"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

More on 100% Solution - Weighted Student Funding


The authors of the so-called "100% Solution" ask, "How should different student characteristics be weighted?" They ask this in response to their proposal that "hard-to-educate" (sic) children receive more funds. But how do you determine how much each child gets? The authors admit, "WSF (weighted student funding) cannot work if there is not an accurate picture of the student population of every school. With more money flowing to students with greater needs, there will be great temptation for schools to exaggerate their students’ disadvantages. To ensure a fair process, the school should not have responsibility for classifying students."

As one way to crack this inherently corrupted nut, the authors sing the praises of the marketplace:

One approach is to set weights over time based on the “marketplace” for students that are weighted. In a comprehensive WSF system such as we propose, weights can (and should) be established such that hard-to-educate children become desirable for schools to enroll. Knowing that student performance standards must be reached, principals should find the weight for an at-risk child sufficient to make that child an asset to the school. Principals should seek out the children who bring with them weights that are at least sufficient to enable the school to meet achievement standards. Just as the free market sets prices for goods and services, the market for hard-to-educate children can determine their weighting. Principals and schools should seek to enroll hard-to-educate children because they know that with the money accompanying the child they can show improvement trends and reach performance levels. If this doesn’t happen, the district or state should adjust weights until it does.

So let me get this straight: under this proposal, principals will go out of their ways to find the most challenging "hard-to-educate children" because these children will bring more dollars with them.

But wait a minute: these extra dollars are supposed to be used to educate these so-called
"hard-to-educate children." If that's the case, then it's a wash. In other words, there would be no incentive whatsoever to enroll these children. It would take more money to educate them. The principals would get more money to educate them. The principals would spend the extra money on educating them.

Or not.

It would most definitely be an incentive for principals to enroll these children if they got the extra money to educate them and then spend the extra funds on whatever they chose: a new football field, a new air-conditioned teachers' lounge, a new set of textbooks from McGraw-Hill.

Ironically, in pointing out the possibility of corruption within the system, the authors have provided a new channel for corruption in a plan ostensibly designed to prevent it.

A disproportionate percentage of these
"hard-to-educate children" are black. A call to the marketplace to cure what ails them calls to mind a different kind of marketplace at a different time. But this marketplace was also designed to cure what ailed them. Their fates lay in the hands of the highest bidders.

The 100% Solution Is 100% Same Old Thing

The so-called "100% Solution" is a very clever strategy. Former Education Secretary Rod Paige had this to say about it in an op-ed in yesterday's NY Times:

"Our schools are failing our most at-risk students. Only 30 percent of eighth graders are 'proficient' or 'advanced' in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Math scores are nearly as bad. The No Child Left Behind Act is helping, by focusing attention on our neediest students, but it will succeed only if we recognize that certain children require more resources to educate than others."

Fairly enlightened thinking. It would seem that Hot Rod has learned a few things since he left the helm of ED to Maggie Spellings.

Indeed, if you read the first part of the proposal, you'd never believe that this came from the likes of Paige and Fordham. For example:

"Money alone does not explain the success of these schools. But high expectations and a rigorous commitment to fulfilling them, especially with disadvantaged children, costs money—more money than it takes to educate children who don't face the challenges of poverty or disability. Achievement for all students will require more time on task (meaning longer school days and years), and it will require excellent teachers. Our chances of meeting ambitious achievement goals for all children will be greatly enhanced if we allocate resources equitably to all students based on the resources needed to educate them. Despite clear evidence that some students require more resources than others, less money often flows to schools serving children who need these extra resources most."

Holy cow! Amazing, right??

But then the other shoes drop.

Shoe 1 - The argument for more funding for charters, i.e., that more money follow children to charter schools.

"(U)nder the antiquated school financing structures in place today, students who opt out of their assigned district schools are often opting into schools that receive lower levels of funding. One example of these disparities emerged in a recent Fordham Institute study of funding differences between public charter schools and district schools in 16 states and the District of Columbia. With just one exception, charter schools received less revenue than district schools, with the per-pupil funding gap ranging from 4.8 percent in New Mexico to 39.5 percent in South Carolina. In dollars, the gap ranged from $414 in North Carolina to $3,638 in Missouri."

Shoe 2 - More money follow kids to private schools. The argument for "choice" and private schools is in an endnote (#38) right here.

"Some signers of this proposal would extend the solutions and principles discussed here beyond public schools. They favor a system in which public dollars follow children on a weighted basis to all schools, including those operated under private auspices, so long as schools receiving such funds agree to be held publicly accountable for their academic results."

Old wine. New Bottles.
Smoke. Mirrors.
You know the drill.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

First Lies and Deceptions Found in Spellings Higher Commission Report

There was good reason for Charles Miller to try to keep his attack on higher ed under wraps (as reported by Inside Higher Ed) until he could get his hired guns to pull it all together and push it out the door this coming September. It is a nasty, cyncial, inaccurate (lying) and poorly resourced piece of angry opinion that any credible researcher would never put his name on.

You only have to go to page 6 to find the first lie in the draft report by the Spelllings Commission to Meddle in Higher Ed.

From the Draft Report, p. 6:
"According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined by 40 percent in the past decade."
What the NAAL actually said is that there was a 9 point drop, rather than a drop of 40 percentage points. So when did facts matter to these thugs! From (p. 15, A First Look at Literacy in the 21st Century:
"On the prose scale,the percentage of college graduates with Proficient literacy decreased from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2003."
The second example shows how Miller and Co. ignored findings in the NAAL when there was no drop in mathematical literacy rates to report. Instead, they move off to quote a report by AIR, an outfit bought and paid for by the neocons ED. From the Draft Report, p. 13:
Students’ basic computational and analytical skills are also lagging. Another national survey found that 20 percent of those completing 4-year degrees – and 30 percent of those earning 2-year degrees – are unable to estimate if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station or calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies. More than half of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent of those at two- year colleges lacked the skills to interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees, or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.
Here is what the NAAL reported on mathematical literacy, the same study that is used (though exaggerated to the point of incredible lies) when it serves the purpose of the Commission to castigate higher ed. From p. 14, A First Look at Literacy in the 21st Century:

The distribution of adults across the four literacy levels on the quantitative scale did not change significantly between 1992 and 2003 within any of the educational attainment categories.


I will have much more to say about the Chuck Miller Side Show when I return from a two week holiday--beginning tomorrow. I will be posting not so often, so Peter Campbell and Judy Rabin will have the floor entirely.

Monday, June 26, 2006

No Oversight for Brennan's Ohio Charter Schools

Mr. White Hat Management, Inc. has done some fancy lawyering in Ohio, leading an effort to create for-profit charter schools that are run by his management company without accountability to the taxpayers of Ohio who are pumping hundreds of millions into his 125 for-profit charters. Not only that, but Brennan has been a big player the voucher movement and in stacking the Ohio Supreme Court with conservative like himself who believes that the best government is the government that has relinquished its oversight responsibilities for corporate greed run amok. Maybe that is why a decision on the legality of the charter thievery in Ohio still has not been handed down by the Court.

Here is the latest on the attempted audit of the Brennan empire in Ohio:
Ohio has no effective way to know if $20 million it has sent to charter schools for startup costs is being used properly, a state audit found.

The review, released Thursday by State Auditor Betty Montgomery, found the Ohio Department of Education "did not have an effective system in place" to determine whether 130 charter schools operating statewide used the money for planning and design as required.

"There was no effective system in place to determine if the charter schools were using these federal funds within applicable rules and regulations," said spokeswoman Courtney Whetstone. "There was a serious lack of controls."

Education Department spokeswoman Karla Carruthers said Ohio requires charter schools - which are publicly funded but privately run - to submit annual performance reviews, expenditure reports, and audits. "But the auditor said it wasn't thorough enough," she said.

Montgomery recommended on-site visits to the schools and establishment of a system to verify that the schools "did not request more cash than was needed to pay expenses."

Carruthers said the department plans to hire someone to do just that, but emphasized that no suggestion has been made that any of the schools squandered or misused the money.

A case before the Ohio Supreme Court could determine whether, or in what form, the educational experiment begun in 1998 should continue.

Over the past school year, Ohio spent an estimated $486 million on charter schools, which serve 72,000 students but have struggled academically.

Test Preparation Trumps Arts Education

Thanks to people outside of Joel Klein's office, the New York City Schools have what sounds like a first-class blueprint for a compreshensive arts curriculum for the Schools. Only problem--no leadership and no cash to make it happen.

Wouldn't this be a great beginning for spending just a tiny fraction of the Buffet billions that he is giving away? Or is he, like Gates, only interested in the work curriculum or the curriculum for corporate growth? A clip from the Times:

"The blueprint is not curriculum, the blueprint is only a recommendation," said Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr., a Democrat of Brooklyn, chairman of the council's Cultural Affairs Committee. "They're not requiring schools to have music teachers or art teachers. They're not saying, 'You have to have this much art.' " Because the blueprint is aimed at arts specialists, it does not address schools that do not have them, or those with insufficient art space or supplies. "There is such a gap between the aspiration and the resources to actually make that happen that it feels like a hoax or a P.R. document," said Eva S. Moskowitz, former chairwoman of the City Council Education Committee, who now runs a charter school, Harlem Success.

