I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Here are a few stories for your beach reading. What do the radical creationists say to the flat-earthers? What do politically liberal Christians say about Trumpism? Why do some conservatives think colleges have grown more racist? All that and more…

What do Christians have to say about “Christian Nationalism?” At RNS.christians against christian nationalism

Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

Radical creationists resort to poetry to prove they aren’t flat-earthers. At AIGKHB.

It’s not just atheists arguing the Bible teaches a flat earth—it’s some Christians, too, who’ve sadly fallen for flat-earth arguments and now believe that’s what the Bible teaches. But does it?

No, it doesn’t. Now, flat earthers will frequently bring up poetic passages, such as verses from Psalms or Job, and say those verses teach a flat earth because phrases like “ends of the earth” or references to a setting sun appear. But those passages are poetry—by definition poetry is filled with literary devices such as metaphors, similes, and figures of speech. The biblical text is meant to be interpreted naturally, according to the genre. And poetry is clearly intended to be understood within the context of abundant literary devices that are not meant to be taken so woodenly and literally (i.e., God does not literally lie us down in green pastures as per Psalm 23:2).

Guess what? Rich people have advantages in school. The latest non-surprise: Affluent students tend to get more time on tests. At NYT.

From Weston, Conn., to Mercer Island, Wash., word has spread on parenting message boards and in the stands at home games: A federal disability designation known as a 504 plan can help struggling students improve their grades and test scores. But the plans are not doled out equitably across the United States.

In the country’s richest enclaves, where students already have greater access to private tutors and admissions coaches, the share of high school students with the designation is double the national average. In some communities, more than one in 10 students have one — up to seven times the rate nationwide, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.

Race and Man at Yale. New conservative National Association of Scholars report critiques Yale’s segregationist practices, at NR.

Yale’s segregationist practices have been in place for a generation before today’s students were born. Yet 40 years of neo-segregation seems to have increased, rather than decreased, racial resentment.

Is Professor Wax a “repugnant” racist? Or a perfect example of why we have tenure? It’s both, at CHE.

Many have described Wax’s case as a difficult test of academic freedom and its limitations. It’s not. Tenure and academic freedom, as we currently understand them, were literally created in response to another prominent scholar’s getting canned for making inflammatory statements on race and immigration.

Florida man: No evolution in public schools, at FCS.

I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.

The GOP just got a little bit whiter. The last black Republican in the House of Reps is retiring, at NYT.

For white evangelicals, the question of “civility” in politics is…complicated. At RIP.

RIP civility scoreRemember John Allen Chau? The aggressive missionary killed last year at an isolated island in the Pacific? Outside Magazine offers a gripping new portrait.

John stuck to his belief that it was his duty to go to North Sentinel. The islanders were damned to “eternal fire” if they never heard the Gospel, and as an outdoorsman with a knack for making friends in new places, John was one of the few souls in Christendom who could save them. It felt ordained, John said, like God was calling him. Patrick [John’s father] believed his son was deceiving himself. This wasn’t just about helping the Sentinelese or obeying God. This was about John’s Messiah complex. He described his son as a victim of fantasies, fanaticism, and extremism.

What is the nation’s largest non-profit charter-school network up to? Moving from “no excuses” classrooms to “joyful” ones. At Chalkbeat.

Did a recent commission mistake the causes of racial disparities in school discipline? One member says yes, at WE.

The commission purports to find, however, that “students of color as a whole, as well as by individual racial group, do not commit more disciplinable offenses than their white peers.” According to the commission, they are simply punished more. Readers are left to imagine our schools are not just occasionally unfair, but rather astonishingly unfair on matters of discipline.

The report provides no evidence to support its sweeping assertion and, sadly, there is abundant evidence to the contrary. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics surveys high school students biennially. Since 1993, it has asked students whether they have been in a fight on school property over the past 12 months. The results have been consistent. In 2015, 12.6 percent of African-American students reported being in such a fight, while only 5.6 percent of white students did.

Advertisements

Why Do White Reformers Keep Making This Obvious Mistake?

It seems like it should be obvious. Yet news from KIPP—the nation’s largest non-profit charter-school network—shows that this simple idea is still very difficult for well-meaning school reformers to understand. Why has it taken decades for today’s “visionaries” to learn this centuries-old lesson?

