” summit in 2010, for example, “NBC Nightly News” aired a profile of a Gates Foundation initiative, “Measures of Effective Teaching,” which seeks to create a database of effective teaching methods. The reporter was former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw. During the second summit last fall, Brokaw showed up on “Today” with Melinda Gates to discuss the same Gates initiative. Turning from reporter to advocate, Brokaw told host Natalie Morales, “So what Bill and Melinda have done, and it’s a great credit to them, and it’s a great gift to this country, is that they have taken the kind of episodic values that we know about teaching and they’ve put them together in a way that everyone can learn from them. So that’s a big, big step.”

And Farhi’s not wrong; the media has indeed been obsessed with the teacher effectiveness agenda. That’s one finding of my own analysis of education reporting that I just published in Education Next. My team and I coded all of the national education stories published in 2011 in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, and Associated Press. And sure enough, teacher-related policies were covered more than any other topic.

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Peter Berkowitz

The politicization of higher education by activist professors and compliant university administrators deprives students of the opportunity to acquire knowledge and refine their minds. It also erodes the nation’s civic cohesion and its ability to preserve the institutions that undergird democracy in America.

So argues "A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California," a new report by the California Association of Scholars, a division of the National Association of Scholars (NAS). The report is addressed to the Regents of the University of California, which has ultimate responsibility for governing the UC system, but the pathologies it diagnoses prevail throughout the country.

The analysis begins from a nonpolitical fact: Numerous studies of both the UC system and of higher education nationwide demonstrate that students who graduate from college are increasingly ignorant of history and literature. They are unfamiliar with the principles of American constitutional government. And they are bereft of the skills necessary to comprehend serious books and effectively marshal evidence and argument in written work.

This decline in the quality of education coincides with a profound transformation of the college curriculum. None of the nine general campuses in the UC system requires students to study the history and institutions of the United States. None requires students to study Western civilization, and on seven of the nine UC campuses, including Berkeley, a survey course in Western civilization is not even offered. In several English departments one can graduate without taking a course in Shakespeare. In many political science departments majors need not take a course in American politics.

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Michael Petrilli

Two weeks ago, when the House Education and the Workforce committee marked-up two major ESEA reauthorization bills, Democrats and their allies screamed bloody murder. Ranking member (and former chairman) George Miller called the bills “radical” and “highly partisan” and said they would “turn the clock back decades on equity and accountability.” A coalition of civil rights, education reform, and business groupssaid they amounted to a “rollback” of No Child Left Behind.

Miller put forward his own bills, which most of the self-same groups quickly endorsed, and which, Millerargues, “eliminates inflexible and outdated provisions of No Child Left Behind and requires states and [districts] to adopt strong but flexible and achievable standards, assessments, and accountability reforms.”

So let’s see how Miller and company do at “eliminating inflexible and outdated provisions of NCLB” and requiring “strong but flexible” accountability systems. The package…

1. Requires states to expect “all” students to reach college and career readiness eventually. (Didn’t we learn from NCLB that calling for “universal proficiency” merely pushes states to lower the bar?)

2. Tightens the screws on NCLB’s “subgroup accountability,” requiring schools to hit targets on dozens of indicators in order to avoid stigmas and sanctions. (Why not let states develop new ways to ensure that vulnerable kids don’t get overlooked—but without all the complexity?)

3. Makes failure even more likely by adding student growth and graduation rates to the mix (along with proficiency rates).

