Monday, August 01, 2005


Jude also says the world of his parents offered things that the world of today's parents of MPS students lacks - strong parenting setting good standards for kids, to name one. And he now believes, at age 58, something he never would have expected when he started as a math teacher in 1973: Things have gotten worse during his career. A few of Jude's thoughts as he departs:

* "Did my parents give me basic tools (for succeeding in school)? No, because they didn't have them themselves. But what they did have was respect, discipline and courtesy."

* Show up and show up on time. Both in his years in the MPS central office and in its high schools, Jude made a priority of fighting truancy and - something he considered just as serious - tardiness. He says parents and MPS don't do enough in dealing with these. "There are two major things that businesses are complaining about (related to the high school graduates). Tardiness and attendance. They go together into attitude and relationships. (Business executives say) if a kid comes in here punctually and they have a pleasant attitude, we can train them. But I can't train them if they're not on time or they're arguing with every supervisor and co-worker they come into contact with. . . . "Once a student is punctual and in school, a lot of other problems begin to disappear." Jude said MPS policy since the late 1980s has barred principals from taking strong stands against tardiness.

* Working in an MPS high school, 2005 vs. 1973: "First of all, there's far less respect in high schools now, meaning the adults in high schools in 2005 are not the same as the adults of 1973. The adults in 2005 are not taking charge for all kinds of reasons, staff members as well as non-staff members. The red tape that is not only established locally but statewide or nationally . . . causes some restraint, especially for those of us who don't have the courage to step out there and do things because it's the best for kids or right for kids. " . . . The other difference has to do with the expectations of schools these days, whether it's in curriculum, whether it's in discipline, whether it's in other areas. " . . . The adults are no longer the real authority. The authority now is shared by many and sometimes the authority that is the closest to the problem is the one that is second-guessed the most."

* The 80-20 rule - there's only so much schools can do to offset what happens in kids' lives outside of school. "Too many expect the schools to solve the problems when we only have the kids a maximum of 15, 16 percent of the time. . . . Even with extracurricular activities thrown in, few kids spend more than 20 percent of their time in school. That percent will destroy the 20. The 20 cannot carry the 80 unless something productive is happening in that 80 percent. " . . . You show me a youngster who is being successful in school, I'll show you a household where someone is spending time with that youngster."

* The state of MPS as a whole: "The elementary schools are moving in the right direction, and they're making progress. I'm not sure we'll be able to sustain it unless we focus in on the group between grade 3 and 8. . . . We begin to lose as they go forward because we're not paying close enough attention to the building blocks that need to be developed further - vocabulary, math skills, to really home in on them. "Oftentimes, high schools are blamed for not preparing youngsters. But right now, even as late as this past year, we know that in many of our high schools we have kids come in reading at Grade 6. Well, our high school curriculum is designed for Grade 9, so we have a gap there. So we try to figure out, how do we fill that gap and at the same time keep the kid on the high school curriculum that is to prepare him to compete with others when he leaves high school? That becomes a real challenge. " . . . What happens in the first 14 years - or what does not happen - cannot be made up in the (next) four years."

* You can do a good paint job that makes a poorly performing car look good, but it's still a poorly performing car. That's true too often of MPS diplomas. For kids to get to graduation, they sometimes take courses that aren't as demanding as what should be expected. Graduation comes, "but it's at the expense of content." The student goes to college and finds other kids are way ahead. Jude's response: "You were doing the A section of the book while they were doing the B and C sections. You covered a lot of material but it was very shallow. They covered a lot of material but it was in depth."

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Student test scores rose in New York City this year-and in some classrooms and schools, kids made truly significant gains. Consider Region Five, a poor district of eastern Brooklyn and Queens. As Julia Levy reported in the New York Sun, the district was an "educational wasteland for decades," with two-thirds of students failing at everything. But this year, the district's elementary- and middle-school students pulled off testing gains of 17 percentage points in English and ten percentage points in math, outpacing the city's average gains in both areas. At P.S. and I.S. 41 in the district, 48 percent of fifth-graders met reading standards this year, up from 32 percent last year, while 37 percent of the seventh-graders did okay or well this year, more than double last year's figure. It's no mystery why scores are going up: a gifted, determined manager who motivated teachers to succeed. The district's leader, Kathleen Cashin, established clear expectations for principals and teachers, and pushed the schools in the district to meet them. P.S./I.S. 41 principal Myron Rock enthuses that his teachers worked evenings, Saturdays, and vacations to push students....

But without the introduction of merit-based pay, new money won't do much to build upon this year's rising scores, as a recent study, conducted by Harvard economics prof Caroline Hoxby and Andrew Leigh of the National Bureau of Economic Research, makes clear. The study examined worker aptitude (native smarts, basically) as it related to worker pay. In most professions, the best workers usually get the top pay-a situation that once held in teaching, before the unions arrived on the scene and began to mandate lockstep salaries. Hoxby and Leigh found that smart women (the study looked only at females), frustrated by the absence of reward for ability in the public schools, have looked elsewhere for more rewarding career paths, as you'd expect.

