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Tag: "education"

Are Charter Schools the New Separate But Equal?

[ 105 ] February 4, 2016 |


A lawsuit in Minnesota claims they are, effectively arguing that their existence is discriminatory to children of color, even when the charters specifically target those students.

Alex Cruz-Guzman, who came to the United States from Mexico as a teenager, lives in a poor, minority neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota. Determined to provide his five children with a quality education, he and his wife were able to send their two oldest daughters—who are now in college—to desegregated St. Paul schools. But it’s become more difficult to find such schools in St. Paul today, and the Cruz-Guzmans were told they would likely be unable to send their three younger children to integrated institutions, even when they offered to transport their kids themselves.

So Cruz-Guzman became a plaintiff in a lawsuit—one that may shape the future of American education. Filed against the state of Minnesota by two veteran civil-rights attorneys, Daniel Shulman and his son John Shulman, the suit accuses the state of allowing schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students to proliferate. A 2015 Minneapolis Star Tribune analysis found that elementary school students in the Twin Cities attend more racially segregated schools than they have in a generation. Children who attend such schools, the lawyers argue, achieve far less than their peers in integrated institutions. The lawyers also say that the growth of charter schools, which are even more racially segregated than traditional public schools, have exacerbated these trends.

The Shulmans are seeking a metro-wide integration plan to satisfy what they argue is the state’s constitutional obligation to prevent segregated schooling. They cite the state constitution’s education clause, equal protection clause, due process clause, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act to make their case.

Not everyone agrees that this kind of integration is legally necessary or the best way to meet children’s needs. Some see the suit as a threat to parents’ right to choose the schools that would best serve their children. This is particularly true for parents of color, who sometimes send their children to charters in the hopes of avoiding what they see as hostile traditional schools.

John Cairns, one of the most experienced charter school attorneys in the nation, is working against the lawsuit. “If the state is going to do anything, then they’d have to attack parental choice,” says Cairns. “While the plaintiffs are inexplicit about what their remedy would be, in our view, they’re explicit that their remedy would address charter school enrollments. The only way they could do that is to have some conclusion that parental choice is unconstitutional.”

Daniel Shulman sees in this argument an echo of Plessy v. Ferguson. He thinks charter school advocates are arguing, in effect, that separate schools can be equal. “We don’t think that’s true or the law. If they follow the law, they’ll say separate is not equal, and not equal is inadequate,” he says. “All the data will support that … test scores, graduation rates. School segregation is a national tragedy and disgrace.”

This is an extremely controversial issue because by saying that charter schools should be included under school integration laws, it would undermine ethnically or religious-based charters. That would upset a lot of parents of color, especially in an area with very high Hmong and Somali populations. The evidence that students in integrated schools perform better than students in schools where poverty is concentrated, including charter schools, is pretty high. The NAACP is mixed on this, welcoming the lawsuit but unsure where to stand. And of course this has led to the rise of all-white charter schools as well.

In other words, is it the state’s duty to ensure diversity with mixed-race and mixed-income classrooms? Or should people be able to opt out in self-segregation through private and charter schools? I rather strongly favor the former as a personal choice but I’m not sure entirely how to legislate it, especially given the favorability of the charter option among some parents of color desperate to avoid public schools. Certainly this is a tougher and more complex issue than the usual union-busting and privatization issues around charters.


Among the Many Failures of Education Reform Is Not Understanding Students’ Challenges

[ 71 ] January 4, 2016 |


It’s hardly surprising that a leading factor in how well students do in the classroom is their home life. Are they homeless? Are they a victim of abuse? Are their parents working three jobs in order to keep a roof over their heads? Of course these questions (or at least the first and third) reflect divisions within class and race. But education reform advocates paper all this over. They focus on attacking teacher unions for getting in ways of their scams to profit off of education by blaming them for these underperforming students. But of course the education reform people have absolutely no solutions to these problems. And by talking about students’ “grit” to get an education as a factor and noting that poor students and students of color lack this “grit,” they are just naturalizing racial and class inequality to serve their own agenda.

So, what are those challenges? If a hypothetical classroom of 30 children were based on current demographics in the United States, this is how the students in that classroom would live: Seven would live in poverty, 11 would be non-white, six wouldn’t speak English as a first language, six wouldn’t be reared by their biological parents, one would be homeless, and six would be victims of abuse.

