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

The New School Wars: How Outcome-Based Education Blew Up

It seemed like a conservative idea; then progressive educators got hold of it. Now a firestorm has erupted that could jeopardize the effort to raise national curriculum standards.

W hen the Bush administration first embraced it five years ago, the idea seemed like good conservative education theory and the most promising device around to improve academic standards in American schools. The "it" was "outcome-based education," and OBE was going to help make Bush the "education president." At its core was a fundamental shift in education policy from a focus on inputs--hours spent in class, years of schooling completed, courses taken, dollars spent--to the definition and measurement of academic outcomes. OBE fit perfectly with the increasingly fashionable idea of school decentralization. The state would promulgate guidelines and develop assessments for what students should know and do; the local school would determine how to reach those goals. The standards and assessments, moreover, were to be "criterion referenced," meaning they would be based on what students had to know in the real world (thus presumably closing the gap with the Germans and the Japanese), not...

"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...

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