Here’s the latest: According to Chalkbeat, the KIPP network shared some powerful mea culpas at its recent 25-year anniversary meeting. Historically, the schools have tended to attract middle-class white teachers to work with lower-income non-white students. And the KIPP tradition included a “no-excuses” type of classroom management. Students—at times—were required to maintain a rigid silence, marching single-file through hallways, enduring silent lunches, and generally submitting to a harsh-seeming disciplinary scheme.

In many cases, KIPP discipline insisted that non-conforming students be publicly humiliated. After twenty-five years, some of KIPP’s leaders are admitting that such systems don’t work. As Chalkbeat explained,

KIPP was among several charter networks to pioneer a “no excuses” approach to student discipline. That philosophy emphasizes classroom order and obedience in a bid to minimize distraction and raise students’ academic achievement — and has been heavily criticized for largely being meted out to students of color by white educators. Over the last decade, KIPP has walked back some of its earlier practices, notably a punishment known as “the bench,” where students were made to sit apart from their peers, sometimes wear a different colored T-shirt, and remain silent outside official class time.

Turns out, such practices can be effective in the short term. But they build up hostility and anger. They turn school into yet another place for low-income kids to resent and resist. And KIPP is hoping to end its use of public humiliation as a standard practice. As KIPP CEO Richard Barth told Chalkbeat,

“There are practices that we did in the beginning that we out-and-out abhor.” . . . “There were mistakes.” The charter network is still focused on providing “safe and structured environments,” he added, but “that’s very different than processes that shame kids.”

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are aware, I’m currently up to my eyeballs in research about America’s first broad attempt at urban school reform. Two hundred years ago, well-meaning white “visionaries” pioneered KIPP’s journey away from humiliation-as-a-tool.

In the early 1800s, London reformer Joseph Lancaster promised he had figured out a way to solve the problems of poverty. By reforming urban schools, he promised he could educate the hordes of children who thronged the streets of London. Instead of beating students into submission, Lancaster enthused, middle-class white teachers could simply humiliate them. Lancaster’s favorite tool was the “birdcage,” “cradle,” or “basket.”

1810 punishment the basketIn the 1810 edition of his school-reform manual, Lancaster described this technique:

Occasionally boys are put in a sack, or in a basket, suspended to the roof of the school, in sight of all the pupils, who frequently smile at the birds in the cage. This punishment is one of the most terrible that can be inflicted on boys of sense and abilities.

Even Lancaster acknowledged that this extreme form of public humiliation was “terrible,” but it worked. As one enthusiastic teacher wrote to Lancaster in 1812, suspending kids from the ceiling could work wonders with classroom management. As this teacher put it,

When they first came, they were like so many wild donkeys of the Common, for they did not care for any thing; I threatened them with the cradle, but that, did no good. So I got the Head of them, put him in, and gave him a bit of a rocking: well! He begged and prayed for me to take him out, and he would not swear nor talk again, upon that condition I let him out & he has kept his word ever since; it took such an effect on all the Boys, that I have never had to punish one since: so, out of a set of wild donkeys, they are made a set of good behaved orderly children.

Just like KIPP’s leaders, however, Lancaster’s followers found out that public humiliation was not a good long-term strategy. By 1817, manuals of the Lancasterian system no longer advocated “the basket” or other tools of public humiliation. Instead, they moved to a simpler system of merits and demerits.

Why? Because when Lancasterian schools resorted to public humiliation, students stopped coming. Turns out people don’t like being publicly humiliated. Back in the early 1800s, especially, African-American students and families refused to have their children subjected to the same sorts of punishments that slave-owners had used on southern plantations.

It doesn’t seem like it should be a difficult notion to grasp, yet for two hundred years school leaders have had to “discover” this truth anew. Which leads us to our question for today: Why is it so difficult for reformers to understand that public humiliation is not a good strategy?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Covering the bases this week: Stories about evangelical higher ed, campus free speech, megachurch abuse scandals, and more. Thanks to everyone who sent in stories and tips.

Liberty U student journalist condemns Falwell’s “culture of fear,” at WaPo.

