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History > 2009 > USA > Education (I)



Morgan Elliott


The M.B.A.’s Oath: I Promise to Be Good. Honest




















Better Schools?

Here Are Some Ideas


June 14, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Five Ways to Fix America’s Schools” (Op-Ed, June 8):

Harold O. Levy proposed five ways to improve higher education, particularly through cutting high school dropout rates, increasing college attendance and reducing the need for remedial education. He didn’t include one of the most powerful ways to accomplish this: raising the quality of our high school teacher corps.

Study after study shows that the most potent school-based intervention in raising student graduation rates and academic achievement is strong teachers. So instead of adopting the advertising lessons of for-profit higher education, as Mr. Levy suggests, it might be more helpful to invest in raising teacher salaries, which would attract the highest-performing students — currently applying to Teach for America in legions — to careers in teaching.

It would also be helpful if unions worked with school systems to make it easier to remove failing teachers. Rather than create online teacher preparation programs, it would be desirable to make teacher education more rigorous, base it in public schools and strengthen teachers’ knowledge of their subject matter.

By raising the quality of our teacher force and strengthening teacher preparation, we would certainly increase high school graduation rates, improve students’ academic achievement and raise college attendance rates.

Arthur Levine
Princeton, N.J., June 8, 2009

The writer, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, is president emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University.

To the Editor:

Harold O. Levy’s first three proposals call for external force, pressure and inducement to get students to spend more time in school. He recommends an extension of compulsory schooling up to age 19 (with longer days and school years), “high-pressure sales tactics” (that can “overwhelm the consumer’s will”) to curb truancy, and aggressive advertising to spur college enrollment.

Nowhere does he mention students’ experience of schooling, including the likelihood that more time in today’s test-driven institutions will further deaden their enthusiasm for learning.

America’s schools won’t improve by simply demanding or coaxing students to spend more time in them. We must, instead, heed great educational and cognitive scholars like John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget and make students’ curiosity and inner urge to learn the centerpiece of educational reform.

William Crain
New York, June 8, 2009

The writer is a professor of psychology at City College, CUNY.

To the Editor:

I was frustrated by Harold O. Levy’s suggestions as to how to “fix” our public education system. He misses the core issue completely. It does not involve branding, longer compulsory education or high-pressure “sales” tactics. Rather, students have expressed a need to possess a coherent and integrated meaning for the very education we are transmitting.

With the economy in a state of disequilibrium, with very few career paths offering any guarantees, and with no coherent explanation of “What’s this all about?,” adults should instead be challenged to seek out meaning and wisdom by which to integrate the educational process.

Educators around the world and I have applied what is known as integral education methods whereby we can create a neutral framework into which we place every aspect of every subject so that both we and our students understand how they relate to and fit with other parts of their education.

Only if we come to understand why we are doing what we are doing in the classroom every day will our students care about what they are doing and care enough to stay the course to graduation.

Lynne D. Feldman
Upper Saddle River, N.J.

June 8, 2009

The writer is a retired teacher.

To the Editor:

Harold O. Levy suggested five disparate ways to improve the educational system in America’s schools. Only one of his suggestions, however, even remotely touched on the most fundamental aspect of this daunting challenge: improving our youngest students’ reading skills as a means of instilling self-confidence and an interest in learning.

This is something that can be addressed now, without the major financing and structural changes needed to truly reform the system.

The involvement of parents, teachers, volunteers and organizations focused on this specific task can, and should, be emphasized and developed during the years it will take to achieve Mr. Levy’s other objectives.

Robert Dinerstein
New York, June 10, 2009

The writer is chairman of Everybody Wins!, a nonprofit literacy and mentoring organization.

To the Editor:

Many parents of bright students are horrified at the thought of extending the school day. For bright students, learning doesn’t “end at 3 p.m.” To the contrary, it only starts when they’re released from classrooms where they’re forced to sit through rote lessons aimed at bringing struggling classmates up to “proficiency.”

An alternative suggestion: Allow advanced learners to leave school an hour early, providing them the time they’re not getting during the day to develop their abilities and work on appropriately challenging material. This would also allow teachers to give more individualized attention to the struggling students remaining in the classroom. Win-win.

Susan Goodkin
Executive Director
California Learning Strategies Center
Ventura, Calif., June 8, 2009

To the Editor:

Harold O. Levy’s proposal leaves out essential considerations for improving the educational process. Perhaps a better approach for reducing truancy than the proposal for using “high-pressure sales tactics” is to examine the quality and relevancy of instruction in schools that have high rates of truancy.

Mr. Levy mentions President Obama’s calling for parents to get more involved in their children’s studies. In fact, many parents get involved. Identifying the socioeconomic conditions that uninvolved parents face should lead us to conceive of the educational process as extending far beyond formal schooling and taking into account institutions and cultural dynamics that function as strategic barriers to more effective schools.

To put the matter more plainly, let us be reminded that poverty is an educational process. Jobs for all at living wages, please.

Richard La Brecque
Bradenton, Fla., June 8, 2009

The writer is professor emeritus of policy studies in education, University of Kentucky.

To the Editor:

Harold O. Levy’s proposal of longer mandatory schooling guarantees the issuance of additional diplomas without improving their woeful state. Such requirements measure “time in seat” without addressing the root problem that educated minds are not assembly-line products our schools try to manufacture.

Students would be better served by dismantling the one-size-fits-all high school. Charter schools and vouchers are the best available tools to encourage multiple methods and curriculums to meet students’ disparate needs. There are many causes of America’s educational problems, but providing more parents with options currently limited to the affluent can only help.

Philip Stanton
Champaign, Ill., June 8, 2009

To the Editor:

Harold O. Levy’s plan was based on the old formula of spending more while doing more of the same. He doesn’t adequately address some of the fundamental concerns affecting education.

His suggestion that students stay in school longer does nothing to help the 7,000 students who drop out daily. Hiring more truant officers to put pressure on those not attending school doesn’t address the reasons for their not coming. Perhaps the curriculum is not relevant, engaging or challenging.

Public school teachers are forced by federal and state laws to follow a basic curriculum that emphasizes test scores rather than real learning.

Colleges need to work with school districts in attracting their best students to their campuses. While Mr. Levy’s article does bring an important issue to the forefront, his solution to a complex problem is overly simplistic.

Philip S. Cicero
North Bellmore, N.Y., June 9, 2009

The writer, a retired superintendent of schools, is an adjunct professor of education at Adelphi University.

    Better Schools? Here Are Some Ideas, NYT, 14.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/opinion/l14college.html?hpw






Debate Erupts Over Muslim School in Virginia


June 11, 2009
The New York Times


FAIRFAX, Va. — For years, children’s voices rang out from the playground at the Islamic Saudi Academy in this heavily wooded community about 20 miles west of Washington. But for the last year the campus has been silent as academy officials seek county permission to erect a new classroom building and move hundreds of students from a sister campus on the other end of Fairfax County.

The proposal from the academy, which a school spokeswoman said was the only school financed by the Saudi government in the United States, has ignited a noisy debate and exposed anew the school’s uneasy relationship with its neighbors.

Many residents living near the 34-acre campus along Popes Head Road, a narrow byway connecting two busy thoroughfares, say they oppose it because they fear it will bring more cars, school buses and flooding of land that would be paved over for parking lots.

But others object to the academy’s curriculum, saying it espouses a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism. A leaflet slipped into mailboxes in early spring called the school “a hate training academy.”

James Lafferty, chairman of a loose coalition of individuals and groups opposed to the school, said that its teachings sow intolerance, and that it should not be allowed to exist, let alone expand.

“We feel that it is in reality a madrassa, a training place for young impressionable Muslim students in some of the most extreme and most fanatical teachings of Islam,” Mr. Lafferty said. “That concerns us greatly.”

School officials and parents say they are bewildered and frustrated by such claims. The academy is no different from other religious schools, they say, and educates model students who go on to top schools, teaches Arabic to American soldiers, and no longer uses texts that drew criticism after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Kamal S. Suliman, 46, a state traffic engineer with three daughters at the academy, called the accusations “fear tactics and stereotyping.”

“Ideological issues do not belong in this matter,” Mr. Suliman said. “I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail,” and that a decision about the expansion “will be made based on facts.”

The Fairfax County Planning Commission is to vote Thursday on the school’s request for a zoning exemption to allow construction of the classroom building. Regardless of the outcome, the request is voted on by the county Board of Supervisors.

Hazel Rathbun, who has lived near the Fairfax campus since 1971, said she worries about traffic safety and flooding on her winding road, and called criticism of the school’s Muslim focus “hate filled” and irrelevant. “It’s detracting from what we see as a very real issue for us,” Ms. Rathbun said.

The Saudi government bought the property, formerly the site of a Christian academy, in 1984. It also rents a county school building in Alexandria.

In the 1990s, the academy bought property in Loudoun County, about 25 miles northwest of Fairfax. Over the protest of local residents, they planned a campus for 3,500 students through grade 12, but they scrapped the plan in 2004. They decided to build instead on the Popes Head Road site, where classes were held for youngsters from pre-kindergarten through first grade.

