AG Holder vs. school choice ad

D.C. voucher advocates have been pressuring Democrats to revive funding for the program, which low-income students $7,400 scholarships to attend private schools.  Democratic opponents are wobbling, but the administration apparently would like to silence the criticism, reports The Weekly Standard and Black America Web.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently asked Kevin Chavous of D.C. Children First, a former D.C. Council member, to kill a 30-second ad urging  the president to reauthorize vouchers.

The ad features Chavous and a young boy — one of 216 students whose scholarships were rescinded by the Department of Education earlier this year when the agency announced no new students would be allowed into the program. The ad also includes an excerpt taken from one of Obama’s campaign statements.

“We’re losing several generations of kids,” Obama says, “and something has to be done.”

. . . The young 5th-grade student then pleads for the president’s help. “President Obama, I need a good education right now,” he says. “You can help. Do it for me.”

In a radio interview, Chavous said Holder wasn’t speaking in his official capacity. But a request coming from the attorney general certainly carries some coercive power.

The attorney general shouldn’t be trying to stifle free speech for political gain, writes Andrew Coulson on Cato@Liberty.

If President Obama doesn’t like the criticism, he can change his position. Or suck it up.

Failing math and science

Common Core math standards should include higher standards for students who hope to major in science, technology and math disciplines, says the U.S. Coalition for World-Class Math. In a Curriculum Matters comment, Barry Garelick wrote:

. . . we believe that less emphasis be placed on statistics, probability and modeling, in order to allow for the content that students pursuing STEM fields will need.

In fact, the coalition believes the proposed standards don’t meet requirements for humanities and social science majors at many state universities.

See also a discussion of  fixing math and science education in the Wall Street Journal with New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Christopher Edley Jr., dean of the Berkeley law school and a member of Obama’s transition team.

Share your view

The Quick and the Ed has started The View from Your Classroom, an idea borrowed from Andrew Sullivan.

The best window views are those depicting what you see everyday when you look outside. The window frame should be visible. And please protect the privacy of your students — do not send pictures that show individually identifiable children.

E-mail photos to quickanded@educationsector.org with “The View From Your Classroom” as the title; include the school name, city, state, and grade level or type of classroom. You can also upload your photos to Ed Sector’s Flickr pool.

Carnival of Educators

The very first Carnival of Educators is up at Notes from a Homeschooling Mom.

Unionized reform

New Haven’s new teachers’ contract, lauded as a reform model, is “loaded with union giveaways that will hamper reform, not advance it,” argues the New York Post.

While the contract allows performance pay for teachers, the bonuses must be paid to the entire school, which puts less pressure on individual teachers to raise student scores, the Post complains.

New Haven is taking the baby step of allowing district schools to be converted into charter schools . . . (The contract) mandates unionization, guarantees no layoffs, preserves grievance procedures and keeps in place full transfer rights of staff.

. . . Even worse, the New Haven contract requires the approval of 75 percent of teachers in a school to opt out of the master contract’s work rules (66 percent in a failing school slated for “turnaround”). This means that a minority of teachers could block important changes such as a longer school year or school day. Plus, the contract includes a bizarre provision that allows the New Haven union to veto work-rule reforms even if 100 percent of the teachers in that school approve of them.

Awarding performance bonuses to an entire school’s staff encourages teamwork and makes it possible to reward teachers who teach untested subjects and support staff.  However, New Haven won’t have effective charters if the new schools have to employ teachers by seniority and can’t write their own work rules.

Rhode Island Commissioner Deborah Gist has told superintendents to eliminate seniority hiring when contracts come up for renewal this year.  The unions are not on board. Via Teacher Beat.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Consent Of The Governed: is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Carnival of Homeschooling.

21st century skills: no substance

Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel’s book, 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, is a disappointment, writes Jay Mathews on Class Struggle.

Were the 21st century skills people finally going to show us how this idea actually works in the classroom? Would they have data? Would there be lesson plans, and detailed testimony from students and parents and teachers? Were they going to prove wrong those of us who could see nothing in this movement (here is a previous column) but a lot of buzz words and jargon describing principles of teaching and learning that have been with us for many decades?

No.

Mathews thinks the authors are “smart tech guys who just don’t know much about real schools with real kids who have difficulty learning how to read, write and do math.”

They can’t see the scuffed floors and trash-strewn playground of a public middle school in Oakland, but can use their laptops to write nice sentences about how the six emerging principles of the movement are “vision, coordination, official policy, leadership, learning technology and teacher learning.”

The real-world examples weren’t useful either, Mathews writes. One features a fifth-grade teacher with 21st century skills training, who has her students research a leader of their choice and explain how that person succeeded on a Web page available to “students around the world.”

. . . other than the web page. it did not seem any different from the group projects my classmates and I did in the middle of the 20th century, mounting our findings on big cardboard displays and showing them off at a special night for parents and classmates.

The book never mentions how to teach reading, he adds.

I share Jay’s qualms about the 21st century skills movement.