What my team and I experienced at the Champion was not an isolated overreaction to embarrassing revelations. It was one example of an infrastructure of thought-control that Falwell and his lieutenants have introduced into every aspect of Liberty University life.

Mr. Young’s story from Liberty U is heart-wrenching, but it is not new. The dictatorial style of Jerry Falwell Jr. is not an innovation, but rather only a sad flowering of a poisonous fundamentalist flower.

More from Professor Amy Wax. The Penn Law professor is under fire again for “repugnant” statements, allegedly saying, “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” At IHE.

An evangelical mega-church reopens after a sex-abuse scandal, at RNS.

[One victim] doesn’t think there’s anything church leaders can say to make the controversy go away. At least not yet.

“I’m just really feeling like they have one last chance kind of to make this right,” she said.

New York’s campaign against Hasidic schools raises tough questions, at EducationNext:

How much authority should the city and state have to impose the government’s vision of an education on a religious minority that would prefer to be left alone? How much power should parents have to send their children to schools that emphasize religious subjects at the expense of topics such as science or math? Does society have a responsibility to ensure that all children receive an education that enables them to participate in democracy and the workplace? And who determines the answers to these questions—parents, politicians, courts, bureaucrats, advocacy groups, or some complicated combination thereof?

Growing up Helter Skelter: LAT interview with the son of Charles Manson.

From the not-learning-our-lesson department: Feds release series of anti-vaping videos, at CNN.

A peek into the ugly politics of school funding. Ohio governor vetoes a last-minute sneaky provision to save rich Clevelanders from paying high school taxes, at Cleveland.com.

Michigan school principal sues district for “anti-white” discrimination, at MLIVE.

Blick’s lawsuit alleges that Ann Arbor school district officials “maintain a custom, policy and practice of: treating Caucasian and nonminority administrators disparately and less favorably than similarly situated African-American and minority administrators; subjecting Caucasian and nonminority administrators to hostility and harassment in the workplace based on their race; accelerating the promotion and advancement of African-American and minority administrators at the expense, and to the detriment, of Caucasian and nonminority administrators.”

When Loyalty Means Dictatorship: The Latest Sad Story from Liberty U

It is not a happy time to be a Flame. Former student editor Will E. Young offered a blistering expose of the school’s “atmosphere of fear” in the Washington Post. Unfortunately, Young’s experience at Liberty was not a shocking departure from the history of evangelical higher ed, but rather just a new development of an ugly tradition. As Young asks plaintively,

How can a college education stifle your freedom of thought?

Unfortunately, Jerry Falwell Jr.’s dictatorial antics are nothing new. Whether Falwell realizes it or not, he is only the latest fundamentalist school leader to bolster his authority at the cost of his school’s intellectual and spiritual integrity.

Bob jones sr

Falwell adopts the Bob Jones leadership mantra: “My Way or the Highway”

Young was student editor at the Liberty student paper and experienced the full pressure of the administration’s heavy-handed regime of censorship. His faculty advisor required him to preview articles and killed any story that made Liberty or its leader Jerry Falwell Jr. look bad.

As Young explained,

when my team took over that fall of 2017, we encountered an “oversight” system — read: a censorship regime — that required us to send every story to Falwell’s assistant for review. Any administrator or professor who appeared in an article had editing authority over any part of the article; they added and deleted whatever they wanted. Falwell called our newsroom on multiple occasions to direct our coverage personally, as he had a year earlier when, weeks before the 2016 election, he read a draft of my column defending mainstream news outlets and ordered me to say whom I planned to vote for.

Such censorship is not new for Liberty. As we’ve seen, in recent years Liberty’s censorship has grown stricter. As I argued in Fundamentalist U, this kind of leader-focused absolutism has a long and sad tradition in evangelical higher ed. It is not a quirk of Falwell or Trumpism, but rather it is the result of the definitional problem of interdenominational evangelical higher education. Without a single, clearly defined religious orthodoxy to defend, institutions such as Liberty, Bob Jones University, and many others developed a top-down, leader-centric institutional structure. In short, lacking a denominational orthodoxy or hierarchy, some fundamentalist school leaders adopted a bitter, angry “my-way-or-the-highway” approach.