In 2007, the academy notified the county of its building plans, and last year, transferred the young pupils to the rented building in Alexandria. Academy officials hope to consolidate both campuses into a “state-of-the-art” school in Fairfax, said Abdulrahman R. Alghofaili, the school’s director general.

Until Sept. 11, 2001, the academy drew minimal attention, but shortly after the terrorist attacks, Israel turned away two graduates over suspicions they were suicide bombers. One was charged with lying on his passport application, and received a four-month prison sentence.

In 2003, the academy’s 1999 valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was arrested in Saudi Arabia, where he had gone to study, and two years later was convicted in Federal District Court in Alexandria of conspiracy to commit terrorism, including a plot to assassinate President George W. Bush. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Mr. Abu Ali’s family called the accusations “lies,” and his lawyers say he was tortured when he was held in Saudi Arabia.

Besides, academy officials and parents contend, an entire school should not be condemned for the actions of one or two students. They point out that no one laid the blame for the massacre at Virginia Tech on the high school alma mater of the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho.

Last year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan federal agency charged with promoting religious freedom in United States foreign policy, concluded that texts used at the school contained “exhortations to violence” and intolerance.

School officials rejected those findings, saying the commission misinterpreted and mistranslated outdated materials. The school now prints its own materials and no longer uses official Saudi curriculum, said Rahima Abdullah, the academy’s education director.

“We have hundreds of students and hundreds of parents who send their students to this place to get ideal education,” said Mr. Alghofaili, the director general. “It doesn’t make sense that their parents would send their kids to a place to learn how to hate or to kill others.”

The Fairfax Planning Commission chairman, Peter Murphy, said questions about religion, politics and diplomacy were “distractions” that did not belong in deliberations about whether the academy should be allowed to expand.

“Whatever happens, some people are going to be happy and some people are not going to be happy” with Thursday’s vote, Mr. Murphy said. “I’m not basing this on happiness. I’m basing it on land-use issues.”

    Debate Erupts Over Muslim School in Virginia, NYT, 11.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/11/us/11fairfax.html?hp






College in Need Closes a Door to Needy Students


June 10, 2009
The New York Times


PORTLAND, Ore. — The admissions team at Reed College, known for its free-spirited students, learned in March that the prospective freshman class it had so carefully composed after weeks of reviewing essays, scores and recommendations was unworkable.

Money was the problem. Too many of the students needed financial aid, and the college did not have enough. So the director of financial aid gave the team another task: drop more than 100 needy students before sending out acceptances, and substitute those who could pay full freight.

The whole idea of excluding a student simply because of money clashed with the college’s ideals, Leslie Limper, the aid director, acknowledged. “None of us are very happy,” she said, adding that Reed did not strike anyone from its list last year and that never before had it needed to weed out so many worthy students. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing this.”

That decision was one of several agonizing ones for this small private college, celebrated for its combination of academic rigor and a laid-back approach to education that once attracted Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, to study on its leafy campus minutes from downtown.

With their endowments ravaged by the financial markets and more students clamoring for assistance, private colleges like Reed are making numerous changes this year in staff, students, tuition and classes that they hope will tide them over without harming their reputations or their educational goals.

Reed and others have admitted more students to bolster revenue with larger classes. Many are cutting costs by freezing or reducing salaries, suspending hiring and postponing building maintenance and construction. And the cost of attendance is rising; in Reed’s case, by 3.8 percent, to nearly $50,000 a year for its 1,300 students.

But Reed has put off drastic measures like spending more of its endowment, closing some departments or selling some real estate near campus. Instead, college officials are counting on the economy to turn around quickly, as became apparent when they allowed a New York Times reporter to sit in on budget discussions this spring.

“Like everybody, we are trying to start by trying to cut the stuff that is least likely to inflict real pain on the program,” said Colin Diver, Reed’s president. When he talks about Reed’s short-term response to the recession, Mr. Diver concedes he is torn, wondering whether a broader reassessment would be in order.

Perhaps it would be a good thing, he said, if the recession could refocus college administrators on the quality of higher education, rather than on investments in climbing walls (Reed does not have one) and other “country club” aspects of college life that have fueled an academic arms race reliant on tuition increases and fund-raising.

“The catering to consumer tastes — I keep trying to say, we are in the education business,” Mr. Diver said, describing the pressure to keep up with wealthier colleges and expressing a frustration rarely voiced publicly by college presidents. “The whole principle behind higher education is, we know something that you don’t. Therefore, we shouldn’t cater to them.”

But no college president wants to be first to make major changes in the college experience; Reed, for example, is not abandoning plans for a new performing arts center. “If we’re going to change our ways, we’re really going to need to be pushed,” Mr. Diver said, referring to colleges generally. “It’s not going to well up from within.”

So for now, the changes are modest and nearly invisible to students. The impact is mostly in the composition of the student body over the next four years.

Reed has for now cast aside its hopes of accepting students based purely on merit, without regard to wealth, and still meeting their financial need. Only the nation’s richest colleges do that. What’s more, when Reed turned to its waiting list this year, it tapped only students who could pay their way.

This year, the financial aid office put together its own, separate wait list for students whose circumstances had changed or whose financial requests were incomplete. Though Reed had pruned its admissions list for financial reasons before, it always found a way to help the few students with unexpected setbacks. This year, dozens of requests came in. Only a few got extra.

“We had so many of these people,” Ms. Limper said, “we had to say, oh my goodness, we can’t offer aid to everyone who needs it.”

Hannah C. Moser, 17, needed financial help; her father is a paramedic, her mother is ill and her parents are divorcing. Thrilled with the small classes and quirky students, she applied to Reed last fall and was ecstatic when she learned she was admitted — through an informal announcement that came in haikus by e-mail.

But she said she qualified for only $14,000 in aid, far less than any other college offered. She later discovered that she had not sent in a required form. She was placed on the aid wait list, to no avail. This fall, she will enroll at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., not too far from her hometown, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.

“I’ve actually struggled pretty bad with not being able to go to Reed, just because it was my reach school and everything about it was perfect and I impossibly got in,” said Ms. Moser, an aspiring writer. “And then I couldn’t go.”

This year, there was a 23 percent increase in freshmen seeking financial aid, and twice as many students have appealed their aid packages, said Ms. Limper, the aid director. “We have established some pretty stringent guidelines,” she said, first trying to help “the people with changed circumstances.”

Those guidelines have given priority to students already enrolled like Becca Roberts, a 19-year-old from Los Angeles whose mother lost her job at a film distribution company last fall.

“It was sort of unforeseen,” Ms. Roberts said, “because the company seemed to be doing very well.” She feared she would be unable to return in the spring. When her mother called the college to describe their plight, Reed came up with more aid, thanks to the president’s discretionary fund. For the second semester, Ms. Roberts started work as a photographer for the college, watched her spending, stuck to the dining hall and tried not to venture off campus.

As job losses mount, more students like her may plead for help next year. But Ms. Limper does not expect to find money again. The budget, she said, is too tight.

When members of Reed’s board met in February and April to hammer out the budget, their priority was protecting the character of the college. Most of the members are alumni, with fond memories of earnest dialogue with professors in small groups, sometimes outside on the grass.

None of the options were appealing. Admitting more students would raise the student-faculty ratio, a measure of academic quality and, at Reed, a sign of the importance of interaction with professors. Raising tuition and fees would add to pressure on already-struggling families. Cutting spending could make it harder to recruit faculty members and could limit student resources.

Dipping further into the endowment, which provides about 20 percent of Reed’s budget, could imperil the college’s long-term survival. Last year, the endowment fell by nearly 25 percent, to $357 million, from $470 million. At a meeting with the budget committee of Reed’s board, Mr. Diver said he was reluctant to tap more of the fund: “I’m not proposing that.”

Members of the board did not push back at the time. But afterward, Daniel Greenberg, a Los Angeles businessman who is the group’s chairman, said he was not sure that the endowment should be off limits. “If we need to basically depend on the endowment, let’s increase the take rate,” he said, referring to the percentage of the endowment spent by the college every year. “We should do it if it will protect the character of the college.”

Instead, the board has approved increases in tuition and fees that bring the total cost of a year at Reed to $49,950. The college will have nearly 400 new first-year and transfer students in the fall, up from 355 last year.

Reed has increased its financial aid budget by 7.8 percent. It aims to use part of the $200 million it hopes to raise in a capital campaign, announced this spring, for financial aid in future years.

The college has cut 5 percent of its spending except on personnel. It has avoided layoffs — unlike some other institutions — though it is not filling vacancies.

Like many colleges, Reed is betting on a quick recovery of the economy and the financial markets to fuel endowment growth of 10 percent annually — including investment returns and gifts — beginning next year.

Asked by a board member what would happen if those assumptions did not pan out, the college’s treasurer, Edwin O. McFarlane, was blunt: “We’ll have to revisit the whole ballgame.”

    College in Need Closes a Door to Needy Students, NYT, 10.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/business/economy/10reed.html?hpw






18 and Under

At Last, Facing Down Bullies (and Their Enablers)


June 9, 2009
The New York Times


Back in the 1990s, I did a physical on a boy in fifth or sixth grade at a Boston public school. I asked him his favorite subject: definitely science; he had won a prize in a science fair, and was to go on and compete in a multischool fair.

