Education

Will Texas Voters Care About Billions in Education Cuts?

(Flickr/hpeguk)
Last year, during the biennial legislative session, Texas House Republicans approved a budget with a crippling $10 billion in cuts to public schools over the next two years—this despite warnings from educators that the results would be catastrophic. Several state senators fought to make the cuts only harmful rather than damning. In the end, Texas public schools lost $5.4 billion in the two-year budget, an unprecedented cut that's left districts and classrooms struggling to provide basic services. More than 10,000 teaching positions have been cut, and over 8,000 elementary schools have applied for waivers to go over the state's class-size cap, almost 6,000 more than last year according to the AP. Tuesday's Texas primaries beg the question: Will any incumbents pay? Texas educators haven't traditionally been a politically hard-line group. It's a conservative state, but since the current funding system went into place after World War II, there've been no deep cuts to education. Texas has...

Schools of Doom

Why, after a decade of reform, is American education still in crisis?

(Flickr/naosuke ii)
After 30 years—some historians might say 100 years—of rhetoric about the “crisis” in American education, it’s getting hard to come up with new ways to frighten the public about the state of American schools. So maybe it’s understandable that the Council on Foreign Relations chose a foreboding title for its March report: “U.S. Education Reform and National Security.” The message is even blunter in one of the chapter titles, “The Education Crisis Is a National Security Crisis.” The council points to a slew of subpar standardized test scores as well as to the surprising fact that 75 percent of young people don’t qualify for military service. (Education is hardly the only reason for that; criminal records and lack of physical fitness can also be disqualifiers.) The solutions recommended by the council task force, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City public-schools chief Joel Klein, are almost as well worn as the crisis talk: Parents need more...

I Went to School for This?

A broader approach is needed to give students with debt the same opportunities their parents had.

(Flickr/rocketlass)
For those who make the investment, college graduation is supposed to signify the transition from training for life to living it. But for many young adults in the class of 2012, this year’s ceremony will be more like an anticlimax. According to a new analysis of government data by the Associated Press , more than half of young college grads are either not working or working in jobs that don’t offer them enough hours, enough pay, or the promise of a future career. The AP reports: Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs -- waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example -- and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans. The report reveals a harsh reality for students, their parents, and an economy that needs trained workers in high-skill jobs. Today, young people facing job and income insecurity put off decisions that were once the hallmarks of maturity, such...

ALEC Gives In, But There's No Reason to Celebrate

(Flickr/Sunset Parkerpix)
After weeks of pressure, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) appears to be backing away from long-term efforts at creating barriers to voting (voter-ID laws) and pushing "Stand Your Ground" legislation. The latter allows those who feel threatened in public places to use force; Florida's version is currently at the center of the Trayvon Martin case. Giving in to public pressure, ALEC announced Tuesday that it was disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which promoted such legislation and helped see it proliferate. The organization is now "reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy." ALEC's spokesperson did not respond to interview requests nor did Public Safety Task Force Chair Jerry Madden, a Texas state representative. ALEC, which proudly calls itself "the nation's largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators," has operated as a largely secret arena in which corporate sponsors...

Earth to Ann Romney: The Mommy Wars Are Over

When Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney never worked a day in her life, the comment was at first touted as an enormous misstep, a jab at mothers, a slip of the lip that could sink Obama's post-contraception-scuffle 19-point lead among women. Do you see it? All I've seen is a little scuffling among pundits who are competing to say that either, a) it's true that Ann Romney has no idea what economic insecurity feels like, or b) Hilary Rosen is an elitist lezzie , or some combination thereof. But you know what? I think the "mommy wars"—which, as I wrote a few years ago, never really existed in the first place, except as a media creation—are over. Most women have to work for their families to stay in the middle class. The situation is impossible for all of us, whether we're working in an office or working at home or taking a few years out of the workforce to manage the house and children and then find it difficult to get back in at a reasonable-enough wage to ensure a decent Social Security...

A Coming War On Universities?