Back in the 1930s, when “fundamentalism” was still finding its legs as an institutionalized religious movement, leaders of fundamentalist colleges such as Wheaton and Bob Jones faced a dilemma. They had no universally agreed-upon definition of fundamentalism, yet they were charged with teaching fundamentalism and maintaining a purely fundamentalist campus.

buswellpres

Buswell at Wheaton.

Different schools reacted differently. Wheaton ended up with a confusing spread of institutional authority. Early President J. Oliver Buswell found out the hard way that he could not simply dictate policy at Wheaton. When Buswell tried to embrace a vision of fundamentalism that meant full separation from non-fundamentalist Protestants, he was summarily fired.

At the same time, Bob Jones Sr. pioneered the kind of fundamentalist leadership that is on display today at Liberty University. All faculty members were required to agree with every jot and tittle of Jones’s beliefs. One faculty member was fired in 1938 for “hobnobbing” with students. As this fired faculty member wrote in an open letter, he had worked at two other evangelical universities in his career,

two of them orthodox. (But not obnoxious.) My loyalty was never questioned . . . . It simply never occurred to me that I was not free to express my opinions and I did express them. How was I to know that loyalty meant dictatorship?

It might never have been crystal clear what “fundamentalism” meant, but at Bob Jones College (later Bob Jones University), it always meant whatever the leader said it meant. Any disagreement, any “griping,” meant a fast ticket out the door, with a furious gossip campaign among the fundamentalist community to discredit the fired faculty member.

Mr. Young’s story from Liberty U is heart-wrenching, but it is not new. The dictatorial style of Jerry Falwell Jr. is not an innovation, but rather only the sad flowering of a poisonous fundamentalist flower.

When “Repugnant” Isn’t Enough

Professor Wax is out. But The Koala is back in. Two campus free-speech cases this week went in different directions, but for some reason they both harp on the same unusual word. It leads to some questions: Does student speech deserve more or less freedom than faculty speech? And does serious speech need more policing than humor?

koala dangerous space

The joke’s on…who?

Here’s what we know: Inside Higher Ed has reported that Professor Amy Wax of Penn Law has been condemned by her school for alleged statements at a recent conservatism conference. According to one reporter, Prof. Wax said,

our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.

The Penn Law community reacted with outrage. Wax’s dean said her comments were

repugnant to [our] core values and institutional practices.

Meanwhile, across the country at the University of California—San Diego, a student group has successfully sued for having its humor magazine kicked off campus. Back in 2015, The Koala came under fire for its satiric article about the university’s new “Dangerous Space on Campus.” The article used the “n-word” and referred to violent sex acts.

The administration denounced The Koala, calling it

profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.

After a few legal back-and-forths, though, The Koala has triumphed. An appeals court ruled that the university could not set up a competition for student funds, then ban only one publication from the competition.

The two cases lead us to a few questions this morning:

  • 1.) Should universities have different rules about free speech for students and professors?
  • 2.) Does offensive language deserve more protection when it is used satirically?
  • 3.) And finally, is the word “repugnant” ever used in any other context? Why is it so popular among campus condemnations?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Hot enough for ya? Even in this July heat wave, the interwebs kept cranking out stories about schools and dinosaurs n stuff. Here are some of the top items in this week’s news roundup:

“We Believe in Dinosaurs:” the new radical-creationist documentary is out. A review at LHL.

Lots of talk about Biden, busing, and the 1970s.

Israel’s minister of education comes out in favor of LGBTQ “conversion” therapy, at Newsweek.

Interview with Elaine Howard Ecklund on the love affair between science & religion, at BBC.

Divinity is out at Liberty U., but pop music is in, including The Jonas Brothers’ dad. At RNS.

The passion we have is not just to train a bunch of people to go into the music industry — or just go into the Christian music industry, for that matter — but to be equipped as musicians that go into the music industry fully equipped to do what they believe God’s called them to do, whether it’s the mainstream market or the faith-based market.

What should an online teacher do when she sees a child being abused on the other side of the planet? At EdSurge.

What do you call yourself when you’re Catholic but you feel evangelical? How about “born-again Catholic”? At RIP.

East Carolina University couldn’t have denied Trump a forum to “send her back” even if they wanted to, at CHE.

