Education

Pre-K on the Range

Rural, conservative, impoverished Oklahoma has built the nation’s brightest model for early education.

(Flickr/Howard County Library System)

Four-year-old John Kaykay is a serious and quiet boy—“my thoughtful one,” his dad calls him. When the official greeters at the front door of the McClure early-childhood center in Tulsa welcome him with their clipboards and electric cheer—“Good morning, John! How are you today?”—he just slowly nods his small chin in their direction. When he gets to Christie Housley’s large, sunny classroom, he focuses intensely on signing in, writing the four letters of his name with a crayon as his dad crouches behind him. When he’s asked the question of the day—“Do you like music?”—he pauses for a minute before putting his magnetic nameplate in the “no” section. 

Anti-Testing: Unlikely Common Ground?

(Flick/ cliff1066â„¢)

At first glance, the 2012 elections didn’t seem to have much bearing on education policies. After all, the fundamental debates around schools—whether to increase the role of testing, merit pay, charter schools, and school choice—are, for the most part, outside the realm of partisan politics. Among both Democratic and Republican leadership, there’s a fair amount of consensus in the self-proclaimed reform agenda, which seeks to make schools more like a marketplace and relies on testing to offer metrics for success. It’s the one area where the parties seem to agree.

Progressives: The Biggest Winners of State Ballot Measures

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Liberals had a lot to celebrate on election night, from the outcome of the presidential race to a number of major Senate wins. But less noticed on the whole was the stunning display of progressive power in ballot measures across the country. From gay marriage to marijuana legalization, from teachers unions to school funding, voters on the whole supported a progressive agenda in the 2012 election. State policy not only carries major implications for the lives of state residents, it also helps set the stage for national debates on issues. In a number of states, voters were deciding the direction of public education; in others, the fate of union power. Election night brought some big victories for liberals, albeit with a few defeats.

Unions Fighting Two-Front War on California Ballots

Flickr/quinn.anya

This is the eighth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year.

It’s been a bad year for California unions. Republicans have never been fans of the labor movement, and now state Democratic support is waning. In September, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a pension reform plan that will force union members to work longer for fewer benefits, and vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, an AFL-CIO-backed bill that would have given labor rights to domestic workers. And earlier this month, Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed child care workers to unionize. In cities like San Jose and Los Angeles—both Democrat-leaning cities with Democratic mayors—unions are fighting more losing battles against pension reform.

In this election, state unions were forced to open a new front—at the ballot box. California ballot Proposition 32 puts labor in even deeper trouble, and could leave the movement effectively silenced. And even if labor kills the measure, it will still come with huge costs to other campaigns in the state.

Teach for America’s Deep Bench

The education nonprofit is also training the next generation of politicians, who have very specific ideas on school reform.

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

“Is this our Egypt moment? Will we seize the moment?”

Georgia's Bitter Charter Battle

(Flickr/hpeguk)

The fourth in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November.

In March, the Georgia Department of Education released an in-depth report showing that students in the state's charter schools perform worse than those in traditional schools. You might have thought such a conclusion would prompt lawmakers to at least pause on a constitutional amendment creating a new state agency specifically to create new charters. Instead, a week later, the Georgia Senate passed it with the required two-thirds majority. Voters will determine the amendment's fate this November, deciding whether charter schools should be drastically expanded at the expense of the traditional districts.

Teaching for a New China

The challenges of higher education in a censorship state

In a rare alignment of the political stars, next month the world’s two largest economies both face changes in leadership. On November 6, the U.S. will hold presidential and congressional elections, and on November 8, the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will begin a once-a-decade passing of the reigns of power in the world’s most populous country. Americans are used to a full-throated debate over our political institutions: From op-eds that decry the influence of money in politics to civics lessons on the electoral college, political discussion is nearly impossible to avoid.

Will the Munger Kids Kill California's Schools?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

America has the Koch brothers, and now California has the Munger kids. Unlike the rightwing Koches, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Jr. entered politics from opposite directions—she’s a liberal Democrat and a champion of inner-city schools; he’s an economic right-winger, a social moderate, and a Republican activist. But thanks to the vicissitudes of California politics and the self-absorption that wealth can bring (their father is Charles Munger, a Pasadena attorney and investor who is the longtime vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment consortium), they’ve come together in the past couple of days to attack the most important measure on the California ballot: Governor Jerry Brown’s initiative to raise taxes on the rich so that the state’s schools and colleges won’t take a massive fiscal hit immediately following the election.

Joel Klein's Misleading Autobiography

What the former chancellor of New York City schools' sleight of hand tells us about education reform

(AP Photo)

This is a story about a story, of how a fiction about impoverished children and public schools corrupts our education policy.

The fiction is the autobiography of Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. Appointed in 2002 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Klein transformed the city’s public-school system by promoting privately managed charter schools to replace regular public schools, by increasing the consequences for principals and teachers of standardized tests, and by attacking union-sponsored due process and seniority provisions for teachers. From his perch as head of the nation’s largest school district, Klein wielded outsize influence, campaigning to persuade districts and states across the nation to adopt the testing and accountability policies he had established in New York. Deputies he trained when he was chancellor now lead school systems not only in New York but also in Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, Newark, and elsewhere.

Color-Blinded

(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Imagine a college whose orchestra was missing a bassoon player, or whose football team was down a running back. It would go without saying that this school could admit an applicant who plays the bassoon over a candidate who plays the French horn, even if that French horn player had slightly higher grades, or that its admissions officers could give preference to a high school’s star running back over its equally talented defensive lineman. The entire university community benefits from a full orchestra or a football team with a complete offensive lineup, and college admissions officers routinely take similar considerations into account when they think about how to build an incoming freshman class. Nine years ago, in its landmark Grutter v. Bollinger decision, the Supreme Court recognized that race is just like an orchestra. Contrary to the common view that affirmative action is a zero-sum game—in which each seat given to a minority must be taken from a white student—Grutter recognized that a university’s entire student body, white students included, benefit from a more diverse campus in ways that simply cannot be replicated in a homogenous community. As the Court explained, “‘classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting’ when the students have ‘the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.’”

Diane Ravitch on the "Effort to Destroy Public Ed"

(Flickr/Kevin Lock)

When Diane Ravitch changed her mind about education reform, she became one of the leading critics of a movement that dominates American policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held positions at the pro-school-reform movement Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and was a member of the Koret Task Force at Stanford's Hoover Institution, which focuses on school choice and "accountability." But in 2009, Ravitch left both positions and wrote a book announcing her move to the other side of the debate.

Reaping What Elections Sow

(Flickr/ BKM_BR)

In 2010, Tea Party mania influenced elections at every level—congressional races and governorships, most famously. But the biggest impact was on state legislatures, where 21 house or senate chambers flipped from Democratic to Republican control. In states like Texas, Republican majorities turned into supermajorities; in the Texas House, Democrats were no longer needed to make up a quorum. All the legislative energy was on the side of Tea Party Republicans. They made sweeping, historic changes—to labor laws, to health care, to reproductive rights, and, most of all, to state budgets and public school funding.

Jerry Perenchio: California's Sheldon Adelson

(AP Photo)

While Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers have become emblematic of outside spending at the national level, it is local outside spending that could have the greatest impact on policy.

Jerry Perenchio is California's homegrown Sheldon Adelson, and he's using his fortune to decide the future of the nation's most populous state. California's income inequality is among the worst in the country. And as the ongoing fight over Proposition 30 shows, that often translates into political inequality.

Pages