Saul Kaplan: Education Rant

“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire” W.B. Yeats

Excuse the rant but I am outraged by the state of the U.S. education system. We have let the pilot light go out and we are failing our youth. Particularly egregious is the way we are failing our urban youth.

We must refocus our national and regional innovation conversation on how to solve real world problems. Job number one is to design a better education system that lights a fire for every youth, creating lifelong passionate learners. It is time to move beyond public policy debates and institutional rugby scrums to try new solutions. What we are doing now isn’t working, and far too much of the federal stimulus investment in education is being spent to sustain the current system.

A report last year from the nonprofit network America’s Promise Alliance showed that 1.2 million students drop out of high school each year. Only about half of the students served by school systems in the nation’s 50 largest cities graduate from high school. The U.S. public education system, especially in the country’s urban centers, must be transformed.

Only about 40 percent of the U.S. adult population earns a college degree. That may have been fine in the 20th century when an industrial economy supplied good jobs to those without post-secondary education. It is not fine today when a college degree is a necessity for a good job.

Saul KaplanOur education system was built for the 20th century.

Everyone loves to point fingers at other players in the system as the cause of the problem. Observing our education system today is like watching an intense rugby scrum that is moving in slow motion hoping the ball will pop out. We have finger pointing and incessant public policy debates galore. We love to admire the problems: It’s the unions that are getting in the way. Teachers are resisting change in the classroom. Administrators don’t understand what is going on in the classroom. Parents are not engaged. Public policy makers can’t make up their minds. If only private sector companies were more engaged. Students are unruly, undisciplined and disrespectful. Everyone gets blamed and nothing changes.

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Saul Kaplan: Education Rant

David Adkisson: Nelson Mandela

My wife, Bonnie and I just returned from 10 days in South Africa which included our “Nelson Mandela Day” last Friday.  That day we visited the amazing Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, stood in Nelson Mandela’s house (now museum) in Soweto, visited Desmond Tutu’s house on the same street, took in an African restaurant for lunch in Soweto and the toured some of the adjacent neighborhoods. We also drove by and took pictures of the guarded compound in Jo-burg where he was spending his last days.

That evening, we went to see the opening of the movie “Mandela”  because we wanted to view it with a local South African audience.  It’s a powerful piece based on his autobiography and at several points during the movie, the audience laughed at things that were said in the movie – things that frankly passed over our heads.  The audience was of mixed race – white Afrikaners (who speak Afrikaans), black Africans, Indians and others.  There were a few mixed race couples – something that would have been a criminal offense just a few years ago.  The audience was predominately white, perhaps because the cinema was in an upscale urban shopping mall on the Nelson Mandela Square in Jo-burg.  The movie was very well received and the audience applauded at the end.

adkissonI had begun reading Mandela’s autobiography on the flight over.  Like many chapters in history, you read them and wonder in retrospect how much attention you paid to the major events at the time they were occurring. I remember protests in the mid-seventies on my university campus encouraging the university to divest itself of its endowment holdings in companies doing business in S. Africa.  I’m sure I read a few articles in Time magazine or the newspapers about the events unfolding across South Africa, but I’m embarrassed that I wasn’t more aware of the intensely racist system of apartheid that existed.

Mandela was truly a giant of the 20th century.  I feel fortunate that last week I caught a glimpse of his history and profound contributions to humanity while he was still alive.

David Adkisson is the CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ. I work for a New York state assemblyman who has consistent turnover of attractive female staffers in the office. I recently heard that one reason behind the turnover is that he has slept with more than one of them. At least he’s not married, I guess. Even though it’s not exactly ideal, do you think it is problematic enough that I should leave, or does it sort of come with the territory in politics?
—No name or initials, obviously, New York City 

Is this kind of thing more pervasive in politics than elsewhere? Perhaps; as Kissinger said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” But that doesn’t make it right. If he’s slept with multiple members of his staff who have then quit or been fired, then yes, this is problematic enough for you to leave.

