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October 22, 2010 3 min read
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An Awkward Moment for Reformers

Gwinnett County, Ga., recently claimed the Broad Prize in a classy awards ceremony at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.

Unmentioned by all, and for good reason, was that Gwinnett is in the middle of a very unreformish attempt to prohibit the Georgia Charter Schools Commission from approving or funding charter schools. Awk-ward.

Gwinnett has been one of several districts suing the state since 2007 over the commission’s “imposition” of charter schools. This is especially awkward in the case of charters like Ivy Preparatory Academy, an all-girls charter, which is outperforming county schools in seven out of 10 content areas. I find it more than a little depressing to think that the nation’s exemplar of urban school reform is engaged in a multiyear campaign to shut down charters.

An unhappy side effect of this suit is that the Georgia Supreme Court is now also being asked to decide whether commission-approved charter schools qualify as “special schools” under the state constitution. If the court narrows the definition, in accord with the Gwinnett-backed claim that special schools are only those schools for special-needs students, the existence of various nontraditional schools across the state could be at risk. It’s bizarre that, in the 21st century, we’re seeing school districts, unions, and frequently, courts trying to wedge teaching and learning into rules and definitions that ignore the diversity of student needs, approaches to instruction and student learning, and routes to quality schooling. —Rick Hess


Why Obama Will Miss His 2020 Goal

The president’s goal to boost the United States to the top of world rankings for college completion won’t happen, and a report from the American Council on Education makes it clear why: Men are not completing college at the same rate as women.

If Obama and the national foundations dedicated to boosting college-attainment rates want to make progress toward the 2020 goal, they can start by knocking down the de facto moratorium they maintain on acknowledging the gender gaps. The Department of Education has not issued a single study on the gender gaps. And it’s possible to read through an entire college-attainment report by the Gates or Lumina foundations and see not a word on the topic.

These gender gaps have emerged in most Western countries. And yet other countries, England and Australia, for example, are far ahead of the U.S. in trying to deal with them. Why the lag? Here, it’s considered politically incorrect to even broach the topic. Don’t men dominate the White House and the Fortune 500?

True enough, but it’s also true that the United States won’t field its best internationally competitive team unless we deal with these gender gaps. Isn’t that what the 2020 goal is all about? —Richard Whitmire


‘Convenient’ Lies Won’t Set Us Free

When I came to New York City in the fall of ‘65, my friends and acquaintances told me that “no one sends their kids to the public schools.” Of course, 1.2 million children couldn’t all have been orphans, but I understood the code.

My children spent their precollege years in N.Y.C.’s public schools, and I grew accustomed to the guilt trips I listened to from folks like Davis Guggenheim, who tells us that “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” was made to assuage his guilt.

Guggenheim doesn’t explain in plain language what it was he couldn’t tolerate in the public schools in his neighborhood, but apparently, he was not uncomfortable with the fact that the school where he sent his child was not (probably) open to just anyone, but had its own way of presorting the kids: money—and high scores.

This background helps me understand the animus of his attack on teachers and unions. It’s perhaps too much to ask him why there are even worse results in the many states in which there are no teachers’ union contracts. He doesn’t tell us, either, whether he’d send his daughter to the schools he highlights, or the ways in which they do and do not resemble his children’s private schools.

Wealth brings privileges. To pretend otherwise and insist that the “gaps” between the wealthy and the poor aren’t important is not just a benign mistake; it’s a dangerous one. When we allow the target to shift to “lazy” teachers and power-hungry unions, we should feel guilty, Mr. Guggenheim. —Deborah Meier

A version of this article appeared in the October 27, 2010 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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