At least 19 "Blue Ribbon" schools honored for excellence also are listed as failing schools reports USA Today via (EdWeak).

Of the states studied, USA Today found that half had at least one Blue Ribbon winner among schools that failed to meet state standards. At least seven were simultaneously the nation's "best" and "worst" in the 2000-01 school year; three won the exemplary title in May, just one month before the federal deadline to report failing schools...

Federal education officials say it's not fair to compare the two programs because they measure different kinds of school progress. Still, once the unexpected contradiction became apparent, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced last week new criteria for the Blue Ribbon program. Cuts will be made to its $1.1 million budget. 

School honors programs often reward faddish teaching techniques rather than student achievement, said Tom Loveless at the Brookings Institution.

Dear Jesus 

The mother of the little girl in the Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit has asked the court to leave "under God" in the pledge or remove her daughter as complainant. It would have saved a lot of trouble if Mom had acted earlier.

Meanwhile, an Ohio mom is suing the school district for $1.5 million because her son's seventh grade teacher wouldn't let him write a letter to Jesus for a class assignment.

"She told him he could not write that letter because Jesus wasn't a real person — that he didn't exist," Phillip’s mother, Peggy Koehler, said. 

The school district's lawyer says the teacher meant Jesus wasn't likely to write back.

You'd think teachers would give specific assignments — write to a living person who might write back — or let the kid write to Jesus. What's the harm? The educational value is in the writing, not in the response.

Body and Soul links to another case: A second-grade teacher in Massachusetts wouldn't let a girl read "The First Christmas" during the holiday show-and-tell because the book was about the birth of Jesus. Imagine the shock of the teacher: One of her students celebrates a no-Santa Christmas!

Just a crumb of common sense would put a lot of lawyers out of business.

Dangerous Daisies

British children protested nanny-ninnies by engaging in dangerous play, such as making daisy chains (risk of germs) and doing headstands (might fall), reports the BBC.

Children campaigned against a "culture of caution," which charities fear is restricting youngsters' experience of play and stifling their social and physical development.

The protest saw the children make a giant daisy chain, play with yo-yos and ride skateboards and bicycles — activities which many schools and public playgrounds have banned, research suggests. 

If a child gets conked by a conker (horse chestnut), Mummy might sue the school. Gee, I thought it was bad in the U.S. I think daisy chains are still allowed.

Florida's Failing Schools

Pushed by low test scores and the threat of vouchers, Miami is getting serious about teaching reading to students at 16 F-rated schools. In addition to small, intensive reading classes in elementary school, the plan requires low-scoring high school students to take reading instead of an elective. And Miami's actually going to pay teachers for performance.

The district will add $9,000 to the normal base salary for 32 high-school reading specialists and, taking a cue from private enterprise, will offer incentive bonuses for student improvement.

However, if the F-rated schools don't improve, students may not be able to get vouchers to pay for private alternatives. A Florida judge, citing the state constitution, threw out the law giving vouchers — good at secular or religious schools — to students at persistently failing schools.

UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh argues that the judge's ruling won't hold up on appeal: A state constitution can be used to grant more rights than the U.S. Constitution grants, but can't restrict rights.

Brain Drain

Yet another poll — this one by Associated Press — finds Americans support vouchers until they're asked if they want to "drain money" from existing public schools.

...people favored the idea of school vouchers to help send children to private or parochial schools by a 51-40 ratio. When asked if they would still support the idea if it takes money from public schools, they oppose vouchers by a 2-to-1 ratio... 

When the possibility is mentioned that vouchers could take money from public schools, Republican support drops to just under four in 10, independent support drops to three in 10 and Democratic support to fewer than three in 10.

The question is slanted. I doubt that two-thirds of Americans oppose linking school funding to enrollment. Suppose people were asked: Should school districts receive less money if they educate fewer students? Almost everyone would think that makes sense.


University of California's new hard-luck admissions policy is designed to assuage white guilt, writes John McWhorter, a Berkeley linguistics professor. It's not about helping the disadvantaged, unless they're the preferred color.

Certainly, hardship of obvious significance must be taken into account when evaluating an applicant. But when a black high schooler tells a newspaper interviewer, "I hope Berkeley can understand that I had to baby-sit after school," we see the results of a culture of excuse-making. And no one would argue that performance is enhanced by focusing on obstacles. For decades now, students entering college have imbibed a "victimologist" perspective; now UC's "hardship" policy serves as a kind of college prep course on the subject. 

McWhorter suggests preferences based on "indisputable obstacles to success in American society" such as socioeconomic status.

Say No to DARE

DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) doesn't work. DARE graduates are just as likely to use drugs as kids who didn't go through the program, researchers say. DARE claims it's revised its program. Researchers say it still doesn't work. And so on. Jacob Sullum explains the game at Reason.

I wrote on DARE's ineffectiveness about five years ago. I asked a researcher how he'd spend drug education money, if it was his choice. He said he'd ask kindergarten teachers which students had substance-abusing parents or showed signs of being troubled kids. (Kindergarten teachers tend to know.) Then he'd offer free counseling to the parents. He knew it would be considered horribly intrusive, but it was the best idea he had. If a few parents took advantage of the offer and moderated their substance abuse, their kids would benefit, he said. No drug ed program can counteract a drug-abusing family.

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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