UC-Berkeley, where young minds are being poisoned at this very moment. (Flickr/Nina Stawski)
When Rick Santorum went after the University of California the other day, it might have seemed like a one-off, fact-free hors d'ouvre of resentment, the kind of criticism of elitist liberal professors that we've come to expect from conservative culture warriors like him. Sara Robinson, however, sees this as the first shot in a coming war on public universities, following up as it did on a report from the Hoover Institution about how the academy is dominated by liberals. And she may be right: But the content of this Hoover report isn't as important as the fact of its provenance, its existence, and its publication on the pages of the WSJ. Right-wing crusades almost always start with think-tank reports; and are issuized on the pages of conservative magazines and newspapers. From there, the ideas are picked up and disseminated by Fox, politicians, conservative ministers, and right-wing bloggers. If all goes well, within weeks, legislators will be paying attention, and lobbyists will be...

What's the Point of College?

A critical look at the state of the American university

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College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, By Andrew Delbanco Princeton University Press, 240 pages, $24.95 Visit any campus bookstore, and in addition to lighthearted tracts on applied calculus and hoodies made in China, you will see a baby jumper emblazoned with the school’s logo—a sign of how anxiously and superstitiously Americans hope that their kids, still capable of only gurgling and monkey reflex reactions, will one day go to college. It is this glossily promoted hope that Columbia University professor and social critic Andrew Delbanco explores in a book that, despite its title, is no work of prescriptive policy. Wonks may be disappointed at the lack of charts and tables, but Delbanco explores American higher education in a manner befitting a scholar of Melville and the Puritans, with a humanist’s belief in lessons from history and in asking what the right thing is to do. The first American colleges were built on the British model, he reminds us, from which ancient features—dorm...

Tennessee Lawmakers Tackle Sagging Pants

(Flickr/ Tobyotter)
Tennessee's lawmakers have been on a roll with vital pieces of legislation, necessary to the well-being of their residents. There's the bill to protect teachers who tell students that scientific ideas like evolution and climate change aren't necessarily true . There's the bill to ensure public buildings can display the Ten Commandments (and other "historically significant documents") if they choose. But now, they've really hit the meat of important issues with a bill to outlaw saggy pants. The bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, creates a statewide dress code for public-school students , making it illegal to dress in an "indecent manner." In addition to sagging pants, sports bras may also be under threat, as the legislation forbids showing "underwear or body parts" if it "disrupts the learning environment." (As I remember high school, body parts seemed to distract and disrupt even when covered.) But despite the measures passing with overwhelming support (unanimously in...

Is There An Actual Crisis in U.S. Education?

(Flickr/-Marlith-)
Over at the American Journalism Review , The Washington Post 's Paul Farhi has a much-needed critique on how the "education in crisis" narrative cropped up in journalism across the country. Farhi, a veteran education reporter, notes how widespread the idea of school failure has become, pointing out that in January alone, there were at least 544 stories about "failing schools" (He doesn't even mention the report from the Council on Foreign Relations arguing education has gotten so bad it constitutes a national security risk ). While the stories tend to carry similar messages—in particular that self-proclaimed education reformers are helping to stop the downward spiral—these conclusions don't square with all the data. Elementary and middle school students have improved consistently in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study , and matriculation to higher education has never been higher. "All told," Farhi writes, "America's long-term achievements in education are nothing...

It Takes an Election

Last year's Save Texas Schools rally produced thousands of people, but education funding was still slashed by $5.4 billion. (Flickr/matthewjuran)
Last year, Save Texas Schools held a rally that wowed most of us covering it. Around 10,000 people came from across the state , traveling hours on buses to demand lawmakers prioritize education funding, and forego the unprecedented cuts the legislature's initial budget had proposed. In a state with little history of organization and few structures for bringing people together, the rally was an impressive success. But here's the thing: Even with the public outcry, lawmakers went ahead and slashed education funding anyway. So perhaps it's not a surprise that this year's rally only had about 1,000 attendees at its height (though organizers say a total of 4,500 people came through at one point or another). Toward the end, the numbers seemed to be in the low hundreds. The speakers each had a different pet cause or complaint —testing, funding, equity—and the overall program ran about 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to. Over at The T exas Observer , I left the program thinking the...