Howard said that exposure to trauma has a profound impact on cognitive development and academic outcomes, and schools and teachers are woefully unprepared to contend with these realities. Children dealing with traumatic situations should not been seen as pathological, he argued. Instead, educators need to recognize the resilience they are showing already. The instruments and surveys that have been used to measure social-emotional skills such as persistence and grit have not taken into account these factors, Howard said.

He questioned the tools used to collect data that suggest poor students and students of color do not have as high a degree of grit as middle-class and white peers.

The transformative potential in growth mindsets and social-emotional skills such as grit may be more applicable to students whose basic needs are already met. When asking the question of why some children succeed in school and others don’t, he said the educators and administrators tend to overestimate the power of the person and underestimate the power of the situation.

Underestimating what is inconvenient for the Rheeist agenda is something these people do all the time. It’s also why education reform is no solution at all to any of these problems. If you want to fix education, fix poverty. That’s the number one thing we can do. Programs like Head Start have done far more than anything Michelle Rhee or Campbell Brown or Scott Cowen will ever do. That’s what we need more of–direct interventions to alleviate poverty. But since there’s no profit to be made off of it, it doesn’t happen.

Dilapidated Schools and Race

[ 148 ] December 11, 2015 |


Kids in Dallas are staging walkouts over the terrible conditions of their schools.

About 250 students at South Oak Cliff High School walked out Monday to protest leaky roofs, unbearably hot or cold classrooms and other problems they say make learning difficult.

“We have been through so much and today we got fed up,” said David Johnson, a 17-year-old senior who helped organize the walkout.

For instance, he said, the heating and cooling systems don’t work properly, and some rooms get so hot and stuffy that teachers and students must hold class in the hallways.

Shortly after 3 p.m., Johnson and other students left the building and gathered on the front lawn as classes continued inside. They marched down one side of Marsalis Avenue and back up the other. They held signs that read “Fix leaks now,” “We need a new school,” and “Help!!! Call code compliance!!!”

Of course, nearly all the students in this school are African-American, another sign of the racism that plagues our education system that never integrated after Brown in the face of whites resisting actually sending their special snowflakes to school with large number of black kids. They justified it and continue to justify it in all sorts of ways. Some are actually racist. Some just benefit from structural racism and have the ability to get their kids out. Some are even parents of color who see no choice but to go along with the system of racism that forces their public schools into these situations and do what they can to get their kids out too.

And as for the many comments in my recent posts on structural racism and education, I am pretty disappointed in how many commenters were unwilling to reckon with or perhaps even understand the realities of structural racism. Just because you choose to send you child to a better and of course whiter school does not mean you are doing the wrong thing. It also means that you are contributing directly to inequality. The two are by no means mutually exclusive. We so often have this vision of racists being the worst people in the world, but that actually causes more problems than it solves because it allows us to point and say “It’s Those People!” because they are waving a Confederate flag. And that’s one part of a racist nation, no question. But as white people, you benefit from white supremacy every day, especially if you are middle or upper class, including in your ability to live where you want and send your children to better schools. And even if you say, I have black neighbors or whatnot today, remember that you as white children also benefited from this racism when you were children and federal housing policy ensured lily-white suburbs with good schools and tax-starved urban districts with all-black schools. Residential segregation and educational segregation are tied together and those inequalities last for generations and are repeated in the present. Admitting this doesn’t make you a bad person per se, even if it means that you are personally playing a tiny role in increasing inequality. It’s complicated, like most everything. I figured this was self-evident and not particularly controversial, but then I forgot about the special snowflake syndrome.

Was the Southern Strategy Effective?

[ 298 ] December 7, 2015 |
Richard M. Nixon, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is seen arriving at the airport in Atlanta, Ga. with his wife, Patricia, on May 31, 1968. A crowd of about 350 people greeted them as Nixon visits the South to meet with delegates from various states. (AP Photo)

Richard M. Nixon, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is seen arriving at the airport in Atlanta, Ga. with his wife, Patricia, on May 31, 1968. A crowd of about 350 people greeted them as Nixon visits the South to meet with delegates from various states. (AP Photo)

I am not in the habit of reviewing older books I read. But I recently read Matthew Lassiter’s 2006 book, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South. Lassiter strongly questions the effectiveness of Nixon’s Southern Strategy. I mentioned this on Twitter and Thus Blogged Anderson asked me to lay this argument out on the blog. OK.