The problem was, there were some kids at school who were picking on him every day about winning the science fair; he was getting teased and jostled and even, occasionally, beaten up. His mother shook her head and wondered aloud whether life would be easier if he just let the science fair thing drop.

Bullying elicits strong and highly personal reactions; I remember my own sense of outrage and identification. Here was a highly intelligent child, a lover of science, possibly a future (fill in your favorite genius), tormented by brutes. Here’s what I did for my patient: I advised his mother to call the teacher and complain, and I encouraged him to pursue his love of science.

And here are three things I now know I should have done: I didn’t tell the mother that bullying can be prevented, and that it’s up to the school. I didn’t call the principal or suggest that the mother do so. And I didn’t give even a moment’s thought to the bullies, and what their lifetime prognosis might be.

In recent years, pediatricians and researchers in this country have been giving bullies and their victims the attention they have long deserved — and have long received in Europe. We’ve gotten past the “kids will be kids” notion that bullying is a normal part of childhood or the prelude to a successful life strategy. Research has described long-term risks — not just to victims, who may be more likely than their peers to experience depression and suicidal thoughts, but to the bullies themselves, who are less likely to finish school or hold down a job.

Next month, the American Academy of Pediatrics will publish the new version of an official policy statement on the pediatrician’s role in preventing youth violence. For the first time, it will have a section on bullying — including a recommendation that schools adopt a prevention model developed by Dan Olweus, a research professor of psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway, who first began studying the phenomenon of school bullying in Scandinavia in the 1970s. The programs, he said, “work at the school level and the classroom level and at the individual level; they combine preventive programs and directly addressing children who are involved or identified as bullies or victims or both.”

Dr. Robert Sege, chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and a lead author of the new policy statement, says the Olweus approach focuses attention on the largest group of children, the bystanders. “Olweus’s genius,” he said, “is that he manages to turn the school situation around so the other kids realize that the bully is someone who has a problem managing his or her behavior, and the victim is someone they can protect.”

The other lead author, Dr. Joseph Wright, senior vice president at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington and the chairman of the pediatrics academy’s committee on violence prevention, notes that a quarter of all children report that they have been involved in bullying, either as bullies or as victims. Protecting children from intentional injury is a central task of pediatricians, he said, and “bullying prevention is a subset of that activity.”

By definition, bullying involves repetition; a child is repeatedly the target of taunts or physical attacks — or, in the case of so-called indirect bullying (more common among girls), rumors and social exclusion. For a successful anti-bullying program, the school needs to survey the children and find out the details — where it happens, when it happens.

Structural changes can address those vulnerable places — the out-of-sight corner of the playground, the entrance hallway at dismissal time.

Then, Dr. Sege said, “activating the bystanders” means changing the culture of the school; through class discussions, parent meetings and consistent responses to every incident, the school must put out the message that bullying will not be tolerated.

So what should I ask at a checkup? How’s school, who are your friends, what do you usually do at recess? It’s important to open the door, especially with children in the most likely age groups, so that victims and bystanders won’t be afraid to speak up. Parents of these children need to be encouraged to demand that schools take action, and pediatricians probably need to be ready to talk to the principal. And we need to follow up with the children to make sure the situation gets better, and to check in on their emotional health and get them help if they need it.

How about helping the bullies, who are, after all, also pediatric patients? Some experts worry that schools simply suspend or expel the offenders without paying attention to helping them and their families learn to function in a different way.

“Zero-tolerance policies that school districts have are basically pushing the debt forward,” Dr. Sege said. “We need to be more sophisticated.”

The way we understand bullying has changed, and it’s probably going to change even more. (I haven’t even talked about cyberbullying, for example.) But anyone working with children needs to start from the idea that bullying has long-term consequences and that it is preventable.

I would still feel that same anger on my science-fair-winning patient’s behalf, but I would now see his problem as a pediatric issue — and I hope I would be able to offer a little more help, and a little more follow-up, appropriately based in scientific research.

    At Last, Facing Down Bullies (and Their Enablers), 9.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/health/09klas.html






Op-Ed Contributor

Five Ways to Fix America’s Schools


June 8, 2009
The New York Times


AMERICAN education was once the best in the world. But today, our private and public universities are losing their competitive edge to foreign institutions, they are losing the advertising wars to for-profit colleges and they are losing control over their own admissions because of an ill-conceived ranking system. With the recession causing big state budget cuts, the situation in higher education has turned critical. Here are a few radical ideas to improve matters:

Raise the age of compulsory education. Twenty-six states require children to attend school until age 16, the rest until 17 or 18, but we should ensure that all children stay in school until age 19. Simply completing high school no longer provides students with an education sufficient for them to compete in the 21st-century economy. So every child should receive a year of post-secondary education.

The benefits of an extra year of schooling are beyond question: high school graduates can earn more than dropouts, have better health, more stable lives and a longer life expectancy. College graduates do even better. Just as we are moving toward a longer school day (where is it written that learning should end at 3 p.m.?) and a longer school year (does anyone really believe pupils need a three-month summer vacation?), so we should move to a longer school career.

President Obama recently embraced the possibility of extending public education for a year after high school: “I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.” He suggested that this compulsory post-secondary education could be in a “community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship.” (I helped start an accredited online school of education, and firmly believe that the coursework could also be delivered to students online.)

If the federal government ultimately pays for the extra year, it would be a turning point at least as important as the passage of the 1862 Morrill Act that gave rise to the state universities or the 1944 G.I. Bill that made college affordable to our returning service personnel after World War II. Every college trustee should be insisting that we make the president’s dream a reality.

And for those who graduate from high school early: they would receive, each year until they turn 19, a scholarship equal to their state’s per pupil spending. In New York, that could be nearly $15,000 per year. This proposal — which already has been tried in a few states — has the neat side effect of encouraging quick learners to graduate early and free up seats in our overcrowded high schools.

Use high-pressure sales tactics to curb truancy. Casual truancy is epidemic; in many cities, including New York, roughly 30 percent of public school students are absent a total of a month each year. Not surprisingly, truants become dropouts.

But truant officers can borrow a page from salesmen, who have developed high-pressure tactics so effective they can overwhelm the consumer’s will. Making repeated home visits and early morning phone calls, securing written commitments and eliciting oral commitments in front of witnesses might be egregious tactics when used by, say, a credit card company. But these could be valuable ways to compel parents to ensure that their children go to school every day.

Advertise creatively and aggressively to encourage college enrollment. The University of Phoenix, a private, for-profit institution, spent $278 million on advertising, most of it online, in 2007. It was one of the principal sponsors of Super Bowl XLII, which was held at University of Phoenix Stadium (not bad for an institution that doesn’t even have a football team). The University of Phoenix’s enrollment has clearly benefited from its advertising budget: with more than 350,000 students, its enrollment is surpassed by only a few state universities.

The University of Phoenix and other for profits have also established a crucial niche recruiting and serving older students. Traditional colleges need to do far better, using advertising to attract paying older students and to recruit the more than 70 percent of the population who lack a post-secondary degree. They have a built-in advantage, since attending a for-profit college instead of a more prestigious, less expensive public college makes no more sense than buying bottled water when the tap water tastes just as good.

Unseal college accreditation reports so that the Department of Education can take over the business of ranking colleges and universities. Accreditation reports — rigorous evaluations, prepared by representatives of peer institutions — include everything students need to know when making decisions about schools, yet the specifics of most reports remain secret.

Instead, students and their parents rely on U.S. News & World Report rankings that are skewed by colleges, which contort their marketing efforts to maximize the number of applicants whom they already know they will never accept, just to improve their selectivity rankings. Meanwhile, private counselors charge thousands of dollars claiming to know the “secret” of admissions. Aspiring entrants submit far too many applications in the hope of beating the odds. Everyone loses. Opening the accreditation reports to the public would provide a better way.

The biggest improvement we can make in higher education is to produce more qualified applicants. Half of the freshmen at community colleges and a third of freshmen at four-year colleges matriculate with academic skills in at least one subject too weak to allow them to do college work. Unsurprisingly, the average college graduation rates even at four-year institutions are less than 60 percent.

The story at the graduate level is entirely predictable: in 2007, more than a third of all research doctorates were awarded to foreigners, and the proportion is far higher in the hard sciences. The problem goes well beyond the fact that both our public schools and undergraduate institutions need to do a better job preparing their students: too many parents are failing to insure that their children are educated.

President Obama has again led the way: “As fathers and parents, we’ve got to spend more time with them, and help them with their homework, and replace the video game or the remote control with a book once in a while.” Better teachers, smaller classes and more modern schools are all part of the solution. But improving parenting skills and providing struggling parents with assistance are part of the solution too.

At a time when it seems we have ever fewer globally competitive industries, American higher education is a brand worth preserving.


Harold O. Levy, the New York City schools chancellor from 2000 to 2002, has been a trustee of several colleges.

    Five Ways to Fix America’s Schools, NYT, 8.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/opinion/08levy.html







The M.B.A.’s Oath: I Promise to Be Good. Honest.


