Monday, June 08, 2009

The Inevitability of Parental Choice

A year ago, the nation's largest newspaper wrote in an editorial that it was time to "move beyond vouchers" in the debate over America's educational future. Although it did not reject any particular solution outright, the paper's recommendation at the time was that America focus its energy and attention on less controversial education reforms. In other words, it was a victory for those who have spent years – and expended untold taxpayer resources – in an effort to demonize parental choice and its supporters.

Then, two weeks ago, USA Today suddenly changed its tune. Not only did the paper enthusiastically embrace parental choice – it also roundly criticized our nation's teachers' unions for "protecting failing schools." "Twenty million low-income school kids need a chance to succeed," the USA Today editorial board wrote. "School choice is the most effective way to give it to them."

What caused the turnaround? While there's certainly no shortage of reasons, the initial impetus for the shift appears to stem from President Barack Obama's rank hypocrisy in closing an effective parental choice program in Washington D.C. to new applicants.

"Teacher unions, fearing loss of jobs, have pushed most Democrats to oppose vouchers and other options that invite competition for public schools," the USA Today editorial board wrote. "Put another way, they oppose giving poor parents the same choice that the president himself — along with his chief of staff and some 35% of Democrats in Congress — have made in sending their children to private schools."

Of course, it's not just about failing schools and low-income students. It's about giving all parents a choice in their child's academic future, no matter where they live. With each passing day, the mountain of evidence attesting to the futility of our nation's failed status quo grows higher. Correspondingly, in those rare instances where choice has been permitted to take root and flourish, its success is undeniable.

According to the most recent data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), America's per pupil expenditure on public education is the highest of any industrialized nation in the world. Unfortunately, we are not receiving anywhere near a commensurate return on our investment. On the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, American students scored well below the average of other industrialized nations on both the math and science portions of the exam – just as they did the last time the tests were administered. And the time before that.

And in a telling nod to the sort of institutional incompetence that has long plagued our public system, America's reading scores on the most recent PISA exam had to be thrown out due to a printing error by the company that the U.S. Department of Education hired to administer the tests.

But our crisis is much bigger than poor standardized test results and bureaucratic errors. Over 12,000 schools across America currently rate as failing or below average – with hundreds of thousands of children trapped inside of them. Of course, each year when organizations like "Teach for America" try to place talented, highly-motivated college graduates in teaching positions within higher-risk school districts, their efforts are always rebuffed by the unions.

Each year, the purveyors of this country's education monopoly continue failing children at a record clip – and yet in a perfect example of precisely what's wrong with our system, they are rewarded for their poor performance with additional taxpayer resources. In fact, according to President Obama's plan – the more children you fail, the more money you get. This self-perpetuating cycle serves no one. It doesn't serve our children, it doesn't serve their parents, and it doesn't serve the best interests of our country.

Nor are we well-served by pretending that our "average" public schools are meeting the needs of most middle income children. In an increasingly competitive global economy, we cannot afford to maintain a failed status quo on one hand and mediocrity on the other.

USA Today's acknowledgment of this fact – and its support for parental choice – is yet another example of the inevitable march toward a system of education that promotes true academic achievement, a system built around a competitive, parent-driven marketplace where schools are held accountable for their performance.


Women are soaring ahead of men at British universities

Women are trouncing men in British higher education, according to a new study which has found that they are more likely to go to university, do far better once they get there and win higher- quality jobs as a result. More than 49% of women now go to university, meaning they have almost reached Tony Blair’s target that half of all young people should do so. Men lag far behind, with just 37.8% studying for degrees.

The researchers at the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found that the gap between women and men is widening most quickly among the most disadvantaged social classes. They argue that the gap in performance is exacerbated by school exams, particularly GCSEs, which heavily favour girls.

They warn that plunging male performance risks creating an excluded generation of men, particularly among the working class. “The under-performance of males matters: graduates after all tend to form the elites of society,” said Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the institute and an adviser to the Commons universities select committee.

The number of women going to university overtook men in 1992-3 and they now outnumber male undergraduates in every type of university except Oxford and Cambridge, where the numbers are about equal.