Lassiter’s book explores the intricacies of suburban politics around public schools and integration in the South, comparing how Atlanta becomes a place that does not integrate and Charlotte does, with busing, urban expansion to take control over the suburbs, and the politics of “moderate” whites revolving around the Chamber of Commerce and business communities playing a huge role in shaping how this plays out. Central to his argument is the development of a suburban politics that keeps most schools functionally segregated through “a bipartisan political language of private property values, individual taxpayer rights, children’s educational privileges, family residential security, and white racial innocence.” (304)

In other words, while the image in our mind of resistance to integration is frothing rural whites killing civil rights workers, Lassiter convincingly shows that politically, the politics of the growing Sunbelt suburbs were far more important. Those suburban peoples may well have supported integration in theory and may well have been totally fine with a few black kids in their schools, but rejected residential integration and the busing that would have brought actual educational equality of opportunity to children, effectively reinforcing racism without having to say they were racist.

Now, we all know the basic story around the Southern Strategy, which is effectively that Lyndon Johnson said when he signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that he had handed the South to the Republicans, that Nixon built on Kevin Phillips’ The Emerging Republican Majority to do so and that through Nixon’s 1972 sweep of the South and then Reagan’s 1980 speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the South was on the road to becoming truly Republican. But Lassiter strongly pushes back against this story because it ignores electoral analysis. Nixon did try to follow Phillips’ strategy in 1970 and race bait his way to Republican victories. But it was a disaster throughout Southern states that had large suburban populations. In other words, George Wallace could race bait his way back into the Alabama governor’s office in 1970. Nixon tried to copy that. And it failed. Democrats moved toward the center in many states, arguing for following the law, moderation, and for general principles of public education. That didn’t mean an outright support of actual school integration. But it made the big suburban populations comfortable. Combined with African-American voters, this was often enough for victory, even in states like South Carolina where Nixon and Thurmond completely flopped in 1970. Dale Bumpers defeated Orval Faubus in the Democratic primary on a law and order platform. This was the election that saw the rise of Jimmy Carter, Lawton Chiles, Reubin Askew and other “new” Democrats that reinvigorated the Democratic Party in the South for a generation, paving the way for people like Bill Clinton. The Nixon/Phillips southern strategy was a completely failure.

By 1972, Nixon had learned this and embraced the more suburban values of law and order and de facto segregation in opposition to busing, turning his back on the politics of massive resistance personified by Wallace. This was not a southern strategy, it was a suburban strategy that played in Atlanta, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Of course, that’s not the only reason southern states did not vote for McGovern, but it showed that the new politics of the post-civil rights movement would promote suburban values of school choice, property values, and personal choices for your children that just so happened to ensure that schools and neighborhoods were nearly lily-white but without any vocal support of segregation. Lassiter goes on to argue that these politics became bipartisan by the late 20th century, especially in the Clinton presidency.

I will also remind readers that the arguments made in 2015 by liberals who choose to move to the suburbs to the schools reinforce this same racist scenario created in the 1960s and 1970s by other suburban whites who made the same arguments about their children. Choosing to move to the suburbs for schools or sending your kids to private schools because the schools are “bad” is a racist act that comes right out of the anti-busing movement. I don’t care if you are a liberal college professor, it’s still a racist act that shows hostility to the Brown decision even today.

One other thing. Since a lot of you are political junkies or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, let me point out that Lassiter’s book is in the outstanding Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America series at Princeton University Press and there are many books in this series well worth your time.

Unionize the Charters!

[ 14 ] November 21, 2015 |


One of the best strategies for dealing with the union-busting charter schools is to unionize said charters. That is happening, especially in Chicago. There are difficulties in reconciling an anti-charter position with organizing those teachers, but the unions can work that out. Unionizing these schools are the nightmare of Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, Arne Duncan, and Scott Cowen. That alone should make it a top priority.

More here.