Hawaii's Race Back to the Top

Welcome to Hawaiia, Department of Ed! (Flic/jerine)
Friday, Hawaiian education officials can bid farewell to officials from the U.S. Department of Education. For now, anyways. The four-day visit was part of an evaluation to see how the Aloha state has fared in implementing the changes it promised when it won a lucrative Race to the Top grant for $75 million. The state set high goals : Officials said they would eliminate achievement gaps by 2018 and begin measuring teacher effectiveness. Since then, however, the state has struggled to make the necessary changes, and the feds have taken note. At the end of 2011, the U.S. Department of Education labeled the state's grant "high risk," limiting its access to the grant money. It may be in jeopardy of losing the funding entirely. While the state legislature is considering bills to reduce teacher contract protections like tenure , the state's teachers have been reticent about making changes, and earlier this year, voted down a proposed contract that would have included more performance-based...

Tennessee Travels Back to 1925

(Flickr/latvian)
By the end of this week, teachers in Tennessee will likely have new protections if they teach creationism alongside evolution or rely on dubious reports that climate change is a myth. A measure awaiting gubernatorial approval explicitly protects teachers who give countering theories to evolution, climate change, and the like, in an effort to foster critical-thinking skills. The bill received overwhelming legislative support, and the governor is expected to approve it. "It's a really sad state of affairs," says Steven Newton, policy director at the California-based National Center for Science Education. "In an era where other countries are pushing forward … the United States is passing anti-science bills in some of its states." As I wrote last week , the measure create any requirements, and, as the Times Free Press reports , its sponsor has been adamant that it "does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom."...

Georgia's War over Charter Schools Heads to the Ballot

(Flickr/knittymarie)
For months, the Georgia Legislature has served as a key battleground for the charter-schools debate. Now the fight goes to the voters, who will ultimately decide the fate of a constitutional amendment to allow "state-chartered" schools over the objection of local school boards. The measure, which creates a state charter-school commission to approve charters rejected by local school boards, became a major focal point of the legislative session. Wausau Daily Herald broke down the thousands of dollars that lobbyists spent on meals and gifts to woo state lawmakers to their side, which verge on the ridiculous. For instance, the American Federation for Children, advocating for the measure, "paid $75 for frames for photos of state lawmakers with former Braves pitcher John Smoltz." The House passed the measure in March, but it stalled in the Senate. It was only on Monday that four Democrats chose to support the measure , giving it more than the two-thirds it needed. Now advocates and...

Worries About Scientific Weakness of Scientific Theories

(Flickr/Loren Javier)
Monday was a busy day in the Tennessee Legislature. In the Senate, they were debating a measure that guarantees teachers the right to help students "understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming " (Emphasis mine). The eight members of the state's National Academy of Science have vocally opposed the measure. Since the state was also home to the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial , over the right of teachers to teach evolution, the comparisons have been frequent. "Let me say what this bill does not do ... as may have been mischaracterized by many," Watson told the Times Free Press . "This bill does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom." It does however give credence to the supposed "scientific weakness" of theories that the vast majority of...

The Difference Between Contraception and Mainlining Heroin

(Flickr/romana klee)
Last week, I mentioned two state legislatures had passed abstinence-only sex education bills . While Wisconsin's governor was already supportive of the measure, in Utah, Governor Gary Herbert was less certain. The measure would have banned any discussion of contraception, or for that matter, homosexuality. The current law in Utah already requires parents to "opt-in" if the course includes discussion of contraceptives, but this measure would have actually removed even the option for students to learn about more than simply abstinence. It had passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, despite protests and opposition from the state PTA and teachers' groups. Late Friday, after protests, phone calls, and significant pressure from both sides, Herbert announced he had vetoed the measure . In his statement , he said he was unwilling to say "the State knows better than Utah's parents," noting a majority of parents choose to have their children learn about contraception. Herbert described himself...

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