Forty years ago, as unions were just gaining control in public schools, Hoxby and Leigh report, 16 percent of American female teachers were of low aptitude in relation to other college grads (determined by mean SAT scores at their respective universities). By 2000, 36 percent of women teachers were of low aptitude. In 1963, 5 percent of women teachers came from the highest-aptitude group; by 2000, that figure had plummeted to 1 percent. The main reason for this startling decline in teacher quality, Hoxby and Leigh conclude, is the elimination of financial rewards for talent. Back in 1963, the smartest teachers earned more than average teachers, while the lowest-aptitude teachers earned less; by 2000, all teachers earned about the same for the same level of experience, regardless of talent.

If New York wants to attract and keep the best teachers, then, the solution isn't to increase teacher pay across the board. That might draw more people to teaching, but not necessarily smarter or harder-working people. Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein should instead seek to structure financial incentives to reward teachers like those who did so well at P.S. 41....

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Don’t Fund College Follies

It is easy to give money foolishly to colleges and very hard to give it wisely. But at a handful of schools, enlightened alumni not only have learned how to avoid misguided benevolence but are also figuring out how to re-introduce serious scholarship to their campuses. Their initiatives are doing what presidents and trustees have failed to do: break the Left’s illiberal stranglehold on their institutions’ intellectual life and restore true academic freedom to campus....

Though at first glance, the prospects that trustees and alumni donors can recall the universities from their descent into narcissistic know-nothingism look grim, donors nevertheless have two possible levers for change. One is as yet unused, but the other is already exerting effective pressure.

Unused is the power that trustees could wield—if they had the courage to do so. All boards have academic committees, meant to advise the president on academic matters, and university bylaws usually vest final say over hiring in the trustees. Nothing prevents trustees from actually reading the course catalog; doing so would be eye-opening. While no trustee today would dare to challenge an appointment, there is no reason that boards can’t start conversations with provosts about why, for example, their colleges no longer offer courses in American revolutionary history. They might also ask why their colleges require each student to take a “diversity” offering rather than an overview of European and American history, or why English departments offer far more courses in theory and “underrepresented” voices than in the greats of English literature. Asking questions is no violation of academic freedom, though professors and administrators will doubtless complain that it is.

Trustees could also hire presidents who understand the value of a liberal education and are committed to improving the curriculum. Unlike the Harvard Corporation, they should then back up their choices unequivocally. Liberal education, they should explain, has nothing to do with the party affiliations of professors. Rather, it means a willingness to engage the legacy of the past with seriousness, rather than condescension, and to understand the achievements of Western civilization—science, prosperity, freedom, and artistic marvels—rather than only moan over its failings. Will the faculty howl? Sure, but that does not mean that their “academic freedom” has been violated.

For now, though, the alumni are the most likely agents for change. A few savvy alumni entrepreneurs are already creating a blueprint for breaking the monopoly of the academic Left and bringing traditional scholarship and intellectual diversity back to campus. The model is as follows: find a tenured professor committed to classical learning. Give him resources to expand his jurisdiction by bringing in new faculty or offering new courses. A tenured prof, it turns out, often has leeway to recruit faculty on a temporary basis and to set them to teaching—as long as the prof is highly respected and has his own pot of money independent of the university budget, and as long as he, not the donor, is the actual and the perceived force behind the new program.

The James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton is the flagship of all such cartel busters, a conservative version of the left-wing research institutes, like the Radcliffe Institute, that have proliferated on campuses in recent years. Directed by the charismatic Robert George and funded entirely by foundation and alumni money, the program focuses on constitutional law and political thought. George selects six fellows a year to come from other campuses to pursue research in such topics as the nature of free institutions, to offer public lectures, and to supervise student writing projects. Sometimes a fellow may teach a preexisting undergraduate course that has lain fallow in the catalog for years, or he may devise a new course and offer it on a one-time basis, subject to the approval of the chairman of the politics department, where the Madison Program is housed.

The program, which has attracted an enthusiastic student following, has altered the political debate on campus. No longer can a speaker at a conference assume that everyone in the audience shares the view that America is the world’s prime source of evil; some of George’s fellows may be there and will ask uncomfortable questions. Students interested in American ideals now have a body of thinkers they can draw on to expand their knowledge and encourage them, and they have a mutually reinforcing peer group sharing their generally conservative worldview.

