December 14, 2011
One size fits all education is failing our kids and shortchanging the nation’s future.
The numbers tell the story. Since No Child Left Behind, political squabbling has resulted in the delay of re-implementing the best parts of the program. As a result we are seeing even higher dropout rates.
How do we educate all our kids and nurture the best and brightest at the same time? Should we demand accountability from our schools and how can we measure success? If schools focus on ‘teaching to the test’ what happens to those gifted students?
Something has to give- be they from schools, teachers, government and school boards. The status quo will only leave us farther behind.
If an out-of-control national debt weren’t reason enough to worry about America’s global competitiveness, here’s another. Virtually all education reformers recognize that America’s ability to remain an economic superpower depends to a significant degree on the number and quality of engineers, scientists, and mathematicians graduating from our colleges and universities—scientific innovation has generated as much as half of all U.S. economic growth over the past half-century, on some accounts. But the number of graduates in these fields has declined steadily for the past several decades. A report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation concludes that “bachelor’s degrees in engineering granted to Americans peaked in 1985 and are now 23 percent below that level.” Further, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 6 percent of U.S. undergraduates currently major in engineering, compared with 12 percent in Europe and Israel and closer to 20 percent in Japan and South Korea. In another recent study, conducted by the Conference Board of Canada, the U.S. scored near the bottom relative to major European countries, Canada, and Japan in the percentage of college graduates obtaining degrees in science, math, computer science, and engineering. It’s likely no coincidence that the World Economic Forum now ranks the U.S. fifth among industrialized countries in global competitiveness, down from first place in 2008.
Making matters worse is mounting evidence that America’s best students—kids we’re counting on to become those engineers, scientists, and mathematicians—have had a drop-off in academic performance over the past decade. A recent Thomas B. Fordham Institute study finds that the country’s highest-performing students in the early grades are losing some of that advantage as they move through elementary school and into high school.
Ironically, one reason for their slipping performance is almost certainly the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, the most significant federal education-reform legislation of the past half-century. Partisan squabbling has stalled congressional reauthorization of NCLB for two years. But NCLB became law thanks to a rare bipartisan consensus that U.S. public schools were failing to turn out high school graduates who could flourish in a technology-based economy. Democrats and Republicans need to reunite and recognize that federal support for elite education—above all, in math and science—is essential for advancing America’s economic success.
No Child Left Behind was propelled by a moral imperative best expressed by President George W. Bush’s call to overcome the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” The new law’s “civil rights” component shaped some of its unique features, including holding states and school districts accountable for their success in narrowing racial achievement gaps. Before NCLB, the federal government had sought to achieve some degree of educational equity through the Title I compensatory funding program, which sent nearly $200 billion to the nation’s highest-poverty schools over four decades. Title I yielded meager results, however, and suffered from lack of accountability. With NCLB, the federal government took a new, interventionist approach to education reform, requiring states and school districts to meet certain goals and mandates in return for Title I funds. The states henceforth had to conduct annual tests in reading and math for all children in grades three through eight, with the results—broken down by race, sex, and socioeconomic status—made public.
Unfortunately, NCLB also left the door wide open to the corruption of educational standards. The law demanded that all American students be “proficient” in reading and math by 2014 and imposed increasingly onerous sanctions on districts and schools that failed to make adequate progress toward that goal—but then let each state set its own proficiency standard. To look good to the feds and the public, education authorities unsurprisingly lowered standards and found other ways to game the tests (see “Can New York Clean Up the Testing Mess?,” Spring 2010).
