Peter Schrag

Peter Schrag, a longtime education writer and editor, is the author of Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future and most recently, California: America's High-Stakes Experiment. He is a former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee.

Recent Articles

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...

Ashcroft's Hypocrisy

T hree years ago, John Ashcroft--then a senator from Missouri, now the U.S. attorney general--opened a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on gun control by declaring that "a citizenry armed with both the right to possess firearms and to speak freely is less likely to fall victim to a tyrannical government than a citizenry that is disarmed from criticizing government or defending themselves." No member of his old committee thought to quote those words back to him when he appeared in December to defend his administration's assertion of sweeping new powers--the creation of military tribunals to try any noncitizen that the administration says is a terrorist, its failure to disclose even the names of some 1,200 detained suspects, its declaration that it may monitor, without judicial authority, conversations between suspects and their lawyers--all in the name of national security. No mention of those old words even when Ashcroft came close to accusing government critics of something...

The Electric Slide

L ate this spring, while hardly anyone was paying attention, the epicenter of the California energy crisis moved east. For a year, the focus had been on the state's misbegotten deregulation scheme and on Democratic Governor Gray Davis's dithering response to the mess it created. But in the past couple of months, there's been a seismic shift in emphasis and onus: to the out-of-state generators, marketers, and pipeline companies that have made exorbitant profits off the crisis; to the do-next-to-nothing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that's failed to cap runaway wholesale prices despite the commission's own finding that rates have not been "just and reasonable," as federal law requires; and to the Bush administration, which has insisted for months that the problem is California's. The state will still have a long, hot summer, but a lot of people outside California will start feeling the heat. Davis has been talking about energy company "profiteers" and "pirates" ever since...

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