Do people in supervisory positions occasionally fall in love with subordinates? Sure, and yes, it can be complicated. But if it’s happened multiple times and caused “consistent” turnover (your words), then it’s not a fairy tale connection between principal and aide. It’s a pattern, and one with which you should avoid any association, because politicians (or bosses in any field) whose offices have patterns remotely like this don’t typically have bright futures (see: Filner, Bob).

Q. I work in a charter school in New York City and believe in the mutually beneficial relationship between a public school and its community, though in the charter world that’s hard: We are often treated as outsiders and insurgents. Relatedly, I am very concerned with what happened in the mayoral campaign around charter schools. Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy, with a few other schools, held a rally and march across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was obvious from the media coverage and the way it was discussed internally that the intent was to warn one of the mayoral candidates that opposition to charter schools would be dangerous. My concern, shared by many of my colleagues, is whether such a protest is unethical—or even worse. The organizers seem to have made a point to keep the rally from [using] obvious campaign rhetoric, but it seems that a rally about an issue that has been a source of debate in the campaign, held during a general election period, is inescapably political in the way that bars public schools from participating. The twist, perhaps, is that charter employees are not government employees, unlike district schools’ staff. Our schools’ budgets rely on public funds, yet the workforce is made up of private individuals. The call to action was done during work time; thus, while we were being paid with public dollars, flyers sent home to parents were printed on a copier paid for with tax dollars. I’m curious what you think about both the legality and the ethics of such an action. 
—Concerned, New York CityThe narrow legal question is whether the protest organizers acted inappropriately. By using taxpayer resources to engage in political activity during work hours, the answer appears to be yes. (I am not a lawyer, and—for the uninitiated—I violated election law myself a decade ago.)

The broader question relates to this assertion: “[A] rally about an issue that has been a source of debate in the campaign, held during a general election period, is inescapably political in the way that bars public schools from participating.”

I completely disagree. Even if charter school employees were government employees, lots of public employees have interests that are “inescapably political” around which they organize during election season. Have you ever heard of AFGE (a union of federal government workers) or AFSCME (state and local government employees)? Their members don’t take vacations from political organizing because it’s election season. Quite to the contrary, election season finds them at their most active; elections focus the attention of voters, journalists and candidates, so timely activism is savvy. No one—unless their job specifically requires them to refrain from partisan political activity—should be precluded from participating in political activity during election time or any other time. And charter schools in particular—whose very existence hinges upon state law and local regulation—may find employee (and family) mobilization critical to their survival.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Lauren Hudson & Robert D. Hudson, “Our Best Tomorrow”

The Recovering Politician is proud to publish an EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT from an exciting and educational book written by Friend of RP Robert D. Hudson and his daughter Lauren Hudson, “Our Best Tomorrow: Students Teaching Capitalism to America.” Enjoy!


Click here to review & purchase

“Well, I was thinking that maybe we could make our software faster and more efficient by re-engineering…” Oh! Finally, you’re here. My name is Jacob but people call me Jake. “Okay guys, staff meeting dismissed. Go back to your daily business of coming up with the best ideas in the world!’’ I’m delighted you could at last come and enjoy the wonders my company has created for computers, gaming systems and smart phones.

How much money do I make? Well now, that is a difficult question to answer. Considering I designed the first software for my company, Kinetic Software, I usually do make a bit more than my workers here, but mainly, it depends on how many copies of the software we sell. Some years we do well and some years we don’t. If we don’t do well, I might not make anything!

How did I create this groundbreaking software? Well, when I was growing up, I was always interested in the way things worked. One of my earliest memories was sitting on the kitchen floor with an old phone and attempting to take it apart while my mother cooked me lunch.

My father would come home from his work as a dentist and watch me bang the phone on the floor and study it carefully. Pretty soon I figured out how to take it apart and put it back together. I can remember how excited I had been. I ran around screaming about my accomplishment.

“I got it! I got it, Mommy! I got it, Daddy! I got it, Sissy!’’ I yelled. My father walked over to me from the other room, scooped me up in his arms and swung me around. He had the broadest smile on his face, as if I had just won Olympic gold.

