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Reason (February)
"Threatened by Success" and "Watching the Numbers" about San Francisco school board's attempt to take control of an Edison-run charter school
"Vanishing Valedictorians" on schools without honors
"GI Joe College" about military e-learning
"Dumb but Pretty" about the evils of graphic software

San Jose Mercury News
"Rage, not logic" on Dworkin and McElroy books

Good blogs

Tim Blair
Moira Breen
USS Clueless
The Corner
Andrew Hofer
Jeff Jarvis
Mickey Kaus
Ken Layne
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
Frederik Norman
Damian Penny
Virginia Postrel
Jeff Sackmann
Rand Simberg
Natalie Solent
Bjorn Staerk
Andrew Sullivan
Tres Producers
Matt Welch




Read my book
“Start-up High: A Charter School's Story” will follow organizers, teachers and students at Downtown College Prep, San Jose's first charter school. Click Mail List and I'll let you know when the book's published.


Saturday, June 29

Marginal students
Doug Levene e-mails with a valid point: Current voucher programs don't drain money from the public schools because the vouchers are worth less than the marginal cost of educating a student. However, raising vouchers to the average cost per student would penalize districts, which have fixed costs that can't easily be cut.
Removing students from the public school system does not reduce the system's cost proportionately because, in the short run at least, the fixed costs (physical plant, retiree benefits) remain the same. Variable costs are different and indeed should be reduced proportionately. For example, if the school system has 60,000 students and 2,000 teachers (a 30/1 ratio) and 6,000 students leave to go to private schools, the school system can terminate 200 teachers and maintain the same teacher-to-student ratio. However, terminating those teachers will not reduce the school's fixed costs.
Levene thinks complaints about vouchers reducing resources for the public schools are prompted purely by the desire to protect unionized jobs. I think there's a fear that vouchers will be expanded in the future and raised to a level that would force districts to change their way of doing business -- or go out of business.

Each state that considers vouchers will come up with a different plan. Why not give low-income parents a voucher equal to the district's per-student operating costs, and let them supplement if they wish? For middle-class students, cut the voucher amount to half the marginal cost of educating the child, so the taxpayers will save money on each child whose parents opt out. It's not hard to design a plan that would leave school districts with more money per student and give parents a more useful voucher.

The charters and the vouchers can be friends
Not surprisingly, the Education Gadfly is talking 'bout vouchers. Chester Finn writes:
What strikes me hardest is that the crucial factors shaping whether a voucher program is or isn't constitutional are now, indisputably, factors within the power of policymakers and educators to shape, control and alter. Which means they now become more vulnerable to politics than to judicial interpretation. Let me illustrate:

*One reason that Cleveland parents have multiple choices available to them is Ohio also has charter schools. That's the result of a separate state policy decision, but it's also vulnerable to legislative rollback and, especially, to another round of litigation that the teacher unions are spearheading to get the Ohio charter-school program declared unconstitutional on completely different grounds. We must assume that the unions and their allies will interpret yesterday's ruling as a broad hint that, if the charter school program were to die, the voucher program might perish along with it. I hope that "charter people" and "voucher people" now see that they need each other. . . .

Judging by the charter school list/serv I'm on, there's some bad blood between charter people and the more libertarian voucher people. Finn's right. School choice advocates need to stick together. There's plenty of room for different options.

Friday, June 28

Time warp
My computer crashed. When I rebooted, it had hidden my checking account file, substituting one from January, 2001. I finally found the current one. Then I realized the computer had changed me to an obsolete version of Internet Explorer. Who knows what else it's done. I've been thinking of buying a new computer. Do you think this one is trying to tell me something?