The Hepi study shows they secure better degrees than men, with 63.9% achieving first or upper second class results, against 59.9% of men. They are also less likely to drop out of courses and less likely to be unemployed.


Stanford Professor Beinin's Hatred of Israel

by Cinnamon Stillwell

Stanford Middle East history professor Joel Beinin's appearances on the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center (PPJC) Palo Alto cable television program "Other Voices" reliably produce anti-American, anti-Israel invective. In September 2008, Beinin declared, "The American empire is going down," and during a taping for the February 2009 show, "Gaza and the Future," he pronounced, "The United States aids and abets Israeli war crimes." What Beinin labeled Israeli "war crimes" (i.e. defending its citizenry) and U.S. collusion therewith were central to his discussion, as the show aired soon after Israel's military incursion into Gaza in December 2008.

One might have thought Obama's election would make Beinin optimistic about the prospects for weakening U.S. support for Israel, but his mood was decidedly downbeat. Obama, Beinin predicted, would "act like all America presidents" by "pushing U.S. interests with foreign policy." (What country doesn't pursue its own interests with foreign policy?) But, Beinin allowed, if Obama were to simply issue a "statement" telling Israel "it's committing war crimes," "going against U.N resolutions," and that "the U.S. will no longer sell Israel weapons," "the Israel Lobby and AIPAC would crumble." The crowd of mostly aging hippies murmured in agreement.

Jimmy Carter, the most rabidly anti-Israel U.S. president and author of the widely criticized book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, was the only American leader Beinin praised. Beinin lauded Carter as a "deeply religious man" but, he qualified with a chuckle, "in a good way." Apparently, he only sees the minority of practicing Christians who toe the anti-Israel line as palatable.

In a case of tortured logic, Beinin blamed Israel for making "Hamas and Hezbollah…heroes in the Arab world" with its defensive military actions. "It's almost as if Israel was trying to make Hamas appear to represent the Palestinian cause," Beinin continued—apparently forgetting that Gazans elected Hamas by a landslide—and then quipped, "not to get conspiratorial or anything."

Beinin proceeded to do exactly that by echoing many of his peers in the perennially anti-Israel field of Middle East studies with the statement: The Gaza operation was premeditated. It had nothing to do with rockets, terrorism, or anything the Israeli government claims.

Regarding Hamas's deliberate use of civilians as human shields and civilian buildings as targets, Beinin made the equally preposterous statement: Of course Hamas hides among civilians. Gaza's a very small, densely populated place. Where else are they going to hide?

Similarly, on the advisability of either Israel or the U.S. negotiating with Iran and Syria, Beinin made the axiomatic statement that, "You have to talk with the people you're trying to negotiate with."

On the prospects for a two-state solution, Beinin claimed that "successive Israeli administrations have done everything to prevent it from happening: The settlements, the wall, the roads." There was no word on the role of Palestinian violence toward Israelis in the failure of the "peace process," which, he allowed, was "effectively dead."

Beinin also avoided focusing on internecine battles among Palestinian factions, either in the Middle East or in the U.S. When an audience member asked him about a highly circulated video produced by Minnesotans Against Terrorism depicting a pro-Palestinian rally at the state capital in St. Paul that descended into a pitched battle between Fatah and Hamas supporters, Beinin was clueless. (The rally featured the first Muslim congressman, Minnesota's Keith Ellison, being shouted down by followers of Hamas, apparently for not being radical enough.) Seemingly unaware that Minnesota is a center for Islamist activity, Beinin was surprised that a story from that state could have any significance and brushed the question off.

Beinin's actions since this interview have amplified his anti-Israel credentials. Although Middle East studies academia has largely avoided Israel Apartheid Week since its inception in 2005, Beinin took part this year, with a talk at the University of California, Berkeley on March 5th. So too did University of Massachusetts Boston political science assistant professor Leila Farsakh, who spoke at York University the same day. Beinin's participation in this propagandistic and offensive week of Israel-bashing further affirms his lack of objectivity on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Although Beinin's audience at the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center likely consists of like-minded viewers, his students are another matter. They should treat most of what he says with the skepticism one reserves when listening to ideologues.


No comments: