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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, July 6

Frodo faces justice
Frodo Baggins is being charged before the International Criminal Court with war crimes against Sauron and Saruman, reports Cold Fury. My favorite part refers to "Mordor ("Where The Shadows Lie!" according to the Mordor Tourism Board)."

The average student is average
Like Patio Pundit, I think USS Clueless is off course when he says that education's dirty little secret is that Johnny Genius is always going to outscore Danny Dullard.
Some kids are smarter than others. Some kids will absorb knowledge like a sponge; but on others all attempts at education will bounce off like rain on a newly-waxed car. If you take Johnny Genius from the top 5 percentile, and Danny Dullard from the bottom 5%, then Johnny Genius is going to outscore Danny Dullard on those tests no matter what educational environment each of them is in. Put Johnny Genius in a mediocre school and give Danny Dullard the best tutors that money can buy, and Johnny Genius will still get a higher score on the tests when evaluation day comes.
He's right about Johnny and Danny. But there aren't that many of them. Most students are Mary Middle, Alex Average and Brittany Bell-Curve. If they're held to high expectations and pushed to work hard, they'll do well. Stick them in a no-hope school and they'll look like members of the Dullard family.

Furthermore, the goal isn't to get Danny up to Johnny's test scores. It's to educate Danny to be a productive citizen. The dull kids can learn enough to get by, if given a fair chance.

Clueless thinks voucher and charter schools will siphon off the best students. So far, that hasn't happened for charter schools, which usually aren't allowed to pick and choose their students. On average, charter students are more likely to be located in low-income, minority neighborhoods; charter students are demographically similar to non-charter students in the area. Generally, parents whose children are doing well in local public schools don't transfer them to alternative schools; the kids who leave are the ones who are doing poorly. In a Casey Foundation panel discussion, Chester Finn said:
. . . Instead of creaming off the ablest and most fortunate kids, charter schools are being attended in so many cases by seriously disadvantaged and behind-the-8-ball kids who gravitate to them because of previous failure. The level playing field argument goes in an interesting reverse direction in America. The charter operators say, gosh, we are ready to be compared, but we want a level playing field. Our kids started much farther behind the kids in the regular public schools that we need to be measured by value addeds rather than by some kind of absolute comparative norm.
And, if voucher plans are limited to low-income students in bad urban school districts, the schools that take vouchers will not find a lot of Johnny Geniuses in the mix.

The real test
A father with four grown and nearly-grown children has developed the RAT (Real-World Aptitude Test), which measures such important skills as how to dry a wool sweater and how to calculate compound interest (via Number 2 Pencil.)

Friday, July 5

Too ethical to report the news
I think this is nuts: The Chicago Tribune didn't run photos of Chicago firefighters working at Ground Zero because their photog was wearing a borrowed "CFD" T-shirt
(John Smierciak) declined firefighter gear offered to him to protect him from the biohazards at ground zero, the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers, where the Chicago firefighters were sent when they arrived. To have donned the gear, Smierciak says, would have been to represent himself as a firefighter, and that would have been unethical.

But it never occurred to Smierciak that the clean T-shirt he accepted from a firefighter--his golf shirt was a bit grimy after more than 24 hours--would be a problem. But because the T-shirt bore the initials CFD--Chicago Fire Department--it became one.

For fear New Yorkers might have thought Smierciak was a Chicago firefighter, the photo desk refused to run his photos. How prissy can you get? Trib columnist Don Wycliff, who praises the decision, notes Ken Auletta's New Yorker story on the New York Times' Ground Zero coverage.
Auletta described in glowing terms how Times reporter C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, donned a Marine T-shirt and, "looking like a Marine volunteer, got past security and through to ground zero." He remained there almost two weeks, serving as "the garbage man" while taking what he described to Auletta as "discreet notes on scraps of paper."

Newspapering can't be as genteel as Wycliff wants it to be, if reporters are going to do any good (via Romenesko).

Girls are people too
Psychologist Carol Tavris rips the new psychobabble books about "mean" girls. (Link requires registration.)
All this yinning and yanging about which sex is better or worse, which sex has the more pressing problems, would be funny if it were not so depressing for anyone who has studied or lived through enough swings of the pendulum. Menstruation makes women crazy and irrational? No, it makes women closer to the rhythms of the earth. Wait, no, it gives them PMS, which makes them crazy and irrational. Women are manipulative and cunning, competing with each other for men? No, they are the souls of peace and cooperative sisterhood. Wait, no, they are just as warlike as men.