Property Taxes and Unequal Schools

[ 157 ] November 19, 2015 |
Coverage from the May 9, 2011 protest of Rhee/Walker/Corbett at the American Federation for Children policy summit  from website

Coverage from the May 9, 2011 protest of Rhee/Walker/Corbett at the American Federation for Children policy summit
from website

I should surprise no readers by noting that racial injustice is so deep in our institutions that it infects nearly every part of American life. The definition of structural racism is that inequality gets replicated without those replicating it even knowing it. Or if they do know it, they can justify it while saying “racism is bad.” This brings me to school funding. Meg O’Leary and Sarah Friedman run a public magnet school targeting Latinos who may be underachieving in Central Falls, Rhode Island. For those of you unfamiliar with the urban geography of Rhode Island, Central Falls is a postage stamp of a town that should not be its own municipality. It’s barely bigger than a neighborhood. It’s also very poor and very heavily Latino, with a quite high percentage of Colombians.

Of course the schools in Central Falls are awful. And then aren’t much better in Pawtucket or Providence. It shouldn’t have to be that way. But it is because so much of the money for the schools come from local property taxes, as O’Leary an Friedman write. That means that rich districts have good schools and poor districts don’t. Basing much of school funding on local property taxes is racist. It also helps lead to citizens who have the financial wherewithal to make choices on where they live to either move to the suburbs or send their children to private schools. These are racist acts. They don’t mean the people who commit them are racist per se. But they are acts that explicitly commit people to fostering long-term inequality. I get why they do it–it’s my child after all!–but then that again is how structural racism works. It operates to incentivize otherwise perhaps well-meaning people to make choices that perpetuate racism. I’m not trying to troll readers here by accusing them of racism. But I am putting the decisions people make for their children’s sake within the spectrum of American structural racism.

The primary way around this problem is to take local property taxes out of it. More useful would be a state-wide property tax that would go exclusively to school funding. All children should receive equal funding. Unequal funding within states should be considered a civil rights violation. A white student in the wealthy coastal town of East Greenwich is not worth more than a Colombian kid in Central Falls. Except that actually in our society they are worth more. Instead the answer is let’s privatize the education for the poor, which serves to also perpetuate structural racism by firing middle-class black teachers and replacing with untrained non-union labor that is usually white and which allows wealthy, usually white, people to profit off of educating the poor, cutting the corners that capitalists will do to make a buck.

The Worst Book Ever Written on Hurricane Katrina

[ 58 ] November 19, 2015 |
Photos by Kathy Anderson Flood Street These are aerial photos of the Ninth Ward area of New Orleans after it was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. September 9, 2005

Photos by Kathy Anderson
Flood Street
These are aerial photos of the Ninth Ward area of New Orleans after it was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.
September 9, 2005

Above: An opportunity for wealthy white men to promote their careers through “leadership”

Scott Cowen is the former president of Tulane University. He wrote a book on Hurricane Katrina and how it transformed New Orleans. It is unspeakably awful. It is all about how awesome Scott Cowen was for using Katrina as an opportunity to charterize all of New Orleans’ public schools, kick people out of their homes, and privatize the city to make white corporate leaders comfortable. Moreover, the only person capable of this was Scott Cowen, so each point is combined with his own bullshit leadership jargon. I was originally going to review the book here. But then I hated it so much I thought it needed a broader audience. So I reviewed it at the Boston Review. It’s really long (I submitted this at 1500 words and they were like, this should be longer. Oh, OK! I can do longer!). An excerpt:

In The Inevitable City, Cowen is proud to have taken advantage of the hurricane to implement Shock Doctrine ideology in New Orleans, starting with Tulane and moving on to the New Orleans public school system. His first post-Katrina priority was to get Tulane up and running because the city needed the jobs and the potent symbol of a functioning university. But in doing so, Cowen led two controversial initiatives. First, he pushed through the chartering of a nearby, predominantly African American school so that the children of his mostly white employees would have a place to send their children. Second, he unilaterally reorganized Tulane, firing tenured professors and consolidating programs without input from faculty. This led to his censure by the American Association of University Professors. He justifies both as examples of his leadership in tough times:

A first principle of leadership is “Do the right thing,” despite opposition. Leaders have the realism to face the facts, the wisdom to weigh the options, the will to make a decision, and the audacity to act. Which is another way of saying, Stand up and do what you think is best.

