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

"F" Is for Fizzle: The Faltering School Privatization Movement

Entrepreneurs promised they could rescue public schools and turn a profit too. Reality intruded.

O nly a few years ago, privatization was the shiniest comet in the firmament of public school reform. Chris Whittle, Pied Piper of Channel One, the highly profitable in-school commercial television program, was vowing to open 200 new for-profit schools by 1996 and at least 1,000 by the beginning of the next century, schools that would outperform public schools and redefine our whole framework of education. In 1993 initiatives for school vouchers were on the ballot in California and Colorado. That same year, a Minneapolis-based firm called Education Alternatives, Inc. (EAI) seemed to come from nowhere to land a $180 million five-year contract to run nine of Baltimore's public schools. Two years later, in 1995, EAI signed a deal of even greater potential to manage the whole Hartford, Connecticut system, a district enrolling some 24,000 students in 32 schools and spending $171 million a year. After voucher-touting Republicans took over the House of Representatives (and thus the purse...

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?

Where the get-tough movement in education gets it wrong.

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 placement tests would...

The Voucher Seduction

Vouchers have new political power derived from their potent appeal to minorities and the poor. Liberals and defenders of public education had better take notice.

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...

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