If you want specifics about what works in real life and what doesn’t, read my book, Our School, about a start-up charter school figuring out how to educate underachieving Mexican-American students.

Fat Studies: politics in disguise

Fat Studies (and other identity studies) are dumbing down higher education writes Abigail Alger on Campus Reform’s blog.

“Fat studies” is poised to break into the troika of race, gender, and class studies that are thriving at campuses across the country. Say goodbye to the last vestiges of a liberal education, of rigorous academic inquiry, and of the millennia of human achievement that academics now scorn.

Fat Studies “explores the social and political consequences of being overweight,” summarizes the San Diego Union-Tribune. Supporters see fat people as victims of a prejudiced society that insists only one body type is OK. They also deny that obesity causes health problems.

Fat Studies doesn’t pursue knowledge or lead to debate, Alger writes. Like other identity studies, it “begins with the end in mind.”

The conclusions have already been determined: fat people are oppressed and down-trodden, victims of an insert-terrible-adjective-here system and insert-another-terrible-adjective-here society.

In a closed system like this, there can be no debate or disagreement. . . . heretics are castigated as “speaking from privilege” or supporters of the inherently unjust system which perpetuates such grievous biases against fat people.

Fat Studies and its sisters are “political movements operating under the guise of intellectual departments,” Alger writes.  That’s it in a nutshell, I think.

And I hate to see people preach that obesity has no health consequences. I’m a diabetic, like my parents, sister and brother.  I have to control my weight to control my blood sugar. The alternative is blindness, amputation, kidney damage, heart disease, etc.

Update: The University of Wisconsin is considering adding a Hip-Hop Studies program, reports Ann Althouse, who notes that pop culture already “permeates the world of young Americans.”

Why pursue even more of it in college? Learn new things. Get what you can’t get just living in the world soaking up the things you naturally love and enjoy. What is the point of going to college?

One hip-hop advocate, who says she “struggled with physics” because it didn’t relate to her world, wants the physics department “to do more interdisciplinary research between science and culture” so students will be engaged. Engaged with what? Not physics presumably.

Gray wrinkly brains

Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain, Blue Brain is masterful, writes Emily Bazelon.

In her book about gender, Eliot describes a study of 11-month-olds asked to crawl down a carpeted slope. “The moms pushed a button to change the slope’s angle based on what they thought their children could handle. And then the babies were tested to see how steep a slope they could navigate.”

Girls and boys proved equally adept at crawling and risk-taking: On their own, they tried and conquered the same slopes. But the mothers of the girls — unlike the mothers of the boys — underestimated their daughters’ aptitude by a significant margin.

“Sex differences in the brain are sexy,” Eliot writes. And so we tend to notice them everywhere. “But there’s enormous danger,” she says, in our exaggeration. It leads us to see gender, beginning at an early age, only in terms of what we expect to see, and to assume that sex differences are innate and immutable. . . .

Our assumptions “crystallize into children’s self-perceptions and self-fulfilling prophecies.” Girls’ slightly lesser interest in puzzles and building toys is reinforced instead of challenged, and it turns into a gap in spatial skills and map reading. Parents and teachers see a boy lagging in reading and verbal skills and shrug it off with, “But of course, he’s a boy.”

Eliot calls for looking for ways to “help boys express their feelings, learn to read and write better, and feel at home in the school classroom,” instead of writing them off.  By the same token, we can look for ways to “help girls stay confident in math, learn how to read a map, and embrace technology and competition.”

Disney is offering refunds on Baby Einstein videos, which were supposed to make babies smarter but don’t.

. . . the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for children under 2.

Via The Quick and the Ed.

Knowledge matters

E. D. Hirsch’s knowledge-based curricula is the key to “Massachusetts’s miraculous educational reforms,” writes Sol Stern in City Journal.  After the 1993 education reform bill, Massachusetts wrote content-rich grade-by-grade standards backed by testing, Stern writes.

The history and social-science curriculum, for instance, makes clear that students should be taught explicitly about their rich heritage, rather than taught how to learn about that heritage. The curriculum calls for schools to “impart to their students the learning necessary for an informed, reasoned allegiance to the ideals of a free society.” This learning includes “the vision of a common life in liberty, justice, and equality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution two centuries ago.”

While other states have seen little progress in reading and math, Massachusetts students have moved to the top on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and do much better than the U.S. as a whole on Trends in International Math and Science Studies (TIMSS).

Stern’s children were students at a sought-after Manhattan public school, William Tecumseh Sherman, whose teachers and principals had trained at Columbia University’s progressive Teachers College.

I once asked my younger son and some of his classmates, all top fifth-grade students, whether they knew anything about the historical figure after whom their school was named. Not only were they clueless about the military leader who delivered the final blow that brought down America’s slave empire; they hardly knew anything about the Civil War, either. When I complained to the school’s principal, he reassured me: “Our kids don’t need to learn about the Civil War. What they are learning at P.S. 87 is how to learn about the Civil War.”

After reading Hirsch, the Sterns “accelerated our children’s supplementary home schooling” to ensure that they developed a base of knowledge.