Cowen’s vision of leadership seems to be that one simply does what one wishes—that displaced black schoolchildren are in effect mere impediments to a kind of self-actualization that one achieves through proper “leadership.”

Unfortunately, that school was merely the beginning. Cowen went on to be a central player in the transformation of New Orleans into the first all-charter school district in the United States. While Cowen and others champion the results—including purportedly higher test scores and graduation rates—researchers at the University of Arizona have shown that even when one controls for race and class, New Orleans schools perform significantly worse on these metrics than Louisiana public schools as a whole, which already rank fourth worst in the nation.

Time and again, test score fraud and false research has put the lie to many such claims about the benefits of charter schools. The Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, Cowen’s post-presidency lobbying group that aims to turn New Orleans into a giant experiment for charters, released a 2014 report lauding its success. However, the institute soon had to completely repudiate its own report for its flawed methodology. Despite well-funded charter industry “studies” claiming improved test scores, the nonpartisan Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda has found, “There is very little evidence that charter and traditional public schools differ meaningfully in their average impact on students’ standardized test performance.” On New Orleans schools specifically, the Investigative Fund has written, “seventy-nine percent of [New Orleans] charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education.” Moreover, it has chronicled how the emphasis on test scores and college preparation has led charter schools to eject low-performing students who would require additional help to overcome the tremendous class and race-based barriers that impede their educational success.

Remember when we ripped on Chicago Tribune columnist Katie McQueary for saying she wished a Katrina would come to Chicago and wash away the teachers unions. That’s actually what Cowen is arguing for New Orleans and he was there at the time. The book actually starts with him fleeing New Orleans and supposedly feeling bad that he was staying at the Houston Hyatt (as I recall) when all these other people were suffering. Then he figured it was OK and went to sleep. It was quite a riveting story.

Couple of interesting points that didn’t make it into the review. First, the publisher changed the title in the paperback edition. The original was The Inevitable City: The Resurgence of New Orleans and the Future of Urban America That’s why I picked it up to begin with. Thought it would be interesting. Now it is The Inevitable City: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and 10 Principles of Crisis Leadership. That’s actually a much more accurate title. It also plays up to the actual audience of this book, which is people Scott Cowen wants to pay him large sums to give speeches about leadership.

Second, let me quote from my original draft for the single most infuriating part of the book:

Even Cowen’s admissions of error are designed to promote an agenda to destroy traditional education. Noting that New Orleans lacks the well-trained citizenry that will attract many corporations, he gives a half-hearted nod toward a liberal arts education yet calls himself “partly to blame” for training students in “medieval French literature, or higher math, or even critical thinking” because many jobs do not require these skills.

A public apology for supporting the humanities and critical thinking from a university president. You can imagine how this sent me through the roof.

The Inevitable City is one of the worst books I have ever read. Lucky for me I have an outlet when I face that situation. I read it so you don’t have to.

Is Education Reform the Solution to Poverty?

[ 129 ] November 9, 2015 |



Robert Mann speaks some truth:

Arguing that education is the key to curing poverty is like saying swimming will prevent drowning. Of course, but could the best instructor in the world teach a child to swim if the student showed up for lessons wearing 20-pound weights on each arm?

That weight – the onerous burden of poverty – is what holds back many Louisiana children. It’s what makes the efforts of even the best teachers so challenging. When a child arrives at school unprepared or unable to learn because of circumstances beyond the school’s or its teachers’ control, why would we blame the school and its teachers?

Surely, those seeking public office, especially many now running for governor and the Legislature, understand this. They know that (on average) a sick child, an emotionally or physically battered child or a hungry child cannot learn, in the same way, at the same pace, as a child without those enormous challenges. So, why do so many of our leaders respond to questions about poverty by tossing off mindless, simplistic answers like, “The solution to poverty is a good education”?

I suspect they know it’s evasive and naive, but what else can the average politician tell you? The truth? Imagine a candidate with the courage to say the following:

“Look, I could give you the usual boilerplate answer about poverty. I could blame it on substandard schools and lazy teachers, and you’d nod your heads in agreement. That’s what you want to hear. You want to believe that if our teachers would just work harder, all our problems would disappear.

“Blaming poverty on our teachers and the schools is a cop out. It absolves us of our collective responsibility for the scandal of poverty. We’re scapegoating teachers, which is very much like blaming doctors for an outbreak of the common cold. They are only dealing with symptoms of a problem that existed before the patient arrived.

