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March 13, 2009


I don't think David Brooks meant what he wrote. We all know that the idea was to give the teachers' union something they wanted. I think Brooks meant to say, "If the Dems had wanted to cause maximum suffering, this is what they would have done." It's bad writing on Brooks's part, rather than bad thinkinbg IMHO.

More bad writing on Brooks's part...

He manipulates a quote by Education Secretary Arne Duncan to illustrate a point that Brooks has made. First Brooks makes a direct factual comment -

"New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has data showing that progress on tests between the third and eighth grades powerfully predicts high school graduation rates years later — a clear demonstration of the importance of these assessments."

Then he immediately follows with his own editorial view -

"The problem is that as our ability to get data has improved, the education establishment’s ability to evade the consequences of data has improved, too. Most districts don’t use data to reward good teachers. States have watered down their proficiency standards so parents think their own schools are much better than they are."

To "prove" his view is correct he pulls a private and out of context out of the air -

"As Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me, "We’ve seen a race to the bottom. States are lying to children. They are lying to parents. They’re ignoring failure, and that’s unacceptable. We have to be fierce.""

But is the main problem with education sates and (presumably) local school systems evading responsibility?

Is that indeed the view of the Education Secretary?

(part 2)

Here is a quote from the conservative Heritage Foundation -

"This suggests that the next Secretary may be open to the proposals championed by conservatives like the A-PLUS Acts that grant states greater autonomy and flexibility in how funds are used if states agree to maintain academic accountability and transparency.

As the leader of a big city school system, Mr. Duncan should recognize that it takes leadership on the ground to improve a public school system. It would be a breath of fresh air if the next Secretary recognized the limits of federal power and worked to reform NCLB to empower local leadership.

Mr. Duncan’s experience in Illinois should also cause him to recognize some of the dangers of federally driven accountability. As Heritage has pointed out, NCLB’s arbitrary deadline that all students be scoring “proficient” on state tests by 2014 has created a perverse incentive for states to weaken state standards to demonstrate artificial progress on state tests. The Land of Lincoln appears to be a leader in the so-called “race to the bottom.”

Paul Peterson and Rick Hess have been tracking national trends in state standards since 2005. They report that Illinois’s standards have weakened between 2003 and 2007. Only 8 states had weaker standards than Illinois. Ending perverse federal incentives to lower standards should be a priority for any NCLB reauthorization."


The implication here is that the Federal Legislation may be too rigid and in some ways counter-productive. Greater transparency and merit issues are important, even vital, but may be secondary to addressing our current state.

Why are they secondary? Because in some ways NCBL forces priorities in a different direction.

So there are at least two sides to this issue.

(part 3 of 3)

I am pleased Brooks is a champion of education. But he seems to prefer to make the matter one of States, local systems and entrenched unions ignoring the best interest of students. And he suggests its almost intentional.

The debate is larger than that and his out-of-context quote doesn't prove Brooks's own narrower view.

It is always easiest to present an issue as though it were "us vs. them". Brooks seems to do that where he puts 58 Senators against 1,7000 inner city children. He seems to do that when he outlines some of the challenges that we face in education.

So, is it bad writing or is it bad thinking?

My view is its a little of each.

Why are the loudest proponents of school vouchers those whose children are very unlikely to actually be attending a public school, much less an inner-city public school, which seems to be the main focus of these programs?
Why always villify the teacher's unions? Teachers' working conditions are also a students' learning conditions. Dont they have a right to be represented in a union like other workers' groups?
Those that choose teaching as a profession are actually making a contribution to society, and generally for very little compensation. Can the various journalists and pundits who rail againt the public education system make the same claim?
It seems voucher advocates are actually against the idea of public education. After all, their solution is to abandon it, rather than improve it. No one ever actually describes how a voucher system would have any benefit to the existing public system. Underneath all the rhetoric seems to be the idea "Why should I pay to clean a street I don't personally drive down?", except in this case, it's why pay to educate someone else's child, particularly if that child is a city dwelling minority student.
School choice? You have school choice. Just dig into your pocket and pay for it. With vouchers, eventually everyone will face that option.

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