As I got older, I became interested in science fiction and how the world would work someday. I imagined computers and cell phones and space travel to other planets. I recall my sister, Annabeth, who was about 13, watching TV one day, when I came in, turned the TV off, and told her my latest idea. She called me a twerp, but I didn’t care.

“Go bother something else! Don’t touch the TV anymore, Jake!’’ she said in exasperation. With my head hanging low, I walked into my dad’s study. He had one of Apple’s first computers. When I saw that computer sitting on the dark mahogany desk, I knew what my next project would be. Little did I know that the project of trying to learn how this computer worked would lead to the some of the biggest accomplishments of my life.

It was only a matter of time before I had moved on to developing software to do my part to help change the world! You see, I love what I do, and I live in a country which gives me the freedom to do it. Yes, I work hard, but can you believe I get to make money doing something I love? All you need is passion and freedom – mix a little talent and hard work in there and you’ll have something special!

Capitalism Pointer – America’s Jobs Come From Capitalism

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EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Lauren Hudson & Robert D. Hudson, “Our Best Tomorrow”

Michael Steele: Why HBCUs are Hanging by a Thread

With so many of the civil rights battles behind us, and the satisfaction that comes from the success of African-Americans in business, politics, sports and entertainment, it is no surprise that the assault upon the integrity and historic purpose of our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) has been little noticed by mainstream media and, more sadly, the black community itself.

Not only do our HBCUs stand as a testament to the challenges that lie in the future but they are an important reminder of the proud history of African-American education in America and its unlimited potential.

Across America, HBCUs are giving African-Americans the tools and the knowledge they need to fully participate in our society, to build a solid economic foundation on which to raise their families and their businesses, and to become leaders of the future.

However, many of those tools had begun to be stripped away and much of that foundation began to crumble under the weight of neglect and institutional bias. Maryland HBCUs (Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore) were treated no differently.

In October 1999, the State of Maryland and the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), entered into a partnership for the purposes of improving the educational opportunities for African Americans in Maryland’s public institutions of higher education and of ensuring compliance with the state’s obligations under federal law.  The partnership agreement set forth the commitments that the state and OCR anticipated would bring Maryland into full compliance with its obligation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

446px-Michael_SteeleBut as the partnership agreement expired in December 2005, it was very clear that while the state had met the letter of the law under Title VI (and its agreement with OCR); embracing the spirit of such agreements would be another matter. In practice, Maryland’s HBCUs had to deal with the growing reality of “duplication of specialized programs” whereby certain resources (e.g. laboratories and libraries) or academic programs (e.g. MBA) were duplicated at predominantly white institutions, resulting in HBCU students having to go to those institutions to access them.

As Lt. Governor of Maryland, I became acutely aware of the failure of so many to do just a little to help our state’s HBCUs. But the supposed innocuousness of program duplication only masked the knife cutting away the ability to improve access to these fine institutions and to create opportunities for them to compete with the state’s majority white institutions.

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Michael Steele: Why HBCUs are Hanging by a Thread

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: NYC

About to take my daughter to walk through the campus at Columbia University.

I have never been and know little about the august Ivy League university.

I am tempted to brag to my daughter that had I applied to Columbia I probably wouldn’t have gotten in. Leaving open the possibility that I could have. Even though that isn’t really true. But it sounds better and is a basically honest description of my relationship to the University as a potential applicant 33 years ago.

In fact, I had a similar relationship with all other top tier universities but today we are focusing on Columbia.

When I think of Columbia University, I think of Mortimer Adler. What’s in a name, right? Well, if you wanted to make up a fictional character who was the public face of the study of philosophy in the second half of the 20th Century, Mortimer Adler would be a believable fictional name. But it was the actual name of the real person who largely played that role.

Adler got his doctorate from Columbia and was affiliated with the university in various ways for most of his professional life. He was one of the editors for Encyclopaedia Britannica and helped create the Great Books series and served as a life-long advocate for liberal arts education generally, the discipline of philosophy specifically, and the life of the mind for all citizens.