Given the intense emphasis on math and reading scores, schools remain focused on test preparation and have no comparable incentive to improve arts education. "Arts are not on the school report card," said Richard Kessler, the executive director of the Center for Arts Education.

No real change can occur until they are, arts advocates say. "The chancellor would have to issue a mandate that arts is required as part of the curriculum and schools will be assessed and held accountable," said David Shookhoff, the director of education for Manhattan Theater Club, which produces plays on and off Broadway. "That would be a necessary step to ensure that we really move forward where every school has qualified arts specialists."

That mandate is not likely to come, said Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor: "I'm a little hesitant to start to say, 'I'm going to mandate an arts curriculum, and I'm going to mandate a social studies curriculum, and I'm going to mandate a language curriculum.' Sometimes a little bit of judgment and discretion goes a long way."

Discretion?? What kind of discretion was used to determine that children in grades 3, 5, and 7 would be held back in school if they did not pass the annual test of mandated reading and math content? Was it Klein's discretion of Bloomberg's to ignore the warnings of the American Psychological Society and American Education Research Association against the use of such tests as the sole criterion for making life-changing decisions? Discretion??

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Spellings Visits Oracle of Exurbia

My favorite part of Spellings' speech to some teachers in Minnesota last week came when she bubbled this scoop about where she goes to replenish her supply of platitudes:

I had a meeting with Thomas Friedman from The New York Times last week. And he told me the number one skill our children will need to survive in the flat world is learning how to learn. We can make all the right policy moves in Washington, but without great teachers like you instilling a love of learning in our students, nothing else matters.

Nothing else matters? How about phonemic awareness, vocabulary words, math functions, and AYP? I thought it was the Oracle that was supposed to speak in riddles.

Research Shows Single-Sex Schools No Benefit

In our current test-obsessed, straight jacket learning environments, girls are making greater test score gains than boys. This has led some to advocate giving boys some relief by re-segregating them in "divergent" learning environments, while leaving girls to have their brains cooked in the same old test preparation factories. All in the name of good science, of course.

Perhaps the support for this nonsense will be knocked down some by a new study reported by Alan Smithers and reported in the Observer. Here is a clip of a piece well worth reading in its entirety:
. . . a growing movement in the US argues that boys' and girls' brains develop differently, so they benefit from separate teaching styles. In Britain more and more mixed schools are using single-sex classes because of ongoing concerns over boys' results, which have consistently lagged behind those of girls.

But Smithers, who will present his findings at a co-education conference at Wellington College in Berkshire, said that whether a school was single-sex or not had little impact on how well it did. His exhaustive review of data from across the world showed no evidence that single-sex schools were consistently superior. In Hong Kong, where 10 per cent of schools are single-sex, girls appeared to do better. But in Belgium, where co-educational schools are in the minority, boys and girls who study together get the best results. He highlighted the fact that 40 per cent of people who had a single-sex education wanted their children to go to a co-educational school.

The work was carried out on behalf of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, an organisation that represents the headteachers of some 250 leading independent schools in Britain. It comes after research published last month in Scotland showed that even in a co-educational school, separating pupils into single-sex classes failed to improve boys' performance. Rather than raising success rates, the move led to greater indiscipline, it found. . . .

Could it be that girls have historically been programmed to sit still, keep their mouths shut, and speak when spoken to, thus becoming perfectly adapted to today's school expectations? Perhaps boys and girls both would do better in every respect if they were offered something more consistent with, let's say, the basic needs of the human animal.

Accountability

And they talk about holding teachers accountable.


The Road From K Street to Yusufiya
By FRANK RICH
Published: June 25, 2006

As the remains of two slaughtered American soldiers, Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, were discovered near Yusufiya, Iraq, on Tuesday, a former White House official named David Safavian was convicted in Washington on four charges of lying and obstruction of justice. The three men had something in common: all had enlisted in government service in a time of war. The similarities end there. The difference between Mr. Safavian's kind of public service and that of the soldiers says everything about the disconnect between the government that has sabotaged this war and the brave men and women who have volunteered in good faith to fight it.

Privates Tucker and Menchaca made the ultimate sacrifice. Their bodies were so mutilated that they could be identified only by DNA. Mr. Safavian, by contrast, can be readily identified by smell. His idea of wartime sacrifice overseas was to chew over government business with the Jack Abramoff gang while on a golfing junket in Scotland. But what's most indicative of Mr. Safavian's public service is not his felonies in the Abramoff-Tom DeLay axis of scandal, but his legal activities before his arrest. In his DNA you get a snapshot of the governmental philosophy that has guided the war effort both in Iraq and at home (that would be the Department of Homeland Security) and doomed it to failure.

Mr. Safavian, a former lobbyist, had a hand in federal spending, first as chief of staff of the General Services Administration and then as the White House's chief procurement officer, overseeing a kitty of some $300 billion (plus $62 billion designated for Katrina relief). He arrived to help enforce a Bush management initiative called "competitive sourcing." Simply put, this was a plan to outsource as much of government as possible by forcing federal agencies to compete with private contractors and their K Street lobbyists for huge and lucrative assignments. The initiative's objective, as the C.E.O. administration officially put it, was to deliver "high-quality services to our citizens at the lowest cost."

The result was low-quality services at high cost: the creation of a shadow government of private companies rife with both incompetence and corruption. Last week Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who commissioned the first comprehensive study of Bush administration contracting, revealed that the federal procurement spending supervised for a time by Mr. Safavian had increased by $175 billion between 2000 and 2005. (Halliburton contracts alone, unsurprisingly, went up more than 600 percent.) Nearly 40 cents of every dollar in federal discretionary spending now goes to private companies.

In this favor-driven world of fat contracts awarded to the well-connected, Mr. Safavian was only an aspiring consigliere. He was not powerful enough or in government long enough to do much beyond petty reconnaissance for Mr. Abramoff and his lobbying clients. But the Bush brand of competitive sourcing, with its get-rich-quick schemes and do-little jobs for administration pals, spread like a cancer throughout the executive branch. It explains why tens of thousands of displaced victims of Katrina are still living in trailer shantytowns all these months later. It explains why New York City and Washington just lost 40 percent of their counterterrorism funds. It helps explain why American troops are more likely to be slaughtered than greeted with flowers more than three years after the American invasion of Iraq.

The Department of Homeland Security, in keeping with the Bush administration's original opposition to it, isn't really a government agency at all so much as an empty shell, a networking boot camp for future private contractors dreaming of big paydays. Thanks to an investigation by The Times's Eric Lipton, we know that some two-thirds of the top department executives, including Tom Ridge and his principal deputies, have cashed in on their often brief service by becoming executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that have received billions of dollars in government contracts. Even John Ashcroft, the first former attorney general in American history known to immediately register as a lobbyist, is selling his Homeland Security connections to interested bidders. "When you got it, flaunt it!" as they say in "The Producers."

To see the impact of such revolving-door cronyism, just look at the Homeland Security process that mandated those cutbacks for New York and Washington. The official in charge, the assistant secretary for grants and training, is Tracy Henke, an Ashcroft apparatchik from the Justice Department who was best known for trying to politicize the findings of its Bureau of Justice Statistics. (So much so that the White House installed her in Homeland Security with a recess appointment, to shield her from protracted Senate scrutiny.) Under Henke math, it follows that St. Louis, in her home state (and Mr. Ashcroft's), has seen its counterterrorism allotment rise by more than 30 percent while that for the cities actually attacked on 9/11 fell. And guess what: the private contractor hired by Homeland Security to consult on Ms. Henke's handiwork, Booz Allen Hamilton, now just happens to employ Greg Rothwell, who was the department's procurement chief until December. Booz Allen recently nailed a $250 million Homeland Security contract for technology consulting.

The continuing Katrina calamity is another fruit of outsourced government. As Alan Wolfe details in "Why Conservatives Can't Govern" in the current Washington Monthly, the die was cast long before the storm hit: the Bush cronies installed at FEMA, first Joe Allbaugh and then Michael Brown, had privatized so many of the agency's programs that there was little government left to manage the disaster even if more competent managers than Brownie had been in charge.

But the most lethal impact of competitive sourcing, as measured in human cost, is playing out in Iraq. In the standard narrative of American failure in the war, the pivotal early error was Donald Rumsfeld's decision to ignore the advice of Gen. Eric Shinseki and others, who warned that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to secure the country once we inherited it. But equally reckless, we can now see, was the administration's lax privatization of the country's reconstruction, often with pet companies and campaign contributors and without safeguards or accountability to guarantee results.

Washington's promises to rebuild Iraq were worth no more than its promises to rebuild New Orleans. The government that has stranded a multitude of Americans in flimsy "housing" on the gulf, where they remain prey for any new natural attacks the hurricane season will bring, is of a philosophical and operational piece with the government that has let down the Iraqi people. Even after we've thrown away some $2 billion of a budgeted $4 billion on improving electricity, many Iraqis have only a few hours of power a day, less than they did under Saddam. At his Rose Garden press conference of June 14, the first American president with an M.B.A. claimed that yet another new set of "benchmarks" would somehow bring progress even after all his previous benchmarks had failed to impede three years of reconstruction catastrophes.