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Chester Finn

Is there a racist behind every tree in the American education forest? That’s the spin a lot of people have given to last week’s massive trove of federal data on school discipline and sundry other topics. “Black students face more harsh discipline” headlined the New York Times. “Minority students face harsher punishments,” quoth the Associated Press. “An educational caste system”stormed the head of the country’s largest coalition of civil-rights groups. The federal data (from 2009-10) cover a multitude of issues but what caught most eyes was the finding that black and Latino students are suspended or expelled from school in numbers greater than their shares of the overall pupil population. “The undeniable truth,” declared Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.” Declaring that the new data paint “a very disturbing picture,” Assistant Secretary (for Civil Rights) Russlynn Ali proudly informed the media that her office has “launched 14 large-scale investigations into disparate discipline rates across the country.” Ponder the phrase: disparate discipline rates. This arises from the doctrine of “disparate impact,” a sly phrase coined as a means of boosting civil rights in the realm of employment law. It means, in effect, that discrimination may be afoot—and enforcement called for—whenever a seemingly neutral or universal policy gives rise to disparities (by race, gender, etc.) in whatever benefit or harm that policy leads to. But it’s by no means limited to employment any longer. At the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the enforcers hunt for disparities in sundry realms of education from college admissions to Advanced Placement course access, as well as discipline and more. If they find that something good or bad isn’t getting bestowed across the entire eligible population in proportion to the basic demographics of that population, they sense “disparate impact” at work, which is invariably accompanied by at least a hint that discrimination must be the cause of it. Continue reading Chester Finn…

(photo credit: alex yosifov)

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Gary Becker

Should K-12 Teachers Have Tenure?

The traditional case for tenure at the university level rests on two pillars. The first and most prominent is that this gives professors freedom to express unpopular views in their writings and lectures. The second is that professors in the same field are the best ones to judge the qualifications and promise of potential new hires and existing colleagues. This is why departments rather than central administrators choose who to hire and who to let go. Tenure insures the existence of a core of faculty with a long-term commitment to their departments who make the hiring and firing decisions. For reasons I have expressed elsewhere (see my 1/15/06 “Comment on Tenure”), I do not believe that these arguments are powerful enough to justify the rigidities introduced by having the tenure system at colleges and universities. Whether that conclusion is correct or not, neither of these arguments made for having tenure in higher education has close applicability to teachers at the K-12 level. They publish very little, and mainly teach materials that are not controversial. There are exceptions, such as teachers of Israeli-Palestinian relations, or theories of evolution, but teaching materials of this type are exceptions and not the rule. The second reason used to justify tenure at the university level, that senior colleagues are the ones with the qualifications to choose new hires and to decide who to hold on to in their departments, is not applicable at the K-12 level. For unlike what happens at universities, administrators at K-12 schools, such as principals, do the hiring, not teachers with tenure. Since administrators (or older teachers) cannot readily judge which of the hires will turn out to be good teachers, that provides a strong reason why K-12 teachers should not get tenure, especially not after only a short time of teaching. Continue reading Gary Becker…

(photo credit: SS&SS)

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Chester Finn

Writing last about the “war against the Common Core,” I suggested that those English language arts and math standards arrived with four main assets. (In case you’re disinclined to look, they boil down to rigor, voluntariness, portability, and comparability.)

Let me now revisit a fifth potential asset, which is also the main reason that small-government conservatives should favor the Common Core or other high-quality “national standards”: This is the best path toward getting Uncle Sam and heavy-handed state governments to back off from micro-managing how schools are run and to return that authority to communities, individual schools, teachers, and parents.

It’s the path to getting “tight-loose” right in American K-12 education, unlike NCLB, which has it backward. (I refer to the well-known management doctrine that large organizations with many parts should be “tight about ends, loose about means.”) The proper work of conservatives going forward is to stop doing battle with the Common Core and instead do their utmost to ensure that the “loose” part gets done right. This could also be the path toward a viable political compromise on NCLB/ESEA reauthorization.

Some on the Right don’t yet see any need for compromise because they expect to be in the driver’s seat in both houses of Congress and the Oval Office after November. Maybe that will happen. Maybe John Kline will have his way in the 113th Congress and at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., meaning that future federal K-12 dollars will be turned over to states with essentially no strings attached.

But I wouldn’t stake our kids’ future on the election working out that way. And even if it were to, there’s never yet been an ESEA reauthorization that wasn’t bipartisan to some extent. Which suggests to me that compromise is going to be needed and “tight-loose” is the right basis for it.

Continue reading Chester Finn…

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