You know what the primary solution for poverty is? Good jobs in the places where people live. Of course saying that we need well-paid jobs in this country is the equivalent to being a moral monster if you are a centrist Democrat. It’s a lot easier to just bust teachers’ unions and send idealistic 22 year old recent college graduates into impoverished schools without any training. That will solve our problems!

The Textbook Scam

[ 101 ] November 1, 2015 |


Henry Farrell is speaking some truth here about the textbook scam.

I teach international relations at a university where political science is the most popular major. As well as teaching intensive seminars, I sometimes teach big entry level courses with 300 students. Every year I do this, I get free textbooks during the summer from academic publishers who want me to assign them. I get phone calls and e-mails from publishers’ reps, asking if they can come around and talk to me about all the great books that they have on offer. Occasionally, publishers contact me to see if I’ve any interest in writing a textbook myself. I politely decline all these gracious offers on ethical grounds. I simply don’t think it’s right or fair to force college students to pay hundreds of dollars, in addition to their tuition, for books that replicate knowledge which is freely available elsewhere.

I completely agree. I teach a 125-student intro to U.S. history course every fall. For the past 2 years, I have not used a textbook at all. Why should I have my students pay $80 or $90 when the tests are based strictly on course material and the papers on outside readings? I used to assign one so they could have one to back up the lecture material, but I realized that they were spending a bunch of money for nothing. And I’m opposed to this. I do assign a rather expensive source reader, a book called Discovering the American Past. But there is a concrete reason for this. I teach discussion sections. Unlike nearly every other source reader, which is an afterthought for the textbook writers because that’s not where the real money is, this book avoids the “let’s throw together 8 documents on the American Revolution that collectively lead us nowhere” for the strategy of creating a chapter of documents on a very specific issue that helps students understand what historians do. For instance, last week they read a bunch of documents on how Jefferson and Madison thought the French of Louisiana were not smart enough to be Americans after the Louisiana Purchase and how the Cajuns had to fight for their rights. This is a good set of documents that also helps students think about what it means to be an American today. It’s about $90 new but there are so many copies of this floating around that they can get it cheaper. It’s also the only book I assign except for a separate $20 reader that allows them to write a paper through reading a book with dozens of primary sources on the same topic. This is what I assigned this semester. So that’s a total of $110 or so for the whole semester, if they buy the books new. That’s still too much. But compared to a lot of courses, it’s better. And if it was a smaller class and I was assigning 5 or 6 short books, the cost would be about the same. But it’s the best I can do. And I’m certainly not going to then drop a big textbook on top of it. Maybe I can find a way to do this cheaper without a decline in quality, but again, there aren’t many source books out there that have conceptualized the classroom effectively.

However, next year, the new edition of my reader is coming out. And about half the chapters are indeed new. So I’m not sure what to do because if I assign the new edition, the students lose the used market. I may wait a year.

Farrell wonders why economists don’t talk about this issue more seriously. And the answer is fairly obvious–because writing textbooks can be a major cash cow and a lot of leading economists are in on it.

It may be that economists are blind to the problems of this market because they are themselves involved in it. Take, for example, Gregory Mankiw, who is the Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics and former head of the Council of Economic Advisers. He has also regularly taught Harvard’s required introduction to economics course, where he has required students to buy his own textbook (which now costs a smidgeon under $300), while refusing to consider donating his profits from this captive market to charity. I suggested seven years ago, that Prof. Mankiw, who is skeptical of regulators and strongly committed to free markets, consider taking his actions to their logical economic conclusion.

If I were him, … I’d claim that I was teaching my students a valuable practical lesson in economics, by illustrating how regulatory power (the power to assign mandatory textbooks for a required credit class, and to smother secondary markets by frequently printing and requiring new editions) can lead to rent-seeking and the creation of effective monopolies. Indeed, I would use graphs and basic math in both book and classroom to illustrate this, so that students would be left in no doubt whatsoever about what was happening [to them]. This would really bring the arguments of public choice [economics] home to them in a forceful and direct way, teaching them a lesson that they would remember for a very long time.

