Monday, September 27, 2004

The long death of busing "Boston schools should adopt a plan that sends more children to elementary schools in their neighborhoods, the most drastic change proposed for the city's school assignment system in 30 years, the majority of a task force recommended yesterday. As several hundred parents and others packed the auditorium of English High School in Jamaica Plain last night, the 14-member panel of educators and parents delivered its long-awaited report to the Boston School Committee. The School Committee set up the task force in January to devise a new policy that would reflect Boston residents' views and also reduce busing costs. The panel members, whose report was greeted with a mix of boos and cheers at times, said they did not reach a consensus, but that two thirds supported doubling the number of elementary attendance zones to six to allow more neighborhood schools."


"The educrats have ample reason to be upset. Before NCLB, the public schools' failure to educate poor minority kids resulted in ever-increasing streams of federal money to local districts-more than $200 billion over the last four decades, disbursed with no questions asked. Now along comes Bush, requiring state and local districts to prove that the programs that federal dollars pay for have a solid scientific basis and actually work. Once public educators started trashing NCLB, Democrats suddenly decided that they hated it, too. Senator Kennedy now claims that the president "duped" him and that the act's funding amounted to a "tin cup budget," despite a big hike in federal education spending under Bush.

In announcing his candidacy, Bush promised that education reform would be his Number One domestic policy priority. His plan, soon named No Child Left Behind, rested on three basic reforms, which states wanting federal education money would have to accept. First came a Lyon-influenced reading initiative. "The findings of years of scientific research on reading are now available, and application of this research to the classroom is now possible for all schools in America," Bush noted.

Second would be annual testing in basic reading and math skills for all kids in grades three through eight, with the results-broken down by race, sex, English-language proficiency, and socioeconomic status-made public. States would devise their own tests, subject to federal oversight. Mandatory testing had been key to Bush's education reform success in Texas, where it worked to hold schools accountable......

From his gubernatorial days, Bush already had a good idea that the evidence was leading straight to phonics. Following Lyon's advice, he had pushed local districts in Texas to adopt phonics-based curricula and saw reading scores in the state shoot up, particularly for minority kids. The number of third-graders- 52,000- who failed the reading test at the start of the Bush governorship declined to 36,000 when he left for the White House and has since dropped to 28,000, now that all his reforms are up and running. Since then, the evidence has become irrefutable. After reviewing dozens of studies-some using magnetic resonance imaging to measure differences in brain function between strong and weak readers and among children taught to read by various methods- the National Reading Panel, commissioned by Congress, concluded in 2000 that effective reading programs, especially for kids living in poverty, required phonics-based instruction.

Within a week of taking office, the Bush administration devised a strategy for getting a $6 billion "Reading First" phonics initiative past the relevant House and Senate education committees. The administration was offering school systems a deal that went like this: "The federal government will give you lots more money than ever before for early reading programs. Nothing obligates you to take the money. But if you do take it, the programs you choose must teach children using phonics." Hardly a single legislator raised doubts about tying federal reading dollars to instructional approaches backed by a consensus of the nation's scientific experts....

You'd think that educators would welcome the scientific turn in federal reading policy. After all, the racial gap in school performance that liberals as well as conservatives decry as the greatest obstacle to equal opportunity in America first shows up as a wide gap in reading. While 40 percent of all American kids don't attain the "basic" reading level by fourth grade, the rate of reading failure for inner-city black and Hispanic children is a catastrophic 70 percent. If we now have hard evidence on what methods will best bring these struggling kids up to speed, why wouldn't educators support the government's efforts to promote those methods?

The short answer is ideology and money. The nation's leading teachers' colleges and professional teachers' organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of English, hate phonics. Columbia University's Teachers College, to take one prominent example, doesn't have a single class in phonics instruction. In these precincts, "whole language" reading instruction, in which children ostensibly learn to read "naturally" by absorbing word clues from whole texts, is the politically correct pedagogy, even though its claims to success have no scientific backing. The educational establishment views President Bush, Reid Lyon, and all their works as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy to regiment America's children.

There's also tons of money at stake. If the idea of science-backed reading instruction takes hold in the nation's school districts, millions of dollars in fees currently paid to the ed schools for whole-language teacher training and curriculum development will vanish. Small wonder that Teachers College president Arthur Levine recently penned a furious op-ed denouncing NCLB's Reading First provision, after the Bush administration showed that it meant business and refused $39 million in funding for New York City's "balanced literacy" reading program (a euphemism for whole language) earlier this year".

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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