Bin Laden in the cold, cold ground
Osama's dead, writes Mark Steyn in the Spectator (via Simberg). But it's convenient for the U.S. to keep him alive as a celebrity hate object.
In any case, Washington is in no hurry to pronounce him dead. In a celebrity culture, it’s useful to be able to put a face to what would otherwise be a shadowy menace. The Chinese get away with a ton of stuff just because they eschew the Colonel Gaddafi pillbox hat and the Saddamite turtleneck and Village People moustache and run their tyranny with a bunch of boring interchangeable guys in specs and cheap lounge suits. Osama’s generated websites and bumper stickers and T-shirts and song parodies, and announcing that you’d found his DNA in the rubble of a daisy-cuttered cave would only prompt even more Americans to tune out of the war.

Likewise, it’s the open-endedness of the Bush crusade (whoops) that rattles the Europeans: if Osama were dead, the Eurosophists would be saying, ‘C’mon, you got your man, you had your revenge, now declare victory and go home.’ With the guy directly responsible out of the way, the European inclination to render terrorism as an impersonal abstraction born of ‘desperation’ and ‘hopelessness’ would be unstoppable.

Calming the cultural wars
The voucher decision "embraced a healthy vision of religious neutrality," writes Jeffrey Rosen in the New York Times. The pledge decision was polarizing.
The Supreme Court's vision of neutrality — which holds that a government program enacted for a valid secular purpose is not unconstitutional if that program incidentally benefits religious organizations — represents a moderate and appealing vision for addressing church-state issues, one that can accommodate the concerns of liberals and conservatives. By contrast, the appellate court's strict separationism — one that banishes all religious expression from the public arena — is a polarizing vision. Although liberals may oppose the Supreme Court's decision, in truth the foundational principle of neutrality set forth in the ruling will make it harder for religious conservatives (including those on the court) to argue for the constitutionality of school prayer and other state-sponsored support of religion.
I own my name! On a whim, I checked and discovered that it's available. Only it isn't anymore, because I snapped it up. When I started, I couldn't get (mystery owner) or .net (Australian professor) and I didn't want to be an org. Because I'm not an org. So I decided on Now both monikers will work to find this site, though I'm told it will take time for to migrate to all the servers. Whatever that means.

In the next month, I hope to have the redesigned site up and running -- maybe even with comments. All this costs money, which isn't coming in. So I'd like to remind readers that you can make a modest contribution to the Let Joanne Be Fund by clicking on the Amazon icon. OK, it didn't cost much money to buy the name or to pay for Blogger Pro, but it's more than I'm getting.

Money can't buy competent leadership
"We want books,'' shouted Seattle students as they walked out in protest of Rainier Beach High's shortage of textbooks. Then they trashed a nearby Rite Aid -- and their own credibility.

Rainier Beach is a high-poverty, high-minority school by Seattle standards. It's also high in funding compared to other schools. The school has money for textbooks. It just doesn't spend it. A Seattle Weekly reporter has discovered Rainier Beach allocated $20,000 for textbooks but spent only $7,000. The school has another $369,000 in unspent funds, which the principal said was news to her. The district spent nearly $200,000 to get rid of the previous principal, who was a disaster.

Where else does the money go? The school has more adults on the payroll per student than other schools. But the extra staffers aren't classroom teachers, so class size isn't smaller.

Rainier Beach High is a textbook example of why adding more money doesn't improve a low-performing school. Without competent leadership, the money will be pissed away.

If you read the Weekly story, by the way, you'll come across this gem from a visit to a low-poverty school on the other side of town:
Not every student is a motivated star on the way to Harvard, naturally. Some in a college preparatory English class taught by Jones one day haven't even done their assigned reading. But others are animatedly applying Marxist and feminist analyses to the assigned short stories. (When one girl asks to be reminded what Marxists believe, a boy earnestly responds, "It's when everyone works for the good of the people instead of, like, the few.")

Foxy on Fridays
Fox is now running my weblog highlights on Fridays. This week it's all vouchers all the time.

Also on Fox: Quasimodo will be described as "The Bellringer of Notre Dame" in a London theater production. Scoliosis sufferers had complained about "hunchback."