Of the favored companies put in charge of our supposed good works in Iraq, Halliburton is the most notorious. But it is hardly unique. As The Los Angeles Times reported in April, it is the Parsons Corporation that is responsible for the "wholesale failure in two of the most crucial areas of the Iraq reconstruction — health and safety — which were supposed to win Iraqi good will and reduce the threat to American soldiers."

Parsons finished only 20 of 150 planned Iraq health clinics, somehow spending $60 million of the budgeted $186 million for its own management and administration. It failed to build walls around 7 of the 17 security forts it constructed to supposedly stop the flow of terrorists across the Iran border. Last week, reported James Glanz of The New York Times, the Army Corps of Engineers ordered Parsons to abandon construction on a hopeless $99.1 million prison that was two years behind schedule. By the calculation of Representative Waxman, some $30 billion in American taxpayers' money has been squandered on these and other Iraq boondoggles botched by a government adhering to the principle of competitive sourcing.

If we had honored our grand promises to the people we were liberating, Dick Cheney's prediction that we would be viewed as liberators might have had a chance of coming true. Greater loyalty from the civilian population would have helped reduce the threat to American soldiers, who are prey to insurgents in places like Yusufiya. But what we've wrought instead is a variation on Arthur Miller's post-World War II drama, "All My Sons." Working from a true story, Miller told the tragedy of a shoddy contractor whose defectively manufactured aircraft parts led directly to the deaths of a score of Army pilots and implicitly to the death of his own son.

Back then such a scandal was a shocking anomaly. Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, the very model of big government that the current administration vilifies, never would have trusted private contractors to run the show. Somehow that unwieldy, bloated government took less time to win World War II than George W. Bush's privatized government is taking to blow this one.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pataki & Bloomberg Handed Stinging Defeat on Charter Schools

Even though Pataki went into hostage mode late this week by attaching his charter expansion plan to a bill that would have extended important aid to the poor, the Legislature showed guts and voted down charter expansion plans to further remove public control of the public schools in the City. From the Times:

ALBANY, June 23 — As the smoke cleared in Albany, the Bloomberg administration's push to create more charter schools, a plan that was strongly backed by the governor, fell short. So did a plan to send millions of dollars to programs for needy families. And a proposal to allow early retirement for public workers.

For Gov. George E. Pataki, the biggest loss was the Legislature's refusal to lift the cap on charter schools. But it was an even bigger setback for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. He has made charter schools a top priority in his bid to revamp the city school system and has vowed to open as many as 75 more by the end of his term.

Earlier this year, the state reached its cap of 100 charter schools, so Mr. Pataki proposed increasing the number allowed statewide by 150.

And in Albany, where the saying goes that nothing is done until everything is done, Mr. Pataki tied his charter school plan with other programs in a last-ditch effort to get the Legislature to go along.

In the end, they all sank. . . .


Who Is Doing the Choosing of School Choice?

Clint Bolick, President and Chief Counsel for one of the lead school privatization outfits, editorializes, nay, rhapsodizes this week in the the Wall Street Journal on all the recent strides made by the school voucher crowd. Missing from the success stories, however, are the historically-reliable opinion polls that continue to show Americans opposed to school vouchers that take money away from public schools. Not mentioned, either, is the smackdown of the J. Bush voucher plan by the Florida Supreme Court, a decision that promises to end Jeb's reign with a whimper, rather than a bang. Or how about the big plan in Ohio, where only a handful of parents signed on for vouchers (and many of those were religious school parents looking to avoid tuition payments).

What Bolick shows in his op-ed is the same kind of feeble imagination and limited either-or thinking that school privatizers are known for, those who are either legally on the payroll at ED or those who are getting their government funds in more creative ways. These binary thinkers present their two options, and that’s it: 1) continue to support the failing urban schools, or, 2) support vouchers. There is a new implication to their false dichotomy, however: if you don’t choose the voucher solution, that makes you an uncaring racist who is willing to leave these children behind in failing schools. Remember the “bigotry of low expectations” of those who do not support NCLB?” Same deal:
For Democrats who truly believe in social justice, that presents a terrible dilemma: Either forcing children to remain in schools where they have little prospect for a bright future, or enlisting private schools in a rescue mission. Democrats are increasingly unwilling to forsake the neediest children.

Forsaking the neediest children is, of course, exactly what school privatization does, but it does so by forsaking the children and the families of these children who are told, essentially, that they are not worth the effort to make their communities and schools better. By shutting down their schools, they are told that their communities are not worth saving and their school choice is to be limited to a voucher that will only buy them a seat in a marginal private school or in a church school—regardless of their religious beliefs.

Bolick would have something else added to the message to the urban poor: not only is the government going to give up on addressing poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity in your community, but the government is going to pay corporations with tax credits to put their names on the vouchers that you will receive to buy a marginal education for your children, one for which there is no evidence of being any better than the one you are leaving.

If Mr. Bolick and his faux bleeding heart corporationist friends at the Wall Street Journal are really interested in the “neediest children,” they would be willing to encourage public tax credits for corporations who do the public good, rather than using public dollars to pay corporations to shut off the civic life blood that the public schools have historically provided (at least in communites that we have not given up on).

Mr. Bolick, check out what is going on in the poor schools of Chattanooga, Tennessee, as reported by John Merrow this week. This is a great example of business, private foundations, and the government sitting down at the same table to figure out how to save their schools and the children and teachers that comprise them. It would seem from Mr. Bolick’s proposals, however, that he prefers de-enterprise zones rather than offering enterprising incentives for corporations to help end failure and poverty in urban centers (very good business for corporations, by the way).

Bolick does offer a bit of news with his rhapsody, and it relates directly to the final solution that the privatizers have had in mind ever since NCLB was crafted to assure the failure of public schools, offered here in apocalyptic tones:
For children in chronically failing schools, the day of reckoning is fast approaching: Legislation to add private school options to NCLB will be introduced next month. Democrats who supported private school relief for Katrina children to alleviate a disaster will be forced to confront the reality that New Orleans schools were in crisis long before the hurricane appeared--and so are millions of other children in inner cities across the nation.

I strongly suspect that Bolick knows that the proposal to add vouchers to NCLB is destined to be DOA, especially when it is not at all clear if NCLB will even survive the reauthorization debate. The likely failure of vouchers, if proposed, however, will be accompanied by efforts to negotiate for the real option that the privatizers are pushing— and that, of course, is the charter option as the transition phase to privatization. There has yet to be conceived a more underhanded way to shrink the influence of elected school boards and the rights of teachers and parent groups. Once those are gone, and control is essentially placed in the hands of administrator/managers, then Whittle, Inc. and White Hat, Inc. will be ready for the next phase.

Whether our distracted and uncaring Congressmen will notice the obvious manipulation, I would not bet on it without an outpouring of support for public schools from constituents. After all, the lead-up to Iraq provides plenty of evidence they weren't even reading the papers, then. The manipulation to shut down public education will take some educating by all those who care enough to act to preserve the public schools, thus preserving the possibility of preserving and renewing the Republic.

Return to Separate But Equal?

The Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether or not race can be used as a factor in determining which schools children attend. If the plan in question is overturned, schools in Louisville will likely resegregate.

--excerpt from NY Times story (full text below)--
Mr. Gordon represents the plaintiff in the . . . case, Crystal D. Meredith, who is white. She sued after the district denied her request to transfer her son Joshua from Young Elementary, in the West End, to Bloom Elementary, nearer her home. The district said the transfer would disrupt Young's racial balance.

Judge John G. Heyburn II of Federal District Court ruled against Ms. Meredith in 2004, saying that the district had shown a "compelling interest" in maintaining integrated schools. A federal appeals court upheld that ruling, but the Supreme Court has now agreed to review the case.

In an interview, Mr. Gordon predicted that if Louisville's student assignment plan was overturned, the schools would rapidly resegregate. But that should be of no concern, he said.

"We're a diverse society, a multiethnic society, a colorblind society," he said. "Race is history."

Chester Darling, the lawyer who represented parents in a 1999 suit challenging a school assignment plan in Lynn, Mass., holds similar views. "If children are in segregated schools, de facto or not, as long as they are getting the education they need that's fine," he said.

--full text--

June 24, 2006

Schools' Efforts on Race Await Justices' Ruling

By SAM DILLON
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — School officials in Berkeley, Calif., take race as well as parent income into account as they assign students to public schools, with a result that many black children who live downtown are bused to classes in the mostly white neighborhoods on the hills that overlook San Francisco Bay.

In Lynn, Mass., the authorities guarantee that children can attend their neighborhood school, but consider race in weighing students' transfer requests, sometimes blocking those that would increase racial imbalance.

And here in Louisville, the school board uses race as a factor in a student assignment plan to keep enrollments at most schools roughly in line with the district's overall racial composition, making this one of the most thoroughly integrated urban school systems in the nation.

As different as they are, all these approaches and many more like them could now be in jeopardy, lawyers say, because of the Supreme Court's decision this month to review cases involving race and school assignment programs here and in Seattle.

