March 24, 2010 | 12:05 pm
Education historian Diane Ravitch, who penned this March 14 Times Op-Ed article explaining her turnabout on the efficacy of school choice and standardized testing in improving public education, e-mailed us the following response to Blowback writer Ron Wolk's defense of charter schools:
In his response to my article in the LA Times, Ron Wolk defends privately managed charter schools as a positive force in education today.
He misses the point of my critique. Charter schools will not lead to an overall improvement in American education. They are as variable in quality as regular public schools and they do not on average produce better student outcomes than regular public schools.
But even more important is that charter schools enroll a very small minority of students (only 3% nationally). Continuing to pour our energies into the charter strategy does nothing to upgrade dramatically our public education system, which continues to educate the other 97%. Charters are nice for the small numbers that enroll in them, but they distract us from the need to improve the system that educates the great majority of children.
March 18, 2010 | 7:01 am
Like an old and somewhat tiresome friend, the controversy over public versus private education greets me every time I return to Britain. Quick refresher: British children used to take an exam at age 11 to determine whether they would attend grammar schools, which prepared them for university, or secondary modern schools, a.k.a. trade schools. In most places, the two sorts of schools have been merged into so-called comprehensives.
Meanwhile, better-off parents send their kids, now as in the old days, to private schools known (to confuse Americans) as "public schools." The most famous of these is Eton, whose most prominent current alumnus is Conservative leader David Cameron, who is challenging Prime Minister Gordon Brown in an upcoming general election..
To a far greater extent than in America, sending your children to private schools is regarded here as anti-egalitarian. This perception hurts, according to a classic class-conscious story in the Guardian this week. The nub:
Parents are made to feel guilty if they send their child to a private school, but are allowed to hold the moral high ground if they accept a place at a comprehensive and spend their money on expensive cars, a leading headteacher said today. Andrew Grant, chair of the Headmasters and Headmistresses' Conference, an association of 250 private schools, said. British society put moral pressure on parents for choosing to spend their income on their children's education rather than fritter it away on luxuries.
I'm skeptical of the cars-versus-kids argument, but even if it were true, I think lots of Britons would opt for the cars rather than send their kids to what are still regarded as bastions of privilege. I don't think such reverse snobbery is so common in the States, where striving in general is regarded as natural, not class treason. No wonder Cameron is trying to play down his posh roots.
-- Michael McGough
Potential Texas school books: Was Jefferson Davis that bad a guy?
March 11, 2010 | 4:46 pm
Producing the next generation of Reagan worshipers is one thing, but the Texas Board of Education may go a giant leap further: Social studies textbooks may cast Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis (a traitor to the republic who nevertheless has his own statue in the Capitol) as moral equivalents. You can't make this stuff up:
Even as a panel of educators laid out a vision Wednesday for national standards for public schools, the Texas school board was going in a different direction, holding hearings on changes to its social studies curriculum that would portray conservatives in a more positive light, emphasize the role of Christianity in American history and include Republican political philosophies in textbooks.
The hearings are the latest round in a long-running cultural battle on the 15-member State Board of Education, a battle that could have profound consequences for the rest of the country, since Texas is one of the largest buyers of textbooks.
The board is expected to take a preliminary vote this week on a raft of changes to the state’s social studies curriculum proposed by the seven conservative Republicans on the board. A final vote will come in May.
Conservatives argue that the proposed curriculum, written by a panel of teachers, emphasizes the accomplishments of liberal politicians -- like the New Deal and the Great Society -- and gives less importance to efforts by conservatives like President Ronald Reagan to limit the size of government.
This seems like garden-variety conservatism -- a challenge to the educational orthodoxy, not the historical record. But the New York Times' article gets more interesting as it nears its end. Close to the bottom of the story is this, the money item:
References to Ralph Nader and Ross Perot are proposed to be removed, while Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, is to be listed as a role model for effective leadership, and the ideas in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address are to be laid side by side with Abraham Lincoln’s speeches.
Why stop with Stonewall and Davis? Confederate propaganda makes for great history lessons; plus, much of it is a lot more honest about the South's true cause -- slavery -- than the states-rights inaugural address by Davis, whose birthday is still celebrated in parts of the country by neo-Confederate revisionists. The Texas education board ought to consider including each of the Confederate states' secession statements; here are excerpts from the Lone Star State's, adopted Feb. 2, 1861, to remind schoolchildren what the Civil War was really all about:
[Texas] was received into the Confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal Constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery -- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits -- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.
In all the non-slave-holding states, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those states, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern states and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color -- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind and in violation of the plainest revelations of divine law.
-- Paul Thornton
Photo: Confederate President Jefferson Davis
Credit: Associated Press