But NCLB’s accountability system led to another distortion, this one harming top students. Because the law emphasized mere “proficiency,” rewarding schools for getting their students to achieve that fairly low standard, teachers and administrators had an incentive to boost the test scores of their lowest-performing students but no incentive to improve instruction for their brightest. Robert Pondiscio, communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation and a former New York City Teaching Fellow, describes how the process worked at his South Bronx elementary school. “Eighty percent of the kids in my fifth-grade class were scoring at the two lowest levels on the state reading and math tests,” he recalls. (Each student in New York State receives a test score from 1 to 4, with 1 signifying performance far below grade level, 2 below grade level, 3 grade level, and 4 advanced.) “Early in my teaching career, an assistant principal told me that the kids in my class already scoring a 3 or 4 ‘are not your problem.’ In other words, my goal should be to move the kids scoring at the lower levels up a few points on the scale. I was not specifically ordered to do this, but the message was very clear. My job was to get more kids over the lowest two hurdles, because that’s how the school was rewarded for good performance in the city’s accountability system.”
As a result, Pondiscio says, the few gifted minority students in his class didn’t receive any extra attention—attention that could have given them a better chance to pass the rigorous test for admission to one of the city’s elite specialized science and math high schools. That’s especially sad when you learn that the percentage of black students passing the admissions test for top-ranked Stuyvesant High School has dropped steadily over the past decade. Last year, it fell below 1 percent…
December 14, 2011
When did the Boston Tea Party become the pivotal event we know today? Certainly not at the time or the following 50 years. The dumping of tea into the harbor was n act of defiance to be sure, but defiance against whom- the British or the local governing body? One local congressman referred to the act as one of petty crime and no more.
Some argue the events at Boston Harbor were primarily about commercial interests, a view that prevailed for a long time. Only later on did the meaning of those events take on a more ideological turn.
By many accounts the Boston Tea Party was about class warfare, the haves and have nots.
At the time, the event that took place in Boston on the night of December 16, 1773 was not called the “Tea Party.” For more than 50 years, if it was mentioned at all in print, it was usually as “the destruction of the tea.” Bostonians never celebrated it as they did their triumphs over other British measures. Patriot leaders cited the Indian disguises worn by some in the boarding parties in order to deny responsibility for the affair and claim it was the work of outsiders.
By mid-1774, after Britain closed the port as punishment and a British army once again occupied the town, it was hardly politic to claim credit for it. Nor, as rebellion turned to revolution, did it fit the pose patriots assumed as the victims of British aggression. In Paul Revere’s classic engraving of the Boston Massacre, a line of British soldiers fires on a group of hapless civilians at the command of their officer, and in the depiction of the Battle of Lexington the soldier James Pike carved on his powder horn, the men on one side of the iconic Liberty Tree are “Regulars, the Aggressors” and on the other side “Provincials Defending.” The carefully planned, disciplined action of a hundred and more men boarding three ships docked at Griffin’s Wharf, hoisting 342 heavy chests of tea out of the holds, hacking them open with axes, and dumping their contents into the harbor could hardly be portrayed as defense against aggression.
Since then, “owning” the Tea Party has been a political act. Partisans of today’s Tea Party movement have seized on it as a symbol of defiance of government, claiming the founders were united in opposition to taxation (with or without representation), government regulation, and spending. But Tea Party advocates seem indifferent to the original event. When Glenn Beck devoted an episode of his since-cancelled Fox News show to celebrating Samuel Adams, one of the Boston Tea Party organizers, he was mainly concerned with depicting Adams as a neglected Christian patriot. And when Sarah Palin spoke on the Boston Common in 2010, she had nothing at all to say about either the deliberations in Old South Meeting House that set the stage for the event or about the action itself at the waterfront.
The reluctance of today’s Tea Party to explore the history is not surprising given the thrust of recent historical scholarship on the resistance movements that led to the American Revolution. In the newly released Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America, Benjamin Carp demonstrates that the Tea Party and Boston’s revolutionary culture emerged in good part from the influence on elites of what conservative contemporaries dismissed as the “lowest ranks” of the people or “rabble.” And in The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America, Barbara Clark Smith, extends this argument about popular influence to the colonies as a whole. Moreover, she shows that a “Patriot coalition”—in contrast to the present-day Tea Party—sought “public power to counteract the coercions of the market.”
By any historical measure, the destruction of the tea was of major importance, the culmination of a near decade of resistance and the impetus for Parliament’s punitive acts, both catalysts of the movement that led to independence in 1776. It was an act of defiance, but defiance of whom, by whom, and to what end?
