Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Damned if you do...

Poor Secretary Spellings. Yesterday, the Dept. of Education allowed increased flexibility for Virginia on four of their 12 requests related to NCLB. But did it please the Virginians? You be the judge:

In a statement, [Virginia Board of Education President Thomas M. Jackson Jr.] called the federal decision "at best, halting progress" and said the U.S. Department of Education "continues on a course that undercuts support for [No Child Left Behind] . . . and encourages confrontation."

..."This continued disrespect toward a state that has faithfully implemented the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is bewildering," he wrote.

I guess that's a "no." The WaPo article's here.

Vampiric vouchers

The Indianapolis Star runs an editorial by a Catholic school teacher who believes vouchers raise the achievement of public schools. Hmmm... And from where does the evidence come, you ask? Well, from the Manhattan Institute, of course. Yes, that bastion of objectivity provides the facts, you decide.

Well I've decided. No way. A particularly telling part of the editorial though comes with the author's rundown of the history of failure of vouchers in the Hoosier State:

In 2005, with Republicans in control of both houses and the governor's office, a bill finally made it to the House floor. SB 281 would have provided tuition scholarships for poor students whose public schools fail to meet federal standards for improvement. On a vote that crossed party lines, lawmakers deleted the language due to concerns over funding. (emphasis mine)

Most moderate Republicans have realized what a disaster vouchers would be to already underfunded schools. Need more evidence? Please see the excellent article in the Texas Observer on the voucher debate in the Texas House. Take the example of one Republican during the Texas voucher war:

Roy Blake has bright blue eyes and a gentle demeanor. Like many rural reps, he’s never liked vouchers, never thought government should divert money from public schools. As a GOP backbencher in this, his first session, Blake naturally is just learning how the Capitol works. He’s best known for having been mayor of Nacogdoches when the space shuttle exploded over East Texas in 2002. On this night, however, he’s in the crosshairs. Blake is asked into the back hall for a meeting in the speaker’s office with Craddick’s chief of staff Nancy Fisher to pressure him to change his vote. He and his constituents abhor vouchers. But the House leadership and the party’s small collection of campaign moneymen could easily run a well-funded primary opponent against Blake that would unseat him or send him into debt.

This is how Republicans have pushed vouchers on other, more principled members of their own party. It's ironic how many anti-bullying bills they pushed down here, isn't it?

In GOP circles, there’s little doubt that some of the rural Republicans who defied their leadership will find themselves fending off primary opponents funded by [funder James] Leininger. Rural Republicans who voted with the leadership in defiance of their constituents might also find opposition in the primary from their public school community. Sixteen of these weak-willed Republicans lamely tried to explain away their pro-voucher votes with a statement placed in the House journal the next day. They wrote about an amendment—never offered—that would have ensured that no funds from rural school districts would be spent on the voucher pilot program. Their constituents might fall for this argument in 2006, but on May 23, Rep. Casteel and the other fighting moderates didn’t.

“If you think there are two or three pots of money up here I want you to show them to me,” she scolded her fellow Republicans.

The moderates -- in Texas, Indiana, and elsewhere -- have it figured out (sorry Instructivist): vouchers drain money from public schools. They have rightly fought them every step of the way.

What's the matter with Kansas?

Well, there's a lot the matter with Kansas. But specifically, the state Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to increase spending by $285 million and they only came up with half of it. Now, a Democratic Governor and a Republican Legislature have to try to figure out in a special session how to come up with the rest.

This is interesting for a lot of reasons:

  1. Many conservatives want to defy the Court. They say the judicial branch does not have the authority to prescribe, only to diagnose. They may -- may -- have a point. No, I don't agree with them politically, but in principle, they've got a point. If the Lege and Governor can't find a compromise and come up with the money, what happens then?
    1. The schools close.
    2. The case is appealed by uber-conservative Attorney General Phill King to the US Supreme Court.
    3. The Court tells the Lege exactly what to do. (All three of those possibilities are unprecedented to my knowledge.)
  2. The Democratic Governor (Kathleen Sebelius) wants to use gambling revenues to come up with the money. It would work, but is it worth it? Is the political will there? Is that a reasonable long term solution?
  3. Sebelius has called the first special session in Kansas in 15 years.

This is definitely one to watch. More info here.

Update: The Arkansas Supreme Court this week also agreed (in a bitterly divided 4-3 decision) to review the Legislature's actions towards adequacy and equity. For an excellent synopsis of the fascinating situation unfolding there, click here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

George Will: Teachers are slave masters

Vouchers are bad public policy. Period. They aren't a solution to the problem of troubled inner city schools; to the contrary, they will exacerbate the problems.

George Will weighs in on the voucher debate, likening vouchers to the underground railroad, and I guess by extension, likening public school teachers to slave masters and truancy officers to slave catchers. What a great metaphor, George. Real smart.

He also blames teacher unions for fighting against vouchers but fails to notice that, in Texas at least, it was Republicans that derailed them. Will also accuses voucher opponents of osbcurantism. Hello, pot? The kettle's calling.

The arguments against vouchers are not obscure. They will drain money from already underfunded public schools. Is that clear enough for you?

Oh yeah, giving tax dollars to religious schools (who could then legally exclude children who have different religous beliefs) is also bad public policy. Seems pretty clear to me.

Oh, one more thing, using vouchers for religious schools is against the state constitution of Florida. Yeah, yeah, Will says that it's a bad amendment that put it in there. Fine. That may be true, but it's still in there and -- any strict constructionist should understand this, right? -- if you let one part of a constitution go, it's a slippery slope. Where do you stop? If you want to change a constitution, you must amend it.

Or are George Will and the conservative movement calling for judicial activism on this one? Hmmmm... Funny how principles are so malleable these days, isn't it?

Dewey and Hitler... together at last

Gotta get my two cents in on the Dewey debate going on at Eduwonk, Jenny D, Joanne Jacobs, and Chris Correa.

Dewey's Democracy and Education is not one of the most dangerous of all time. That is, of course, unless you are a conservative idealogue (Ann Coulter is one of their editors) and believe that children really are secondary to the educational enterprise. (And then, with no sense of irony, you can get up in front of the media to tell people that vouchers are really there to "help the children." Yeah, right.) And further, Dewey needn't spin in his grave becuause he's among good company: Darwin, Rachel Carson, and Betty Freidan also made the list. Damn those evolution believing, environment protecting, rights extending liberals.

The list was made by reactionaries and was designed not as a serious intellectual exercise, but as a way to get some cheap publicity. Sure, throw Darwin and Dewey in there with Hitler and Mao and you're bound to get people talking. And here we are...

Dewey was not -- and is not -- dangerous. Certainly, people have gone too far with his ideas in particular places and in particular times, and he said as much. But the fundamental Deweyan idea that a child's interests are important and worthwhile has not -- and should not -- fade. It's a brilliant and revolutionary idea that still has the potential to transform education into something far better than it is now-- if it's done right. And therein lies the rub.

As I've said in a few comments already, while Democracy and Education was a blundering treatise that was widely misinterpreted (because, I think, of its lack of clarity), Experience and Education was the opposite. Written when Dewey was nearing 80 years of age, it's short, clear, easily accessible, and represents decades of reflection on education after the publication of Democracy and Education. It effectively boiled all of Dewey's ideas down to their essence. It's one of the best books I've ever read and I'd welcome all comers who would like to argue about its merits.

There's a great summary here. You can probably find a $1 copy at any good used book store. If anyone knows where the full text is online, please let us know.
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