In The Press
Beware the Good Samaritan, an article in Hispanic magazine warns its readers. The Good Samaritans in this instance are conservative-Christian organizations reaching out to draw Hispanics into their political fold. In "Whose Vote Is It, Anyway?," published in the March issue, Ines Pinto Alicea pans the conservative-Christian grassroots political movement over the past decade, focusing on how the movement has infiltrated Hispanic communities by rallying their support for education and religious issues. The right's new interest in minorities, she suggests, thinly disguises its primary motive: to capture the political loyalty of those who will make up one of the largest minority voting blocs at the turn of the century.
School-related issues in particular have provided countless forays into minority communities for groups like the Christian Coalition and Citizens for Excellence in Education. Ms. Alicea gives several examples of how the right has harnessed the support of Latinos to achieve its political agendas, including the squelching of New York City's controversial "rainbow curriculum" and the subsequent ouster of that city's schools chancellor, Joseph Fernandez.
In spite of shared religious values, however, the right's political activism often conflicts with the needs of many Hispanics, Ms. Alicea maintains. Numerous conservative-Christian organizations, she says, have clearly partisan agendas that oppose free-breakfast and -lunch programs for poor children and condemn bilingual education and multicultural curricula. Many Hispanic parents have also been lured into supporting school vouchers, the author says, by conservative Christians who neglect to tell them about additional tuition costs or private schools' admissions practices.
It remains unclear, Ms. Alicea writes, to what extent the conservative-Christian movement has converted Latinos. Rob Boston, an official with the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in Washington, tells her he believes all the political maneuvering will come to naught. "The [Christian Coalition's] audiences remain primarily white," he is quoted as saying. "They talk a lot about recruiting minorities, but we haven't seen any evidence of them being successful."
Nevertheless, Ms. Alicea cautions that Hispanic-Americans need to be wary of these "special-interest lobbying groups." More than 3,500 conservative Christians have been elected to school boards, she notes, many with the help of minority communities. Similarly, hundreds of candidates with allegiances to conservative-Christian groups were elected to Congress last November. Because the minority vote will loom even more powerful in the future, she concludes by urging the magazine's Hispanic readers to educate themselves fully about the record and aims of conservative-Christian politicians and to exercise their democratic rights wisely.
"Does money matter?" is the wrong question to ask regarding school financing, an article in this month's Harvard Education Letter concludes. In "The Numbers Game Yields Simplistic Answers on the Link Between Spending and Outcomes," Michael Sadowski, the newsletter's assistant editor, examines how players on both sides of the school-funding debate manipulate educational research and data to support their agendas.
In particular, Mr. Sadowski looks at the work of Erik Hanushek of the University of Rochester and Larry Hedges of the University of Chicago, whose research findings directly contradict one another. While Mr. Hanushek, author of the recent book Making Schools Work: Improving Performance and Controlling Costs, contends that there is no connection between spending and student performance, Mr. Hedges argues that increased spending is directly related to improved outcomes.
Despite the conflicting data each presents, special-interest groups on both sides of the school-financing debate have used the findings to further their cause. Teachers unions, for example, have regularly employed the Hedges research as evidence to support their advocacy of spending increases. On the other hand, the Heritage Foundation recently produced a report for Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich reiterating Mr. Hanushek's findings, which support calls for, among other things, the elimination of national standards as well as the U.S. Education Department.
This statistical sleight-of-hand obfuscates what should be the real question, Mr. Sadowski argues. It is, he writes, "not whether money makes a difference on average, but how does money make a difference in the schools that are able to use it effectively?" Drawing on the observations of the Harvard University economist and educator Richard Murnane, he maintains that both Mr. Hanushek's and Mr. Hedges's research techniques oversimplify the problem. According to Mr. Murnane, the author notes, both men rely on quantitative research methods, which cannot encompass the myriad factors inside and outside the school that affect students' performance. Some of those factors, as Harold Howe 2nd, the former U.S. Commissioner of Education and a senior scholar at Harvard, points out, involve the well-being of students' families and communities.
Communicating the complexity of this issue, especially to budget-slashing politicians, Mr. Sadowski says, may prove daunting. As he pointedly makes clear, several influential national news sources, including The Wall Street Journal and Business Week, have already joined the money-doesn't-necessarily-improve-performance bandwagon--using the Heritage Foundation report as their evidence. That report, Mr. Sadowski concludes, is weak evidence for such a bold correlation and hardly qualifies as a rigorous, scientific study of the problem.
In its 1995 survey of the nation's "best graduate schools," U.S. News & World Report included for the first time schools and colleges of education. The April 3, 1995, issue of the magazine lists the 25 top graduate schools of education, according to its poll of college officials and survey data. The top five on the list were: Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University's Teachers College, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The magazine also provides rankings of the top five schools within 10 subcategories, such as educational policy, vocational-technical education, and special education.