June 5, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Temptation” (Business Day, May 30):

As the holder of an M.B.A., I was thrilled to read that students and schools are taking a greater interest in ethical business management.

I quote cases from my ethics course on a monthly if not weekly basis, and found it one of the most interesting and beneficial parts of the program. It’s wonderful to know that the next generation is not only becoming politically active but socially active as well.

Cindy Yancosek

Saco, Me., May 31, 2009

To the Editor:

I compliment those Harvard Business School grads taking an oath to be honest and truthful because, regrettably, a minority of our former alumni have recently squandered their privileged and honest education to inflict incalculable damage on the country and the world, especially in Washington and on Wall Street.

Fortunately, I believe that the vast majority of us have done honorable and productive things with our advantages, and it’s encouraging to see at least some new grads pledging to uphold that tradition. John G. Eresian

Hollis, N.H., May 31, 2009

The writer is a Harvard M.B.A., class of 1956.

To the Editor:

It is a testament to how far M.B.A. students have strayed from reality that they feel the need to sign a public vow that boils down to, “I promise not to act like a total jerk.”

Funny, I thought that should be the default! What other type of graduate program must give its students a specific directive not to lie, cheat, steal or otherwise act unethically? Erin Kim

Boston, May 31, 2009

The writer will be an M.B.A. student this fall.

    The M.B.A.’s Oath: I Promise to Be Good. Honest, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/opinion/l05mba.html?hpw






Next Test: Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers


June 5, 2009
The New York Times


So what kind of teachers could a school get if it paid them $125,000 a year?

An accomplished violist who infuses her music lessons with the neuroscience of why one needs to practice, and creatively worded instructions like, “Pass the melody gently, as if it were a bowl of Jell-O!”

A self-described “explorer” from Arizona who spent three decades honing her craft at public, private, urban and rural schools.

Two with Ivy League degrees. And Joe Carbone, a phys ed teacher, who has the most unusual résumé of the bunch, having worked as Kobe Bryant’s personal trainer.

“Developed Kobe from 185 lbs. to 225 lbs. of pure muscle over eight years,” it reads.

They are members of an eight-teacher dream team, lured to an innovative charter school that will open in Washington Heights in September with salaries that would make most teachers drop their chalk and swoon; $125,000 is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, and about two and a half times as much as the national average for teacher salaries. They also will be eligible for bonuses, based on schoolwide performance, of up to $25,000 in the second year.

The school, called the Equity Project, is premised on the theory that excellent teachers — and not revolutionary technology, talented principals or small class size — are the critical ingredient for success. Experts hope it could offer a window into some of the most pressing and elusive questions in education: Is a collection of superb teachers enough to make a great school? Are six-figure salaries the way to get them? And just what makes a teacher great?

The school’s founder, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, 32, a Yale graduate who founded a test prep company, has been grappling with just these issues. Over the past 15 months he conducted a nationwide search that was almost the American Idol of education — minus the popular vote, but complete with hometown visits (Mr. Vanderhoek crisscrossed the country to observe the top 35 applicants in their natural habitats) and misty-eyed fans (like the principal who got so emotional recommending Casey Ash that, Mr. Vanderhoek recalled, she was “basically crying on the phone with me, saying what a treasure he was.”)

Mr. Ash, 33, who teaches at an elementary school on the outskirts of Raleigh, N.C., will take the social studies slot.

The Equity Project will open with 120 fifth graders chosen this spring in a lottery that gave preference to children from the neighborhood and to low academic performers; most students are from low-income Hispanic families. It will grow to 480 children in Grades 5 to 8, with 28 teachers.

The school received 600 applications. Mr. Vanderhoek interviewed 100 in person.

Along the way, Mr. Vanderhoek, who taught at a middle school in Washington Heights before founding Manhattan GMAT, learned a few lessons.

One was that a golden résumé and a well-run classroom are two different things. “There are people who it’s like, wow, they look great on paper, but the kids don’t respect them,” Mr. Vanderhoek said.

The eight winning candidates, he said, have some common traits, like a high “engagement factor,” as measured by the portion of a given time frame during which students seem so focused that they almost forget they are in class. They were expert at redirecting potential troublemakers, a crucial skill for middle school teachers. And they possessed a contagious enthusiasm — which Rhena Jasey, 30, Harvard Class of 2001, who has been teaching at a school in Maplewood, N.J., conveyed by introducing a math lesson with, “Oh, this is the fun part because I looooooove math!” Says Mr. Vanderhoek: “You couldn’t help but get excited.” Hired.

Teachers said the rigorous selection process was more gratifying than grueling.

“It’s so refreshing that somebody comes to a teacher and says, ‘Show me what you know,’ ” said Oscar Quintero, who goes by Pepe and will teach special education. “This is the first time in 30 years of teaching that anybody has been really interested in what I do.”

The school will use only public money for everything but its building. It is close to signing a lease for private space on 181st Street, to be covered by a combination of public school financing, a charter school grant and what Mr. Vanderhoek described as a “small amount” of private donations (he ultimately hopes to raise enough private money to build a permanent space).

To make ends meet, teachers will hold responsibilities usually shouldered by other staff members, like assistant principals (there will be none). There will be no deans, substitute teachers (except for extended leaves) or teacher coaches. Teachers will work longer hours and more days, and have 30 pupils, about 6 more than the typical New York City fifth-grade class.

The principal, Mr. Vanderhoek, will earn just $90,000. Teachers will not have the same retirement benefits as members of the city’s teachers’ union. And they can be fired at will.

That did not scare Mr. Quintero, who is in his 60s and is moving from Florida; Heather Wardwell, 37, who is leaving East Greenwich High School, in Rhode Island, after a decade, to teach Latin; or Judith LeFevre, 54, the Arizona teacher who earned about $40,000 as recently as two years ago.

Ms. LeFevre, who will teach science, wrote via e-mail that the school was “an experiment of sorts, in which I’m one of the subjects.” She added, “This could be unsettling were it not for the excitement of working with a team of master teachers, all of whom are motivated to help every student succeed, with no excuses and no blame.”

Her other teammates: Damion Frye, 32, who teaches English at Montclair High School in New Jersey, has a master’s degree from Brown University and is pursuing his doctorate at Columbia’s Teachers College, and Gina M. Galassi, 40, who teaches music at Kingston High School in Ulster County, N.Y.

Mr. Carbone, 44, spent four years as head strength and conditioning coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. He left for a quieter life in Spring Valley, N.Y., last year, after overhearing one of his three sons say, “I want to play basketball, but my dad hasn’t taught me yet.”

Whatever the magic formula for a great school or teacher may be, Mr. Vanderhoek has come to believe that there is an essential ingredient to the search for such teachers: Time spent in that teacher’s classroom, watching students learn. Then again, his team has yet to hit the court.

“I have tremendous confidence that the staff is going to be excellent,” he said. “But we will see.”

    Next Test: Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers, NYT, 5.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/education/05charter.html?hp






A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality


May 30, 2009
The New York Times


When a new crop of future business leaders graduates from the Harvard Business School next week, many of them will be taking a new oath that says, in effect, greed is not good.

Nearly 20 percent of the graduating class have signed “The M.B.A. Oath,” a voluntary student-led pledge that the goal of a business manager is to “serve the greater good.” It promises that Harvard M.B.A.’s will act responsibly, ethically and refrain from advancing their “own narrow ambitions” at the expense of others.

What happened to making money?

That, of course, is still at the heart of the Harvard curriculum. But at Harvard and other top business schools, there has been an explosion of interest in ethics courses and in student activities — clubs, lectures, conferences — about personal and corporate responsibility and on how to view business as more than a money-making enterprise, but part of a large social community.

“We want to stand up and recite something out loud with our class,” said Teal Carlock, who is graduating from Harvard and has accepted a job at Genentech. “Fingers are now pointed at M.B.A.’s and we, as a class, have a real opportunity to come together and set a standard as business leaders.”

At Columbia Business School, all students must pledge to an honor code: “As a lifelong member of the Columbia Business School community, I adhere to the principles of truth, integrity, and respect. I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” The code has been in place for about three years and came about after discussions between students and faculty.

In the post-Enron and post-Madoff era, the issue of ethics and corporate social responsibility has taken on greater urgency among students about to graduate. While this might easily be dismissed as a passing fancy — or simply a defensive reaction to the current business environment — business school professors say that is not the case. Rather, they say, they are seeing a generational shift away from viewing an M.B.A. as simply an on-ramp to the road to riches.

Those graduating today, they say, are far more concerned about how corporations affect the community, the lives of its workers and the environment. And business schools are responding with more courses, new centers specializing in business ethics and, in the case of Harvard, student-lead efforts to bring about a professional code of conduct for M.B.A.’s, not unlike oaths that are taken by lawyers and doctors.

“I don’t see this as something that will fade away,” said Diana C. Robertson, a professor of business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s coming from the students. I don’t know that we’ve seen such a surge in this activism since the 1960s. This activism is different, but, like that time, it is student-driven.”

A decade ago, Wharton had one or two professors who taught a required ethics class. Today there are seven teaching an array of ethics classes that Ms. Robertson said were among the most popular at the school. Since 1997, it has had the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research. In addition, over the last five years, students have formed clubs around the issues of ethics that sponsor conferences, work on microfinance projects in Philadelphia or engage in social impact consulting.

