Teachers’ Unions Fight Innovation, Customization, and Variety

(p. A27) Washington – A Wisconsin court rejected a high-profile lawsuit by the state’s largest teachers’ union last month seeking to close a public charter school that offers all its courses online on the ground that it violated state law by depending on parents rather than on certified teachers to educate children. The case is part of a national trend that goes well beyond virtual schooling: teachers’ unions are turning to the courts to fight virtually any deviation from uniformity in public schools.

. . .

There is a universal American desire for customization and variety in goods and services, and education must respond to that demand, whether the unions like it or not.
. . .

This debate, like the ones over many other education issues, is fundamentally about who gets to have power. Yet the power the teachers’ unions now wield will be fleeting if public schools do not become more responsive to parents.
An industry cannot survive by rushing to court every time a new idea threatens even a small slice of its market share. Instead, maintaining, and even broadening, support for public schools means embracing more diversity in how we provide public education and who provides it.

For the full commentary, see:
Andrew J. Rotherham. “Virtual Schools, Real Innovation.” The New York Times (Friday, April 7, 2006): A27.
(Note: ellipses added.)

World Bank Fights Fraud in Antipoverty Projects

The World Bank president, Paul D. Wolfowitz, laid out a broad strategy yesterday to help developing countries combat rampant corruption, as well as to halt fraud in antipoverty projects supported by billions of dollars in World Bank money.
In a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, Mr. Wolfowitz described for the first time his plans to make fighting corruption a pervasive issue in the bank’s operations. The new efforts will range from intensified monitoring of projects in the field to an increased focus on reforming institutions that can hold governments accountable.
Mr. Wolfowitz also seems to be trying to change the culture of the bank. In remarks after the speech, he said he wanted bank managers to understand that they would be rewarded “as much for saying no to a bad loan as for getting a good one out the door.”

For the full story, see:
CELIA W. DUGGER. “World Bank Chief Outlines a War on Fraud.” The New York Times (Weds., April 12, 2006): A7.

Successful Society Requires Moral Courage to Sanction Others

Sociologists have long known that communes and other cooperative groups usually collapse into bickering and disband if they do not have clear methods of punishing members who become selfish or exploitative.
Now an experiment by a team of German economists has found one reason punishment is so important: Groups that allow it can be more profitable than those that do not.
. . .
”The bottom line of the paper is that when you have people with shared standards, and some who have the moral courage to sanction others, informally, then this kind of society manages very successfully,” said the study’s senior author, Bettina Rockenbach, who was joined in the research by Bernd Irlenbusch, now at the London School of Economics, and Ozgur Gurek.
Switching groups frequently prompted remarkable behavioral changes in the students. Many of those who had been free riders in the laissez-faire group eagerly began penalizing other selfish players upon switching. Dr. Rockenbach compares these people to heavy smokers who are insistent on their right to light up, until they quit. ”Then they become the most militant of the antismokers,” she said.
Being exploited appeared to cause deep frustration and anger in most students, she said.

For the full story, see:
BENEDICT CAREY. “Study Links Punishment To an Ability To Profit.” The New York Times (Friday, April 7, 2006): A22.

Becker on Goals of Economics: Understand the World, and Improve It

 

Becker.jpg   Gary Becker at April 7, 2006 tribute dinner.  Source of image:  online press release cited below.

 

Gary Becker has made enormous contributions to economic theory, most notably in convincing the profession of the importance of human capital and the family.  A new center has been established at the University of Chicago in Gary Becker’s honor.

 

Becker’s brief remarks concluded the evening.  Economics will change over time, but one constant—whatever the tools or techniques—is the goal of economics, he said.   “It is judged ultimately by how well it helps us understand the world, and how well we can help improve it.”

 

For the full story, see:

Goddu, Jenn Q.  "Gift Names the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory, Founded by Richard O. Ryan."  University of Chicago News Office, 2006.

 

J.K. Rowling on What Matters

Writing on her Web site after reading a magazine featuring photographs of a thin woman who was ”either seriously ill or suffering from an eating disorder,” Ms. Rowling expressed concern that her daughters, Jessica, 12, and Mackenzie, 1, might become overly conscious about their weight, Agence France-Presse reported. ”I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones,” she said. ”I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, funny — a thousand things, before ‘thin.’ ”

LAWRENCE VAN GELDER. “Arts, Briefly; J. K. Rowling Speaks Out.” The New York Times (Friday, April 7, 2006): B5.

