Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reform for me but not for thee

Catalyst Chicago doesn't always pick fights with city school reformers, so it's especially interesting when they do. This story by John Myers appeared in December:
Chicago Public Schools is closing in on its goal of opening 100 new schools under Renaissance 2010, but almost half of the communities identified as most in need of high-performing schools have yet to get them.
No surprises here. Some of the same communities, mostly South Side and mostly black, that were shortchanged by the old educational order are being shortchanged by the new one: East Garfield Park, Near South Side, Riverdale, Roseland, South Chicago, South Shore, Washington Park, West Elsdon, West Lawn, and West Pullman.


Paul Botts said...

Sort of related, I was startled by the core point of Garrison Keillor's syndicated column yesterday (startled because at least a half-dozen times in the last year my bluest-of-blue-stater friends and family members have spoken glowingly of his columnwriting as "someone speaking for us"). Here's what Keillor wrote yesterday:

"Reading is the key to everything. Teaching children to read is a fundamental moral obligation of the society. That 27 percent are at serious risk of crippling illiteracy is an outrageous scandal.

This is a bleak picture for an old Democrat. Face it, the schools are not run by Republican oligarchs in top hats and spats, but by perfectly nice, caring, sharing people, with a smattering of yoga/raga/tofu/mojo/mantra folks like my old confreres. Nice people are failing these kids, but when they are called on it, they get very huffy. When the grand pooh-bah PhDs of education stand up and blow, they speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results, the bums ought to be thrown out.

There is much evidence that teaching phonics really works, especially with kids with learning disabilities, a growing constituency. But because phonics is associated with behaviorism and with conservatives, and because the Current Occupant has spoken on the subject, my fellow liberals are opposed.

Liberal dogma says that each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to. This was true of my grandson; it is demonstrably not true of many kids, including my sandy-haired, gap-toothed daughter.

The No Child Left Behind initiative has plenty of flaws, but the Democrats who are trashing it should take another look at the Reading First program. It is morally disgusting if Democrats throw out Republican programs that are good for children. Life is not a scrimmage.

Lord, I beg you to send angels to watch over 4th graders who are struggling to read, because the righteous among us are not doing the job."

Harold said...

Thanks, Paul. Garrison's speaking for me on this one! The political equation between phonics and conservatism never made any sense, but when I wrote a book about a phonics textbook publisher, it got a nice review in the Wall Street Journal -- presumably because it's thought to be a right-wing cause.

prb said...

Well yea, I actually had no idea until reading Keillor's column that using phonics to teach reading was considered to a politically-conservative approach. No idea offhand why that would be, but I stopped caring about such distinctions long ago -- Keillor's broader moral point is what resonated with me.

And from my own present work I can add a bit more to his narrow point about No Child Left Behind. I am quite involved these days in efforts to increase/improve arts education in this country, and it turns out that for this issue Bush's NCLB laws both in Texas and federally represented huge positive landmarks: the first time for both of those jurisdictions that the arts was declared to be an essential subject which public schools had to include in the core graduation requirements. And at least in Texas that fact has been used successfully by arts ed advocates to force real change in state and local school curricula and budgets. Could've knocked me over with a feather the first time I heard a career arts-ed advocate, folks who I confident in predicting have never voted for a Republican in their lives, say that.