Tavris points out that most of these books aren't based on research. They tell women what they want to hear.
But the gender-genre books that are based largely on clinical intuition and popular psychology typically lack a basic skepticism toward received wisdom and the willingness to wrestle with an idea to see who wins. Thus I read the clinical psychologist Carol Gilligan's The Birth of Pleasure, and an hour later I was hungry for a good idea. I haven't the foggiest notion what that book is about, but thousands of women will adore its soft flatteries that remind them of how they, too, were once free-spirited preteens with "authentic" voices and bold ambitions before life, patriarchy, and mean mothers crushed them. "I was drawn by the sound of an unmediated voice, a voice that broke free," Gilligan writes. "As I came back to a knowing I had learned to distance myself from or discredit, I saw girls beginning not to know what they knew." But maybe girls are also beginning to know what they didn't know. Used to be called growing up.
Tavris quotes one writer who wants to ban female forms of aggression from schools including "alliances" among girls. Which we used to call "friendships."

Private schools are wary of vouchers
Private schools have shown little enthusiasm for the voucher decision, Chester Finn points out in Education Gadfly. He speculates private school educators suffer from "a touch of the Stockholm syndrome, identifying with their jailers and feeling nervous about saying or doing anything that might be construed as less than 100% support for public education." In addition, they may lack enterprise and vision, feel unprepared to educate disadvantaged, at-risk and special-needs kids and worry about government intervention.

Thursday, July 4

Land of liberty
America is the land of liberty, writes Michael Gove in The Times of London.
As a nation, the United States is more open, vital, creative, free, diverse and healthily democratic than any other on earth.
Then Gove takes down the "anti-American alliance of Huttons, Pattens, Shorts and LePens," who sneer at at America, and fear its power.
They resent American economic success because it reminds them that their preferred cocktails of protectionism, state regulation, subsidy and intervention constrict growth. America’s practical success is a standing rebuke to their abstract beliefs.

The same crew resents American military prowess because they have either lost faith in the nation state as a guardian of freedom or their vision of the nation state is closed, restrictive and anti-liberal. America is simultaneously chided for aggression and isolationism — what that confusion reveals is irritation that American power exists because of that nation’s self-belief and anguish that power is not subordinated to their control.
He likes us. He really likes us.

For those who prefer the negative, see Moira Breen, Natalie Solent, Peter Briffa and newcomer James DiBenedetto fisk the Euro-whiners.

Independence Day
Last night, I heard the San Jose Symphony play at Stanford. It's one of the symphony's final concerts; they're bankrupt. But conductor Leonid Grin, a Russian emigre, was in good heart and in good humor. His accented introductions -- he pronounces "independence" with a long "e" at the end -- seemed perfect for the eve of an American holiday.

The symphony performed Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. A firefighter who led a local team to New York City to work on the rescue effort read the narration. Copland took the words, selected from Lincoln's speeches, in 1942. I thought the audience pulsed with recognition in a few places:
Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. . . . The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We -- even we here -- hold the power and bear the responsibility. . . .

It is the eternal struggle between two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world.
Right and wrong. Honest Abe always was a bit simplistic.

Great fireworks at the end, too. Today I'm going to Jacques' party at the ranch. The highlight is when he crushes a junker car with his Sherman tank. He owns a lot of tanks and armored vehicles -- 150 at last count -- but the Sherman is the choice for Fourth of July car crushing. It's a deeply satisfying thing to watch.

OK, well, keeping to an immigrant theme, India-born Dinesh D'Souza says immigrants come to America to make their own destiny.

Russian-born Eugene Volokh honors his parents' courage in leaving the Soviet Union for an unknown future in America.

In the Washington Post, an Allentown, Pennsylvania principal says immigrants are more "civic-minded" than native-born students because they appreciate America. Overall, young people are bone ignorant on civics but instinctively patriotic.

Axis of stupid
Saddam Hussein's stepson flew to Miami to enroll in flight school. He's now under arrest for failure to obtain a student visa. The guy is a flight engineer for Air New Zealand; he needed some brush-up training. But, come on. There are flight schools outside the U.S. Can he be that stupid? Or there some clever ploy here that I'm missing.

Here's an update on the gang-rape ordered by a tribal jury in Pakistan.

Wednesday, July 3

If I were a Simpson . . .
I got this from Dr. Weevil, who's Homer. What Simpsons Character Are You?

Take the quiz here!

While Weevil is Stravinsky on the Dead Russian Composer Personality Test, I am Aleksandr Borodin, who I never heard of. And I tried changing my answers, but I always get Borodin.