$1.6 billion for what?
Californians love small K-3 classes -- even it costs $1.6 billion and produces no measurable benefits.
A star-studded team of researchers said Thursday that they cannot tell whether California's youngest students have learned more in classes of 20 than 30 -- but state politicians said no one, Republican or Democrat, would dare end the wildly popular small-class program.
Researchers suggested letting class size creep above 20 for middle-class and upper-middle-class students while lowering class size to 15 for high-risk, low-income students. Don't hold your breath.

Poor students may be hurt by class size reduction because their schools can't attract qualified, experienced teachers. The number of "under-prepared" elementary teachers rose by 46 percent in the first three years of class size reduction; those teachers disproportionately work in high-poverty schools.

Tracking test scores
California students take a lot of tests, but there's no way to track individual students' progress over time. With students moving from school to school and program to program, it's hard to tell what's really working -- and what's not. Sen. Dede Alpert's SB 1453 would track students' performance from kindergarten through "Pomp and Circumstance." You can't have accountability without crunchable data.

Thursday, June 27

Let's make a deal
Here's a Sage Stossel cartoon on how the Palestinians might find a new Arafat.

Paper blogs
Newspapers should get on the blog bandwagon, Steve Outing writes in Editor and Publisher (via Romenesko. He suggests offering a web site to every reporter and photographer, with a few hours a week to update it. Or newspapers could offer online readers a sports blog featuring all the sports writers, a business writers' blog, etc. It definitely would boost readership for online newspaper sites and build connections between readers and the newspaper, but it would take more time than Outing thinks to do this well.

One nation under (your name here)
SatireWire reports that brand managers are criticizing the court decision to drop "under God'' from the pledge of allegiance.
"Over the years, the U.S. under God has been a great draw for the major players — Einstein, Solzhenitsyn, John Lennon," said government marketing analyst Gil Treacle. "Without God's brand recognition and infinite marketing powers, you risk losing the marquee names to competitors. Then the networks don't renew, the money dries up, the fans revolt, and the next thing you know, you're Argentina."

The U.S. Justice Department, assigned the difficult task of finding a replacement, said it has already been in contact with several entities ("One nation, but 24,000 Starbucks") interested in having their brands associated with America.
I also like the graphic, which says: ". . . one nation, but kinda two, if you count Canada."

SatireWire also reports on how schools are boosting the self-esteem of obvious losers with innovations such as "Nick Watson is Normal Day."

Wrestling with quotas
Quotas for female athletes have forced the elimination of men's wrestling, crew, volleyball and other teams, charges the College Sports Council. Now a commission is reviewing Title IX, which has been used to demand quotas. But the male athletes aren't represented at the table, complains the head of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, which is sueing the Department of Education.

Analogy is to excellence as . . .
Usually, rejiggering of tests is motivated by the desire to help minorities earn higher scores without going to the trouble of teaching them more. But the new SAT -- with an essay replacing the analogies section -- is not an easier test. In fact, it will be harder for immigrant Hispanic and Asian students because of the added writing. Asians, who tend to excel in math but not in the verbal section, will be hardest hit because two thirds of the total score will be based on language arts, only one third on math.

I think the changes make sense. Students will spend more time practicing writing and less drilling each other on obscure vocabulary words. Colleges also will get to see the SAT essays to check whether the writing is comparable to the application essay.

On the question of coachability, an employee of a test prep company sent me this e-mail:
. . . Unless you're giving people pencils with crib sheets carved onto them, you cannot, as a teacher, inflate anyone's test score.  Our company does very well helping students to raise their scores by an (independently corroborated, for most tests) average of one standard deviation.  We emphasize strategies based on test structure, because they really do help a lot.  But we cannot make sows' ears who are just plain bad at the material or refuse to study the vocabulary into silk purses with 1500s.  I agree that the SAT-I has a lot of flaws (and the analogies section, which is now so hotly debated, has gotten worse in my opinion because the relationships are much less precise and more arbitrary than they used to be), and I think that it's far more accurate at the extremes of the curve than closer to the mean. . . But in my experience, most of a student's performance on the test is down to his or her understanding of the material.
My daughter just interviewed for a summer job as an SAT tutor. She had to take an SAT quiz -- including analogies -- to qualify. ("And you thought you'd never use those skills," a friend said.) If she gets the job, I'll make her my undercover agent.