Inexplicably, Prof. Mankiw has yet to take up this suggestion. Doubtless, he thinks that his textbook is the very best introductory textbook on the market. However, it is equally likely that the chair and vice-chair of Prof. Bourget’s department have the same opinion of their required textbook. This doesn’t change the underlying economics of the situation, or of the textbooks racket.

There’s no question that too many professors are subjecting their students to real financial burden unnecessarily. I know that there are not very many ways for academics to make extra money that is more than peanuts. Elite professors writing textbooks is one of those ways, although obviously an opportunity only for the very few. But it’s pretty awful to buy that vacation home directly on the backs of your students, especially when they have so many other financial pressures on them.

History Wars in South Korea

[ 46 ] October 30, 2015 |


Over the last several years, battles over history textbooks have occasionally come up in the American media, with conservatives freaking out the new AP U.S. History standards that don’t explicitly celebrate American exceptionalism and Texas forcing textbook companies to downplay issues like slavery or anything positive about racial minorities. Conservatives want celebratory history taught and they see any real look at the past as a threat to their nationalist mythology feeding their right-wing obsessions. In both the AP and Texas cases, they have largely won those battles, much to the chagrin of professional historians.

But this is hardly unique to the United States (the U.S. is never actually exceptional, even in its weirdness. Except maybe for the gun obsession). For a long time now, people have expressed dismay over Japan not owning up to its imperialist past and whitewashing its behavior during World War II in textbooks. We are now seeing the history wars in South Korea.

Conservative critics say that almost all school texts present juche positively, in the language of North Korean propaganda. They worry that students might grow up admiring North Korea for a philosophy that’s observed mainly in the breach because North Korea relies on China for virtually all of its oil, half of its food and much else.

Conservatives are just as outraged by the way some textbooks explain the origins of the Korean War. They cite passages in which the authors hold both sides responsible for the North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950 that resulted four days later in the capture of Seoul.

Liberals, meanwhile, say conservatives want a sanitized version of history. If the government sticks with its plan, they believe that would set a terrible precedent and compromise independent scholarship.

The controversy harks back to the bad old days when dictatorial presidents with military backgrounds not only controlled what was taught in schools but also imposed censorship on newspapers and jailed outspoken foes of the regime. Park Chung-hee, who seized power in 1961 and ruled with increasing firmness until his assassination in 1979, was probably the toughest. He, of course, is the father of the current president, Park Geun-hye.

Park is by no means as harsh as her father. She has not suggested amending the “democracy constitution,” promulgated seven years after Park’s successor, Chun Doo-hwan, suppressed the bloody Kwangju revolt in May 1980.

Still, she is firmly identified with the conservative party that controls the National Assembly, and she personally ordered the drive to purify school textbooks. Her self-interest aligns with conservative objections to the way some textbooks describe the history of “dictatorship” in the South — a reference to her father’s 18 years and five months in power before his assassination — while playing down his contributions to the economy.

This fits the narrative I have of South Korea, which I picked up on when I spent a year in that nation during the 1990s. You have, primarily older, citizens still influenced heavily by the Korean War and fear of communism, sympathetic to the U.S. supported dictatorships of the 1950s-80s that suppressed civil liberties and a younger generation that is reasonably sympathetic with their neighbors to the north, wanting to put the past behind them as much as possible. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that but you do seem to see that playing out here in these textbook battles, with the daughter of the most notorious Korean dictator able to win election and then following as many of her father’s policies as possible, including fighting history wars. Sometimes I receive comments when I write about the past–especially about the Confederate flag–that none of this really matters. But that’s absurd. Battles over the meaning of history are battles of the meaning of a nation in a present. What could be more important than that? Those who seek to sanitize the past and promote nationalist or racist symbols and people certainly understand that, whether in the U.S., Japan, or South Korea.

More here.

School Testing and For-Profit Colleges: Both Declining?