There have always been conflicting claims to the memory of the event. Throughout the nineteenth century, Boston’s Brahmins—the owners of ships, banks, and textile mills who appointed themselves keepers of the past—distanced themselves from the Revolution’s radical activism, especially after it was appropriated in the 1830s by nascent journeyman trade unions demanding a ten-hour working day and by radical abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips. To conservatives the event became “the so-called Boston Tea Party,” just as the five working-class victims of “the so-called Massacre” were “ruffians” who did not deserve the honor of a statue near the Common. In 1846 Nathaniel Currier, soon to join Currier & Ives, used the dignified name “The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor” for his popular lithograph, but to overcome viewers’ possible bewilderment about his portrayal of men in bizarre Indian garb destroying private property, he filled the foreground with hundreds of properly dressed Bostonians on Griffin’s Wharf, cheering them on.
At Boston’s centennial observance of the Tea Party in 1873, congressman Robert Winthrop condemned the event ‘as a mere act of violence.’
At Boston’s centennial observance of the event in 1873, Robert Winthrop, former congressman and longtime president of the Massachusetts Historical Society, condemned the Tea Party “as a mere act of violence.” He went so far as to suggest that the founders had no part in it: “We know not exactly . . . whether any of the patriot leaders of the day had a hand in the act.” And in 1876, amidst a new wave of labor agitation at the centennial of American Independence, he called for a renewal of “the spirit of subordination and obedience to law.” The same year at a celebration marking the last-minute rescue of Old South Meeting House from the wrecking ball, Winthrop shed no tears over the near loss of the building famed as the place where the Tea Party action began. But Phillips, by 1876 a labor radical, proposed that it be preserved as a “Mechanics Exchange,” referring to the name artisans had taken for themselves in the Revolutionary era. “It was the mechanics of Boston that threw the tea into the dock,” he proclaimed, and “held up the hands of Sam Adams,” sending him to Philadelphia and the Continental Congress. “The men that carried us through the Revolution were the mechanics of Boston,” he said. Phillips’s interpretation of the relationship of Samuel Adams to the mechanics ran counter to the view held by conservatives at the time of the Revolution and since then by historians of varied persuasions. Phillips defied the notion that the Revolution belonged exclusively to the founders, while working people did as they were told
He was ahead of his time. Early in the 1900s the progressive school of historians—including Charles Beard, Carl Becker, and J. Franklin Jameson—took issue with the prevailing view of the Revolution as essentially a struggle with Britain over constitutional matters, instead stressing the role of competing classes and economic interests. But for all their emphasis on internal change—in Becker’s aphorism it was not only a struggle for “home rule” but for “who shall rule at home”—the progressives for the most part were inattentive to popular movements. Arthur Schlesinger, Sr.—whose 1918 The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution Beard welcomed as “the most significant contribution that has ever made to the history of the American Revolution”—saw “merchants as a class” directing events, while mechanics, whose “brains were in their biceps,” were manipulated by the “propaganda” of Samuel Adams, “the deus ex machina” of the Revolution in Boston.
From the 1960s on, historians challenged such accounts in markedly different ways. Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood, disdainful of the explanatory power of propaganda, offered an “ideological” interpretation of the Revolution, which took for granted that the ideas disseminated by those on top were both instrumental and widely shared by those below. The “New Left” historians, Staughton Lynd and Jesse Lemisch best known among the first wave, took another approach. Inspired in part by the success of the English cultural Marxists George Rudé and E.P. Thompson in recovering “the crowd” in history, they explored the agency of American seamen, mechanics, and rural laboring classes in shaping the Revolution. Other scholars uncovered the active role of African Americans, women, and Native Americans.