Hostile classroom features a Brooklyn lawsuit: A former special ed teacher has sued on grounds that students created a "hostile work environment" by harassing him for his Sri Lankan ethnicity and accent. School officials did nothing to stop the harassment for fear of violating the disabled students' "rights." According to the New York Daily News:
School officials don't deny (Vincent) Peries was harassed -- but argue that they can't discipline special ed students for slurring a teacher. "This is because students with that classification have already been identified as having behavioral problems, and the verbal misconduct might be considered a manifestation of their disability," city lawyer Lisa Grumet wrote in court papers. Special ed students can be suspended only for incidents involving physical violence, drugs or a dangerous weapon, according to Board of Education regulations.
In other words, special education doesn't mean educating students to function in the world. It means letting them grow up without self-control, manners or, inevitably, academic skills and knowledge. These students are being treated like animals.

Voucher bounce
On Education Weak, Lisa Snell celebrates the voucher decision, but calls for eternal vigilance to guard against government interference in private schools.
In the spirit what seems to be this year's defining theme from Spiderman, I thought, "With great power comes great responsibility."

I can't help but think of Marshall Fritz today, and all the others, who fear that this is not a victory for parents and children over government schools, but a victory for the government over private schools. . .

We know from efforts to regulate charter schools, compulsory education laws, efforts to regulate homeschoolers, and education management companies that sacrifice their business models for government contracts, that regardless of the circumstances, the government will never stop pushing to gain more control over private decisions about education. And the private education industry cannot be blamed for seeking some of the $350 billion that state education controls. . . .

We must stay true to the choice. We must trust competition, the market, and the individual choices of parents and their right of exit to police private schools.
Joe Nathan of the University of Minnesota, the father of the charter school movement, raises exactly the same issues from the opposite point of view. In a not-yet-published newspaper column, he calls for private schools that take vouchers to accept all applicants, including the disabled, adopt a tolerant curriculum and to agree to government monitoring of academic and financial performance.
Basic fairness seems to demand that schools that are competing operate under the same, or very similar rules.  If voucher advocates reject this idea, I suspect that relatively few states will adopt voucher laws.

Will voucher advocates limit curriculum and philosophy of tax supported private and parochial schools?  Will advocates reject schools receiving public funds teaching  that one race is superior to others, or that hatred for America is acceptable?
Perhaps a state like Arizona will try the libertarian parent-choice model; I suspect most will follow Nathan in telling private schools to accept some government rules if they want to take government-funded vouchers.

Schools won't be able to take low-income students for granted if parents have a choice, writes Michael Lynch at Reason.

School choice is a civil rights issue, according to this Hoover essay.

In "On Thin Ice," Public Agenda reports that support for vouchers is growing, but it depends a lot on how the questions are worded. And many people don't really know what vouchers are.

Court chooses school choice
Vouchers won 5-4 in the U.S. Supreme Court. Ohio can give Cleveland parents money for tuition at the school of their choice -- even if most choose parochial schools. Here's the text of the decision in non-pdf form. Basically, the majority said the $2,250 vouchers served a government purpose and didn't favor religion; parents had a free choice of whether to choose a religious school, secular private school or a public alternative school.
The program here in fact creates financial disincentives for religious schools, with private schools receiving only half the government assistance given to community schools and one-third the assistance given to magnet schools. Adjacent public schools, should any choose to accept program students, are also eligible to receive two to three times the state funding of a private religious school. Families too have a financial disincentive to choose a private religious school over other schools. Parents that choose to participate in the scholarship program and then to enroll their children in a private school (religious or nonreligious) must copay a portion of the schools tuition. Families that choose a community school, magnet school, or traditional public school pay nothing.
Justice Souter's dissent complains that the chintzy dollar value of the vouchers favors Catholic schools, which can educate at lower costs. There's an easy cure for that: Raise the amount, and secular private schools will open their doors to voucher students.

