What’s on the minds of the dropout nation today:
- Diane Ravitch’s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is certainly getting heavy play. Honestly, the book is just a step above bargain bin material from my perspective. Others feel the same way: Cato Institute education czar Andrew Coulson notes that Ravitch offers little in the way of cogent policy analysis. She can’t comment on charter schools or vouchers because she’s education historian, not a policy analyst or a researcher of any kind. Declares he: “They should never have been given credence in the first place.” Although I will state that Coulson’s argument is a bit faulty (based on his theory, most school reformers also wouldn’t qualify), he is right to state clearly what should be known by now: Ravitch is the Evan Bayh of education policy.
- Orestes Brownson is even more dismissive of Ravitch than Coulson or I would be. He also gives school reformers some grief: “One wishes, in vain, that education reformers would take their noses out of the test score tables and draft curriculae and talk about whether parents have a right to educate their children as they see fit… or not.” Understandable point, although I would argue that it isn’t exactly an either or. Parents should have the right to send their children to any high-quality educational options. At the same time, letting parents send children to failing schools is as much neglectful (and, dare I say, abusive) as physical abuse. There is a reasonable balance between anything goes and absolute restriction. Common core standards, from my perspective, seems unnecessary. Why? Because the National Assessment of Educational Progress already does a fine job of setting the bar for where states should be in terms of standards.
- For a masterful historian on education, one need not go to Ravitch. There is Jeffrey Mirel, whose treatise on the failings of the comprehensive high school system should be widely read by those interested in why high schools need reform (and why ability tracking should be abandoned altogether). His book on the history of Detroit’s public schools system should also be read. One need not agree with all of his conclusions in order to appreciate his scholarship.
- As Dropout Nation readers know, long-term pension and retiree health benefits and the evidence that seniority doesn’t equal quality are the two main forces that may lead to the end of traditional teachers compensation. Another reason why: The civil rights movement, which is now beginning to fully understand the consequences of seniority-based job protections (and the damage of “last hired-first fired” policies) to low-income students. As reported last month by the Los Angeles Times, the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the L.A. Unified School District for laying off its young teachers (and by proxy, being contractually unable to replace them with experienced teachers who don’t want to teach in schools serving poor children). At Samuel Gompers Middle School, the principal there recruited a highly-talented team of young teachers just to see them laid off; the school now depends on a rotating team of lower-quality substitutes. If the ACLU succeeds, this will result in a shock to every urban school system in the nation. And the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers will find themselves even more on the defensive.
- In Tupelo, Miss., a group called 150 Men is teaming up with the local school district to mentor 150 young black male dropouts and get them back into school, according to WTVA. It is part of a larger effort by the district to get more black churches and fraternities to take the achievement gap and the dropout crisis as seriously as they took the fight against segregation five decades ago.
- John Fensterwald notes that a few parent groups are asking state officials about the use of the Parent Trigger and open enrollment rules that can now be used by parents to either restructure failing schools their children attend or move them to better-performing schools in the area (whether in their home district or outside of it). The two promising moves can help improve the quality of education for the poorest children. But as Fensterwald points out, the state hasn’t given thorough guidance on the use of either one. By the way, check out the Dropout Nation Podcast on Parent Trigger for more perspective.
- The Common Core Standards initiative being headed up by the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers has unveiled its math and English standards for comment. Feel free to leave your comments. Checker Finn has already offered his.