The social historians’ concern with “politics from the bottom up” has unfortunately been lost in recent best-selling biographies celebrating the character of the founders. Still, Phillips’s comment about the mechanics who “held up the hands of” Samuel Adams remains and it goes to the heart of questions about the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution, questions rich with present-day implications: whose party was it? And who was leading whom?…
December 14, 2011
Before the scorched earth political reality we know today, Washington, DC was the mecca for horse trading, deal making, and IOU’s were traded like baseball cards. All this political dealing was done in back rooms and away from the cameras and media. The idea wasn’t to win or bury the other guy. The idea was to get things done, in a way that kept the game alive till the next round. Everybody got a little and gave a little.
There are more than a few politicians who want to bring those days back.
Hopefully, their constituents who have become accustomed to the blood sport can be made to feel the same way.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank founded four years ago by four former U.S Senate majority leaders, works to overcome political polarization.
Mississippi Republican Trent Lott recently recalled the Washington he moved to as a House aide in 1968: members of both parties would gather on Thursday evenings to play gin rummy, sip bourbon, and smoke cigars.“They knew each other,” he said. “They respected each other.”
Three decades later — when he and South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle traded Senate leadership as their parties traded majorities — each repeatedly would ask the other: “Is there a way we can get this done together?”
Senators were highly partisan and had deep philosophical disagreements, he said. “It was pretty tough, and it got ugly sometimes.” But enough senators were willing to compromise that it was possible to find common ground and legislate.
Now, he said, relations between Democrats and Republicans in Washington are “as bad as I’ve ever seen.”
Lott made the comments at a recent conference on “Taking the Poison out of Partisanship” sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank that tries to bridge the gap that Lott described.
Four former Senate majority leaders — Democrats Daschle and George Mitchell, and Republicans Bob Dole and Howard Baker — founded the center in 2007, when extreme partisanship was having “a corrosive effect on our ability to govern,” Baker said at the time. In launching the organization, Mitchell added that “we need to use the best ideas from right and left to address key issues.”
Since, the American political landscape has become even more polarized. A National Journal study of congressional votes in 2010 found that every Republican senator was more conservative than every Democrat, and just five House Republicans voted more liberally than the most conservative House Democrat. In some of the most important votes of 2009 and 2010, no Republican supported health-care reform or the economic stimulus package.
Meanwhile, the Bipartisan Policy Center has attracted support from across the political spectrum. Lott is a senior fellow, as are three other GOP former members of Congress (Utah’s Robert Bennett, New Mexico’s Pete Domenici, and Tennessee’s Bill Frist), two Democrats (North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan and former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman), and retired Marine Corps general James L. Jones. Three Democrats and three Republicans sit on its advisory council of former governors. Its board of directors includes Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy program, and John Rowe, chairman and CEO of the Exelon Corp., one of the country’s largest power companies.
Financial support comes from 16 foundations, three dozen corporations, and a dozen individual philanthropists. Starting with a staff of six, it has grown to a staff of 60 with a $19 million annual budget.
Putting together panels of experts and former government officials, the organization churns out policy papers on issues ranging from housing to national security to climate change, and it promotes them on Capitol Hill. The organization grew out of the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group of experts from government and the private sector.
Cavanagh said he originally joined the energy panel because he was attracted to the idea that “you could have a vividly diverse group and you could get at least a partial consensus that would help unstick a quagmire in Washington.”
He gets mixed reactions from other environmentalists because of the compromises needed to reach bipartisan agreements. “Sometimes, imperfect packages are assembled in efforts to find a common solution,” he explained. “This at times results in recommendations that important environmental constituencies do not agree with.”
Prominent panelists generate media interest in the reports. A debt-reduction study — led by former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, a Republican, and Democrat Alice Rivlin, who was the White House budget director in the first Clinton administration — drew attention for its bold and comprehensive nature. Their proposals included raising taxes and cutting popular spending programs and tax deductions.
The debt-reduction panel epitomized the center’s approach. A diverse group convenes, makes compromises, and produces proposals with something for everyone to like — and hate. “Not every member agrees with every element of this plan,” the panel warned at the front of its report. But they had proved that “at this time of political uncertainty, a bipartisan group can craft a comprehensive and viable blueprint to tackle the nation’s most serious economic challenges.”…