Across the country, parochial schools provide the best education for inner-city students. Many black professionals -- like Justice Clarence Thomas -- used Catholic schools as a springboard to success. It will be interesting to see whether Wisconsin legislators will expand Milwaukee's voucher program to include church-based schools. And what other states will follow suit.

States may be deterred by the fear that parents will choose Muslim religious schools hostile to American culture. That could happen. In Milwaukee, separatist "Afrocentric" schools sprang up to take vouchers, though some promptly folded. There's no guarantee low-income parents will make wise choices. But poor students will be better off if their parents can make choices. We've seen the alternative in urban school systems: Year after year, students are trapped in bad schools.

From C to shining C
The Ivy League may be awash with As, but in the humbler haunts of academe the C survives, reports the Education Department. According to the Chronicle for Higher Education:
. . . While 14.5 percent of students received mostly A's, more than a third of students received grades mostly at or below the C mark. And 48.9 percent of African-American undergraduates received these grades -- a larger percentage than any other ethnic group.

Wednesday, June 26

No competition in Cleveland
To prep for tomorrow's U.S. Supreme Court voucher decision, read this study of Cleveland's voucher program, which concludes it hasn't created competition for the public schools. The voucher amount is so small -- one third of what Cleveland Public Schools spends per student -- that most private schools can't afford to take voucher students. Under state law, Cleveland Public Schools keep collecting per-pupil funding for voucher students who've left for private schools. Teachers don't lose their jobs; turnover is so high the district always needs teachers.

Let's say the court upholds the constitutionality of school vouchers. Vouchers won't help students trapped in awful school systems -- 9 percent pass state tests; 27.5 percent graduate from high school -- unless the programs are designed to fund alternatives. At a minimum, vouchers should equal public school spending. At a maximum voucher of $2,250, it's impossible to create a good school for very needy students. That's why almost all voucher students go to church-run schools. If the voucher is worth $7,130, education entrepreneurs will create schools without the need for a church subsidy.

Tuesday, June 25

Conscience lite
Unremitting Verse assures the conscience-lite writers of the Guardian letter that their names will not be sullied by the messy work of defending their country's freedom or other people's lives.
Dear sirs and ladies, consciences like yours
Should not be marred by nasty things like wars,
But polished and preserved above the fray,
Forever just as spotless as today.

You mark your course with certainty and pride,
You trumpet setting base concerns aside,
You see your moral duty clear: to flee
The messy work that keeps your nation free.

Formerly unknown poliblogs
The 10 best 'unknown' political blogs are profiled on Right Wing News. Oddly enough, many of them aren't hard-core political. The only complete unknown for me was The Weigh In.

It's the teaching, stupid
California's multi-billion-dollar investment in smaller class size isn't helping many low-income students, according to a Public Policy Institute study. While students do a bit better in small classes, they do worse when taught by inexperienced teachers. In Los Angeles, lowering class size seems to have hurt poor students, reports the Daily News.
The San Francisco-based nonprofit concluded that reducing class sizes in the city's poorest elementary schools led to a decline in student performance by pushing the most experienced teachers into more affluent areas.

"Staffing high poverty schools in the LAUSD has always been a problem, and it's been exacerbated by smaller class sizes," said Christopher Rivkin, co-author of the two-year study, adding that the 1996 law that decreased class size created hundreds of unfilled teaching positions in the city.

In Los Angeles, Rivkin said, the most experienced teachers quickly filled positions at more affluent schools, while low-income schools were left to scramble for emergency credentialed teachers. Schools in which most students were minorities fared the worst, he said.
If new teachers stay at high-poverty schools, gaining experience and effectiveness, the results could turn around in a few years. LA test scores are now going up in the early grades, apparently due to teacher training in an effective phonics-based reading program. But teacher turnover is huge at schools where teachers are frustrated by weak principals, unprepared students and apathetic parents. See the next item on "Why teachers quit."