"We'll be watching this very closely, because whichever way the Supreme Court rules, it will certainly have an impact on our district," said Arthur R. Culver, superintendent of schools in Champaign, Ill., where African-American students make up 36 percent of students. Under a court-supervised plan, the district keeps the proportion of black students in all schools within 15 percentage points of that average by controlling school assignments.

Over the past 15 years, courts have ended desegregation orders in scores of school districts. But many districts around the country seek to maintain diversity with voluntary programs like magnet schools and magnet programs, clustering plans that group schools in black neighborhoods with those in white, and weighted admissions lotteries that assign classroom seats by race.

All of this is now a gray area of the law until there is guidance from the Supreme Court on how far school systems may go in the quest for racial diversity.

Courts in the 1990's mostly struck down the use of race in assignment decisions, but three federal rulings since 2003 have permitted its use. As the legal ambiguity has grown, hundreds of districts have dropped voluntary efforts to maintain racial balance. Others have vigorously pursued them, even as a debate has emerged over whether racially mixed schools provide the nation with important educational benefits.

"Most school districts believe that there are educational benefits in having students attend school with other students of different backgrounds," said Maree Sneed, a lawyer who filed a brief in the Louisville case on behalf of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation's largest urban districts. "It prepares them to be better citizens."

But Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington group critical of affirmative action, said such assertions were based on "touchy-feely social science."

"It'd be dangerous for the court to allow discrimination whenever a school board produces some social scientist who claims that racially balancing schools to the nth degree is essential for teaching students to be good citizens," Mr. Clegg said.

The debate comes as immigration, housing patterns and ethnic change have made achieving racial balance in the schools an increasing challenge.

A study published this year by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University reported that partly because of the rapid growth of Latino and Asian populations, the traditional black-white model of American race relations was breaking down. Yet white students remained the most racially isolated group, even though they were attending schools with more minority students than ever before, the report said.

Although whites in 2003-04 made up 58 percent of the nation's public school population, the average white student attended a school where 78 percent of pupils were also white, the study said.

The proportion of black students attending schools where 10 percent of students or fewer were white increased to 38 percent in 2003-04 from 34 percent in 1991-92.

Gary Orfield, the project's director, said a decision barring the use of race in student assignments would most likely intensify those trends.

"School boards would be captives to the racial segregation that occurs in housing markets," Mr. Orfield said. "Boards would be forbidden to do what courts once ordered them to do, and what they now want to do voluntarily."

How many of the nation's 15,000 districts currently consider race in assigning students to schools is unclear because no one keeps track, experts said. A brief filed in the Louisville case by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative public-interest law firm, asserts that "nearly 1,000 districts" have some type of race-based assignment plan.

But that figure traces from a 1990 Department of Education survey of schools, and David J. Armor, a George Mason University professor who participated in that survey, said that in the 1990's, many districts abandoned race-based plans. Still, he estimated that "many hundreds of school districts" continued to use race in assigning students to schools.

Many of the nation's largest urban districts have so few white students that large-scale plans to seek racial balance are hardly feasible. New York, where 14 percent of students are white, does not consider race in school assignments, said Michael Best, the Department of Education's general counsel. The only exception is Mark Twain Intermediate School in Brooklyn, where a 1974 federal court order requires that the school's racial demographics be kept in line with surrounding middle schools.

At least a half-dozen cities have developed voluntary student transfer programs that involve enrolling minority students from an urban district in a suburban district.

The Jefferson County district in Louisville is one of the most thoroughly integrated urban school systems in the nation. That is partly because its boundaries include suburbs as well as Louisville's urban core. Sixty percent of students are white, and 35 percent are black.

Its student assignment plan, which evolved from a court-ordered desegregation effort, keeps black enrollment in most schools in the range of 15 percent to 50 percent by encouraging, and in some cases obliging, white students to attend schools in black neighborhoods, and vice versa.

Fran Ellers and her husband are writers who are white. They live in the Highlands neighborhood east of downtown. But they enrolled their children, Jack and Zoe, at Coleridge-Taylor Montessori Elementary in the largely black West End.

"We wanted a diverse environment," Ms. Ellers said. "When I toured Coleridge-Taylor, I was struck by the mix of black and white children, quietly working together as equals in a classroom."

Nechelle D. Crawford, by contrast, who is African-American and lives in the West End, said her sons Keion and Jeron could attend Coleridge-Taylor, but instead she opted to send them to Wilder Elementary in a largely white suburb 25 minutes away by bus. "The boys love Wilder," Mrs. Crawford said, adding that there are a number of international students. "They have different opportunities, see different faces."

In a survey carried out in 2000 by the University of Kentucky, 67 percent of parents said they believed that a school's enrollment should reflect the overall racial diversity of the school district.

A white lawyer, Teddy B. Gordon, ran for a seat on the Jefferson County School Board in 2004, promising to work to end the district's desegregation plan. He finished last, behind three other candidates.

Mr. Gordon represents the plaintiff in the Louisville case, Crystal D. Meredith, who is white. She sued after the district denied her request to transfer her son Joshua from Young Elementary, in the West End, to Bloom Elementary, nearer her home. The district said the transfer would disrupt Young's racial balance.

Judge John G. Heyburn II of Federal District Court ruled against Ms. Meredith in 2004, saying that the district had shown a "compelling interest" in maintaining integrated schools. A federal appeals court upheld that ruling, but the Supreme Court has now agreed to review the case.

In an interview, Mr. Gordon predicted that if Louisville's student assignment plan was overturned, the schools would rapidly resegregate. But that should be of no concern, he said.

"We're a diverse society, a multiethnic society, a colorblind society," he said. "Race is history."

Chester Darling, the lawyer who represented parents in a 1999 suit challenging a school assignment plan in Lynn, Mass., holds similar views. "If children are in segregated schools, de facto or not, as long as they are getting the education they need that's fine," he said.

Lynn, nine miles north of Boston, is one of 20 Massachusetts school districts that receives financial incentives for promoting racial balance under state law. Lynn's plan seeks to keep the proportion of nonwhite students in elementary schools within 15 percent of the overall proportion of minorities in the district's student population. Last year, 32 percent of students were white, and 68 percent were nonwhite.

Under the Berkeley plan, parents choose three schools, and the district weighs classroom space and parents' education and income, as well as race in assigning the child.

"New parents would prefer to have their kids in a neighborhood school, that's pretty overwhelming," said Michele Lawrence, Berkeley's superintendent. "But if I surveyed parents who have gone through the process and met teachers, they would have a high percentage of satisfaction."

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Poverty Is No Excuse" Is No Excuse

"THE PROBLEM" with education is not really education. It's social and economic injustice, largely manifested as poverty, segregation, racism, and classism. As my post on McWhorter shows, there are a large number of blacks entering the middle class who are now turning their backs on low-income blacks in ways that are savage and disturbing. It shows the extent to which money, power, and privilege can be horribly corrupting forces.

"THE PROBLEM" with education is symptomatic -- literally -- of the disease of social and economic injustice. But the climate in this country is overtly hostile to this idea. It's very easy to see why: social and economic injustice gets distorted into the conversation called "Poverty Is No Excuse." It then gets further distorted by saccharine anecdotes of "the little black kid that could," the kid who -- despite the odds -- managed to graduate suma cum laude from Harvard. If you counted these little bromides up, they'd probably number in the dozens. So there exist in the public discourse on education several dozen uplifting stories about poor kids with crack-addicted mothers that made it. The moral? If they could do it, any person could. The same Horatio Alger story is applied to schools, e.g., KIPP. It goes like this: KIPP schools can take poor black kids, raise their test scores, and get them into elite prep schools. Moral of the story? If they could do it, any school could.

What's wrong with this logic? This is -- IMHO -- the most important argument to make right now RE: "THE PROBLEM" with education.

As I have been trying to argue, successfully or not, the logic behind these feel-good stories is faulty. On the individual level, the logic is faulty because NOT everyone can grow up with a crack-addicted mother and graduate suma cum laude from Harvard. If they could, these kinds of stories would never be told. We don't tell stories about the little kid who drank orange juice and then played baseball. Why not? Because every little kid can drink orange juice and play baseball. This is an UNREMARKABLE story -- a banal, commonplace, everyday event. But the reason we tell stories about poor kids with crack-addicted mothers that make it is because they are so incredibly rare. We say, "Wow! Did you hear that story about the poor kid with the crack-addicted mother that became the president of General Motors??"

Yet, for some extraordinary reason, our brains freeze up when we hear these stories. Somehow, we are simultaneously -- and paradoxically -- aware that (1) this is very rare and yet (2) if he could do it, anyone can. This makes absolutely zero sense logically. But we are inherently sentimental beasts, we Americans. So we eat this shit up because we are addicted to stories of inspiration. All we really want to do is feel good. Believing that this extraordinarily remarkable event is somehow reproducible may not make sense logically, but it makes us feel good to think that it might be possible. But feeling good is not the foundation on which public policy should be placed.

