The Sunday line: GOP takes U.S. hostage; school reform thoughts | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Sunday line: GOP takes U.S. hostage; school reform thoughts

Posted By on Sun, Sep 29, 2013 at 4:24 PM

The Sunday line is open. Could somebody put in a word somewhere to bring fall? Otherwise:

* U.S. HELD HOSTAGE: Good column by Ezra Klein. His position is that the House Republicans' forcing a government shutdown because they view the 2012 election as illegitimate is better than forcing a hostage crisis over the debt ceiling, which could have worldwide impact. But does he really think if they blink now, they won't try it again? Some of his observations:

One way a shutdown makes the passage of a debt limit increase easier is that it can persuade outside actors to come off the sidelines and begin pressuring the Republican Party to cut a deal. One problem in the politics of the fiscal fight so far is that business leaders, Wall Street, voters and even many pundits have been assuming that Republicans and Democrats will argue and carp and complain but work all this out before the government closes down or defaults. A shutdown will prove that comforting notion wrong, and those groups will begin exerting real political pressure to force a resolution before a default happens.

It's worth noting, for the record, that it would be vastly better if there was no shutdown and no default and House Republicans stopped trying to enact an agenda that lost at the polls by threatening the country. But American politics is what it is right now, and given its sorry condition, a shutdown might be the best of very bad options.

* WHAT REAL EDUCATION REFORMERS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT U.S. EDUCATION: Jonathan Kozol and Diane Ravitch are real educators, with real time in the trenches, not billionaires with inherited retail store, newspaper, oil or gas fortunes that they think make them smarter about schools than teachers. In the Times today, Kozol (whose devoted a career to the proposition that underprivileged kids CAN be taught, reviews Ravitch's new book, "Reign of Error," which rips the school reform movement being promoted by Walton billions in Arkansas and elsewhere. Are American schools failing? That's a central premise of the Billionaire Boys Club.

But, pointing to the National Assessment of Education Progress, which has sampled math and reading scores every two years since 1992 and, in an alternate version, every four years since the early 1970s, Ravitch demonstrates that levels of achievement have been rising, incrementally but steadily, from one decade to the next. And — surprise! — those scores are now “at their highest point ever recorded.” Graduation rates are also at their highest level, with more young people entering college than at any time before.

Black and Hispanic children, nonetheless, continue to lag behind. The black-white gap, as Ravitch documents, narrowed greatly in the era of desegregation, but progress has slowed as the hyper-segregation of our schools and neighborhoods along both racial and economic lines has come to be accepted once again as the normal order of the day. Market competition has not reduced the gap. Charter schools — Ravitch says we ought to ban those that operate for profit — have an uneven record. They “run the gamut from excellent to awful” and, on average, do no better than their public counterparts. Those that claim impressive gains are often openly or subtly selective in the children they enroll. Most do not serve children with severe disabilities. Others are known to counsel out or expel problematic students whose performance might depress the scores.

What passes for reform today, Ravitch writes, is “a deliberate effort” to replace public schools with a market system.

There's a good interview by Jake Silverstein with Ravitch, by the way, in Texas Monthly, a state that could use more facts about education and less faith. (You read, didn't you, about how the board that will pick the state's biology textbooks is packed with creationists?) Excerpt:

JS: In your new book, Reign of Error , you say that the well-meaning people who support these reforms—and presumably these are the people who used to be your allies—have “allied themselves with those who seek to destroy public education.” You really think the result of the reform movement will be the destruction of public education?

DR: I think that’s the direction we’re heading in. First of all, I have a lot of trouble with the word “reform” being attached to what’s happening right now. That’s why I call it the privatization movement. So if the privatization movement continues unchecked, then yes, it will destroy public education. There’ll be public education here and there in relatively affluent communities that are untouched, but it’ll be dead in the cities, and it’ll be dead in the inner suburbs. It won’t be completely privatized, but there’ll be a dual system. 

Yes, see Little Rock, where Walton billions are being deployed to crater the Little Rock School District into, they hope, dozens of little independent school districts known as charter schools. Some good, some terrible but all sharing a characteristic of not having a contract with a teachers' organization. Their latest push is for an economic and racial flight middle school in predominantly white, upscale West Little Rock. Cooper v. Aaron and its 1958 warning against "evasive schemes" to implement segregation? Inoperative nowadays.

click to enlarge A TOWN ALICE CALLS HOME: Main Street in Millsap, Texas. - BYGONE BYWAYS
  • Bygone Byways
  • A TOWN ALICE CALLS HOME: Main Street in Millsap, Texas.


* AND SPEAKING OF WALTONS AND BILLIONS AND TEXAS MONTHLY: The magazine says Alice Walton is the richest person in Texas, estimated wealth $33.5 billion, enough to buy her hometown of Millsap a few times, I'd guess. The magazine describes her as the kind of billiionaire you'd like to have a beer with — plainly turned out, raises quarter horses on a ranch with a "modest" one-story house, cooks herself when she entertains. Her driving record has a few blotches, the article notes, though it doesn't include the recent DWI charge she beat in Texas when a trooper couldn't testify.

* GUNS IN CHURCH: My hometown of Lake Charles, La., provides the latest big headline on people killed by people carrying guns, this one a shotgun. A pastor was gunned down while preaching during a revival at a church Friday night. Who knows why? The local newspaper account here.

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