Sotomayor's choice

Sonia Sotomayor’s personal experience — her mother sent her to Catholic schools — may shape her decisions on school choice, writes Andy Smarick in The American.

Of course, it remains an open question how Judge Sotomayor would apply her Catholic school experiences should she be confirmed and face a school voucher case. On the one hand, she might fully appreciate the invaluable gift she was given by being able to attend Cardinal Spellman High in the Bronx. She might reflect on today’s low-income urban parents’ hopes for great schools for their kids. She might consider the heretofore futile efforts to adequately improve traditional city school systems and the tragic impact on students growing up in public housing units similar to those of her childhood.

On the other hand, Barack Obama, who attended private school and sends his children to private school, hasn’t backed school vouchers for low-income Washington, D.C. children.

Obama Elementary

Barack Obama Elementary? A new school in Prince George’s County, Maryland may be named after the president. It’s a trend, reports the Washington Post.

The Hempstead Union Free School District in New York voted to rename Ludlum Elementary School for him in November shortly after his victory in the presidential election. Since then, several other school boards nationwide have taken steps to name new schools or rename old ones after the president.

“Antigua has plans to name its largest mountain and a national park” after Obama.

Killing D.C. voucher hopes

A week after 200 low-income Washington, D.C. families were offered $7,500 vouchers, Education Secretary Arne Duncan canceled the scholarships. No new children will start at private schools in the fall; those already attending will lose voucher aid in another year, unless Congress reconsiders. As the Washington Post editorializes, this makes it easier for congressional opponents to end the voucher program for good, despite a new study showing reading gains for voucher students.

(The decision) comes despite a new study showing some initial good results for students in the program and before the Senate has had a chance to hold promised hearings. For all the talk about putting children first, it’s clear that the special interests that have long opposed vouchers are getting their way.

. . . By presuming the program dead — and make no mistake, that’s the insidious effect of his bar on new enrollment — Mr. Duncan makes it even more difficult for the program to get the fair hearing it deserves.

The voucher families have missed the deadline to apply to many public charter schools or to apply for transfers.  Their kids will be stuck in their neighborhood district-run public schools.

Duncan has a boss, points out Jennifer Rubin on Contentions. His name is Barack Obama. He doesn’t send his kids to D.C.’s district-run public schools.

Duncan wasn’t lying when he said he didn’t know about the follow-up study’s positive findings, writes Grover Whitehurst, former director of the Institute for Education Sciences.

Update: At Flypaper, Mike Petrilli prints the letter the Education Department sent to parents who were offered vouchers, then told the scholarships were cancelled.  It expresses “regret” for the “confusion” and promises to do “everything possible to help ensure that your child is in a safe school environment that offers strengthened academic programs.”  Since transfer and charter deadlines have passed, “everything possible” isn’t much.

Petrilli suggests more honest wording:

“Because Democrats in Congress have voted to rescind funding for this program after next school year (despite the fact that a recent evaluation shows it to be a success, a rarity for federal initiatives), we have unilaterally decided to rescind your child’s scholarship effective immediately.”

It’s not too late for President Obama to step in. Send the Seals!

‘Obama Effect’ raises blacks’ test scores

When Barack Obama peaked during the campaign, blacks scored about as well as similarly educated whites on a series of tests, reports a Vanderbilt management professor, Ray Friedman. He calls it the “Obama Effect.”

In the study, tests were administered to a total of 472 participants using questions drawn from Graduate Record Exams (GREs) to assess reading comprehension, analogies and sentence completion. The tests took place at four distinct points over three months during the campaign: two when Obama’s success was less prominent (prior to his acceptance of the nomination and the mid-point between the convention and election day) and two when it garnered the most attention (immediately after his nomination speech and his win of the presidency in November).

. . . during the height of the Obama media frenzy, the performance gap between black and white Americans was effectively eliminated.

Blacks “who did not watch Obama’s nomination acceptance speech continued to lag behind their white peers, while those who did view the speech successfully closed the gap.”

It’s the “educational equivalent of cold fusion” says Ken DeRosa, critiquing the New York Times story.