The same exact logic applies to "the little KIPP school that could." We see the story and say, "Wow! These black kids can do it. That must mean that every school and every poor black kid can do it!" But what does "do it" mean? In most cases of these feel-good stories, "do it" means higher test scores. In other words, the school is successful because it has raised test scores. This is the evidence that is presented as proof that it is successful. But higher test scores certainly does NOT mean better-educated kids. The Center on Education Policy released a report showing that non-tested subjects like art, music, and social studies are not being taught any more so schools -- including the little schools that could -- can focus exclusively on the subjects that are tested, i.e., reading and math. Translation? "Successful" schools are turning into test-prep factories.

KIPP counters this by showing that they offer a broad range of subjects -- including art, music, social studies -- and that their students are given opportunities to sing in the choir, play in the orchestra, etc. One would certainly expect that if kids spend from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. during the week, four hours on Saturdays, and a month during the summer that they would be able to be exposed to a broad range of subjects. KIPP students put in roughly 70% more time in class than typical public school students.

So we say, "Hurray! Every school should be like KIPP!"

But as I've argued again and again, KIPP can't scale. Right now, there are 45 KIPP schools with 400 teachers serving over 9,000 students in 15 states and the District of Columbia. 9,000 students out of the total population of 54,593,000 students in all of public K-12 schools means that KIPP serves 0.00016486% of the population. And yet, 0.00016486% of students makes us stand up and say, "This should work for the remaining 99.999835% of students!"

The average KIPP teacher is in his/her early 20's, is single, and has no kids. They are clearly very dedicated young people who are not only willing to work longer hours and on Saturdays, but who are ABLE to work longer hours and on Saturdays. Teachers with families simply can't do this. They have to go home, fix dinner, do the dishes, walk the dog, and help with their kids' homework.

Moreover, the "success" of KIPP is tarnished when you consider where the students come from. Interviews with KIPP teachers indicate that they refer mostly already high-achieving students to KIPP who come from intact families and whose parents are unusually involved in the school (Carnoy, M., Jacobsen, R., Mishel, L., & Rothstein, R. (2005). The charter school dust-up: Examining evidence on enrollment and achievement. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute and New York: Teachers College Press., p. 58).

So again - a TOTALLY remarkable, unique, unreproducible model is held up as the hope for all.

To achieve the tipping point, we have to trash the logic that underlies the "Poverty Is No Excuse" crap. Certainly some kids can pull themselves up out of the inner-city despite the tremendous odds. Certainly some great schools have formed and will continue to form in poor neighborhoods and attract motivated teachers, students, and parents to work together to improve the educational outcomes of poor kids. KIPP is a good example of this. But the dozens of examples of personal success pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of personal failures. The 45 KIPP schools make up a tiny fraction of the thousands and thousands of schools where children are ground up and spat out. So why do so many poor kids fail? Why are so many poor children chewed up and spat out?

Clearly, kids can't wait for us adults to figure things out. We obviously need to craft both short and long-term stategies. TFA, KIPP, etc. are short-term strategies. We have to get at the source of the problem if we are serious about leaving no child behind.

"If you think we're alive, you ought to speak"


Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle!
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel!
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.'


If there could ever be a more appropriate political analog for these two delicious characters, it would have to the Thompson and Barnes Show produced by Bill Gates and intermittently staged at the Aspen Institute in D.C. Here is part of the latest flyer:
Washington, DC—Today former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, co-chairs for the Commission on No Child Left Behind, announced the second in a series of in-depth roundtables on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This roundtable will focus on how NCLB has impacted rural schools and assist the Commission in gaining a more extensive and thorough understanding of the unique, positive and negative effects of NCLB on rural schools. The roundtable will take place on Wednesday, June 28th at 2 PM EST at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC.

In case you harbor any belief that these meetings have any connection with anything outside the fantasy creation of the NCLB public relations machine, check out Alice's, er, Annie's account of her visit at the Dum and Dee Show this week.

The Public Supports Public Education

Public Agenda has out its Reality Check 2006, a survey of parents, teachers, and administrators on issues related to public education. If the privatizers and boot camp enthusiasts, in and out of ED, cared what the public thinks, they would find something to chew on in this result:
Reality Check 2006 shows that relatively few parents, teachers, principals or superintendents see more of the same as the best course for the future. In this year's survey, respondents were asked to choose among four hypothetical candidates for the local school board –- one running on a platform of standards and testing, a second backing vouchers, a third backing charter schools, and a fourth calling for more money for schools and smaller classes. Among parents, the standards and testing candidate comes in a distant second to a candidate backing smaller classes and more funding. Fewer than one in four parents picked the standards candidate out of the four options. Among the educators, support for a school board candidate focusing primarily on standards and testing is in the single digits.

The actual numbers for the hypothetical candidates:

More money and smaller classes 45%
More testing and higher standards 22%
School Vouchers 19%
Charter Schools 9%

Does this give us some indication of how out of touch this Admninistration is with its citizens?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bill Cosby, John McWhorter, and the New Black Racial Classism: Part 2

Even if we grant that everyone must assume a greater degree of responsibility for their lives and spend less time blaming others for their shortcomings, we can never, never, never simply leave it at that. But this is precisely what McWhorter's colleagues at the Manhattan Institute want to do. The New Black Racial Classism gets eaten up by the Manhattan Institute and others like it. If all we have to do is convince poor blacks to quit their whining and assume responsibility for their lives, think of the billions that would be saved!!

It's understandable why conservatives eat McWhorter's stuff up. But it's also eaten up by "progressive" organizations like Teach for America, schools for inner-city kids like the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), by Democratic politicians like NCLB co-sponsor and architect George Miller, by editorial staffs like The New York Times, and by educational activists like Susan Uchitelle (who helped fight segregation in St. Louis but who now serves on the board of an Edison-run charter school in inner-city St. Louis).

Miller, a staunch liberal and the ranking Democratic member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, wrote an op-ed with Education Trust’s Russlyn Ali that read:

"Perhaps the most insidious myth being perpetuated is that California's demographics make it impossible to expect much of its kids. This sentiment is more than just collective apathy. It is bigotry. Schools all over the country, in every type of community, have shown that all students--minority and non-minority, rich and poor--can succeed if they are held to high standards and given the requisite resources. It is time to put this myth to rest for good.” (Miller, G. and Ali, R., "The fate of our schools." San Francisco Chronicle, 3/18/03, p. A25)

As evidence of the voracious appetite that white conservatives have for McWhorter's gilded truffles, consider the comments made by Stephan Thernstrom, a white Senior Fellow at Manhattan Institute and the Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard. Thernstrom, along with his wife Abigail, is the author of No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning. "The Thernstroms urge a daunting overhaul where every urban public school becomes a charter school; longer school days, weeks and years are common; and school vouchers are more broadly available to low-income, urban families." (source - The Seattle Times, 10/8/03; "Stop making excuses: Close the learning gap" by Matt Rosenberg) Here is what Stephan Thernstrom had to say when introducing McWhorter: (listen to it here)

(McWhorter's work) helps to explain a very troubling paradox. That is to say, the status of African-Americans in American society has been revolutionarily changed over the past half century or so. My wife Abigail and I published a book several years ago, America in Black and White, which has several dozen tables which indicates that by almost every measurable way enormous, phenomenal progress has been made towards equality on the part of African-Americans since the Civil Rights revolution. And if I were to update those tables today, almost all the trend lines continue upward. And the two areas that were very troubling in the mid-90's, the last data we had available then, have also turned around in a remarkable way. That is, the crime rate has declined precipitously and the disproportionate involvement of African-Americans in committing crimes. And, second, the black family structure, which had been deteriorating sharply since the 1960's when Senator Moynihan first warned of that tendency. In the last several years, that has been turning around a little. The rate of out-of-wedlock births for African-Americans is down two to three points. The percentage of African-American children living in two-parent households is up four or five points. So it isn't a remarkable shift, but it's a very impressive and positive one. So, progress almost unimaginable to people half a century ago. But you wouldn't know it if you listened to what the leadership of that community is saying and doing. Both the civil rights groups, whose mission is supposed to be to improve the welfare of the group, and certainly the political leadership -- the members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- are talking about a totally different world than the one I see. They are talking in hysterical and paranoid terms, finding racism in the most unlikely places. And it almost seems that the greater the progress, the more shrill and despairing the voices of that segment of the black community become. . . Katrina did display that tendency in very vivid terms. . . The question is, "What's going on? How could this have happened?" Some part of it reflects the simple fact that the African-American leadership is almost entirely, monolithically, part of the Democratic party's left wing. And the Democratic party left wing, for reasons I can't fully understand, seems to have been driven totally bonkers by the Bush administration. It has such an acute case of the "Hate Bush Syndrome" that they can't think clearly any more. . . . Another part of it, of course, is the old cliche the "revolution of rising expectations." Groups that are totally down-trodden can appreciate even a few extra crumbs and may feel grateful. Groups that have made the kind of progress blacks have made by the end of the 1960's were now impatient with waiting any longer for full equality. I can't say much more than that by way of explaining it, but I do think that John McWhorter's really interesting book tells us a lot to explain where we are today and what needs to happen for, in fact, the crisis in black America to be resolved.