Blogging for America
Gosh! Peggy Noonan's column on what's right with America includes:
Blogging. The 24-7 opinion sites that offer free speech at its straightest, truest, wildest, most uncensored, most thoughtful, most strange. Thousands of independent information entrepreneurs are informing, arguing, adding information. Imagine if we'd had them in 1776: "As I wrote in yesterday's lead item on, my well meaning cousin John continues his grammatical nitpicking with Jefferson (link requires registration) 'Inalienable,' 'unalienable,' whatever. Boys, let's fight. Start the war." Blogs may one hard day become clearinghouses for civil support and information when other lines, under new pressure, break down.
Perhaps the Federalist Papers could be considered the First Warblog.

Everything's relative
Students don't learn about right and wrong in college, according to a poll commissioned by the National Association of Scholars.
Three quarters of all college seniors report being taught that right and wrong depend "on differences in individual values and cultural diversity." Only about a quarter reported their professors as adhering to the traditional view that "there are clear and uniform standards of right and wrong by which every one should be judged."

Three quarters also report being taught that pursuing one or another progressive social policy was a higher corporate priority than "providing clear and accurate business statements to stockholders and creditors", generally regarded as the bottom line of financial honesty.
Perhaps the most depressing result: 56 percent of college seniors believed the only difference between Enron executives those at most other big companies is that Enron execs "got caught." Business and accounting majors were just as cynical as their classmates.

Follow the money
Teachers' union dues were spent illegally on political activities a Washington state judge ruled. The National Education Association, which failed to show up in court, was fined $800,000. Another suit, also by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, resulted in a $400,000 fine, which is under appeal.
In Washington state, teachers can "opt out" of the union, but still pay a "representation fee" that is supposed to go to collective bargaining and other benefit services for the member. According to (Evergreen president Bob) Williams, about 4,000 out of Washington's 75,000 teachers have taken this option. However, many of them complained their dues have gone to political spending anyway.

Meanwhile, about 90 percent of union members have chosen not to have any portion of their dues contribute to the NEA political action committee, which raises money specifically for the national parties and is separate from the other state and national political spending.
Notice the huge gap between what unionized teachers want and what their union wants when it comes to spending dues. Teachers are not the Democratic ideologues that they're often made out to be.

Block scheduling -- typically, four 90-minute classes a day instead of eight 45-minute classes -- is linked to markedly lower test scores in Iowa and Illinois schools, a new study says. In part, that's because students who complete algebra in the first semester have forgotten a lot of it by the year-end test. Also, many teachers will lecture for the whole class period, no matter how long it lasts, putting their students into comas.

Block scheduling is a popular education reform because teachers are responsible for fewer students each semester and students have fewer subjects to study.

It's getting better all the time
Big-city students are doing a bit better in math and reading, reports the Council of Great City Schools in Beating the Odds, II. Furthermore, the gap between white and black students is narrowing in some schools. Of course urban students are way behind. But there are signs of hope in some cities.

Just for fun, I looked at Cleveland's data. Enrollment is growing, despite vouchers. The student-teacher ration is 14.5:1. And test scores are up since 1995. For example, 33 percent of 4th graders, 22 percent of 6th graders and a whopping 74 percent of 9th graders test as proficient in reading. However proficient readers are down to 53 percent by 12th grade, despite the high drop-out rate. In math, about a third of students are proficient in each grade, except for 6th, which is worse. Still, in 1995, fewer than one in five Cleveland students was proficient in reading or math.

Milwaukee, another voucher city, shows strong gains in 4th, 8th and 10th grade reading, and in elementary math since 1998, when its data starts. However, the 8th and 10th grade math scores have remained horrible: Only 8 to 10 percent of students test as proficient or better.

Tuesday, July 2

In the steps of Deep Throat
Two books claim Deep Throat didn't exist, saying the signalling system described in "All The President's Men" couldn't have worked. Ken Hughes set out on a quest to test the authors' claims (via Jane Galt). His Salon piece is long but very funny.

Riding the subway to church
In National Review, Peter Ferrara analyzes the voucher decision, lambasting the court minority. His argument is that school choice is constitutional because it's designed to advance education -- not religion.
School-choice programs could be designed to exclude religious schools, if necessary. But such a policy would not be neutral towards religion. Rather, it would be actively hostile and harmful to it. For religion would then be excluded from the same general, secular programs that apply to everyone else. It would be like saying that urban worshippers could not ride the government-financed subway to church on Sunday morning. When the government grows to the huge size of the modern welfare state, the banishing of religious actors and institutions from any participation in the public sector is debilitating.

No way out
Students at 8,600 failing schools can transfer to better public schools in their district, according to new U.S. rules.
Pupils in the schools will have the choice of another school for the first time as a result of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which President Bush signed in January. The law requires that students in schools where scores don't meet state academic standards for two consecutive years be allowed to transfer to another public school, with most transportation costs paid.

