John Walker Lindh was a dream chaser on a spiritual journey, says an Associated Press story.

John Walker Lindh took a journey, first in spirit, then in the physical world, that will keep him behind bars for what's left of his youth. 

He was a dream chaser from an early age. When he liked hip-hop in his early teens, he collected 200 albums. When he turned to Islam, he was transformed and went abroad, alone, to soak himself in the faith. All before age 18. 

I particularly object to descriptions of Lindh as smart, introspective, studious, spiritual, etc. If he'd been smart, he'd have known better than to go to a terrorist training camp. If he'd been introspective, he'd have realized his flight to an extreme and violent form of Islam was motivated not by spirituality but by personal problems. Dad turns out to be gay and Johnny runs off to a regime that considers homosexuality a capital crime. How much brains and introspection does it take to figure that out? Studious? He was a dabbler.

When the guilty plea came down, Bill Jones, a friend of Lindh's father, recoiled. 

"I had a chill right down the middle of my stomach," he said. "His only guilt as far as I'm concerned is that he became a fundamentalist Muslim." 

No, Mr. Jones. Tali-boy's guilt is that he aided and abetted — to the best of his very limited ability — a gang of terrorists who'd killed Americans before Sept. 11 and vowed to do it again.

Lindh will pay a high price for his stupidity: 20 years in prison. I predict he'll switch religions again. Why? Because he's the kind of pathetic weakling who needs God or Allah or Wotan to tell him what to think, and I don't think the prison Muslims will take to a white boy from Marin with a purer-than-thou attitude. Also, that type tends to be fickle. Hip hop to Allah, Allah to...Hitler, probably. But that's too prison-trendy, so he might go for Jesus or Dr. Laura.

Union vs. charters

"Union Hits Independent Public Schools, Calls for Regulating Charters." Not news, is it? Instead, Newsweek called the American Federation of Teachers' hit on charters a report card.

While some distinctive new schools have been established, the report concludes that too often, charters haven¹t lived up to their end of the bargain. On average, charters (especially the for-profits) spend more on administration and less on instruction than local public schools. Student performance is usually no better, and often worse. Charters are more homogeneous in race and class than their comparative school district. The study found that few charters are doing anything truly innovative, and too many are permitted to opt out of public comparisons of their students¹ test results.

Newsweek doesn't mention that most charter schools aren't unionized. My upcoming book, "Start-Up High," is on a charter school that targets underachieving Hispanic students. The student body is more homogenous in ethnicity and class than the district as a whole. The school spends more on non-classroom costs, such as raising money, searching for a permanent site, counseling students and educating parents.

Perhaps AFT would say it isn't innovative: There's a huge emphasis on students doing homework every day, which might be considered traditional. The students take the same tests that other public school kids take in California; a scientific study would compare the results to a control group of low-achieving Hispanics in district-run high schools, but that's not possible. And it will take more than two years to determine whether it's a success.

Pro-charter groups attacked the AFT's facts and objectivity:

"An AFT study on charter schools has about as much credibility as a Philip Morris study on smoking," says Lawrence Patrick, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

In dismissing charter schools, AFT ignored studies showing stronger academic achievement for charter students.

A California State University study determined that charter schools are more effective in improving academic achievement for low-income and at-risk students; in Chicago, charter schools performed better than traditional public schools on 80 percent of student performance measures; in Arizona, a statewide study of 60,000 youngsters found charter pupils outperforming traditional public school students.

Education Gadfly's Chester Finn calls the report a hatchet job on charter schools."

This "study" trifles with the truth. It stretches the facts about charter-school enrollments (which are more heavily minority and low-income than their states' student populations). It fibs about charter-school finances (which in most jurisdictions are far lower than the per-pupil allotments of conventional schools).

It simply lies about charter-school innovation and experimentation (much of which involves staffing, compensation, and management, areas where the AFT does not want anything to change). It fudges about school accountability. It is disingenuous about the effects that charter competition is having on regular public schools — as yet, few places have enough charters to pose much competition — and it selectively reports the data on student achievement.

For more objective research, go to the Fordham Foundation and Rand.

What Works

At Houston's YES College Prep, 90 percent come from "high-risk" backgrounds; 99 percent pass all the state's academic tests. In the Houston Chronicle, two boards describe how to build a charter school that works:

Hire a school director who has a long-term vision for the school. With that leadership, develop a tangible mission that has measurable goals... 

Provide a longer school day if the school's constituency needs it. In many cases, the students of inner-city charter schools need additional instruction to bring them up to grade level. At YES, not only is the school day longer (from 7:50 a.m. to 5 p.m. every school day), but students also attend Saturday school twice a month, and attend one extra month during the summer.

Teach the Children Well

Teach what students need to learn, measure whether they're learning it and continuously refine lessons to improve results. The kids will learn. Citing education research and results, Mike Schmoker lays out the way to boost achievement. And it's not rocket science:

In these five school districts, teachers create, share and refine lessons and strategies that are deliberately aligned to the assessed standards. They take pains to ensure that teaching is aligned with instruction. All of them get exceptional results.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at ReadJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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