In our society today, this is as far as a white man can go without being called a racist. In our society today, a white man can't say, "Poor blacks should quit their whining and assume responsibility for their lives." But a black man can. In response to Cosby's speech, Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP president who was on stage with Cosby, said "The issue of personal responsibility is real. A lot of people didn't want him to say what he said because it was an open forum. But if the truth be told, he was on target."

So Thernstrom contends there has been phenomenal progress for blacks. He contends that critics of this notion "are talking in hysterical and paranoid terms, finding racism in the most unlikely places." But phenomenal progress for whom? It's clear that there has been phenomenal progress for blacks entering the middle and upper classes. But for blacks still trapped in poverty, all there is for them to do is pull themselves up by their own bootstraps or shut the hell up. No, there aren't actual signs any more that say "For Whites Only." But these signs still exist. They're just invisible today. Or, even worse, they are simply accepted as "the way things are."

Perhaps most shockingly of all, especially in light of Cosby's choice to vilify low-income blacks on the anniversary of Brown v. Board, public schools in America's largest cities have experienced re-segregation on an unprecedented level. As Jonathan Kozol recounts in The Shame of the Nation,

In Chicago, by the academic year 2002-2003, 87 percent of public-school enrollment was black or Hispanic; less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white. In Washington, D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white. In St. Louis, 82 percent of the student population were black or Hispanic; in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79 percent; in Los Angeles, 84 percent, in Detroit, 96 percent; in Baltimore, 89 percent. In New York City, nearly three quarters of the students were black or Hispanic.

Even these statistics, as stark as they are, cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, more than 90 percent of students (in most cases, more than 95 percent) are black or Hispanic. At John F. Kennedy High School in 2003, 93 percent of the enrollment of more than 4,000 students were black and Hispanic; only 3.5 percent of students at the school were white. At Harry S. Truman High School, black and Hispanic students represented 96 percent of the enrollment of 2,700 students; 2 percent were white. At Adlai Stevenson High School, which enrolls 3,400 students, blacks and Hispanics made up 97 percent of the student population; a mere eight tenths of one percent were white.

A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out to me one of the two white children I had ever seen there. His presence in her class was something of a wonderment to the teacher and to the other pupils. I asked how many white kids she had taught in the South Bronx in her career. "I've been at this school for eighteen years," she said. "This is the first white student I have ever taught."

So this is "phenomenal progress"? This is "talking in hysterical and paranoid terms, finding racism in the most unlikely places"? For conservatives like McWhorter and Thernstrom, the answer is "yes."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bill Cosby, John McWhorter, and the New Black Racial Classism: Part 1

If you put racism and classism together and have it pour from the mouths of those who vilify the low-income members of their own race because they have yet to adopt the customs of the middle-class, you have an extraordinarily toxic cocktail that has the potential to gut the bedrock of progressive polices of the 20th century, from Brown v. Board to the Civil Rights Act to affirmative action. I call this toxic cocktail "The New Black Racial Classism."

The New Black Racial Classism appeared on my radar screen when Bill Cosby ripped into low-income blacks in May 2004 at an NAACP gala event to mark the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board. As a way to celebrate, Cosby decided to excoriate poor blacks.

The speech has been called "The Pound Cake Speech" because Cosby referred to an incident in which a young black man was shot and killed by the police after he stole a pound cake: "Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! And then we all run out and we're outraged, 'Ah, the cops shouldn'ta shot him.' What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?" (quoted in Dyson, Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?, p. 59)

Here are some other excerpts:

"The lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal. In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. ... I'm talking about people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2? Where were you when he was 12? And where were you when he was 18, and how come you don't know he had a pistol? . . . Brown v. Board of Education is no longer the white person's problem. We've got to take the neighborhood back. We've got to go in there. Just forget telling your child to go to the Peace Corps. It's right around the corner. It can't speak English. It doesn't want to speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk. "Why you ain't where you is go, ra." ... Everybody knows how important it is to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can't land a plane with 'Why you ain't ...' You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth."

A similar kind of savage vitriol drips from the lips of John McWhorter, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Like Cosby, McWhorter also is black. Like Cosby, McWhorter also has a thing about poor people, especially poor black people. Like Cosby, McWhorter also relays a story about a young black man who was murdered. Like Cosby, McWhorter also uses the story rhetorically to suggest that these murders could be understood -- and justified -- given the contexts in which they occurred. These stories are also used by both men as allegories of what has gone wrong with, as Cosby calls them, "these people."

For Cosby, the fact that a young black man was shot for stealing a pound cake is trumped by the thunder of his rhetorical question, "What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?" While I certainly would not want to defend someone for stealing anything, I would wonder why a young black man would steal a pound cake. I would ask genuinely, not rhetorically, "What was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? Why did he steal it? Why would anyone steal a pound cake? What were the factors that contributed to this action?" I would also wonder why stealing a pound cake warrants being shot and killed. I might also wonder how many young white men had been shot and killed for similar offenses.

For McWhorter, a young black man getting shot serves as a kind of template for poor blacks as a whole. In describing an episode of inner-city violence involving a young black man named Robert Parsons, McWhorter -- like Cosby -- poses his own rhetorical question. In musing on Parson's life and death, McWhorter smirks glibly, "One might expect that someone with four offspring would work nine to five (at least?), but Parsons worked only part-time. He was a 'free spirit,' apparently, and then he also had injured one of his hands. But really, there are so very many ways one can work full-time without having full power in one hand, and there remains the simple question as to why a man with four kids worked only part-time." (Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America, p. 9)

The "simple question as to why a man with four kids worked only part-time" might be answered in a number of different ways. "What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?" might also be answered in a number of different ways. Unfortunately, neither Cosby nor McWhorter chooses to address these questions at all. If they were to ask these questions seriously and not rhetorically, it would require that they do something that neither one of them is willing to do: put aside their bitter disdain for low-income blacks and consider the issues in depth. But rather than do this, both Cosby and McWhorter choose to use these examples as measures of poor blacks' fall into depravity. They are not interested in analysis. They are interested in morality tales. And the moral of their stories? Poor blacks should quit their whining and assume responsibility for their lives.

A simpler, more powerful moral could not be found. How could anyone argue the merits of such a lesson? Indeed, for blacks like Cosby and McWhorter, it must be especially painful to look at all "these people." As Cosby railed, "People with their hats on backwards, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something, or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn't it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up to the crack and got all type of needles going through her body? What part of Africa did this come from? Those people are not Africans; they don't know a damn thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua, and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail."

But as any simpleton can point out, it's easy for those that have made it to condemn those that haven't. Ironically -- and cruelly -- Cosby knows better. He himself came from poverty. He himself acknowledged the pernicious effects of racism in his own doctoral dissertation. According to Michael Eric Dyson in his book Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?, "Cosby spoke passionately in his dissertation about the reasons black students fail: because of the urban school's indifference to changing learning conditions; because they have had the right to fail removed; because they are bored, due to the unimaginative methods of teachers interested in controlling the student; and because little of what goes on in class makes sense. Cosby argued that the failure black children experienced would only reinforce 'the debilitating sense of worthlessness whites convey in a variety of ways,' feeding the self-hatred of the black student." (from Bill Cosby's dissertation An Integration of the Visual Media Via Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning, University of Massachusetts, September 1976, p. 8; quoted in Dyson, Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?, p. 70)

Cosby himself made a career -- and a very famous cartoon show called Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids -- about the life and language of inner-city kids. And he himself failed 10th grade not once but three times and eventually dropped out of school. Yet somewhere along the way, Cosby got sick and tired of what he saw. Perhaps he lost faith. Perhaps he has become old and crotchety. Yet his attack on low-income blacks is especially powerful because it comes from him -- Cos, the Jello Pudding Man, the Fat Albert guy, the funny, likeable guy, Dr. Huxtable -- one of the most well-known and well-respected black men in America.

McWhorter is a different story, a classic case of Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital, of power and privilege being bestowed upon those in a particular socioeconomic milieu or what Bourdieu calls "habitus." And, as McWhorter's life story makes clear, power and privilege can be bestowed on anyone, regardless of his or her race.

Click here for more on McWhorter's bio.

"My parents were rather socially insular people who conveyed, without ever being explicit about it, that 'we' were not like 'them,' " McWhorter says. "It wasn't that I didn't spend time with other black kids. But I was inculcated subtly with a sense that 'You do not do what they do.' "

McWhorter says he could not escape the troubling attitudes that he says are prevalent among both black students and some of his black colleagues. Not only did he find black students not working hard, but he believes they tended to overstate the presence of racism to confound whites and fit in with one another.

So, once again, Cosby's and McWhorter's moral is, "Poor blacks should quit their whining and assume responsibility for their lives." Coming from Cosby, this spiritual tonic might have some legitimacy. But coming from McWhorter -- someone whose parents were both middle class and who both worked at universities, who went to private school, who shunned sports for books, who shunned other black kids ("You do not do what they do") -- there is no legitimacy whatsoever in his trashing poor people. His "analysis" reminds me of something that Professor Henry Higgins might have written. But instead of singing, "Why Can't the English Teach Their Children How to Speak?", McWhorter would sing, "Why Can't the Negro Teach Their Children How to Speak English?"