But it's largely meaningless. In most districts, the good schools have no empty seats. The kids will remain stuck -- unless they get vouchers sufficient to pay private school tuition or new charter schools are created.

To punish a young man for an affair with a woman of higher status, a tribal jury in Pakistan ordered the gang-rape of his 18-year-old sister. The girl was told that if she didn't submit all the women in the family would be raped. Four men, including one of the jurors, carried out the sentence. No word on whether she now faces a death sentence for having sex outside marriage.

This is the sort of thing that gives cultural imperialism a good name.

Can a society this barbaric really survive in the 21st century?

Update: AP says the brother was 11 years old. He walked unchaperoned with a girl from a higher-caste tribe. That was the offense that was punished by rape.

On the plus side, Pakistani officials say they'll intervene to protect the victim. Of course, they've arrested relatives of the perpetrators to get them to surrender. I guess the principle of individual responsibility is not well-established.

Times chooses failure
Moira Breen fisks a New York Times editorial bemoaning the voucher decision. Cleveland's vouchers don't provide a real choice, writes the Times, because poor parents lack a "wealth of options." With vouchers, they're forced to choose "between a failing public school system and the city's parochial schools."The Times apparently prefers a system that gives poor parents no alternative to failing public schools.

Moira also takes on the Times' argument that Cleveland's schools are held back by lack of money.
Put aside for the moment the highly questionable "it's all about money" line. I've heard many variations of the above, and the really ugly thing about them all is the insistence that ambitious low-income parents must be made to sacrifice their children's chance at an education and a future to somebody else's troubled or neglected children, or somebody else's ideology. I'm sure you've come across this variant - that it is terribly unfair that only the children of the "uninvolved" parents will be left in the failing schools. In other words, we know the schools are bad, even the previous presence of concerned parents didn't change that, and since, with this new system, some kids are still going to be flushed down the toilet, we will fight it tooth and nail and demand that involved parents give us theirs to flush into the sewer, too.

Actually, the Times is wrong about the money. Ohio lets Cleveland Public Schools count voucher students as though they still were enrolled, collecting state aid. But the district doesn't have to pay the cost of educating the kids who leave. So it ends up with more money per student.

Undoubtedly, the smartest parents are the first to apply for vouchers. They know that a minority of motivated parents and students can't save a deeply dysfunctional school. They're not willing to sacrifice their kids. I wonder how many people on the New York Times editorial board would send their children to a bad school in hopes than little Alex or Katie could turn the school around. Actually, I don't wonder. I know the answer.

Mickey Kaus contrasts the New York Times edit with the Washington Post's edit, which argues that the dangers of vouchers are hypothetical, while the education crisis is real. Kaus agrees with me (even if he doesn't know it) that the voucher politics favor the GOP.

Also in the New York Times, Milton Friedman argues yet again to let the market work for schoolchildren. If the voucher amount is high enough, new, secular schools will be created to serve children, Friedman writes.
Parents would then truly have a choice, and the quality of schooling — in both public and private schools — would soar as competition worked its magic. This has happened in Milwaukee, where the voucher program has evolved over the past 10 years. Since that program's creation, 37 new schools have opened, nearly two-thirds of them nonreligious.

Assumption of responsibility by government for educating all children does not require that schooling be delivered in government-run institutions — just as government food stamps need not be spent in government grocery stores.

Monday, July 1

Victims of merit
The stupid and lazy face the most persistent prejudice in our society, writes Jonah Goldberg.

Numerous readers have e-mailed me to say, in almost exactly the same words: You do not want to know what "felching" means. Three readers e-mailed me links to definitions of felching. Those who are curious may google the word for themselves. I'll only say that kangaroo felchingwould be uncomfortable for the felcher and the kangaroo. And you don't really want to know more.

Unfaithfully correct
Now there's an etiquette guide for cheaters:
"The reality is affairs are wrong and immoral, but if nearly half of all married people end up having an affair, shouldn't someone be out there telling them how to do it right?" asks Judith Brandt, who has written "The 50-Mile Rule: Your Guide to Infidelity and Extramarital Etiquette" (Ten Speed Press).

. . . Judicious journalism requires us to point out that adultery has been a no-no since Moses came down the mount with those rules carved in stone. But beyond the biblical imperatives and the fact that adultery is illegal in 27 states, extramarital affairs break hearts, wreck homes, cost a bundle (not just in hotels and restaurants, but later in legal fees and alimony), and leave you vulnerable to disease and blackmail. That said, we can responsibly move on.