Some marginalized him as being more of a public personality for philosophy than a “real” philosopher himself. But what is philosophy anyway? Is it really primarily about who published what theory? Or is it more of promoting the questioning of every premise and answer in an effort to get closer to the truth –and the promoting of that discipline, a la Socrates and the Socratic method. On this latter measure, Mortimer Adler, was a great an influential philosopher of his time.

And by being exposed to him through his interviews and writings, Mortimer Adler encouraged me to pursue the study of philosophy in college and to be unafraid to think critically; and question assumptions and not be afraid of where those questions may lead.

So, as my daughter and I visit Columbia’s campus and try to snag a T-Shirt or sweat shirt bearing the school name, I’ll say a quiet thank you to Mortimer Adler for promoting the elusive but vitally important benefits of thinking for oneself. And for me being one of many millions of people Adler influenced to be, in their own imperfect and limited way, a philosopher in our modern world.

A modern world that sometimes seems to think it has advanced beyond the need for candid and robust philosophical analysis, but in fact is the lesser for such short-sighted biases.


Things I fear I might overhear while walking alone through Hell’s Kitchen area in NYC.

“Look over your shoulder. I think it is one of those clueless white male heterosexuals from middle America. I have never seen one before.

My Gosh. They look just like they do on television except shorter and pasty looking.”


jyb_musingsIn case you didn’t know this already (Or, Things I overheard today in the Broadway show section of NYC)

“The are basically two factions of people in the country right now.

There are those who love Matilda and hate Kinky Boots.

And there are those who love Kinky Boots and hate Matilda.

You have to figure out which group you are in.”

Said a young man who was working near the ticket counter and answering a question from two women trying to decide which ticket to buy.

I thought he was going to say the two groups are those who support ACA and those who oppose it. But I am from KY.

I haven’t researched enough to say confidently which group I belong to but I think it is probably Kinky Boots. I have never liked the name Matilda.


1381832_10153376142990515_2083337810_nHere’s the thing about people who wear T-shirts from elite universities they didn’t attend….

Yesterday I got to visit Columbia University. I wanted to tour the campus with my daughter and buy a T-shirt. The first thing you notice is that the actual students attending Columbia don’t wear T-shirts that say Columbia.

The first student I spoke to had a French accent and was wearing a pull-over shirt with a tiny French symbol I didn’t recognize (probably France’s equivalent of Polo that they think is superior to our Polo symbol but other people just roll their eyes at). We were lost and I asked him if he knew where Columbia University was located. He was obviously highly intelligent because he instantly grinned condescendingly and pointed directly across the street to a giant entrance gate with a huge university behind it. “There it is,” he said, “I am a student there.” I smiled (not condescendingly) and said, “Oh. Yeah. Thank you. I obviously wasn’t a student here.”

Once inside we walked across the campus and then began looking for a place to buy a Columbia T-shirt. I approached a distinguished looking woman and asked where the book store was located because I wanted to buy a Columbia University T-shirt. Adding, “You know, so people will think I attended Columbia,” I said facetiously.

She seemed taken aback and pointed to the building to my left and responded, “Try down there.”I have never bought a Columbia T-shirt but that’s because I only got a master’s degree here” as she pointed to the Journalism School we were standing just outside of.

I didn’t say anything but was thinking, “She must not have made very good grades if she is too ashamed to even get a Columbia T-shirt after she got a master’s degree at Colubmia. But that was her problem. I was undaunted. Mostly, I guess, because I made good grades in college and graduate school and figured if I had made really good grades at a really good high school and gotten involved in a whole lot of high school activities that impresses college admission’s officers and had a much higher SAT and ACT score, I could have gotten in Columbia University myself and may have done pretty well. So, for those reasons, I was completely comfortable with the idea of buying and wearing a Columbia T-shirt.

Just so you know I am not kidding myself, I would never buy or wear a T-shirt from MIT. I don’t think I could have made it there. I also would never buy a T-shirt from Duke University but not because I couldn’t have made it there under similar circumstances described above. But because students there are required to pretend they are superior to all other college students and I could never have pulled that off. While on the subject, I also would never buy a T-shirt from the University of Alabama. No particular reason. Just, why bother?