Why teachers quit
An investment-banking analyst turned teacher explains in a New York Times column why she quit teaching after her first horrible year. The issues she raises -- an unsupportive principal, inconsistent discipline, low standards -- are common. It's why I fear that the laid-off workers moving into teaching will move right out when the economy picks up.

Meanwhile the LA Times (intrusive registration process), interviews Jeff Porter, a former Teach for America novice at a Los Angeles high school, who was assigned to teach chemistry in a trailer. Lab equipment, supplies and textbooks had been lost in a renovation.
So his students went three months without chemistry books or equipment, working on assignments Porter photocopied from the college texts he'd used as a nutritional biochemistry major.
What's worse is it hardly seemed to matter. Few of his Advanced Placement students had ever studied chemistry. Many of them read at grade-school level, and couldn't do basic algebra. Some refused to read outside of class and most of them balked at homework assignments. And these were high-achieving students at the inner-city school.
Low-performing schools have added classes with the AP label to make it look like they're providing equal opportunity for students to excel. But their students rarely pass the end-of-the-year exam.
Even students notice that their classes have been dumbed-down to accommodate academic deficiencies. In an AP English class at one South Los Angeles high school, a student complained that they didn't read a single book in an entire semester. The final assignment was to write a "friendly letter."
Porter has left teaching to work for a wine company.

Monday, June 24

Honors dishonored
TechCentralStation is running my column on "Vanishing Valedictorians."

Winning the culture war
John Scalzi nails cultural relativism.
Yes, morals are relative to culture and independent of any larger, overarching system of morality that all of humanity shares. But if one believes that morals are relative to cultures, it does not therefore follow that one must believe that all cultures are created equal, or that the moralities therein are equivalent. This is an argument that allows you to say: "Your morals are rooted in your culture -- but your culture truly sucks."

Ye Olde Vouchers
Dr. Weevil writes to ask a good question: How come the voucher debate ignores long-existing voucher programs in New England?
In Maine, people who live more than X miles from the nearest public high school get a state subsidy ($5,000, I think) towards tuition at any non-sectarian high school. I'm told that some of my students have parents who intentionally bought houses out in the sticks so they could sent their kids to private school at state expense. Some areas don't bother to build public high schools, because the private schools fill the gap.
I've seen some discussion of school vouchers in Maine and Vermont, but not much. Maybe it's because they've been around for awhile and don't threaten the status quo. Or because there are no racial issues involved.

Too stupid to flunk the IQ test?
Liberals say IQ tests are meaningless or racist -- unless low IQs will get some defendants off death row. Steve Sailer of UPI interviews IQ researchers on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.
Linda S. Gottfredson, co-director of the University of Delaware-Johns Hopkins Project for the Study of Intelligence and Society, said, "Just about the only time I see journalists and liberals take IQ seriously is when it meets their ideological predilections. For example, they treat IQ as real when anyone claims that early intervention raises it, but not when evidence goes the other way. And so it is with crime. We are told we must not link IQ with crime, unless low IQ can be used to roll back the death penalty."
Most people with an IQ below 70 -- the most common cut-off -- are the normal children of not-very-bright parents. They do OK if there's no need for abstract thinking. They know murder is wrong, though they may be less capable of self-control.

Sailor notes that "the Court's decision officially designates that a much larger fraction of the African-American population is of diminished moral capability compared to the white and East Asian populations. About 2 percent-3 percent of whites or East Asians don't exceed 70 on IQ tests, vs. 10 percent-12 percent of American blacks (and more than 20 percent score below 75)."