. . . Chief among her rules: Lovers should live and work at least 50 miles apart, and preferably a state or two away. "People are so lazy," she says. "They go for proximity and don't think about what happens when you dump this person then have to see them at work every day. What happens when your former squeeze sees your wife at the company picnic?"

In a way, etiquette is coming full circle. The word "courtesy" derives from the elaborate etiquette of courtly love in medieval days. And courtly love was about single knights playing love games with married women. I don't think the rules allowed, um, physical intimacy. They were designed to give the parties a thrill without making married men uncertain of the paternity of their heirs.

Chance of a lifetime
Fritz Schranck offers an investment opportunity to an African e-mailer with a secret multi-million-dollar account.

Smiling through syphilis
The perfect gift for that special guy: A 3-inch Phil the Syphilis Sore toy. Squeezable. Los Angeles is spending $400,000 in public health funds to promote Phil, which is supposd to encourage gay men to avoid Phil. While San Francisco is spending $50,000 on ads with a smiling syphilitic cartoon penis. Michelle Malkin is offended. I'm just confused. Why would a syphilitic penis be smiling? What does it say when a gay man gives his squeeze a squeezable Phil?

Sunday, June 30

Tim Blair's lexicon
If you were a Tim Blair insult, which one would you be? I can't choose between "ponderous mope" and "carping suckweasel." And there's something to be said for "doomstruck J-school catamites." I've put "kangaroo-felching eucalypt swine" off my list, despite its charm, because I don't know what "felching" means. "Wanksock" I can figure out.

Pricing vouchers
Should vouchers equal the public district's per-student spending? While some costs go down as students leave -- fewer teachers and schools are needed -- other costs are fixed.

Andy Freeman argues districts shouldn't be protected from change:
The "physical plant", the buildings and land, is not actually a fixed cost. It's an asset, but, apart from maintenance and security, it doesn't have any on-going costs. (Not even property taxes.) Moreover, it has value: It can be sold, perhaps to private schools. . . If the pensions had been done correctly, they'd be self-sufficient for current retirees because the money would have been put in as folks were earning benefits. . . .

In any event, I don't buy the "we have to keep kids in failing schools to protect retired teachers' pensions" argument. I don't have to keep buying GM cars even though GM's failure might threaten its retirees, even though the failure may be due to current problems that said retirees didn't cause, so why are public employees any different?

George Beckwith says private schools can educate for much less than public schools:
When my 3 kids were going through St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in the '80s, costs of operation per pupil were about half of the public school down the street. Many of the poorly paid, but dedicated teachers were wives of professional and business men who loved teaching a rigorous basic curriculum unrestrained by bureaucracy. The school's overhead was minimal; the basketball team played outside, the principal taught a couple of courses and the coach, school nurse and librarian worked part time supplemented by volunteers.

Members of my son's 8th grade class of 28, which included far more minorities than the public schools, went on to Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia, the Naval Academy and Notre Dame (2).

I believe more of this kind of school will quickly emerge and excel under vouchers, forcing reform of the public schools. My daughter's public school teacher friends would love to teach in the non-bureaucratic environment of most private schools.

The number one argument against vouchers is that they'll take money from needy public schools. The way for voucher proponents to get plans through state legislatures is to design them so districts have the same per-pupil resources as before, which means dealing with the fixed-cost issue. But without rewarding districts for maintaining bloated administrations. Once it's clear to the public that vouchers won't make bad schools even worse, they'll support voucher plans -- especially those targeted at low-income parents in bad urban districts.

Politics of school choice
Vouchers are now a political issue, which helps liberals, writes Jonathan Alter in Newsweek. He makes a better case that vouchers hurt liberals.
 There is, however, one way in which liberals can manage to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory on this issue. While vouchers are unpopular generally, they are quite popular in the inner city, and for good reason. Parents of urban students trapped in awful public schools are understandably eager to send their kids to parochial schools with the help of vouchers. If Democrats argue against targeted voucher programs in failing districts, they will be undercutting support within their base.

And there’s a moral dimension. Can wealthy white liberals—many of whom send their kids to private school—really say to poor parents: “We can have choices, but you must not.”? This is a glaring hypocrisy sitting at the heart of liberal opposition to targeted vouchers. Already, polls show support for vouchers among blacks and Hispanics. Do Democrats want to get too far on the wrong side of that?

Vodkapundit warns that private schools that accept vouchers may have to accept a lot of government regulation. See the comments from readers (drinkers?) too. Assuming some states do pass voucher plans, I'm hoping a few go with a no-strings model, letting parents serve as quality control. But the threat of government interference is quite real, even though the vouchers will go to parents, not directly to schools. He who pays the piper, etc.