Education

Earth to Ann Romney: The Mommy Wars Are Over

When Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney never worked a day in her life, the comment was at first touted as an enormous misstep, a jab at mothers, a slip of the lip that could sink Obama's post-contraception-scuffle 19-point lead among women. Do you see it? All I've seen is a little scuffling among pundits who are competing to say that either, a) it's true that Ann Romney has no idea what economic insecurity feels like, or b) Hilary Rosen is an elitist lezzie , or some combination thereof. But you know what? I think the "mommy wars"—which, as I wrote a few years ago, never really existed in the first place, except as a media creation—are over. Most women have to work for their families to stay in the middle class. The situation is impossible for all of us, whether we're working in an office or working at home or taking a few years out of the workforce to manage the house and children and then find it difficult to get back in at a reasonable-enough wage to ensure a decent Social Security...

A Coming War On Universities?

UC-Berkeley, where young minds are being poisoned at this very moment. (Flickr/Nina Stawski)
When Rick Santorum went after the University of California the other day, it might have seemed like a one-off, fact-free hors d'ouvre of resentment, the kind of criticism of elitist liberal professors that we've come to expect from conservative culture warriors like him. Sara Robinson, however, sees this as the first shot in a coming war on public universities, following up as it did on a report from the Hoover Institution about how the academy is dominated by liberals. And she may be right: But the content of this Hoover report isn't as important as the fact of its provenance, its existence, and its publication on the pages of the WSJ. Right-wing crusades almost always start with think-tank reports; and are issuized on the pages of conservative magazines and newspapers. From there, the ideas are picked up and disseminated by Fox, politicians, conservative ministers, and right-wing bloggers. If all goes well, within weeks, legislators will be paying attention, and lobbyists will be...

What's the Point of College?

A critical look at the state of the American university

.
College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, By Andrew Delbanco Princeton University Press, 240 pages, $24.95 Visit any campus bookstore, and in addition to lighthearted tracts on applied calculus and hoodies made in China, you will see a baby jumper emblazoned with the school’s logo—a sign of how anxiously and superstitiously Americans hope that their kids, still capable of only gurgling and monkey reflex reactions, will one day go to college. It is this glossily promoted hope that Columbia University professor and social critic Andrew Delbanco explores in a book that, despite its title, is no work of prescriptive policy. Wonks may be disappointed at the lack of charts and tables, but Delbanco explores American higher education in a manner befitting a scholar of Melville and the Puritans, with a humanist’s belief in lessons from history and in asking what the right thing is to do. The first American colleges were built on the British model, he reminds us, from which ancient features—dorm...

Tennessee Lawmakers Tackle Sagging Pants

(Flickr/ Tobyotter)
Tennessee's lawmakers have been on a roll with vital pieces of legislation, necessary to the well-being of their residents. There's the bill to protect teachers who tell students that scientific ideas like evolution and climate change aren't necessarily true . There's the bill to ensure public buildings can display the Ten Commandments (and other "historically significant documents") if they choose. But now, they've really hit the meat of important issues with a bill to outlaw saggy pants. The bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, creates a statewide dress code for public-school students , making it illegal to dress in an "indecent manner." In addition to sagging pants, sports bras may also be under threat, as the legislation forbids showing "underwear or body parts" if it "disrupts the learning environment." (As I remember high school, body parts seemed to distract and disrupt even when covered.) But despite the measures passing with overwhelming support (unanimously in...

Is There An Actual Crisis in U.S. Education?

(Flickr/-Marlith-)
Over at the American Journalism Review , The Washington Post 's Paul Farhi has a much-needed critique on how the "education in crisis" narrative cropped up in journalism across the country. Farhi, a veteran education reporter, notes how widespread the idea of school failure has become, pointing out that in January alone, there were at least 544 stories about "failing schools" (He doesn't even mention the report from the Council on Foreign Relations arguing education has gotten so bad it constitutes a national security risk ). While the stories tend to carry similar messages—in particular that self-proclaimed education reformers are helping to stop the downward spiral—these conclusions don't square with all the data. Elementary and middle school students have improved consistently in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study , and matriculation to higher education has never been higher. "All told," Farhi writes, "America's long-term achievements in education are nothing...