So, here’s the thing. When you were a T-shirt with the name of an elite university you didn’t attend no one really believes you actually went there. In fact, it’s a dang near certainty you didn’t. But that’s not why I wear them. I wear them because it gives the message that “I may not have gone to this university ….but if I had made really good grades at a really good high school and gotten involved in a whole lot of high school activities that impresses college admission’s officers and had a much higher SAT and ACT score, I could have gotten in Columbia University myself and may have done pretty well.”

And that is enough for me. And worth the $19.95

(Note: Later I will post a picture of me doing something smart looking, like thinking, in my new Columbia University T-shirt)


541893_10153377227235515_1556053886_nBeing in NYC means never having to wonder if you look normal.


I have now visited the campuses of both Harvard and Columbia.

And have the T-shirts to prove it.

On Harvard’s campus it is all about Harvard. You feel you have have walked into hallowed ground preserved for the chosen elite who have trouble relating to the rest of us. The experience is akin to scaling Mt Olympus. Only Harvard Yard lore is more actual than mythic.

Columbia’s campus. by contrast, feels like it is still all about NYC–but that you have wondered onto a chic and sophisticated suburb.

Columbia is a special place, of course. But not Mount Olympus sacred. More like Mount Olympuses artsy and eclectic cousin who moved to the city–where the action is and because they are more at home walking through gritty streets than idyllic yards.


Travel Trivia.

If you are on the 15th floor at a NY Hotel and the elevators are extremely slow and after you have been waiting patiently for over four minutes and a couple joins you at the elevators and they were the same couple that checked in before you last night and asked endless tedious questions about the room before finally checking in, and when the elevator door opens it is literally packed with people with room for only one or two more persons and the rude couple saunters in front of you and squeezes on the elevator leaving you to wait for the next elevator even though you were there first, by at least four minutes, and even pushed the elevator button, is that considered rude behavior?

Correct answer?

It is impossible to be rude while in New York.


For anyone who questions the line in the song New York, New York “I want to wake up in that city that never sleeps,” well, it is true.

New York City really doesn’t appear to ever sleep. I stayed up very late the last couple of nights to see for myself. Like staying awake to catch Santa and his reindeer on Christmas morning.

I never did catch St Nick or Rudolph or even see any elves for that matter….but I can confirm that NYC was still humming along last night (technically, this morning) into the wee hours.

And I thought I may have seen a elf couple and someone dressed like Santa Claus and at least three of what appeared to be glowing noses. I kinda hit the jackpot!

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My Little Big Idea

My big little idea. And the importance of mentoring–a dying art.

Several years ago Leadership Louisville and the Courier-Journal spearheaded a project to identify the 128 “Connectors” in our community. These are the people who are descri…bed as often the unsung heroes but also the glue in a community to help bring people and groups together and help get things done. They are energetic, trusted and enthusiastic and play an integral leadership role but aren’t necessarily in the most visible leadership position. And they exist in a variety of fields— profit and non-profits, commercial and public sector.

I was honored to be selected as one of these 128 “Connectors” (the concept came from Malcolm Gladwell’s breakthrough book Tipping Point).

The most important byproduct of this program was that it highlighted the idea of so-called connectors in our community as a role that is important and worth doing. I think in some small but important ways it “upped our city’s game” in this department. It inspired those identified connectors —and those who could or should have been on that list— to embrace this role that they play and to try to do it even better. It gave a name to this vague art and identified it as important and worthy of development.

The downside of this exercise is the “Now what?” conundrum. What do we do with this group now that they’ve been identified to improve the community. So that it doesn’t end up appearing to be little more than a high school senior superlative exercise. There was a study done and suggested, among other things, that connectors don’t necessarily work at their best with a group of other connectors. And so it was difficult to galvanize the group in some formal way…but it was a worthy project that was more than just a self-congratulatory yet probably didn’t leave as deep or as broad a legacy benefiting our community as its sponsors had originally hoped.