Corporate Welfare Tax Credits and School Vouchers Lite

Since the Courts and the American public have made it increasingly clear that they are not in favor of taking money from public schools to offer private school vouchers, a new wrinkle has been introduced in the voucher crusade by the privatizers and the union busters. Regardless of its chances for approval among the American public, it is already a big hit among the corporate welfare types who are always looking for new ways to soak up public dollars while whining free-spending big government.

You see, this new voucher scam offers dollar-for-dollar tax credits to corporations to buy the school vouchers that otherwise would paid for directly from community coffers. Besides the public relations advantage of a less direct assault on public schools, the corporate tax credits carry the added bonus of lining the pockets of privatizers by reducing their taxes while they work to dismantle the public schools. A true case of having your cake and eating it, too.

How this new voucher scheme benefits the public will surely be the subject for litigators as they will certainly challenge the constitutionality of tax reductions for non-public uses. It would seem prudent for New Jersey, then, to cancel consideration of this non-solution to bad urban schools, even though it is the one preferred by nominal Democrat, Cory Booker, and his political patrons at the New York Times.

What Booker and the Times show in spades is a total lack of imagination in dealing with the problem of poor schools in poor communities. Is the solution to give up and farm these kids out to Catholic schools or the KIPP chain gangs, whether or not they want a Catholic education or boot camp indoctrination? Because the police department has not been able to stop crime in Newark, does Booker want to fire the Department and bring in Blackwater mercenaries to patrol the streets there? Why so fast to give up on schools, the last potential democratizing influence in poor children's lives?

On the other hand, would it not make sense to give corporations tax credits for, let’s see, helping the public schools of Newark and Camden?? Now there is a novel idea! Let Verizon, Prudential Financial, Continental, and MBNA pump some of their millions into Newark Public Schools to transform them, just like the poorest publics are being transformed in Chattanooga, Tennessee. On the News Hours last evening, John Merrow reported on a very successful experiment there that involves a partnership of corporations, foundations, and the school system to provide the financial support to make professional development and curriculum innovation and mentoring and additional coursework possible in the poorest schools of Chattanooga.

Now that is good public use of corporate dollars, one fully deserving of corporate tax credits.

Corporate Welfare Tax Credits and School Vouchers Lite

Since the Courts and the American public have made it increasingly clear that they are not in favor of taking money from public schools to offer private school vouchers, a new wrinkle has been introduced in the voucher crusade by the privatizers and the union busters. Regardless of its chances for approval among the American public, it is already a big hit among the corporate welfare types who are always looking for new ways to soak up public dollars while whining about free-spending big government.

You see, this new voucher scam offers dollar-for-dollar tax credits to corporations to buy the school vouchers that otherwise would paid for directly from community coffers. Besides the public relations advantage of a less direct assault on public schools, the corporate tax credits carry the added bonus of lining the pockets of privatizers by reducing their taxes while they work to dismantle the public schools. A true case of having your cake and eating it, too.

How this new voucher scheme benefits the public will surely be the subject for litigators as they will certainly challenge the constitutionality of tax reductions for non-public uses. It would seem prudent for New Jersey, then, to cancel consideration of this non-solution to bad urban schools, even though it is the one preferred by nominal Democrat, Cory Booker, and his political patrons at the New York Times.

What Booker and the Times show in spades is a total lack of imagination in dealing with the problem of poor schools in poor communities. Is the solution to give up and farm these kids out to Catholic schools or the KIPP chain gangs, whether or not they want a Catholic education or boot camp indoctrination? Because the police department has not been able to stop crime in Newark, does Booker want to fire the Department and bring in Blackwater mercenaries to patrol the streets there? Why so fast to give up on schools, the last potential democratizing influence in poor children's lives?

On the other hand, would it not make sense to give corporations tax credits for, let’s see, helping the public schools of Newark and Camden?? Now there is a novel idea! Let Verizon, Prudential Financial, Continental, and MBNA pump some of their millions into Newark Public Schools to transform them, just like the poorest publics are being transformed in Chattanooga, Tennessee. On the News Hours last evening, John Merrow reported on a very successful experiment there that involves a partnership of corporations, foundations, and the school system to provide the financial support to make professional development and curriculum innovation and mentoring and additional coursework possible in the poorest schools of Chattanooga.

Now that is good public use of corporate dollars, one fully deserving of corporate tax credits.

Cronies First at Reading First

Susan Ohanian has posted (in two parts here and here) the research by Slavin & Co. to document how those outside the Bush Pioneer circle have been largely shut out of the Reading First bonanza of billions $$$$$$.

When will Congressman Miller stop grandstanding about his commitment to civil rights (by supporting ED policy that does not) and start investigating the thievery that has been going on at ED since 2000?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New Front in the Reading Wars

First of all, let me say that I am enthusiastic about science and for what it may yield to educators and policymakers regarding learning and schooling. I use the future tense deliberately here, for as yet science has yielded very little that can be translated from neurology, cognitive science, or even psychology into educational strategies that may be deemed scientific. Education, after all, is a marginal science, if one at all. It occupies a ragged borderland between the social sciences and the humanities, leaving many educationists with an even more pronounced physics envy than the one normally attributed to more respected social scientists.

The phonics phonies and the Crackpots of the Code, on the other hand, have pretended for years that their preferred dogma constitutes a science of reading that must be adhered to for a child to learn to read properly. Their crusade culminated in 2000 when Doug Carnine and Reid Lyon were able to stack the deck of the National Reading Panel to arrive at an ideological conclusion on reading strategy that was promoted as a scientifically-based conclusion. Scientific it was not, but the Panel did prove that when you toss out all the studies that do not support your preconceived conclusions, it is easy to come up with evidence to overwhelmingly support the conclusion you set out to prove in the first place. The NRP may be thought of as the Cheney Method for going to war against the whole language terrorists: manipulate and manufacture evidence to push your agenda, and suppress or marginalize evidence to the contrary.

The fact that legitimate scholars were not duped by Carnine and Lyon has set off a new round of thuggish efforts to force the adoption of the one way “science” of the phonics fundamentalists. This time the masterminds at ED are using Lyon’s fake science to try to bully education schools by threatening the accrediting organizations that determine who gets the stamp of federal approval. And seeing how NCATE has thus far only responded by saying how high when ED says jump, I suggest it is time for an organized response by reading and literacy scholars if the door is to kept open to more legitimate approaches to literacy instruction. If you doubt it, have a look the bottom line message of a report (Full pdf report) sponsored by NCTQ:

EDUCATION SCHOOLS THAT DO NOT TEACH THE SCIENCE OF READING SHOULD NOT BE ELIGIBLE FOR ACCREDITATION. (p. 44)

So this is what they do at NCTQ with the millions they get handed by ED.

And, of course, a call in to Staples at the NY Times is all that is needed to get Brent bent about the evil racist government schools that refuse to embrace the new scientific ways of reading instruction. Would he be surprised that the claims of this new “scientific” phonics are the same ones made in the 1840s by the Latin Grammar School masters of Boston?

Bill Horne

Just some of what Bill Horne (no relation) had to say yesterday in the Hillsboro Times-Gazette. Go Bill:
. . . .Folks, it is time to take control of our government and our schools. These so-called “experts” have no clue. These experts have a one-size -fits-all mentality. They think that we can produce citizens like producing products on an assembly line. However, every child is different, every class is different, and every community is different.

Somehow, we have given away our rights to self-government. The government is telling us what to do, instead of us telling the government what to do.

There should never be a student who is not allowed to graduate from high school just because they scored a point or two below what some bureaucrat says is the minimum score on a test. No student’s life should be wrecked just because somebody sitting behind a desk in Columbus, whose salary we are paying, has pulled a minimum test score out of the air.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Teach for America: Why We Should Be Afraid

OK, so it's an admittedly hyperbolic title. I honestly don't think we need to fear TFA. But, then again, given the strength of its brand, its image, and its underlying philosophy, and the fact that a record 19,000 people – roughly a 10 percent jump from the previous year – applied this academic year to Teach for America, we have a lot to be concerned about. The reason? In a nutshell, TFA represents a growing "progressive" or "Democratic" flavor of mainstream thinking on educational reform. So for those of us who oppose NCLB and the high-stakes testing regime and are looking for someone or something to take the lead on national education reform, we will be sorely disappointed -- perhaps even disturbed or afraid -- by what this so-called "progressive alternative" looks like.

Although TFA is not a policy shop per se, it embodies a very powerful policy message: "poverty should not be used as an excuse for why our schools won't work." In adopting this philosophy, TFA aligns itself with every policy shop (e.g., the Fordham Foundation, the Manhattan Institute) that holds a similar view. It also un-aligns itself with policy shops (e.g., the Children's Defense Fund, the NAACP) that believe that poverty plays a crucial role in shaping educational outcomes.

