Friday, October 29, 2010

Political Myth 4: The Stimulus Didn't Work

This week I leading up to the election am reposting this article, point by point.

Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Political Myth 3: Obama Bailed Out the Banks

This week I am reposting this article, point by point.

Reality: While many people conflate the "stimulus" with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be "non-reviewable by any court or any agency.") The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Political Myths 1 & 2: Obama Raised the Deficit and Raised Taxes

Each day from now to the election I am going to post an item (today, two items), from "Eight False Things the Public 'Knows' Prior to Election Day," by Dave Johnson. I believe our politics will be conducted better if we know what is truly happening and discuss it calmly.

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
Reality: Bush's last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama's first budget reduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.
Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the "stimulus" was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bad Egalitarianism at Westfield High

The AP U.S. History teachers at Westfield, a competitive public high school in suburban Washington, D.C. have banned curiosity and critical exploration. They sent a list of rules to all students, with this as Number One:

"You are only allowed to use your OWN knowledge, your OWN class notes, class handouts, your OWN class homework, or The Earth and Its Peoples textbook to complete assignments and assessments UNLESS specifically informed otherwise by your instructor.''

Students are forbidden to talk to other people, including their own parents, about the assignments. They are specifically forbidden to look things up on the internet.

Jay Matthews, the parent who brought this situation to the world's attention in the Washington Post, tried to get the teachers to explain themselves. They declined. He asked the principal. The principal declined to comment on the record, "but gave me the impression that the teachers, who did not respond to my request for comment, were only trying to be fair. Some students have more help and resources than others."

This is so sad. Egalitarian ideology has so clouded these teachers' minds that they have lost all sense of what education is about.

I hope this foolishness can be cured by gentle mockery.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ravitch is Mostly Wrong About "Waiting for 'Superman'"

In my previous post I praised the new documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'" as mostly right.

Diane Ravitch, a well-known education policy scholar and former Education Department official, criticized the film.

This is Ravitch's summary of the film's point:
"The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools."

The film, though, is not an indictment of all public schools. It is an indictment of the strategic minority of truly terrible public schools, the drop-out factories. They are concentrated in a few large urban districts, where the unions and the public officials close ranks to protect the status quo. Not all public schools. Not all public school teachers, nor even all teachers in the bad schools. The film criticizes schools that protect bad teachers.

The film's main message is that it is possible to create schools even in the worst neighborhoods for the worst-off kids that teach well and produce excellent results. The fact that such schools are possible should drive us to make them more common. Charter schools are a mechanism within the public system that creates competition for specific lazy monopolies. Not all public systems are lazy monopolies, and as Ravitch rightly notes, most public school parents are satisfied with their own children's schools. But a few schools are terrible, and the main indictment of the film is of principals and districts that do not make those few better.

Ravitch thinks filmmaker Guggenheim's aim is to"propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes." I do not see that at Guggenheim's aim. He cites the same statistic Ravitch does, that only a fifth of charter schools do noticeably better than their other public counterparts. (Ravitch, for some reason, does not wish to count charter schools as public schools, though most are.) Instead, Guggenheim's aim is to show that some schools can do well in rough settings. Chartering isn't magic, and Guggenheim doesn't say it is. He doesn't even focus on that mechanism as much as Ravitch does, who entitles her critique "The Myth of Charter Schools."

Ravitch charges that "Guggenheim seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty." I do not see him showing that. Family background matters more than schools for all classes of children - see my Education and the American Family for documentation. However, Guggenheim does show that good teachers in good schools can do a great deal to teach even the poorest children.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Waiting for 'Superman'" is Mostly Right

The talk of education world these days in the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman.'" It shows the terrible state of the worst public schools, and some of the successful alternatives that prove that things could be better. The KIPP academies and the Harlem Children's Zone schools produce tremendous improvements in terrible neighborhoods. They succeeded where the local "dropout factories" failed.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim has made a powerful ideological indictment of intransigent mediocrity, especially in urban poor schools. His overall conclusion is that good teachers are the heart of good schools. This is mostly right. However, what his account of the KIPP and Harlem Children's Zone schools shows is that the culture of the whole school is vitally important - more important, on the whole, even than the quality of individual teachers.

You need both, of course. However, really great teachers - really great anything - will always be in short supply. A school can succeed with a few really great teachers, and the rest decent teachers willing to work hard - as long as it ruthlessly weeds out the few bad teachers. This creates a climate of achievement that can lift everyone's game, and improve learning for children.