In a similar vein is the Political Theory Project at Brown, also under the complete control of an energetic professor and backed by a strong-minded alumnus. Political theory professor John Tomasi, a free-market libertarian, had watched in frustration as the political assumptions on campus and in the curriculum narrowed and ossified. He had his own scars from that close-minded culture. When he had dared to question Brown’s minorities-only freshman-orientation program, a powerful tool for indoctrinating students into the reigning anti-white, anti-capitalist orthodoxies, Brown’s diversity police launched a hate campaign against him, he recounts. His colleagues wrote letters to the campus newspapers denouncing his “insensitivity”; anonymous diversity commissars made harassing late-night calls to his family; “anti-hate” activists hung his picture, with the label “racist,” throughout campus; and vandals smeared slurs on his car.

Alumnus Curtin Winsor, President Reagan’s ambassador to Costa Rica, had seen the results of Brown’s doctrinaire left-wing culture up close. His daughters, in collecting their Brown degrees, had also picked up a set of political assumptions that he found “distressing.” “I’m still trying to detox them,” he says. “They look at the world from a socialist perspective, which is alien to their upbringing.”

Tomasi’s and Winsor’s benevolent revenge? Introducing free-market thinking to Brown freshmen. With financing from Winsor, Tomasi created the Political Theory Project, an umbrella for courses and student discussion groups in liberty and democratic values. The project brings in five ideologically diverse postdoctoral fel-lows from other universities to teach freshman seminars—a task that most of Brown’s own faculty regard as beneath them. The fellows, who stay at Brown for two years, create their own courses, based on their scholarly interests. The result: ten new courses a year in perspectives that Brown would otherwise lack.

Tomasi plays to the typical Brown student’s desire for the avant-garde. “I tell freshmen that if they want radical funky ideas, here are some new courses, such as in de Tocqueville, Locke, or the philosophical ideas of the American Founding. Students are not getting these books anywhere; they just get critiques of free-market politics and the canon. The classics are so untaught that they become trendy.” Tomasi wants to create undergraduates who’ve read different books from the faculty. “After a whole semester of Hayek, it’s hard to shake them off that perspective over the next four years,” he says slyly.....

The secrecy in which reformers are working is the clearest proof of how desperately academe needs change. At one Ivy League school, a government professor hoping to replicate Princeton’s Madison Program begged me to keep his college’s identity blank, “as this is something the feminists will try to quash as soon as they hear of it.” Alumni and a professor at another Ivy League college want to create an institute for researching the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Battle of the Ancients and Moderns. The institute will be a home for people who want to do non-political scholarship without being subject to discrimination, a donor explained. He might as well have been trying to set up a center for making anthrax. “We are reaching a crucial stage,” he said, in requesting anonymity, “and it will be extremely important that nothing be done that would mobilize the campus left in opposition.”

The challenges to re-introducing liberal scholarship are considerable. If the key to creating a Madison-type program is to find a tenured scholar in place who can run it, few are the colleges that still have such traditional thinkers—and fewer still that have anyone with the star power and organizing skills of a Robert George. A philanthropist looked into starting an Alexander Hamilton institute at what was once the premier American history faculty in the country, for example, and quickly concluded that there was no one left in the department who would champion such a program.

Yet the prospects for change have never been more auspicious. Activist David Horowitz’s nationwide academic-freedom campaign, complete with an Academic Bill of Rights, has provided the perfect entree for alumni who seek to better their colleges’ education (see “On Campus, Conservatives Talk Back,” Winter 2005). Presidents are starting to get nervous that their campuses may be the next to be blasted by Horowitz’s bullhorn. The Center for Freedom and Western Civilization at Colgate University, established in 2003 by political scientist Robert Kraynak and funded by Colgate alumni, announces boldly on its website that it “seeks to challenge the prevailing [campus] conformity by presenting a ‘conservative voice’ and a genuine exchange of ideas.” Why this unusual honesty? Colgate president and feminist theologian Rebecca Chopp asked the center to designate itself as “conservative” to demonstrate Colgate’s intellectual diversity, according to the NAS’s Stephen Balch, writing in the June Philanthropy.

The Ward Churchill affair at the University of Colorado at Boulder has also started administrators worrying about whether their own campus radicals may blow up and expose their left-wing ravings to all the world. Desperately trying to recover after the press unearthed Professor Churchill’s comparison of the 9/11 victims to “little Eichmanns,” Boulder can look to its new Center for Western Civilization as a needed counterweight. (The center was also a beneficiary of Horowitz’s agitation.)

Would-be alumni entrepreneurs should seize the moment. The model for starting a revolution has already been forged: fund professors already in place. If you can’t find anyone committed to liberal education at your own university, send your money instead to places that are more open to traditional scholarship. The National Association of Scholars and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni have databases of worthy candidates. If your alma mater sees that it is losing philanthropic dollars to institutions that support the traditional liberal arts, it may figure out a way to win back your donations. (Even universities with billion-dollar endowments hate to forgo significant alumni grants: in the 1980s, Harvard Law School alumni, angry over the Critical Legal Studies faction’s lock on tenure decisions, stopped giving money. The left-wing tyranny ended within a year.) Never give to a college’s general-support budget; it is money down the drain.

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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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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