Which brings me to my big little idea.

Does Louisville have another group of individuals who are integral to our community’s growth and future but too often fly under the public radar and aren’t encouraged or thanked enough for the important role they play? And–here’s the pivotal question– if a similar project to the “Connectors” was established for them could leave a significant and lasting legacy?

I think the answer is yes! And I propose we have a project identifying and celebrating “Mentors” in our community. Those who take the time to show their younger eager counterparts the ropes and serve as role models and sounding boards and touchstones and are relied on for the sound sober guidance so critical when the stakes are high and emotions running higher.

jyb_musingsBy identifying and cultivating our city’s mentors everyone wins. We don’t value our wiser and more experienced elders enough in our world today–and it is to our detriment. And these mentor-types derive great personal satisfaction in giving back and helping facilitate new and better leaders for the future. But there is no formal mechanism to identify and encourage this practice. At least right now.

Louisville has a lot of great natural resources and is blessed with a central location and rich history. But perhaps our greatest resources is the fund of experiences so many accomplished people in our community have —and have in a host of different fields and professions. And our other great resource is we have some highly energetic, dynamic and ambitious young people who have more confidence than experience and more smarts than judgment. Their shortcomings begin where the untapped expertise of the mentors in our community begins.

Think of the underutilized mentors in our community as an internal brain drain we can’t blame on our sister states bleeding from us. We can only blame ourselves.

Wouldn’t it be great if we found a way to connect these two powerful but currently fragmented forces? I think so.

Artur Davis: Conservatives and the Fight Over the Common Core

I follow up my observations about the challenges conservative reformers face with some thoughts about how those issues are playing out in the debate over Common Core educational standards. Stanley Kurtz’s observations on the subject in National Review Online are a pretty fair articulation of the right’s grassroots based activism against the Core. To be sure, he gets lost in his share of rabbit holes—raising the Fifth Amendment-taking IRS bureaucrat Lois Lerner as a bogeyman is about as irrelevant as Arnie Duncan’s comparing opposition to the Core to worrying about black helicopters; and Kurtz’s specter of liberals imposing “fuzzy math” sounds loopy because it is—but he highlights the dilemma rank and file Republican politicians are running into. And his claims raise an important question right of center Republicans ought to be stressing over: is education reform about to become the next subject that Republicans are about to cede to the left?

To be sure, the Core is not the most inspiring kind of fight. Liberals who spent the last decade waging trench war against national accountability standards are playing a hypocritical game by suggesting that resistance to Washington driven reform is now the province of Luddites and primitives. There is no question that curriculum content is being artificially elevated to the point that it is drowning out elements that are far more decisive to student achievement, like the deteriorating quality of entry level teachers, the impediments against parents transferring their kids out of under-performing schools, and the institutional protections that make replacing inept teachers all but impossible in many districts. It is also far from clear that state by state variations in the Core’s focus of math and science teaching are as substantial as some advocates suggest.

But Kurtz and some of the Core’s sharpest critics go too far in their suggestion that education should not even be on the table as a national agenda item, and it’s worth remembering that they hardly represent the only conservative vision on educational policy. In fact, for most of the last decade, the right’s critique of No Child Left Behind was not that it overstepped some constitutional line but that the law wasn’t aggressive enough about incentivizing ideas like vouchers or charter schools. True, a number of conservatives questioned the heavy handedness of the Race to the Top fund; but for much of the first Obama term, the case was made with equal force that it imposed too weak rather than too strong a set of rewards for tenure reform or merit based pay for teachers.

davis_artur-11As sanguine as Kurtz is about the decision-making processes of local school boards and state legislatures, the local and state level have been venues where teacher unions have typically been far more effective than reformers in driving their cause. It’s an illusion that a locally driven debate is necessarily one that favors the interests of parents or accountability, and conservatives who think so should be discomfited by the ease with which the teacher unions mimic arguments about local control in their efforts to thwart the most rigorous goals within Race to the Top.

