Peter Schrag

Peter Schrag, a longtime education writer and editor, is the co-author of When Europe Was a Prison Camp: Father and Son Memoirs, 1940-41 (Indiana University Press, 2015) and author of Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future, and California: America's High-Stakes Experiment. He is a former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee.

Recent Articles

An American Reichstag Fire?

February 27 is the anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Reichstag and gave Hitler a pretext to seize total power. How strong are America's firebreaks?

AP Photo
AP Photo The tribunes of Berlin's Reichstag, the German parliament, lie in ruins February 28, 1933, one day after a fire destroyed the building. Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and the court system. —Donald Trump, tweet, February 5 O n the night of February 27, 1933, less than a month after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, fire gutted the central chamber of the Reichstag in Berlin, the nation’s parliament building. To this day, historians are still debating whether it was the work of a lone arsonist, the Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, who was caught at the scene and soon confessed, or as journalist William L. Shirer later asserted in his classic Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, that there was “enough evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the Nazis who planned the arson and carried it out for their own political ends.” But of one thing there was no doubt. Within hours of the fire,...

Bush's Education Fraud

Well before he became president, George W. Bush had made his education plan, the No Child Left Behind Act, the showcase of "compassionate conservatism" -- meaning, in the conventional shorthand, a conservative route to liberal ends. Its objective was to force schools to close the huge racial achievement gaps in American education, to pay attention to the poor and minority kids they had so often neglected, and to make every child "proficient" in reading and math by the year 2014. The law's name itself was a rip-off of "Leave No Child Behind," the longtime rallying cry of Marian Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund. When Bush signed the legislation in January 2002, two liberal Democrats, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy and California Rep. George Miller, were the co-stars of the White House photo-op. But in the past two years, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) -- formally just an extension of the Johnson-era Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, but in practice probably the...

Books in Review

Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools By Jonathan Zimmerman, Harvard University Press, 307 pages, $29.95 It shouldn't be surprising that the public schools have long been the biggest battleground in America's culture wars: It's in the schools, after all, where the rubber of our pluralism and deepest social disagreements hits the road of public policy. Those wars have produced great piles of literature, much of it polemical, declaring that some new course, a new set of history books, a new court decision -- school desegregation, bans on school-sponsored prayer -- is the ruination of our once-glorious system. They've led to school-board recalls, teacher dismissals, library purges (and occasional book burnings), and sometimes violence. And while we still have latter-day descendants of the McCarthy-era textbook sniffers pursuing Red influence, people with liberal sympathies are now on official payrolls looking to make certain that texts and pictures are ethnically balanced and...

War on the SAT

W herever he went in the past year, University of California President Richard Atkinson was handing out verbal analogies questions: DRAPERY is to FABRIC as (pick one) fireplace is to wood; curtain to stage; shutter to light; sieve to liquid; window to glass. The questions come from the SAT I exam that 1.3 million college applicants take every year. The questions aren't all that tough, but Atkinson believes they show that the test is a capricious exercise that adds little information to what other tests and grades show about a student's academic capabilities. At the same time, it discriminates against poor and minority students, and distracts attention from the core academic subjects that high-school students should focus on. "If you know the definition of those words," he said, "the reasoning is trivial." So he's been working hard to change UC admissions policies to rely on a new, still-to-be-designed test instead of the SAT I -- and to persuade other universities to do the same. "If...

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