Let parents ‘be the change’

Barack Obama’s “be the change” idea “could transform the education policy debate,” writes Flypaper.  It’s assumed many parents won’t raise their children responsibly so schools must step in.

Perhaps we’ll never reach “100 percent parental responsibility,” just like we’ll never reach “100 percent proficiency” in reading and math. But maybe, just maybe, we could do dramatically better than we are today in getting parents to show up for their job as their child’s first and most important teacher.

Obama called for a “new era of mutual responsibility in education” during the campaign.

There is no substitute for a parent who will make sure their children are in school on time and help them with their homework after dinner and attend those parent-teacher conferences. . . . Responsibility for our children’s education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them and spend time with them and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable.

What can schools do to encourage parental responsibility?

I think schools should tell parents what they school wants them to do, such as limit TV and video time on school nights, set aside time for homework and reading, enforce a sensible bed time, serve a low-sugar breakfast, get them to school on time, whatever else is doable even by poorly educated parents.  Ask them to sign a contract, even if it will be nearly impossible to enforce it.

I’d send home DVDs (or links to YouTube videos) on how to teach manners and self-control to children. How should kids handle conflict at school? Show examples.  Another DVD could show how to read aloud with a child, perhaps how to discuss a TV show with a child. Or how to help your child get organized to do homework, even if you can’t help with the homework.

In reporting for my book, Our School, I met many Mexican immigrant parents who had very little formal education. They don’t know what the school wants of them unless somebody tells them explicitly. So, tell them.

Edspresso is collecting advice for Obama on education.

In the Obama era, whither Finn and Finch?

Now that Barack Obama is president, novels that use “the N-word,” such as Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men should be dumped from high school reading lists, argues an English teacher in Washington state.

He’d encourage students to read these classics, but wouldn’t assign them, writes John Foley.

Those books are old, and we’re ready for new.

Huck Finn is too slow for modern readers and uses challenging Southern dialect, writes Foley.  Mockingbird is “dated” because Atticus Finch, tells his daughter not to use the N-word because it’s “common.”  Foley doesn’t mention the “N-word” in Of Mice and Men, but there is a black ranch hand so it’s probably in there.  Foley thinks a book set in the Depression won’t resonate with today’s teens, though World War II is timely.

As replacements, he suggests David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars (prejudice against Japanese-Americans during World War II),  Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato (Vietnam War) and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.

Like Huck, “Dove” involves an epic journey of discovery and loss and addresses an important social issue — the terrible treatment of women in the Old West. That issue does not rank as high as slavery on our national list of shame, but it definitely makes the list.

This seems awfully reductive to me: The three classics aren’t just social issue books. And I’d classify Snow Falling on Cedars as OK but not great. I haven’t read the other two: Frankly, Lonesome Dove was too long — and I’m a McMurtry fan.

Via The Daily Grind.

Update: “I don’t see kids reading,” says McMurtry, who owns a used and rare book store in his home town of Archer City, Texas.

John Foley responds to the criticism, adding that he’d also remove Gatsby from the reading list because the spoiled characters piss him off.  I think they’re supposed to.

Stimulating minds

Spending $1 trillion for highways, bridges and school repairs won’t stimulate the economy in the long run, argues New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. We need to stimulate learning, creating “more Google-ready jobs and Windows-ready and knowledge-ready workers.”


Barack Obama is talking about preparing for global competition by  “investing in the science, research and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries and entire new industries.”

But, again, how?

Friedman proposes:

. . . give everyone who is academically eligible and willing a quick $5,000 to go back to school. . . .

.  . .  eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers. I’d also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science — instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home — and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years.

Academically eligible students — and quite a few who aren’t eligible — already go to college in the U.S.  Where we lose potential scientists and innovators is in the K-12 system. There’s no quick fix for that, though it would make sense to pay more to competent math and science teachers — and to other teachers with high-demand skills, such as special ed specialists. Exempting all public teachers from income taxes is a bad idea: We’re all in this together.

I back allowing foreign math and science graduates to stay in the U.S.

It’s also important to ensure that community colleges have the funds to offer  classes to laid-off workers who need to improve their skills.

Eduwonk has more on compensating teachers.