[ 95 ] October 27, 2015 |


There’s a useful slight reversal of position from President Obama and other Democratic politicians who have pushed a regimen of educational reforms, primarily constant standardized testing (or studying for those tests) that take much of the education and a whole lot of the joy of learning out of education. Obama and Arne Duncan are now saying that while testing should occur, it should take up no more than 2 percent of classroom time. Which is still too much and doesn’t include prepping for those tests. But given how utterly awful the Obama administration’s education policy has been, it’s good that they are willing to listen to the overwhelming complaints from parents and teachers about this and act a bit. Still, it’s hard not to roll one’s eyes. Or just get angry. Everyone’s favorite human, Andrew Cuomo has lauded Obama’s new position. That’s especially galling given Cuomo’s war on teachers, as Maria Kilfoyle writes:

Educators and parents in New York State have been protesting for years that the testing is over the top. Cuomo doubled down this past year making 50% (which is actually a 100%) of a teacher’s evaluation based on TEST SCORES. The New Education Transformation Act also allows a “second” optional ASSESSMENT for districts to negotiate. Districts who teach children with historically low state test scores will probably opt in for the second optional assessment. They will roll the dice to try and protect their schools from going into receivership. So, in essence, The Education Transformation Act (which is education law in New York State) will promote testing kids MORE in struggling districts– does that look like promoting less testing? Cuomo will continue to grow the opt-out movement by ignoring what over 200,000 opt out parents in New York State have been saying – we will not allow our children, schools, and teachers to be ranked and sorted.

Educators and parents in New York State have been screaming from the tops of the Adirondack Mountains to the shores of Long Island. They have warned the Governor that assessments do not effectively evaluate teacher impact on student learning. But Cuomo’s new Education Transformation Act doubled down on testing and teacher evaluations.

Gov. Cuomo has been on the wrong side of the fight for equity in education. There are two sides in the fight to make great schools for New York children– those who see public education as a public good and those who see it as a private good. Governor Cuomo has very clearly seen education as a private good.

Remember when Cuomo called public education a monopoly?

“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term,” he said, “to break what is, in essence, one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly.” He said the key is to put “real performance measures with some competition, which is why I like charter schools.” Cuomo said he will push a plan that includes more incentives — and sanctions — that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

Cuomo has pandered to Wall Street at the expense of New York children. Guess what? You don’t get to take that back.

So yeah, shut up Cuomo.

Probably just as vile as the school testing regime and privatization of education through charter schools is the for-profit college scam. James Surowiecki has a good run-down of how for-profit colleges are now collapsing rapidly because they are a giant grift built around getting people to take out student loans they can’t afford for a vastly inferior education. People are finally starting to realizing that for-profit college is a terrible idea. There was the disastrous MOOC attempt at San Jose State that started pushing back against idea of firing all the professors and having everyone take giant online courses. And now there’s this. The Department of Defense has stopped including the University of Phoenix in GI Bill coverage, for instance.

I particularly appreciated Surowiecki’s concluding paragraph, which makes a ton of sense:

But if we really want more people to go to college we should put more money into community colleges and public universities, which have been starved of funding in recent years. We should also rethink our assumption that college is always the right answer, regardless of cost. Politicians love to invoke education as the solution to our economic ills. But they’re often papering over the fact that our economy just isn’t creating enough good jobs for ordinary Americans. The notion that college will transform your job prospects is, in many cases, an illusion, and for a while for-profit schools turned it into a very lucrative one.

Right. The fundamental problem here is that there simply aren’t a lot of good jobs anymore. And for the type of people who are likely to need to go to for-profit colleges–non-traditional students and traditionally under-represented students–what’s really happening is that there simply aren’t well-paying jobs for workers any more if they don’t have a college degree, since all the manufacturing has been sent abroad. So they take out huge debts and then don’t graduate. That shouldn’t happen. What needs to happen is that politicians and pundits must reject the idea that education is the answer to all our problems and understand that a) the economic benefits of education are often based on its relative scarcity and b) some people are simply not equipped to go to college but still deserve to live a dignified life. But that requires policies that include alleviating poverty through jobs that might discourage corporations from sending American jobs abroad whenever possible. Unfortunately, even mentioning such a thing means that you are History’s Greatest Monster, as Paul Theroux recently found out.

New Directions in Rheeism

[ 30 ] October 26, 2015 |


Campbell Brown, who has become the nation’s leading spokesperson for destroying teacher unions and privatizing public schools since she left CNN, is now inviting Democratic candidates to events she’s hosting about how teachers’ unions are the most evil organizations in human history and when they obviously turn her “offer” down, her and her allies compare the American Federation of Teachers and other unions to the National Rifle Association with maximum media attention from her friends in the media.

Good times.

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