Out of the System

Washington, D.C. public schools aren't good enough for the children of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., but she doesn't want poor parents to get help in getting their kids out of the system.

A pro-voucher vote under President Clinton, she's opposed to D.C. vouchers now that President Bush is pushing them. William McGurn writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Outside the committee's meeting room last week, 9-year-old Mosiyah Hall, a D.C. public school student himself, politely asked Sen. Landrieu where she sent her own children to school. "Georgetown Day," came the response, a reference to one of Washington's most exclusive private schools. Mosiyah's mother says an obviously agitated Sen. Landrieu then came over to a group of local mothers to explain that a voucher would be no help for them here, because even with the $7,500 voucher this bill offers, they still couldn't afford Georgetown Day.

Actually, if the voucher covered the full amount spent on miseducating D.C. students, parents might be able to afford the ritzier private schools. (McGurn says the district spends $15,000 per student, which may include capital costs; $11,000 is the official number for operating costs.) Georgetown Day tuition ranges from $19,000 to $22,000, depending on grade level, and the school offers financial aid to needy students.

The Washington Scholarship Fund, funded by donations, has helped 1,200 children escape public schools with modest vouchers that pay partial tuition.

Moreover, in a D.C. school district where two out of every five kids never see a high school diploma, the kids who started with this program in grade school are now beginning to graduate from high schools, and almost all these are headed to college.

Scholarship recipients are chosen by lottery.

By contrast, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein endorses school vouchers for low-income D.C. students in a Washington Post column. While the district ranks third in the nation in per pupil spending, it’s at the bottom in test scores, Feinstein points out.

In the most recent math and reading assessments administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress:

--Seventy-six percent of D.C. fourth-graders performed below grade level in math, and only 10 percent read proficiently.

-- Seventy-seven percent of eighth-graders performed below grade level in math, and only 12 percent were proficient in reading.

Based on the substantial amount of money pumped into the schools and the resultant test scores, I do not believe that money alone is going to solve the problem. This is why I believe the District should be allowed to try this pilot -- particularly for the sake of its low-income students.

Scrappleface has reported that Feinstein and anti-voucher Republican Sen. Arlen Specter plan to switch party affiliations.

Udderly Odd

How now protest cow.

Professionalism and the Professor

I figured Michael Ballou, who assigned students to write a "kill the president" e-mail, wouldn't be rehired to teach government at Santa Rosa Junior College. After all, he's a part-timer without tenure.

Amritas, who’s a linguistics professor, discovered that I'm wrong: College lawyers say Ballou has the right to retain his job, despite what the college president called "ridiculous" and "unprofessional" behavior. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports:

Saying he was "ashamed and embarrassed," Santa Rosa Junior College President Robert Agrella Wednesday called an instructor's "kill the president" class assignment ridiculous but said the teacher cannot be dismissed for it.

Without naming him, Agrella in a prepared statement said that part-time political science instructor Michael Ballou had shown "unprofessional behavior" by jeopardizing students and using "the classroom lectern as a bully pulpit to espouse personal political leanings."

Agrella said Ballou can't be fired because he has free-speech rights. That seems nuts to me. Surely, professionalism is a job requirement. Ballou has the free-speech right to advocate his personal political biases, recite The Faerie Queen or sing "Muskrat Love" -- but not when he's being paid to teach a government class. The real issue is the union contract: Ballou "has the right to continue classroom instruction as long as he has a satisfactory evaluation in his personnel files, according to both an administrator and a faculty union representative."

When an instructor engages in "ridiculous" and "unprofessional" conduct, and proclaims himself "unrepentant" it's time for a new evaluation.

Mom-and-Pop Summer School

Parents are home-summer-schooling, reports the Washington Post.

Jaron Broadus, 11, was incredulous. With summer vacation about to begin, his mother laid it on him: three sheets of paper she had dubbed the "Grow Smarter & Richer Contract for Teens & Preteens."

...With a level of detail worthy of a business deal, Jenny Broadus -- referred to in the contract as "Mom" -- had spelled out what she hoped Jaron and his sister, Katelyn, 13, would accomplish over the summer: "Read one book per week and write one book report." "Complete 2 math worksheets per week." "Write 2 paragraphs about each of the 7 continents."...

As an incentive, each task would earn a cash payment, from $3 for working on a Spanish language computer program to $10 for memorizing and correctly spelling all 50 states and their capitals. Do everything on the list, Mom had calculated, and they could each make $229.

I never did work sheets or book reports during the summer. I went off to camp to sail, swim, ride, etc. But I also read five books a week on average, all year round, just for the fun of it. I raised a reader too, without bribes.


Jeffery Devine of Hackettstown, N.J., writes:

After I left high school, I went on to college, earned a degree and got a decent job. However, during high school, I took wood shop for all four years. The skills I developed in wood shop got me a good paying job during the summers and vacations working as a carpenter. Doing this, I developed my carpentry skills and learned a lot about construction, which led me to get involved in real estate as a side job. I have done extremely well for myself investing in real estate and working on my properties on the weekends. Without taking wood shop in high school, I wouldn't be where I am today. It is a shame that these hands-on classes are getting cut. They are doing a lot of kids a big disservice.

Alfred Moss says:

When I went to high school in the ‘30s in New York City, we had academic high schools and vocational high schools.

The vocational high graduates became the builders and repair people that grew this country through the next 30 to 40 years, while the academic high schools became garbage due to the smart alec methods employed by the academic wise guys.

Tildon Chavers, Jr. of Pace, Fla.

I am glad someone is finally saying what we teachers have known for years, that is, college prep should not be the standard curriculum in a public school. But nobody ever listens to teachers.

We teachers know that if we hold out long enough, today's stupidity will give way to tomorrow's stupidity, compliments of state and federal bureaucrats who haven't seen the inside of a classroom in decades.

But nobody ever listens to teachers.

P. Marley, associate professor of psychology, Texarkana College, says:

Your article points to yet another case of our "improvements & advancements" having unintended consequences. We discussed another this morning in my child psych class. Education majors are being taught to vary activities more frequently than in the past in order to accommodate the shrinking attention spans of their students. The shrinkage is attributed to the technological advancements which allow our kids to expect to be entertained constantly on multiple levels. For example -- the kid who listens to his Walkman and plays Gameboy ... until it is his turn to bowl, bat or whatever, takes his turn -- then returns to his electronics rather than watch his peers take their turns.

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 JoanneJacobs.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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