It Takes an Election

Last year's Save Texas Schools rally produced thousands of people, but education funding was still slashed by $5.4 billion. (Flickr/matthewjuran)
Last year, Save Texas Schools held a rally that wowed most of us covering it. Around 10,000 people came from across the state , traveling hours on buses to demand lawmakers prioritize education funding, and forego the unprecedented cuts the legislature's initial budget had proposed. In a state with little history of organization and few structures for bringing people together, the rally was an impressive success. But here's the thing: Even with the public outcry, lawmakers went ahead and slashed education funding anyway. So perhaps it's not a surprise that this year's rally only had about 1,000 attendees at its height (though organizers say a total of 4,500 people came through at one point or another). Toward the end, the numbers seemed to be in the low hundreds. The speakers each had a different pet cause or complaint —testing, funding, equity—and the overall program ran about 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to. Over at The T exas Observer , I left the program thinking the...

Hawaii's Race Back to the Top

Welcome to Hawaiia, Department of Ed! (Flic/jerine)
Friday, Hawaiian education officials can bid farewell to officials from the U.S. Department of Education. For now, anyways. The four-day visit was part of an evaluation to see how the Aloha state has fared in implementing the changes it promised when it won a lucrative Race to the Top grant for $75 million. The state set high goals : Officials said they would eliminate achievement gaps by 2018 and begin measuring teacher effectiveness. Since then, however, the state has struggled to make the necessary changes, and the feds have taken note. At the end of 2011, the U.S. Department of Education labeled the state's grant "high risk," limiting its access to the grant money. It may be in jeopardy of losing the funding entirely. While the state legislature is considering bills to reduce teacher contract protections like tenure , the state's teachers have been reticent about making changes, and earlier this year, voted down a proposed contract that would have included more performance-based...

Tennessee Travels Back to 1925

(Flickr/latvian)
By the end of this week, teachers in Tennessee will likely have new protections if they teach creationism alongside evolution or rely on dubious reports that climate change is a myth. A measure awaiting gubernatorial approval explicitly protects teachers who give countering theories to evolution, climate change, and the like, in an effort to foster critical-thinking skills. The bill received overwhelming legislative support, and the governor is expected to approve it. "It's a really sad state of affairs," says Steven Newton, policy director at the California-based National Center for Science Education. "In an era where other countries are pushing forward … the United States is passing anti-science bills in some of its states." As I wrote last week , the measure create any requirements, and, as the Times Free Press reports , its sponsor has been adamant that it "does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom."...

Georgia's War over Charter Schools Heads to the Ballot

(Flickr/knittymarie)
For months, the Georgia Legislature has served as a key battleground for the charter-schools debate. Now the fight goes to the voters, who will ultimately decide the fate of a constitutional amendment to allow "state-chartered" schools over the objection of local school boards. The measure, which creates a state charter-school commission to approve charters rejected by local school boards, became a major focal point of the legislative session. Wausau Daily Herald broke down the thousands of dollars that lobbyists spent on meals and gifts to woo state lawmakers to their side, which verge on the ridiculous. For instance, the American Federation for Children, advocating for the measure, "paid $75 for frames for photos of state lawmakers with former Braves pitcher John Smoltz." The House passed the measure in March, but it stalled in the Senate. It was only on Monday that four Democrats chose to support the measure , giving it more than the two-thirds it needed. Now advocates and...

Worries About Scientific Weakness of Scientific Theories

(Flickr/Loren Javier)
Monday was a busy day in the Tennessee Legislature. In the Senate, they were debating a measure that guarantees teachers the right to help students "understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming " (Emphasis mine). The eight members of the state's National Academy of Science have vocally opposed the measure. Since the state was also home to the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial , over the right of teachers to teach evolution, the comparisons have been frequent. "Let me say what this bill does not do ... as may have been mischaracterized by many," Watson told the Times Free Press . "This bill does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom." It does however give credence to the supposed "scientific weakness" of theories that the vast majority of...