“It’s been a dramatic change,” Ms. Robertson added. “This generation was raised learning about the environment and raised with the idea of a social conscience. That does not apply to every student. But this year’s financial crisis and the downturn have brought about a greater emphasis on social ethics and responsibility.”

At Harvard, about 160 from a graduating class of about 800 have signed “The M.B.A. Oath,” which its student advocates contend is the first step in trying to develop a professional code not unlike the Hippocratic Oath for physicians or the pledge taken by lawyers to uphold the law and Constitution.

Part of this has emerged by the beating that Wall Street and financiers have taken in the current economic crisis, which can set the stage for reform, Harvard students say.

“There is the feeling that we want our lives to mean something more and to run organizations for the greater good,” said Max Anderson, one of the pledge’s organizers who is about to leave Harvard and take a job at Bridgewater Associates, a money management firm.

“No one wants to have their future criticized as a place filled with unethical behaviors,” he added. “We want to learn from those mistakes, do things differently and accept our duty to lead responsibly. Realistically, we have tremendous potential to affect society for better or worse. Let’s humbly step up. We are looking out for our own interest, but also for the interest of our employees and the broader public.”

Bruce Kogut, director of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Company Center for Leadership and Ethics at Columbia, said that this emphasis did not mean that students were necessarily going to shun jobs that paid well. Rather, they will think about how they earn their income, not just how much.

At Columbia, an ethics course is required, but students have also formed a popular “Leadership and Ethics Board,” that sponsors lectures with topics like “The Marie Antoinettes of Corporate America.”

“The courses make people aware that the financial crisis is not a technical blip,” Mr. Kogut said. “We’re seeing a generational change that understands that poverty is not just about Africa and India. They see inequities and the role of business to address them.”

Dalia Rahman, who is about to leave Harvard for a job with Goldman Sachs in London, said she signed the pledge because “it takes what we learned in class and makes it more concrete. When you have to make a public vow, it’s a way to commit to uphold principles.”

    A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality, NYT, 30.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/30/business/30oath.html?ref=opinion






Recession Imperils Loan Forgiveness Programs


May 27, 2009
The New York Times


When a Kentucky agency cut back its program to forgive student loans for schoolteachers, Travis B. Gay knew he and his wife, Stephanie — both special-education teachers — were in trouble.

“We’d gotten married in June and bought a house, pretty much planned our whole life,” said Mr. Gay, 26. Together, they had about $100,000 in student loans that they expected the program to help them repay over five years.

Then, he said, “we get a letter in the mail saying that our forgiveness this year was next to nothing.”

Now they are weighing whether to sell their three-bedroom house in Lawrenceburg, Ky., some 20 miles west of Lexington. Otherwise, Mr. Gay said, “it’s going to be very difficult for us to do our student loan payments, house payments and just eat.”

From Kentucky to Iowa to California, loan forgiveness programs are on the chopping block. Typically founded by their states to help students pay for college, the state agencies and nonprofit organizations that make student loans and sponsor these programs are getting less money from the federal government and are having difficulty raising money elsewhere as a result of the financial crisis.

The organizations say the repayment programs have been hurt by a broader effort by Congress to tackle the high cost of the federal student loan program by reducing subsidies to lenders.

Curbing the programs will make it harder to lure college graduates into high-value but often low-paying fields like teaching and nursing.

While few schools may be hiring now in this economic climate, there may be shortages later, educators say.

“You’re going to diminish the quality of the candidates who are thinking, ‘Do I take my skills in math and science into industry or do I take them into the classroom?’ ” said Tracey L. Bailey, who had loans forgiven in Florida and now is director of education policy for the Association of American Educators.

The Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation is at the extreme in cutting payments to people in midstream who have already finished their educations and are repaying loans, but organizations in many other states have curtailed their new offers to prospective teachers, nurses and others.

The New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corporation has suspended its program for teachers, and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority has done so for nurses and people called to active duty in the military.

Iowa Student Loan has reduced the maximum amounts offered to people in two of its three program categories, one for teachers and one for certain types of nurses, in an effort to ensure the programs will last. ALL Student Loan, which is based in Los Angeles, ended a program for nurses last year.

The changes leave students without a critical escape hatch from their federal college and graduate school loans, and they throw up a roadblock for those who dream of teaching but fear an oppressive combination of low wages and high debt.

“I remember sitting in the financial aid office and them saying, ‘Pay for every penny of it, pay for your books through loans, because they’re going to be forgiven,’ ” Mr. Gay said. And he dutifully did, using federal loans to cover some of the costs of his undergraduate degree in communications and all the costs of his master’s program in special education, which he finished in 2006.

If he had known the forgiveness program was vulnerable, Mr. Gay said, he would have chosen a different career, perhaps public relations. “Which I am actually contemplating doing right now,” he added.

Teachers in Kentucky are hoping to get financing restored for the program. But it is not clear where the money could come from.

“We’d obviously love to see something like that happen,” said Ted Franzeim, vice president for customer relations of the organization. He added that the group had never told participants that financing for forgiveness was guaranteed — a point that schoolteachers dispute.

About 7,500 teachers, nurses and public interest lawyers have benefited from the state’s loan forgiveness program since 2003, at a cost of $77 million, Mr. Franzeim said.

The federal government and some states continue to support their programs to lure promising young graduates to less lucrative jobs. The federal Education Department still offers up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness to math, science or education teachers who have worked for at least five years at an elementary or secondary school in a low-income area.

New Mexico, New Jersey and New York pay for their programs directly instead of relying on nonprofit organizations, and they have not been cut by lawmakers. In Oregon the Legislature is debating whether to suspend funding of a program for nurses.

Another problem for some of the nonprofit groups that rely on selling their loans in a secondary market is that financing has dried up.

The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, for example, has stopped offering to reduce interest rates for borrowers working in public service fields like teaching and firefighting, said Will Shaffner, director of business development and governmental relations. The only investor willing to buy its loans now is the federal Education Department, which purchases loans with standard terms only.

There is no clear accounting of how many people were swayed by loan forgiveness to pursue teaching, or how many might be deterred by the absence of such programs. But the anecdotal evidence suggests the programs matter.

Mark Henderson said he weighed a job as an auditor at Humana, where he worked as temporary help in 2005, against the chance to teach math, a subject he loved. Kentucky’s loan forgiveness program persuaded him to try teaching.

“I thought, at least if I have somebody repay it, I can last five years and get rid of this debt,” said Mr. Henderson, 26, a math teacher in Louisville. He enrolled at Spalding University and graduated in 2006 with a master’s in teaching; he is not yet in repayment on his loans because he is taking classes to improve his earning potential.

He has ended up teaching at the very high school he attended, Mr. Henderson said, and teaches geometry in the same classroom where he learned it.

“As it turned out, I really liked it,” he said, “and I’ll stick around for a long time.”

    Recession Imperils Loan Forgiveness Programs, NYT, 27.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/your-money/student-loans/27forgive.html?hpw






Op-Ed Columnist

The Harlem Miracle


May 8, 2009
The New Yorrk Times


The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results. You go visit an inner-city school, job-training program or community youth center and you meet incredible people doing wonderful things. Then you look at the results from the serious evaluations and you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.

That’s why I was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: “The attached study has changed my life as a scientist.”

Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children’s Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, but weren’t selected.

They found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.

Let me repeat that. It eliminated the black-white achievement gap. “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes,” Fryer wrote in a subsequent e-mail. What Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone’s founder and president, has done is “the equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. It’s amazing. It should be celebrated. But it almost doesn’t matter if we stop there. We don’t have a way to replicate his cure, and we need one since so many of our kids are dying — literally and figuratively.”

These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right. The Promise Academy does provide health and psychological services, but it helps kids who aren’t even involved in the other programs the organization offers.

To my mind, the results also vindicate an emerging model for low-income students. Over the past decade, dozens of charter and independent schools, like Promise Academy, have become no excuses schools. The basic theory is that middle-class kids enter adolescence with certain working models in their heads: what I can achieve; how to control impulses; how to work hard. Many kids from poorer, disorganized homes don’t have these internalized models. The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.

To understand the culture in these schools, I’d recommend “Whatever It Takes,” a gripping account of Harlem Children’s Zone by my Times colleague Paul Tough, and “Sweating the Small Stuff,” a superb survey of these sorts of schools by David Whitman.

Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school.

They also smash the normal bureaucratic strictures that bind leaders in regular schools. Promise Academy went through a tumultuous period as Canada searched for the right teachers. Nearly half of the teachers did not return for the 2005-2006 school year. A third didn’t return for the 2006-2007 year. Assessments are rigorous. Standardized tests are woven into the fabric of school life.

The approach works. Ever since welfare reform, we have had success with intrusive government programs that combine paternalistic leadership, sufficient funding and a ferocious commitment to traditional, middle-class values. We may have found a remedy for the achievement gap. Which city is going to take up the challenge? Omaha? Chicago? Yours?