Feminist “hate speech:” The gender wars roil academic philosophers, at IHE.

The Right Historical Question about Busing

Ever since Senator Kamala Harris accused Vice President Joe Biden of cozying up to segregationists, the issue of busing has been back in the headlines. Instead of asking why busing failed or why it worked, the right question should be about where busing worked. The lesson from the twentieth century is clear: When reformers try to use schools to ram through social change, even with the purest of intentions, it won’t work.

What biden was trying to avoid

What Biden was scared of in 1975:

Vice President Biden’s political problems about busing came about long before Senator Harris’s accusations. Months ago, the Washington Post ran an exposé about Biden’s leading role in the 1970s as an opponent of court-ordered desegregation. Biden 2020 has been forced to defend decisions made by Biden 1975, and it hasn’t been easy.

Since the debate, historians and commentators have skewered the notion that busing did not achieve its aims. As Nikole Hannah-Jones pointed out, the issue was never about busing itself, but about stark racism. The problem was not that busing didn’t work to integrate students of different races and backgrounds, but precisely that it did.

Historically, the politics of school integration are part of a broader pattern of school reform. Whenever reformers have tried to use schools to change society for the better, they have discovered the difficult truth. Namely, whatever the issue—racial integration, socialism, or progressive education—when reformers fail to enroll community support, their efforts at social improvement have been crushed. When they do, however, the results can be surprisingly effective.

In the late 1930s, for example, textbook author Harold Rugg came under fire for his popular textbook series. The series had been adopted by schools nationwide and the books were used by millions of American schoolchildren. As World War II heated up, however, conservative groups such as the America Legion came to believe that the books had a subversive, anti-American intent. The books, conservative critics charged, hoped to transform American society into a socialist state.

Professor Rugg protested that he was no socialist; he claimed a “deep loyalty to the historic American version of the democratic way of life.” Yet he admitted that he really did hope to transform society. In Rugg’s vision, decisions about proper curriculum should not be left in the hands of the ignorant community, but rather decided only by “competent experts” like himself. He dismissed protesters as irrational ignoramuses and their impassioned rallies as mere “Wednesday-evening testimony meetings of Holy Rollers.”

A generation later, a similar textbook controversy roiled Kanawha County, West Virginia. Protesters in 1974 and 1975 worried that a new textbook series derided traditional American values. In part, the protesters were right. As one editor of the books later recalled, he really had hoped the books would inject the “progressive energy” of 1960s radicalism into classrooms nationwide. The books took a “strong stand for pluralism and multicultural expression” that the editors hoped would overthrow the “conventions” of traditional schools and classrooms.

A laudable goal, but like Harold Rugg’s vision of “expert”-centered educational reform, the top-down reformism of the 1970s textbooks failed. Protesters in Kanawha County boycotted their schools; they convinced their Parent-Teacher Association that the new progressive textbooks were “literally full of anti-Americanism, anti-religion, and discrimination.”

The same lessons apply to the history of 1970s school desegregation—“busing”—that Biden and Harris have brought back to the headlines. On one hand, the policy of busing students to mitigate segregation often worked to improve both racial integration and educational outcomes.

On the other, busing policies often met ferocious political backlash from outraged white parents and activists. Most famously, as historian Ron Formisano described so powerfully, in Boston anti-busers rejected the attempts of Judge W. Arthur Garrity to impose more racial equality in schools.

All cities were not Boston, however. In Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, the simple black-and-white politics of busing looked different. When President Reagan trotted out his anti-busing rallying cry in 1984, it fell on deaf ears. Busing, Reagan charged,

takes innocent children out of the neighborhood school and makes them pawns in a social experiment that nobody wants, and we found out that it failed.

What Reagan didn’t realize, and many people in today’s revisit to the 1970s busing debates seem to have forgotten as well, was that some white people embraced busing. The crowd in Charlotte met Reagan’s dog-whistles with stony silence, and the next day the Charlotte Observer insisted that the city’s “proudest achievement is its fully integrated public school system.”

reagan in charlott

White voters hate busing, right? …right?

Certainly, North Carolina was no racial utopia. But the differences between Boston and Charlotte serve as an important reminder of the real question in school segregation and busing. They are reminders that go back long past the 1970s, to Harold Rugg and before.