Until recently, the political right also seemed to enjoy a rough consensus that the values that underlay the effort to prod states and districts toward more demanding standards on education were conservative in nature. As much as today’s conservative libertarians denigrate George W. Bush’s forays into rewriting education law at the national level, those efforts deserve to be appreciated as a campaign to inject market driven notions of performance and results into education rather than some weak kneed effort to pander or out-promise Democrats.

To be sure, there are very few conservatives who don’t have a palpable suspicion of the federal government using the leverage of funding to compel states to do much of anything. And it’s not a revolutionary insight that reforms are most politically palatable on the right if they are linked to language and values that ordinary Republicans will embrace. Given those realities, Republican governors who are shortchanging populist initiatives like overhauling tenure and parental choice will probably find that they haven’t stored up enough capital with their base to take on fights like the Core.

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Artur Davis: Conservatives and the Fight Over the Common Core

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: L’il Latin

My daughter was studying for her Latin exam last night.

I tried to sound clever by telling her “Carpe Diem!” (Seize the day)

She smiled as I walked out of the room but then called me back in.

“Dad, do you know many Latin words?”

“Some. Why?”

“Tell me some of the Latin words you know” she asked in that way that suggested I wasn’t as proficient at Latin as I wanted her to think.

jyb_musings“Well,” I said, “let’s see….I know what, um, ‘carpe’ means. And ‘diem.’

Squinting incredulously at me, my daughter asked with amusement, “Anything else?”

After a long pause I said, “Hercules?” And pointed out that Julius Ceasar often spoke in Latin, especially when addressing Brutus.

At that point I told my daughter I would be in my office working if she needed any more help studying for her Latin exam.

She apparently didn’t need any help the rest of the night.

Artur Davis: Education and the Power of Choice

It is not news that affluent families extend their advantage of wealth and connections to the next generation in ways more tangible than trust funds: their kids invariably compile better grades and test scores, accomplish more in extracurricular and leadership activities, and win admission to better ranked colleges with the best rates of placing their alumni in well paying jobs.

A recent essay in the New York Times by a Stanford academic, Sean Reardon, (“No Rich Child Left Behind”) has won a lot of praise for its dissection of those trends and its collection of data showing that the gap between children born in affluent homes and their middle and lower income peers is growing. But Reardon’s analysis is also worth examining for a blind spot it reveals in the left’s critique of educational inequality: despite a laundry list of mostly proposals to grow government services, Reardon never mentions two words, vouchers and parental choice. Not even in passing, not even for the purpose of debunking them. It’s as if Reardon is wholly oblivious to the idea that what plagues many parents is not so much an absence of more social welfare, but a lack of capital to buy mobility into better educational options for their children.

And while Reardon captures the extent to which affluent parents are gaining an edge for their kids by pouring cash into extracurricular programs and by devoting more of their own time and knowledge to their child’s life after school hours, he oddly gives no consideration to the most vital thumb these parents place on the scale: they cut the check necessary to enroll their child in the most elite private school they can find, or they buy a home in a neighborhood with a track record of sustaining top flight schools.

davis_artur-11Reardon is perceptive in his suggestion that fixating on school quality can shortchange other decisive factors like parental involvement. But that insight does not challenge the obvious: parental support can still be undermined by weak or poorly run schools, and what the most engaged parents bring to the table can be augmented by schools that are exemplary. For those reasons, liberals and conservatives have spent a lot of energy attacking the problem of failing schools, with the right tending to focus on more accountability from teachers and principals, and the left embracing challenges to state funding formulas that disadvantage low income districts in various ways, typically by leaving them too dependent on inadequate local property tax bases.

To be sure, conservatives have sometimes been guilty of seeming more enthusiastic about reining in teachers unions than they are about the plight of under-served minority and low income youngsters. But most left-leaning critics are guilty of a blatant contradiction: they spend enormous energy worrying about the deficit between richer and poorer school districts while seeming unengaged in the even more prevalent reality that richer parents have a considerable edge in maneuvering the menu of school options.

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Artur Davis: Education and the Power of Choice

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