Truth and lies
"Windtalkers" producers admit they invented the notion that Marines were ordered to kill Navajo code specialists to prevent their capture. Michael Medved quotes from an MGM press release:
"After thorough research, Marine Corps historians were unable to locate any evidence that such orders ever took place – it would be illegal for a Marine to be ordered to kill a fellow Marine," the studio conceded. But the filmmakers refused to feel thwarted by anything so trivial and inconvenient as the truth. As the press materials announced: "But the notion that a serviceman might have had to kill one of his own, someone he'd fought alongside and with whom he'd become friends, resonated with the producers."
Medved cites another resonator: a decorated Vietnam combat veteran who taught high school students about hideous U.S. atrocities in Vietnam. Local members of the American Legion, using that critical thinking we hear so much about, investigated the teacher's military record. He didn't have one. He resigned. His ex-students still think his lies are truer than truth.

I like journalists. They're smart, curious, quirky and talkative. They know things -- sometimes random things. They've been around. I went to an economics/public policy seminar in Cape Cod partly to hobnob with a bunch of newspaper, magazine, TV and radio writers and editors. And partly because I've never been to Cape Cod.

Most of the journos hadn't heard of blogs, or had just stumbled across the outskirts of Blogville recently. But one of the gang turned out to be Jessica of The Blog of Chloe and Pete. (She also has a day job.) Like me, Jessica is trying to use her blog to sell a book -- a novel, in her case, about Chloe and Pete. In fact, she's using the blog to help edit the book. A creative mind.

I think the point of the seminar was to introduce journalists to free-market economic analysis. Some already knew the arguments. Others never really got it. They thought the market was failing if it didn't produce sweetness and light every time.

My father (University of Chicago MBA) taught us about supply and demand while my sister and I were in early elementary school. We sat around the dinner table talking about why "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" doesn't work. And how shipping U.S. surplus grain overseas could destroy aid recipients' agricultural economy. Then I grew up and married a libertarian. And now I'm running my own business -- though still in that no-profits mode that's so last century.

Sunday, June 23

Disabled vouchers
If the U.S. Supreme Court okays vouchers, disabled students won't be able to use them at most private schools, charges a disability rights advocate. It's true that few private schools provide special classes for students with severe disabilities.

In the New York Times, Richard Rothstein complains that private schools need not offer special education services and may charge more than the voucher, which pays $4,500 for a student with a mild disability. Parents must make up the rest or choose a cheaper school.

However, parents often prefer private schools that mainstream disabled students rather than public schools with full special education services, Lisa Snell points out.
The most telling part of Rothstein’s story was that Logan's mother did not choose to reenroll her child in the public school where he would receive special-education services. Instead, she chose another private school—even though the school did not offer specific special education services. . . There are now 400 private schools in Florida competing for the 5,000 special-ed voucher students. The 400 schools represent a healthy mixture of very specialized schools designed to handle specific disabilities such as the “Center for Dyslexia” or the “School for Autism” as well as traditional private schools with good environments, small class sizes, or other characteristics parents might find desirable. Parents have a wide array of choices from full-inclusion models to schools that serve a very specific type of disability.

Start with Mom
Early Head Start -- parenting and learning support for pregnant mothers, infants and toddlers -- got rave reviews in a seven-year study. The program improved children's intelligence, language and behavior, concluded Mathematica researchers. Mothers improved their parenting and work skills.

The gains from Head Start, which starts when children are three or four years old, fade in a few years. However, there's evidence that improving parenting leads to long-lasting benefits.

A job for Amy
Unqualified bloggers can self-publish their opinions. It takes a lot more to be a newspaper columnist. Here's a young woman who's now being paid to share her perspectives on important pubic issues. I mean public issues. Well, maybe I don't.

'Acting white'
African-American culture -- specifically, the idea that school success means "acting white" -- causes the gap between black and white test scores, argues John McWhorter in American Experiment Quarterly. Asian immigrant children do well at underfunded schools, writes McWhorter, a Berkeley linguistics professor. Furthermore, black children from Caribbean and African families do much better than non-immigrant blacks, despite racism and second-rate schools. McWhorter advocates small, all-black schools where racial issues would be irrelevant.