Whatever the issue, when social reformers hope to use schools to effect wide-ranging improvements in society, they can only hope to succeed if they enlist the support of at least a portion of the local community. Harold Rugg did not realize that people outside his college would not simply cede control of their textbooks to his “expert” hands. Protesters in West Virginia were not willing to accept books thrust upon them by editors fueled by the “progressive energy” of the radical 1960s.

The successes of busing, too, were not limited to improvements in integration and educational success. When integrationists managed to line up local support, as with Charlotte’s Democratic Party, busing also achieved significant political support. When they didn’t, as with Boston’s aggrieved segregationists, busing failed.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Lots in the news this week, including the revelation that young Trump was “certainly not a super genius.” Plus, yoga, creationism, testing, and all the rest…

epstein teacherMassachusetts tries to ban creationism, at NCSE.

What’s wrong with yoga in public schools? At WaPo. Even if teachers aren’t preaching it as religion, students are learning it that way:

even secularized yoga and mindfulness programs can encourage spiritual and religious experiences.

We all agree now—we can’t test our way to better schools. Rather, we have to improve society if we want to improve schools, not the other way around. Even test maven Michael Petrilli is on board.

A few unoriginal reminders from two centuries of school reform here at ILYBYGTH:

  • Teachers are often part of the problem, but they are always most of the solution.
  • One change to schools will—by itself—never heal social issues such as poverty and inequality.
  • Any school reform that promises big results without big investments will probably disappoint.
  • Low-income families deserve a high-quality education, not a “chance” for a high-quality education.
  • And maybe the hardest one of all for ed-reform newbies to accept: Schools alone can’t fix society; schools are society.

Non-surprise of the year: Creepy Epstein was a creepy teacher, at NYT.

Is the Dem pledge to have a teacher as the next Ed Secretary worth anything? PG at Forbes:

It’s worth remembering that although previous secretaries include a school administrator and a college professor, the one secretary who taught in a public high school was Rod Paige, who presided over the “Texas Miracle” that turned out to be a mirage, and who once called the NEA a terrorist organization. Coming from a public school background is no guarantee that someone is a public school supporter.

Trump in the Ivy League: Former admissions officer remembers him as “Certainly not a super genius.” At WaPo.

Why does a teachers’ union need to endorse the “fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. Wade”? At NR.

Alaska university cuts highlight tricky culture-war divide over higher ed, at The Atlantic.

Even though people may feel dubious about higher education more broadly, they can see the good that their local schools do and often feel favorably toward them as a result. But what happens when the fate of local colleges is not up to the public decision but to a single politician?

Can Massachusetts Ban Creationism?

Or maybe the more important question is this: Will this bill work? Its goal is to keep “science denialism” out of the Massachusetts curriculum. I’m all for it, but I don’t think it will actually do the job.

AIG camp

They may be kooky, but radical creationists are also “age-appropriate.”

Here’s what we know: According to the National Center for Science Education and the Lowell Sun, a bill before the state legislature would ban climate-change denialism, anti-vaxxism, and creationism from the state’s curriculum. The bill’s sponsor said that his goal was to prohibit teaching that climate-change denialism deserves equal consideration to climate-change science.

As one supporter put it,

The fact that there are many people who believe and insist the earth is flat — enough to fill a whole cruise ship, it turns out — or that vaccines are deadly or who believe evolution is not real and that climate change is not taking place and that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn’t matter is all evidence that science education needs to be strengthened and kept understandable against those who would deliberately sew [sic] confusion.

As always, the devil will be in the details. The mechanism of this bill would be to insist on only “peer-reviewed” and “age-appropriate” materials in science classes.

And there’s the rub.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, radical young-earth creationists are not simply science “denialists.” They do not pooh-pooh peer-reviewed research or age-appropriate materials. The radical group Answers In Genesis, for example, operates its own clunky “peer-reviewed” research journal.

aig peer reviewed

If “peer-reviewed” is the rule, they can follow it…

And whether you love them or hate them, the fundamentalist creationist missionaries at AIG produce plenty of “age-appropriate” materials. They are always trying to convince and convert America’s children to their Flintstones-level science. It might not be good science, but there’s no doubt that it is “age-appropriate.”