    The Harlem Miracle, NYT, 8.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/08/opinion/08brooks.html?ref=opinion







The Goal: Improve America’s Schools


March 17, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Ending the ‘Race to the Bottom’ ” (editorial, March 12):

Although I share President Obama’s desire to improve America’s schools, I think he is moving forward on bad advice. He’d do better to ask teachers and parents how to make their schools more effective.

I would tell him that if the federal government wants to reward school success, it should split those rewards among all those who have contributed: parents; the whole school faculty, including the principal; and the students themselves. The government might also reward the community that gave its schools financial and moral support.

I’d also tell him that if innovation is desirable, all schools should be allowed to innovate, not just charter schools. Why not free public schools from the straitjackets of state textbooks, externally written curriculums and one-size-fits-all instruction?

Finally, I’d tell him to lose the words “achievement” and “rigor,” which have no connection to the inquisitiveness, determination, creative thinking and perseverance students need for genuine lifelong learning.

Joanne Yatvin
Portland, Ore., March 12, 2009

The writer is a former teacher, principal and superintendent.

To the Editor:

President Obama’s financing of initiatives for performance pay for teachers will accelerate the race to the bottom. Studies show that performance pay in other areas has damaging effects.

Doctors receiving performance pay stopped treating the riskiest and sickest patients. Performance pay in sports has been accompanied by athletes’ use of banned drugs. And performance pay in the finance industry has transformed us into the Enron nation.

In education, research on performance pay shows no substantive gains in student achievement, and all Mr. Obama’s policy will do is reinforce the ill-conceived notion that low-level standardized tests are a valid measure of student achievement. Instead, pay teachers a salary that signals teaching as a profession.

Jacqueline Ancess
New York, March 12, 2009

The writer is co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching.

To the Editor:

President Obama wants more charter schools. This is devastating for small school districts, for whom charters are an unfunded mandate. The public schools in Albany, with 9,000 students, have been hit hard by nine charter schools.

The Albany public schools have paid more than $100 million to charters, a gigantic loss for a small district. The result is a lack of resources for the majority of Albany’s kids who still attend the public schools. We don’t need more charters in Albany; we need a moratorium.

Mark S. Mishler
Albany, March 12, 2009

The writer is co-president of the Albany City P.T.A.

To the Editor:

After reading your editorial “Ending the ‘Race to the Bottom,’ ” and hearing President Obama’s proposals for fixing America’s public schools, I have a suggestion, a question and a challenge for our decision makers.

My suggestion is that our leaders, both economic and political, consider sending their children to public schools.

My question is why we accept a two-tiered educational system: rich kids over there (private), poor kids over here (public). If memory serves, we have already decided that separate but equal does not work.

My challenge for President Obama, and all those in the halls of power, is to invest time and energy in those public schools down the street. If you cannot send your children, send yourselves. Do not dictate from above, but lead from within.

Paul Clifford
Portland, Me., March 13, 2009

The writer is an eighth-grade social studies teacher.

To the Editor:

Re “ ‘No Picnic for Me Either,’ ” by David Brooks (column, March 13):

Mr. Brooks is exactly right: great teachers build strong relationships with students on whom they impose high standards.

Mr. Brooks is also correct in saying that we need to know who these teachers are, and which schools develop high achievement in their students and which do not. Yes, we need data. We need to know, not to guess or hope.

However, Mr. Brooks’s faith in the standardized tests by which we gather data strikes me as naïve. I taught English for years and have been an educator since 1957 and have yet to discover a better method of assessing my students’ progress in learning how to write than reading their compositions closely, with a red pencil, usually at least twice. If I could have substituted a standardized test for that process, I could have gone to bed a lot earlier each night.

Could it be that our faith in standardized testing is based on the fact that it costs much less than assessing real work?

One reading of Mr. Brooks’s column tells me more about his excellence as a writer than a thousand standardized tests.

Stephen Davenport
Oakland, Calif., March 13, 2009

    The Goal: Improve America’s Schools, NYT, 17.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/opinion/l17educ.html







Ending the ‘Race to the Bottom’


March 12, 2009
The New York Times


There was an impressive breadth of knowledge and a welcome dose of candor in President Obama’s first big speech on education, in which he served up an informed analysis of the educational system from top to bottom. What really mattered was that Mr. Obama did not wring his hands or speak in abstract about states that have failed to raise their educational standards. Instead, he made it clear that he was not afraid to embarrass the laggards — by naming them — and that he would use a $100 billion education stimulus fund to create the changes the country so desperately needs.

Mr. Obama signaled that he would take the case for reform directly to the voters, instead of limiting the discussion to mandarins, lobbyists and specialists huddled in Washington. Unlike his predecessor, who promised to leave no child behind but did not deliver, this president is clearly ready to use his political clout on education.

Mr. Obama spoke in terms that everyone could understand when he noted that only a third of 13- and 14-year-olds read as well as they should and that this country’s curriculum for eighth graders is two full years behind other top-performing nations. Part of the problem, he said, is that this nation’s schools have recently been engaged in “a race to the bottom” — most states have adopted abysmally low standards and weak tests so that students who are performing poorly in objective terms can look like high achievers come test time.

The nation has a patchwork of standards that vary widely from state to state and a system under which he said “fourth-grade readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming — and they’re getting the same grade.” In addition, Mr. Obama said, several states have standards so low that students could end up on par with the bottom 40 percent of students around the globe.

This is a recipe for economic disaster. Mr. Obama and Arne Duncan, the education secretary, have rightly made clear that states that draw money from the stimulus fund will have to create sorely needed data collection systems that show how students are performing over time. They will also need to raise standards and replace weak, fill-in-the-bubble tests with sophisticated examinations that better measure problem-solving and critical thinking.

Mr. Obama understands that standards and tests alone won’t solve this problem. He also called for incentive pay for teachers who work in shortage areas like math and science and merit pay for teachers who are shown to produce the largest achievement gains over time. At the same time, the president called for removing underperforming teachers from the classroom.

In an effort to broaden innovation, the president called for lifting state and city caps on charter schools. This could be a good thing, but only if the new charter schools are run by groups with a proven record of excellence. Once charter schools have opened, it becomes politically difficult to close them, even in cases where they are bad or worse than their traditional counterparts.

The stimulus package can jump-start the reforms that Mr. Obama laid out in his speech. But Congress will need to broaden and sustain those reforms in the upcoming reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Only Congress can fully replace the race to the bottom with a race to the top.

    Ending the ‘Race to the Bottom’, NYT, 12.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/opinion/12thu1.html






Obama Outlines Plan for Education Overhaul


March 11, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama called for sweeping changes in American education on Tuesday, urging states to lift limits on charter schools and improve the quality of early childhood education while also signaling that he intends to make good on his campaign promise of linking teacher pay to performance.

Having secured tens of billions of dollars in additional financing for education in the economic stimulus package and made clear his intent to seek more in his budget, Mr. Obama used a speech here to flesh out how he would use federal money and programs to influence policy at the state and local level.

His proposals reflected his party’s belief that education at all levels was underfinanced in the Bush years and that reform should encompass more than demands that schools show improved test scores. But they also showed a willingness to challenge teachers’ unions and public school systems, and to continue to demand more accountability.

The president said it was time to erase limits on the number of charter schools, which his administration calls “laboratories of innovation,” while closing those that are not working. He said 26 states and the District of Columbia now had caps. Teachers’ unions have opposed charter schools in some places, saying they take away financing for public schools, while supporting them in others.

Putting limits on charter schools, even in places where they are performing well, “isn’t good for our children, our economy or our country,” Mr. Obama said.

In his recent budget message, he said that he hoped to double financing for charter schools eventually, another campaign promise, and that the Department of Education would help create “new, high-quality charter schools” while supporting the closing of those guilty of “chronic underperformance.”

He called on states to impose tougher curriculum standards, and in an echo of language often used by President George W. Bush, he chided states that he said were “low-balling expectations for our kids.”

Saying he would “cultivate a new culture of accountability in America’s schools,” Mr. Obama said states and school districts should weed out bad teachers.

But he also pledged to pursue programs that would provide more incentives and support for teachers and indicated he would back a program in up to 150 school districts that would reward teachers “with more money for improved student achievement.”

The teacher-pay provision and his support for more charter schools could complicate Mr. Obama’s ability to win support for his plan in Congress and in state legislatures, where teacher unions hold considerable sway with Democrats.

Mr. Obama acknowledged the partisan divisions about how to proceed, even as he appealed to all sides to compromise.

“For decades, Washington has been trapped in the same stale debates that have paralyzed progress and perpetuated our educational decline,” Mr. Obama said, in a speech here to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom. Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early childhood education, despite compelling evidence of its importance.”

Union leaders reacted cautiously to the speech. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said his union’s 3.2 million members “welcome the vision” laid out by the president.

Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4-million-member American Federation of Teachers, said her union embraced “the goals and aspirations” outlined by Mr. Obama. “As with any public policy,” Ms. Weingarten said, “the devil is in the details, and it is important that teachers’ voices are heard as we implement the president’s vision.”

While unions generally dislike linking pay to specific measures of performance like rising test scores, there have been some successful experiments around the country with plans that take account of performance, especially in districts where unions are deeply involved.

The address on Tuesday was the first step in laying out the president’s agenda to improve schools, officials said, with more specifics to be outlined to Congress soon.

