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

New Page, Old Lesson

A few years ago educational standards and national testing seemed on their way. But the push for standards has set off predictable reactions from different quarters. Ironically, testing now may be downgraded in importance.

I in February of 1997, when Bill Clinton made national school standards and testing a centerpiece of his second-term domestic program, it became one of the biggest applause lines of his State of the Union address. What could be more self-evident for a nation convinced that its schools, if not actually failing, were running a poor second (or third, or tenth) behind Japan, behind Singapore, behind Taiwan, behind Korea—and that if something weren't done, our economic competitors, with better-educated people and more highly skilled workers, would beat our brains out [see " Are U.S. Students Behind? "]? Tests geared to national norms—or better yet, world standards—would inform parents about how well, or how badly, their kids were really doing. No more Lake Wobegon effect; no more false optimism from local school administrators trying to look good. Nonetheless, no one should be surprised that Clinton's proposal for voluntary national tests—reading in the fourth grade and math in the eighth—...

End of the Second Chance?

Last spring's decision of the trustees of the City University of New York to phase out remedial education at CUNY's ten four-year colleges—and thus deny admission to most of the students who need it—has become something of a seminal event, not only in higher education, but in our larger culture wars. CUNY took an issue that had been festering for years in hundreds of institutions, and hit it with a sledgehammer. Under the trustees' decision, which followed intense political pressure from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and, indirectly, from Governor George Pataki, remediation would be shifted to CUNY's two-year colleges, to private tutoring companies, or to precollege summer programs. In any case, beginning in the fall of 1999, remediation for most students was to be phased out at CUNY four-year colleges, and any student who could not pass CUNY's placement tests in math, reading, or composition would have to start her postsecondary education somewhere else. In effect, the...

The Voucher Seduction

Late this summer, just as Texas Governor George W. Bush was beginning to convince a lot of people around the country that his state's public school reforms were lifting the test scores of even the poorest students, along came presidential candidate Bush bearing an altogether different message: when we fail, let them eat vouchers. If he becomes president, Bush told a group of Latino business leaders in Los Angeles, he will take steps to transfer federal Title I money from consistently failing schools- $1,500 per child per year- and give it to parents to use in any tutoring program or in any alternative school, public or private, that the parents choose: "Whatever offers hope." Maybe even Bush isn't convinced that Texas, which had been getting lots of adulatory media attention for its self- proclaimed high achievement standards and its tough school accountability program, is such a great reform model. Bush's proposal is loaded with questions and unresolved problems. The $1,500, really a...

Too Good to Be True

Who'd have ever thought that Texas, famous for finding all sorts of silly things to boast about, would suddenly find cause to brag about its educational achievements? Not a little, but a whole lot. And who'd have thought that what some people have come to call the Texas Miracle would be regarded with great respect, if not reverence, by a worshipful press and by politicians from one end of the country to the other. In education reform circles these days, Texas is everywhere. If Governor George W. Bush is elected president, the Texas school reforms—and particularly the state's whips-and-chains accountability system—are likely to become a model for national education policy, as they already are in a large number of states. "We're no longer comparing ourselves with the poor southern states, like we used to," said Ann Smisko, an associate commissioner in the Texas Education Agency (TEA). "Now we're taking on everybody." It's on those claims of achievement that much of Bush's legitimacy as...

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