TFA President and Founder Wendy Kopp says we need to take pressure off schools, increase access to high-quality pre-schools, improve public services, etc. But then she turns around and argues that poverty should not be used as an excuse for why our schools won't work. So which is it? Do we acknowledge the harmful effects that poverty has on educational outcomes and work very hard to eradicate it? Or do we look at poverty as an excuse, saying that it doesn't really matter and that the effects really aren't that bad and can be compensated for? TFA clearly argues the latter and, in so doing, makes an extremely powerful policy statement about closing the educational achievement gap.

Kopp says that we have many examples of how schools can take kids growing up in poverty and put them on a level playing field with kids in other communities. I know of some schools that have been able to do this, most notably the KIPP schools that TFA alumni Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin started. But these are only a handful of schools scattered amongst the country's 15,000 school districts. We must never mistake these isolated examples as the norm. They aren't. Nor must we ever believe that these isolated cases can be reproduced nation-wide. They can't. KIPP relies on energetic idealists in their 20's who are single and have no kids to work 10 hour days, an extra day on Saturday, and an extra month in the summer. There are only so many people who are willing to do this. There are even fewer who can do this because of their family commitments. They have to go home, fix dinner, do the dishes, walk the dog, and help with their kids' homework.

Certainly some kids can pull themselves up out of the inner-city despite the tremendous odds. Certainly some great schools have formed and will continue to form in poor neighborhoods and attract motivated teachers, students, and parents to work together to improve the educational outcomes of poor kids. KIPP is a good example of this. But the dozens of examples of personal success pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of personal failures. The 40 or so KIPP schools make up a tiny fraction of the thousands and thousands of schools where children are ground up and spat out. So why do so many poor kids fail? Why are so many poor children chewed up and spat out?

Clearly, kids can't wait for us adults to figure things out. We obviously need to craft both short and long-term stategies. TFA is short-term strategy. But there are major problems with it.

Number one, it will never scale to the level where it can do something substantive for all of public education. According to a recent Inside Higher Education article, TFA itself hopes -- hopes -- that it can place 8,000 teachers by 2010 (as compared to the 3,500 it currently places). 8,000 teachers, no matter how passionate and effective, will not close the achievement gap.

Number two, TFA draws a lot of praise and support from very conservative organizations. The problem with this is that TFA walks -- unwittingly or not -- right into the poltical hacksaw that these organizations want to take to public education. The message of TFA is, "If we hire great teachers, have great school leaders, and have higher expectations of students, our problems will be solved." This lets conservatives off the hook because they can point to TFA's success and say, "See, they are saying the same thing that we are. TFA is successful. They aren't complaining about poverty, and look how great they are doing." This is very, very dangerous. Each successful TFA teacher makes it that much more difficult to address the larger issues that contribute to the achievement gap because it takes the wind out of progressive educators' sails. The irony is that TFA frames itself as a progressive organization, a noble organization, but it is being used as a pawn to derail the efforts to accomplish the kinds of substantive changes that true progressives call for.

In a recent speech, Kopp said:

Each year, the Gallup organization does a survey in which they ask the public why we have low educational outcomes in low-income communities. The public’s top three responses are (1) lack of student motivation, (2) lack of parental involvement, and (3) home-life issues. Those responses strike me as capturing accurately the views of most Americans – even most thoughtful and civic-minded Americans. And yet, based on their experiences actually working with kids and families, our corps members . . . answer the Gallup question very differently. Given the same question and the same twenty choices, our corps members respond at the end of their second year that the top three factors contributing to low outcomes are (1) teacher quality, (2) school leadership, and (3) expectations of students. There is such hope in this. Our corps members are telling us that this problem is within our control… that we can ensure that all of our nation’s children have the opportunities they deserve.

Let me take each of the corps members' beliefs about low outcomes one by one:

1) teacher quality - the corp members' opinions appear to rest on the assumption that all teachers can (and should) be like TFA teachers. But TFA teachers are a special breed. To begin with, they have a different kind of motivation operating as they enter the classroom. I taught for two years at a Japanese high school. I entered the classroom knowing I was there for two years. I loved the experience, but when things got bad, I knew I only had one year to go, then only six months to go, then only one month to go. Knowing I was leaving helped make the insurmountable things bearable. Throughout the experience, the exit door was always clearly marked. While many TFA teachers choose to stay on past their two year commitments, many don't. (I've read different reports on what the attrition rate is -- some say it's higher than average, others say it's about the same.) Based on my own experience in a two-year teaching commitment, I could afford to work very hard with the end in sight. This is not the case for the average classroom teacher. The attrition rate for average classroom teachers is about 50% in the first five years. These teachers can't make a long-term commitment to a profession that is so riddled with problems and inequities, so they leave.

Moreover, the average TFA teacher is in his/her early 20's, is single, and has no kids. They are clearly very dedicated young people who are not only willing to work longer hours and on Saturdays, but who are able to to work longer hours and on Saturdays. Teachers with families simply can't do this.

How, then, can the TFA model of a teacher be reproducible? For teachers with families who enter the profession with no exit door in sight, holding TFA up as a model is simply not realistic. Saying "this problem is within our control" is also not realistic in this context.

Of course we want better trained, better supported, and more motivated teachers in our classrooms. But how do we achieve this goal? By holding up an unsustainable, unattainable model as the goal?

2) school leadership - given that TFA receives support from The Broad Foundation and Edison Schools, Inc., and has deep connections to KIPP schools, I'm assuming that the model of school leadership TFA is holding up is one that is associated with these organizations. If so, that is troubling to me. Edison's for-profit model, Broad's metaphor of running schools like businesses, and KIPP's use of heavy rewards and punishments are not consistent with forms of teaching and learning that honor the highest aspirations of education. According to Craig Gordon, a high school teacher and educational activist in Oakland:

Randolph Ward, sent to run Oakland's public schools by the Broad Foundation, has championed "results based budgeting" as the solution to the district's inefficiency because it makes every school operate as a small business. Each school's budget depends upon its average daily attendance (not enrollment), so a big school in a poor neighborhood with low attendance rates might actually get fewer dollars than a smaller school in a wealthier neighborhood. Ward proudly sold this Broad vision of "educational entrepreneurship" that makes each principal a CEO who must maximize revenues (attending students) and minimize costs (especially salaries) to survive. "CEOs" compete with each other to attract more students, get them into the building and hire the newest, lowest-paid teachers they can find, demand more waivers to the union contract (if the union survives) to get more done with fewer resources and reduced staff. Teacher burnout and high turnover equals a perpetually young, cheap staff. Yes, these are 'public' schools, but operating on a private sector model.

Of course we want better trained, better supported, and more motivated leaders in our schools. But how do we achieve this goal? By turning principals into CEO's? By using "results-based budgeting" as per Randy Ward and the Broad Foundation? By turning schools into profit-making ventures for entrepreneurs who look at children as commodities (Edison)? By asking teachers to work 10 hour days for 5 days, 5 hours more on Saturdays, and 1 extra month in the summer (KIPP)?

3) higher expectations of students - while having high expectations of students is certainly a key factor that shapes educational outcomes, these high expectations must be balanced with the reality of these kids' lives. Poor kids go to school poor and come home poor. Nothing that happens at school changes that. We can expect all we want of students that have little to no pre-K experience, inadequate healthcare, inadequate nutrition, and inadequate parental support. But to suggest that "we can ensure that all of our nation’s children have the opportunities they deserve" simply by expecting more from them is to completely overlook the role that poverty plays in shaping reality. Yes, some kids can overcome the odds and make it despite the desperate conditions they are mired in. But why not do everything we can to increase the odds that more kids will make it, not just the kids who "deserve" it? Why must poor kids work so hard to make it, while their affluent peers have to do so much less? This is the most important social justice issue of our time.

Of course we should hold kids to high standards and encourage them to excel. But how do we achieve this goal? Why not have higher expectations of local, state, and federal governments in improving educational outcomes?

TFA must take a strong public stand on all the issues that contribute to the achievement gap, not just teacher quality, school leadership, and expectations of students. These latter issues that TFA focuses on are critically important, no doubt. But if we really want to close the achievement gap, we have to do more. The analogy I use is to think of a high-jumper. To get ready for the Olympics, her trainer tells her to do 800 sit-ups a day. While doing 800 sit-ups a day is certainly a good idea, it's not enough. She needs to do other things to improve her vertical leap, her stamina, and her acceleration. If she did all of these things together, the odds of her winning a gold medal would increase greatly. But if she only does 800 sit-ups a day, her chances are pretty slim. Same with the achievement gap: focusing on school reform (teacher quality, school leadership, and expectations of students) is certainly a good idea, but it's not enough. If we did all the things we need to do (including school reform), the odds of closing the gap would increase greatly. So why put all your eggs in one basket? Why not do everything we can to increase the likelihood that no child will be left behind?

If we're serious about leaving no child behind -- really serious -- we have to wrestle with this question: how can every child gain access to a free, high-quality education? To cast the net as wide as possible and to increase the likelihood that more poor kids will make it, we have to level the playing field. Poverty is not an excuse. It's a reality.

In the end, TFA can be a vocal participant in doing more or it can lend tacit support to the status quo. However, I'm not holding my breath. Kopp is married to Richard Barth, who was at Edison before he went to KIPP. He's now the CEO of the KIPP Foundation.

I can only imagine the dinner-table conversations . . .