White House committed to failing schools … and the NEA

In case there were any doubt, the White House is still committed to failing schools — oh, and the NEA.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote today — and pass — H.R. 471, the SOAR Act, or reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship (DCOS) program. Like clockwork, the White House released a statement in anticipation of the vote asserting it “strongly opposes” bringing back the program or expanding it to new students.

They were quite clear, in fact: “Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement.”

Not so long ago the DCOS program helped more than 3,000 low-income students escape one of the most expensive and ineffectual school districts in the nation. Students lucky enough to participate in the program had an opportunity to seek out alternative educational opportunities that produced real results.


D.C. scholarships

I was driving into work this morning, listening to Tim Farley’s always-excellent morning show on the POTUS channel of XM/Sirius radio as he interviewed D.C.’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

Eleanor lives in my neighborhood on Capitol Hill, and when you meet her in person, she can be rather pleasant.

But politically, she is a disaster. For example, she helped to deliver us Vincent Gray, the current joke of a mayor in the nation’s capital.

Norton — or Eleanor, as she is known by her campaign signs — likes to believe that D.C. is her own private domain that she can rule as she likes. She likes to think that, despite not having a formal vote on the floor of the House of Representatives and no real power in Congress, other than the power to shoot off her mouth, which she does with great skill.


The purpose of mass education

Mass education has two components. The first is to impart knowledge to children that they need to effectively function as a member of society. This includes literacy, basic arithmetic and a basic understanding of civics in order to participate in our republic. At a higher level this imparts technical knowledge to various professionals, technicians and artisans.

The second function is a sifting process, designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. It recognizes that not everyone can become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. It gives employers a basis for choosing the most appropriate employees for various jobs.


Where are the boys?

A common refrain among coeds these days, as college attendance and graduation rates among males are tanking across the nation.

More and more, American teenage boys seem to be falling behind their female peers in educational attainment, causing a gender schism and disrupting the social pecking order. Curiously, the drop in attendance by males seems to correspond to the rate of increase in female-headed single-parent households nationwide. The ultimately more important question might be, Where are the fathers?


Broken promises, wasted futures

This morning I joined “Fox and Friends” to talk about “Promises Kept and Promises Broken” since last year’s State of the Union address. We hit a lot of the big-ticket issues — spending, taxation, healthcare reform — but there was another promise we didn’t get to touch on: education. 

Considering this is School Choice Week, I was particularly interested in what promises the president made last January about K-12 education. When it comes to education, Obama said, “the idea here is simple. … Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform — reform that raises student achievement.”

I have to admit I was suspicious. Rewarding success? Isn’t that what the DC Opportunity Scholarship program was — a successful alternative for D.C. students that resulted in higher student performance and increased graduation rates? But the president — with the help of Democrats in Congress like Sen. Richard Durbin (Ill.) — ended that program shortly after arriving in the White House.

Still, that was then, this is now. How did President Obama’s promise to “reward success” hold up over this past year? Turns out, not so well.



While people are justifiably praising President Obama for his string of victories during the lame-duck session of Congress, there were several items left undone by his administration during its first two years that sorely need addressing during the remainder of his first term. Chief among this is improving the state of public education in this country.

It has been widely reported that test scores of U.S. students in reading, math and science lag badly behind many other industrial nations. We used to be No. 1 — now we are often not even in the top 10. In fact, according to the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 15-year-old U.S. students ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math among 34 countries.


Bring ROTC back to the Ivy League

Suppose we here in the Northeast, citing the foibles and earthy prejudices of the gnarly red-clay heartlanders, decided not to send ours to Congress or the Supreme Court or any court until they became more refined, like us. Congress might then consist of senators exclusively from Baylor and Southern Methodist and the Supreme Court of justices from Liberty University and the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

That is what we have done with the refusal to allow ROTC to recruit on Ivy League campuses. To become an American military officer, you would have to go to another college. Without a doubt, it has influenced foreign policy, including our current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we in Boston suffer the most. Gone is the memory of Joshua Chamberlain, and although the tourist bus makes its first stop on Boston Common at the monument to the historic Black Civil War Regiment, Robert Gould Shaw, who died and was laid to rest with his men, is likewise lost to our collective memory. Barney Frank, Bart Simpson, Bob Dylan: This is what we are today. This is what we have become since the Vietnam period.


American kids overworked, overscheduled and underperforming?

On Pearl Harbor Day 2010, America was hit with a bombshell.

Some say it rivals Sputnik, the 1957 Soviet satellite launch, in its alarming message about American education. Across the world, in 65 countries, 15-year-olds were administered a standardized test (PISA, or Program for International Student Assessment) measuring knowledge of reading, science and math. The winners in all three categories were students in Shanghai taking the test for the first time. Americans scored what can charitably be called in the range of average.

(See here for a chart ranking performance — Shanghai, as noted, at the top and Kyrgyzstan at the bottom). Korea — that would be South Korea — also did very well; we might try to figure out how to learn its secrets of success when the trade deal with that country wends its way through a fractious Congress.)


Legacy admissions

Liberals are quick to decry legacy admissions to universities (where the children of alumni — usually big-time donor alumni — are granted admission), silver-spoon heirs who take over their fathers’ companies, nepotism in the workplace — all on the grounds that what should matter most in all of these scenarios is merit, not connections, family trees and contributions to university coffers. Underlying all of this is the assumption that, were it not for these crucial connections, the people who benefit from them would never otherwise have been considered. In other words, liberals stereotype all such beneficiaries as unqualified but for daddy’s grace.


What is education reform?

These are interesting times for education reform in America today. A lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle are calling for it, but no one seems to know what “reform” really looks like.

The issue reached new levels of salience just a few weeks ago when “Waiting for Superman” — the new Davis Guggenheim documentary following five students and their futures in charter schools — opened to nationwide critical acclaim.