I support Massachusetts’s efforts to keep their public-school science classrooms secular. I agree that we should not teach zombie science or other forms of theologically motivated science in public schools. Unfortunately, however, I don’t think this bill will do the trick.

Waving the White Flag on High-Stakes Testing

No surprise to see Senator Warren come out strong against it. But even some of the most dedicated high-stakes-testers have now issued a new “hypothesis” about the real relationship between testing and student achievement. Seems like we have turned yet another corner on yet another school-reform panacea. What have we learned?

warren on pbs

Senator Warren: Testing is not the answer…

First things first: Just like the new partisan split about charter schools, we are seeing a new era of “second thoughts” about the value of high-stakes testing. Politicians such as Elizabeth Warren are now firmly against it. As Senator Warren told the National Education Association,

Education is what goes on in the classroom; what a teacher has said is the goal. And when a kid gets there, it is a teacher who knows it. We do not need high-stakes testing.

Similarly, formerly enthusiastic billionaires have noticed that their earlier school-reform focus was far too simplistic. As Nick Hanauer finally noticed recently,

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth.

Now testing mavens such as Michael Petrilli are getting on board. As Petrilli admitted recently, it seems possible that high-stakes testing did not actually improve things for students. Rather, any gains students made in schools might have been due largely to

prevailing economic conditions at the time of a cohort of children’s birth (or shortly thereafter).

In other words, ambitious politicians, policy wonks, and philanthropists have finally admitted that their feverish promises did not bear fruit. Their plans to solve social problems by ramming through school reforms have proven—once again—overly simplistic and wildly exaggerated.

petrilli graph

Hmmm…what’s the connection?

Can we blame them? In a word, yes. As teachers such as Peter Greene have pointed out, there has never been a lack of evidence available to the testers. As Greene put it,

We told these folks, over and over and over and over and over. “Don’t use poverty as an excuse,” they said. “Just have higher expectations,” they said. “Better scores on standardized tests will end poverty,” they said. Also, “Better scores will save your job and your school.”

Even if the starry-eyed testers didn’t want to listen to teachers, they might have read a book. After all, historians David Tyack and Larry Cuban argued long ago that school reforms are worthy goals, but they tend to make the same mistakes over and over again.

As I’m finding out in my current research, too, this story is the oldest one out there. Back in the early 1800s, the first generation of urban school reformers in the United States found it out the hard way. They thought they had found a silver-bullet reform, one that would eliminate poverty in one generation. A new “system,” they believed, would enable a single teacher to teach a thousand low-income students efficiently and economically.

Guess what? It didn’t work. And ever since then, the story has repeated itself over and over.

It seems obvious, then, that there isn’t a good excuse for the latest generation of arrogant school reformers not to see it coming. For centuries, outside reformers have been telling themselves that they had discovered a new system, a new program, a new algorithm that would fix social inequality without upsetting social hierarchies.

tyack cuban tinkering

….makes it hard to plead ignorance.

It’s just not that simple. We know what works: Schools that are well-connected to the communities they serve, with adequate resources to know every student and provide incremental improvements for every student. We need enthusiastic, invested teachers, parents, and students. We need schools that treat families as community members, not customers or clients or guinea pigs.

Should schools always be “reforming”?—changing the way we do things for the better? Of course! But too often, outside “reformers” assume that they have found a single, simple improvement that will revolutionize school and society without demanding a significant investment.

So maybe it’s worth reprinting the list of reminders for school reformers. It’s not new and it’s not original. It has been around for two hundred years now. Yet we never seem to be able to profit from its hard-won lessons. So here it is: For those who think that charter schools, Teach For America, new union leadership, improved teacher pay, or high-stakes testing will provide a cheap shortcut to the hard work of school and social improvement, here are a few reminders from the past two centuries of school-reform plans:

  • Teachers are often part of the problem, but they are always most of the solution.
  • One change to schools will—by itself—never heal social issues such as poverty and inequality.
  • Any school reform that promises big results without big investments will probably disappoint.
  • Low-income families deserve a high-quality education, not a “chance” for a high-quality education.
  • And maybe the hardest one of all for ed-reform newbies to accept: Schools alone can’t fix society; schools are society.