Mr. Obama noted that the recently enacted stimulus package called for spending some $5 billion on the Early Head Start and Head Start programs — an investment that he said would be rewarded by lower welfare rolls, fewer health care costs and less crime, as well as better classroom performance. He said he would ask Congress to finance a program that would provide grants to states that improve their early childhood programs.

His speech elated advocates of charter schools. “With 365,000 students on charter waiting lists, there is no excuse for state laws that stifle the growth of these schools,” Nelson Smith, the president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in a statement.


Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

    Obama Outlines Plan for Education Overhaul, NYT, 11.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/us/politics/11web-educ.html







Keys to a Better Education for Our Kids


February 19, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Our Greatest National Shame,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Feb. 15):

The lack of universal access to quality public education and the lack of universal access to quality health care are not in competition for our greatest shame. Together, they are like a hand in a glove; without either one, the promise of America — freedom, liberty and equal opportunity — is unachievable for too many citizens.

Human rights for all people everywhere include both education and health care. They should not be in competition. Debating which is the greater shame is like asking which we need more, oxygen or water, when obviously both are essential to life.

Jerry Frankel
Houston, Feb. 15, 2009

The writer is a medical doctor.

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof rightly identifies better teaching as a solution to our otherwise intractable school failures. But his strategies — scrapping certification, better testing and improved compensation — cannot hope to produce master teachers without a more thoughtful teacher induction system.

Principals, our front-line instructional leaders, need time to nurture — or fire — beginning teachers. By increasing the period before tenure by even just a year or two, new recruits could serve crucial full-year internships before taking over their own classrooms (the current sink-or-swim method abuses teaches and students alike), followed by sufficient time for principals’ coaching and assessment of budding teachers’ instructional proficiency and agility.

David C. Bloomfield
Brooklyn, Feb. 16, 2009

The writer is head of the master’s program in educational leadership at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof recommends “scrapping” teacher certification, but the evidence he cites of its ineffectiveness does not suggest that teachers can do without careful preparation.

Mr. Kristof cites the Perry Preschool program as an example of programs that “have done remarkably well in overcoming the pathologies of poverty.” The teachers who made the Perry program so successful had bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and most were in fact master teachers.

They had the tools and were well grounded in the basic skills that are necessary for good results: a knowledge of child development, an understanding of the ways in which young children learn and an ability to foster the child-initiated activities that give the young learners the sense that their ideas and the awareness they bring to learning is a part of the curriculum.

Teachers who can accomplish all this just don’t happen. If a certification program is faulty — and too many of them are — they should be fixed.

Our greatest need? To do a better job of teaching our teachers.

Maxine Fischel
Fort Lee, N.J., Feb. 17, 2009

The writer, a retired early childhood educator, has been a classroom teacher, a school principal and a college professor.

To the Editor:

When will America realize that judging students and teachers by test scores fosters mediocrity?

Having studied this issue for years, I know that what matters most for success in life is not on the tests. Much of what parents and employers want most for kids is not on the tests, yet it is what is shoved aside to focus on test scores.

Even in traditional school subjects, much important higher-level content is ignored because it cannot be tested with standardized tests. Not surprisingly, the people and countries with lower test scores often do better on all sorts of real-world outcomes.

Those in Washington and in our state capitals do not know which teachers or schools are effective for what really matters. This is true especially with poor children, whose test scores often result from teaching methods that seriously erode their learning and motivation.

Karl F. Wheatley
Cleveland, Feb. 17, 2009

The writer is an associate professor of early childhood education at Cleveland State University.

To the Editor:

The larger the number of loving and intelligent adults who are put in a child’s path, the better that child’s chances. But loving and intelligent adults, particularly ones who both care passionately about a subject and have a gift for discussing it with novices, do not grow on trees. That is why the pay scale for teaching is such a problem.

This country is full of people — I went to college with a number of them — who would be wonderful social studies teachers, but instead are unhappy lawyers; who would be superb math teachers, but instead are bored accountants; who would be terrific English teachers, but instead hate their advertising jobs.

Why did they go into those other professions? Because of money.

American K-12 education now basically pays enough to attract the bottom third of college graduates. Because teaching can be so satisfying, you still do get some bargains — I pass some in the halls of my high school every day — but you can’t run an enormous national enterprise on the basis of bargains.

If you genuinely want to improve education, I have three words for you: pay for talent.

David S. Frankel
South Dennis, Mass., Feb. 15, 2009

The writer teaches high school English.

To the Editor:

I agree that education must be our priority, and that we must support our teachers in every possible way. But as a parent whose children attend schools in an inner-city school district that straddles the line between the haves and have-nots, I’d add that parental involvement matters a great deal.

Our school district benefits greatly because there are just enough middle-class families here who devote a lot of time to their own children’s education and the education of their children’s schoolmates. To their credit, even though the school board is dominated by the relatively affluent families on the north side of the district, the south-side schools have the most modern facilities.

America needs to take a long, hard look at itself and ask where the middle-class support for and involvement with all our schools has gone. Too many of us have shortchanged our brothers and sisters by attending only to our own children’s education and neglecting the education of others.

James F. McManus
Phoenix, Feb. 16, 2009

    Keys to a Better Education for Our Kids, NYT, 19.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/19/opinion/l19kristof.html






Op-Ed Columnist

Our Greatest National Shame


February 15, 2009
The New York Times


So maybe I was wrong. I used to consider health care our greatest national shame, considering that we spend twice as much on medical care as many European nations, yet American children are twice as likely to die before the age of 5 as Czech children — and American women are 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as Irish women.

Yet I’m coming to think that our No. 1 priority actually must be education. That makes the new fiscal stimulus package a landmark, for it takes a few wobbly steps toward reform and allocates more than $100 billion toward education.

That’s a hefty sum — by comparison, the Education Department’s entire discretionary budget for the year was $59 billion — and it will save America’s schools from the catastrophe that they were facing. A University of Washington study had calculated that the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus.

“We dodged a bullet the size of a freight train,” notes Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington.

So for those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our future?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan describes the stimulus as a “staggering opportunity,” the kind that comes once in a lifetime. He argues: “We have to educate our way to a better economy, that’s the only way long term to get there.”

That’s exactly right, and it’s partly why I shifted my views of the relative importance of education and health. One of last year’s smartest books was “The Race Between Education and Technology,” by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, both Harvard professors. They offer a wealth of evidence to argue that America became the world’s leading nation largely because of its emphasis on mass education at a time when other countries educated only elites (often, only male elites).

They show that America’s educational edge created prosperity and equality alike — but that this edge was eclipsed in about the 1970s, and since then one country after another has surpassed us in education.

Perhaps we should have fought the “war on poverty” with schools — or, as we’ll see in a moment, with teachers.

Some education programs have done remarkably well in overcoming the pathologies of poverty. Children who went through the Perry Preschool program in Michigan, for example, were 25 percent less likely to drop out of high school years later than their peers in a control group, and committed half as many violent felonies. They were one-third less likely to become teenage parents or addicts, and half as likely to get abortions.

Likewise, the KIPP program, the subject of a fine book by Jay Mathews, has attracted rave reviews for schools that turn low-income students’ lives around.

There are legitimate questions about whether such programs are scalable and would succeed if introduced more broadly. But we do know that the existing national school system is broken, and that we’re not trying hard enough to fix it.

“We have a good sense from the data where there are big opportunities,” notes Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth College who studies education.

The hardest nut to crack is high schools — we don’t have a strong sense yet how to rescue them. But there’s a real excitement at what we are learning about K-8 education.

First, good teachers matter more than anything; they are astonishingly important. It turns out that having a great teacher is far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good school with a mediocre teacher. A Los Angeles study suggested that four consecutive years of having a teacher from the top 25 percent of the pool would erase the black-white testing gap.

Second, our methods to screen potential teachers, or determine which ones are good, don’t work. The latest Department of Education study, published this month, showed again that there is no correlation between teacher certification and teacher effectiveness. Particularly in lower grades, it also doesn’t seem to matter if a teacher has a graduate degree or went to a better college or had higher SATs.

The implication is that throwing money at a broken system won’t fix it, but that resources are necessary as part of a package that involves scrapping certification, measuring better through testing which teachers are effective, and then paying them significantly more — with special bonuses to those who teach in “bad” schools.

One of the greatest injustices is that America’s best teachers overwhelmingly teach America’s most privileged students. In contrast, the most disadvantaged students invariably get the least effective teachers, year after year — until they drop out.

This stimulus package offers a new hope that we may begin to reform our greatest national shame, education.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/ . Please also join me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/kristof , watch my YouTube videos http://www.youtube.com/nicholaskristof  and follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/nytimeskristof .

    Our Greatest National Shame, NYT, 15.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/opinion/15kristof.html?ref=opinion






Stimulus Plan Would Provide Flood of Aid to Education


January 28, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The economic stimulus plan that Congress has scheduled for a vote on Wednesday would shower the nation’s school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education’s current budget.

The proposed emergency expenditures on nearly every realm of education, including school renovation, special education, Head Start and grants to needy college students, would amount to the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II.

Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government.