Jhontelle Johnson on public schools: “you can’t make me go”

FransoirWilliamLarge.jpg
Fransoir William. Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/06/education/06voucher.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5094&en=d2a47406ed1f9127&hp&ex=1144382400&partner=homepage

(p. A1) WASHINGTON, April 5 – As a student at Shaw Junior High School here, Amie Fuwa strained to shut out the distractions of friends cutting up. She struggled through math, and used photocopies or the library when textbooks were scarce.
Now Amie, 14, a child of immigrants from Nigeria and the Dominican Republic, attends Archbishop Carroll High School, a Catholic school near a verdant hill of churches nicknamed the Little Vatican. When algebra confounds Amie, her teacher stays with her after school to help, and a mentor keeps her on course.
”It’s a lot of people behind my back now,” Amie said.
Before, she said, she ”felt like it didn’t really matter to different people I know, like my teachers, if I failed.”
Amie is one of about 1,700 low-income, mostly minority students in Washington who at taxpayer expense are attending 58 private and parochial schools through the nation’s first federal voucher program, now in its second year.
Last year, parents appeared lukewarm toward the program, which was put in place by Congressional Republicans as a five-year pilot program, But this year, it is attracting more participation, illustrating how school-choice programs are winning over minority parents, traditionally a Democratic constituency.
Washington’s African-American mayor, Anthony A. Williams, joined Republicans in supporting the program, prompted in part by a concession from Congress that pumped more money into public and charter schools. In doing so, Mr. Williams ig- (p. A16) nored the ire of fellow Democrats, labor unions and advocates of public schools.
. . .
Like many other voucher students, Breanna Walton, 8, rises before dawn for the long bus ride from Northeast Washington, ”amongst the crime and drugs and all that,” in the words of her mother, April Cole Walton, to Rock Creek International, near Georgetown University. There, she learns Spanish with the children of lawyers and diplomats.
Ms. Walton said that her neighborhood school ”has broken down,” and that she would have done just about anything to keep Breanna from going there. ”Every child here should be able to say I’m going to set my sights high,” she said. ”I refuse to let my child be cheated.”
Patricia William, a single mother, said that at first she liked her son Fransoir’s public school, John Quincy Adams Elementary School, a tall sprawling building in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Teachers seemed good, but overwhelmed. It was other parents, not teachers, Ms. William said, who told her that Fransoir was hyperactive. ”I was not getting quality information from them on time,” she said. ”For some reason, it was not working.”
Fransoir is one of 62 students with vouchers attending Sacred Heart Elementary, a Catholic school of 210 students, where he learns prayers along with five-digit multiplication and long division. He takes medication for his hyperactivity. Last year, he teamed up with another child to research the sinking of the Titanic. This year, he is interested in reptiles. Ms. William said her son today has nothing in common with the boy who once lay on the floor, turning in circles like a clock wound too tight. Now she is learning from him, about more than just math or reading or a sinking ship.
”All the effort he’s making every night makes me want to sit with him and study,” said Ms. William, a high-school dropout. ”I’m learning academically, but also about making an effort.”
. . .
. . . the pressure of competition is inescapable. In one sixth-grade classroom, two of six students said they would probably go to charter schools next year, unless Adams could get its seventh grade started.
”I’ll probably go to Washington Latin,” said Jhontelle Johnson, setting her sights on a new charter school opening in August. If not, she said, ”I’d probably be home-schooled.”
A teacher’s aide, Sheonna Griffin, looked askance. ”You don’t like public schools?” she asked the child.
Jhontelle turned back, her young eyes flashing. ”You can’t make me go,” she said.

For the full story, see:
DIANA JEAN SCHEMO. “Federal Program on Vouchers Draws Strong Minority Support.” The New York Times (Thurs., April 6, 2006): A1 & A16.
FransoirWilliam2Large.jpg
Fransoir William. Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/06/education/06voucher.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=d2a47406ed1f9127&hp&ex=1144382400&partner=homepage