The Difference Between Contraception and Mainlining Heroin

(Flickr/romana klee)
Last week, I mentioned two state legislatures had passed abstinence-only sex education bills . While Wisconsin's governor was already supportive of the measure, in Utah, Governor Gary Herbert was less certain. The measure would have banned any discussion of contraception, or for that matter, homosexuality. The current law in Utah already requires parents to "opt-in" if the course includes discussion of contraceptives, but this measure would have actually removed even the option for students to learn about more than simply abstinence. It had passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, despite protests and opposition from the state PTA and teachers' groups. Late Friday, after protests, phone calls, and significant pressure from both sides, Herbert announced he had vetoed the measure . In his statement , he said he was unwilling to say "the State knows better than Utah's parents," noting a majority of parents choose to have their children learn about contraception. Herbert described himself...

Abstinence-Only Education Making a Comeback?

Maybe we can start bringing these books into the classroom too. (Flickr/romana klee)
Here's a way to save time debating women's health. Rather than allow people to fight and debate the issues around birth control and access to healthcare, simply don't tell them key facts about contraception and sexual health. That way, rather than fighting, kids will be blissfully ignorant. Or, you know, rely on the wisdom of my sister's best friend's cousin who says you definitely can't get pregnant if it's a full moon. Legislatures in both Wisconsin and Utah have passed abstinence-only education bills. It's now up to governors in both states to determine whether or not to make the measures law. Utah's proposal is significantly more stringent. It would actually ban schools from teaching about contraceptives—and, for that matter, homosexuality. The Deseret News reports that hundreds of protesters have flooded the capitol, asking Governor Gary Herbert to veto the bill. The governor has said the public efforts against the measure won't sway him; according to the News , a survey at...

SXSWedu: How to Stop Worrying (about Education) and Love Technology

(Flickr/opencontent)
I was expecting some fireworks at South by Southwest Edu. The nerdy cousin of the hip SXSW festival, Edu held its second annual conference last week, as a place where those in tech and education could come together. Many showed up with apps to sell, and others showed up looking to buy. Teachers came, many with an eye toward incorporating technology into their lessons. But the many panels and three keynote speeches all came against a backdrop of budget cuts, low teacher morale, and changes in the the basic expectations of schooling, particularly around assessment. The panels would often allude to the trouble—one I attended, on "Redefining 'Data-Driven'" proved to be cathartic for some of the teachers laboring under strict expectations of performance. But the conference also showed just how easy it is to talk around the fundamental points of contention in education policy. The three keynote speakers were all big names: Levar Burton, the actor who brought children of my generation the...

No Funds Left Behind

As states slash education budgets, private foundations have picked up the slack—and pushed some controversial reforms.

(Flickr/Ken Fager)
UPDATED FROM MARCH PRINT EDITION Last spring, as the Texas Legislature debated massive cuts to public schools—one of many desperate measures to close a $27 billion biennial budget deficit—10,000 protesters massed in Austin for a “Save Our Schools” rally. In the end, the damage to the state’s already-underfunded schools added up to $5.4 billion, forcing districts to lay off tens of thousands of teachers and staffers. In the city of Austin, public schools with rapidly growing enrollment found themselves facing a 5.5 percent cut in the 2011–2012 school year and 8.5 percent the next year. The quandary was far from extraordinary—37 states spent less on education in 2011 compared to 2010. Neither was one of the Austin schools’ solutions: seeking grant money from the world’s largest philanthropic organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One of Gates’s latest education projects is called the District-Charter Collaboration Compact. When school districts sign a pledge to collaborate...

Parental Trigger Hits the Florida Senate

(Flickr/simonov)
Throughout Florida's legislative session, education reform groups and teachers' unions have done battle over proposals to pass a very controversial "parent trigger" law. The state House has already passed its version of the measure and the state Senate is schedule to vote on it tomorrow, while opponents make a last ditch effort to kill the bill. With the session ending on Friday, the stakes for both sides are high. As I wrote last week , Florida has long been at the forefront of the "reform movement" championing charter schools and doing away with teacher protections, in favor of merit pay and more comprehensive evaluations. The parent trigger idea takes things a step farther. If a school has received a failing rating for consecutive years (two in the Senate version, three in the House), a majority of parents could organize in support of an improvement option: replacing the principal, replacing the entire staff, closing the school, or turning it into a charter school. Florida State...

Pages