Responding in part to a plea from Democratic governors earlier this month, Congress allocated $79 billion to help states facing large fiscal shortfalls maintain government services, and especially to avoid cuts to education programs, from pre-kindergarten through higher education.

Obama administration officials, teachers unions and associations representing school boards, colleges and other institutions in American education said the aid would bring crucial financial relief to the nation’s 15,000 school districts and to thousands of campuses otherwise threatened with severe cutbacks.

“This is going to avert literally hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the House education committee, said, “We cannot let education collapse; we have to provide this level of support to schools.”

But Republicans strongly criticized some of the proposals as wasteful spending and an ill-considered expansion of the federal government’s role, traditionally centered on aid to needy students, into new realms like local school construction.

And they were joined by some education experts from across the political spectrum in wondering how school districts could spend so many new billions so fast, whether such an outpouring of dollars would lead to higher student achievement, and what might happen in two years when the stimulus money ends.

Analysts were also turning up surprises in the fine print.

One provision, which was sought by the student lending industry and went unmentioned in early Congressional summaries of the stimulus package, would temporarily increase subsidies to banks in the guaranteed student loan program by tying them to a new index, partly because recent federal intervention in the credit markets has invalidated the previous index. A spokesman for Sallie Mae, one of the largest student lenders, said the change was needed to keep student loan markets fluid. Critics said it represented a potential new windfall for lenders.

“This just continues the well-established tradition of welfare for the student loan industry,” said Barmak Nassirian, an expert in student lending.

The formulas by which the stimulus money for public schools would be allocated to states and local districts are complex, but take into consideration numbers of school-age children in poor families. The level received per student would vary considerably by state, according to an analysis by the New America Foundation, a research group that monitors education spending. New York would be among the biggest beneficiaries, at $760 per student, while New Jersey and Connecticut would fall near the bottom, with $427 and $409 per student, respectively. The District of Columbia would get the most per student, $1,289, according to the foundation’s analysis.

The foundation contends, however, that the formula does not effectively allocate the most money to states with the greatest need.

In recent years the federal government has contributed 9 percent of the nation’s total spending on public schools, with states and local districts financing the rest. Washington has contributed 19 percent of spending on higher education. The stimulus package would raise those federal proportions significantly.

The Department of Education’s discretionary budget for the 2008 fiscal year was about $60 billion. The stimulus bill would raise that to about $135 billion this year, and to about $146 billion in 2010. Other federal agencies would administer about $20 billion in additional education-related spending.

“This really marks a new era in federal education spending,” said Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of 90 education groups.

The bill would increase 2009 fiscal year spending on Title I, a program of specialized classroom efforts to help educate poor children, to $20 billion from about $14.5 billion, and raise spending on education for disabled children to $17 billion from $11 billion.

Those increases respond to longtime demands by teachers unions, school boards and others that Washington fully finance the mandates laid out for states and districts in the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, and in the main federal law regulating special education.

“We’ve been arguing that the federal government hasn’t been living up to its commitments, but these increases go a substantial way toward meeting them,” said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.

Frederick Hess, an education policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, criticized the bill as failing to include mechanisms to encourage districts to bring school budgets in line with property tax revenues, which have plunged with the bursting of the real estate bubble.

“It’s like an alcoholic at the end of the night when the bars close, and the solution is to open the bar for another hour,” Mr. Hess said.

The bill would, for the first time, involve the federal government in a significant fashion in the building and renovation of schools, which has been the responsibility of states and districts. It includes $20 billion for school renovation and modernization, with $14 billion for elementary and secondary schools and $6 billion for higher education. It also includes tax provisions under which the federal government would pay the interest on construction bonds issued by school districts.

Mr. Duncan said the bill’s school renovation provisions would create a “huge number of construction jobs,” because so many school buildings need repairs.

But Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California and the ranking minority member of the House education committee, said, “By putting the federal government in the business of building schools, Democrats may be irrevocably changing the federal government’s role in education in this country.”

In higher education, the bill would increase spending on Pell Grants, the most important federal student aid program, to $27 billion from about $19 billion this year.

“It’s a very good idea to increase Pell Grants in the stimulus,” said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president for public affairs at the American Council on Education, which represents colleges and universities.

But Mr. Hartle said that even he was having difficulty tracking all the new spending.

“A lot of things will go through, and only later will we know exactly what happened,” he said.

    Stimulus Plan Would Provide Flood of Aid to Education, NYT, 28.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/education/28educ.html






For Catholic Schools, Crisis and Catharsis


January 18, 2009
The New York Times


It is a familiar drill in nearly all of the nation’s Roman Catholic school systems: a new alarm every few years over falling enrollment; church leaders huddling over what to do; parents rallying to save their schools. And then the bad news.

When the Diocese of Brooklyn last week proposed closing 14 more elementary schools, it was not the deepest but only the latest of a thousand cuts suffered, one tearful closing announcement at a time, as enrollment in the nation’s Catholic schools has steadily dropped by more than half from its peak of five million 40 years ago.

But recently, after years of what frustrated parents describe as inertia in the church hierarchy, a sense of urgency seems to be gripping many Catholics who suddenly see in the shrinking enrollment a once unimaginable prospect: a country without Catholic schools.

From the ranks of national church leaders to the faithful in the pews, there are dozens of local efforts to forge a new future for parochial education by rescuing the remaining schools or, if need be, reinventing them. The efforts are all being driven, in one way or another, by a question in a University of Notre Dame task force report in 2006: “Will it be said of our generation that we presided over the demise” of Catholic schools?

The Archdiocese of Chicago and dioceses in Memphis and Wichita, Kan., have begun or expanded radical experiments in recruiting new students and financing their educations. Administrators in a dozen dioceses, including Brooklyn’s, are rethinking the century-old norms of parish-run schools, where overworked priests have until recently been the single-handed bosses. These dioceses are now recruiting parents and alumni to play a bigger decision-making role.

A series of major studies in the past few years, including one by the White House Domestic Policy Council, have described the dwindling presence of parochial schools as a crisis not just for Catholics but for society.

The losses have already been deeply felt in impoverished urban neighborhoods, where parochial schools have attracted poor and minority students — including non-Catholics — seeking havens of safety and order from troubled public schools. Roughly 20 percent of parochial school students are not Catholic, according to experts.

The Archdiocese of Washington was so desperate to save seven struggling parochial schools last year that it opted for a solution that shook Catholic educators to the core. It took down the crucifixes, hauled away the statues of the Virgin Mary, and — in its own word — “converted” the schools in the nation’s capital into city charter schools.

The Washington choice seemed to limn in its most extreme form the predicament facing Catholic education: How to maintain a Catholic school tradition of no-frills educational rigor, religious teaching and character-building — a system that has helped shape generations of America’s striving classes since the turn of the last century — when Catholics are no longer signing up their children.

“It was taken for granted for a long time that Catholic schools would always be there,” said Dr. Karen M. Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, a lobbying group. “People are beginning to realize that this is a false assumption.”

The Rev. Timothy R. Scully, who led the Notre Dame task force study widely credited with igniting the current self-examination, was more blunt.

“There is a window open, and we may have a chance to reverse the trend of decline,” he said. “But I’m not sure how long it will remain open.”

Why this matters deeply to committed Catholics has been articulated repeatedly by parents, students and alumni of the nation’s roughly 2,000 parochial schools shuttered since 1990, a majority in just the last eight years.

Parents in Brooklyn last week, echoing those before them, said it was about bonds of faith, place and time.

“My grandmother and grandfather, my aunts and uncles, both my parents, my wife and I and now our kids have gone to Holy Name,” said Martin J. Cottingham, 38, a member of the class of 1984 of Holy Name of Jesus elementary school in Brooklyn, which would merge with a neighboring school under the Brooklyn Diocese’s reorganization plan. “The world can change, but if you got your school, your church, your sports all within a couple of blocks, you’re safe.”

At its peak in 1965, the church’s network of parochial schools numbered more than 12,000 in the United States. The bulk of those were built starting at the turn of the century, when Catholic bishops commanded every parish to build one, largely from concern that waves of Catholic immigrants then arriving from Ireland and Italy would be lost in a public school system that was openly hostile to their beliefs.

The goal set by the bishops in 1884 — “every Catholic child in a Catholic school” — was never quite met. But by 1965, roughly half of all Catholic children in America attended Catholic elementary schools, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

The number today is about 15 percent. Among Latinos, the fastest-growing church group — soon to comprise a majority of Catholics in the United States — it is only 3 percent.

The church has blamed a stew of confluent trends, including the shortage of nuns and priests who once ran the schools at no extra cost and have been replaced by lay staff with pension benefits; the post-Vatican II relaxation of religious obligations, which once included sending one’s children to the parish school; and the demographic shifts by which relatively well-paid working-class parishioners of a generation ago were replaced in the pews by Latinos and other immigrants who are part of the working poor.

Disappointed parents, as well as education professionals, cite rising tuition as another factor. But they also say the church hierarchy has been slow to react to societal change and unwilling to admit to problems, and is not especially well trained to run businesses — schools — in environments like New York, where charter schools and a generally improving public school system offer parents, Catholic or otherwise, options they have not always had.

“There is not a single seminary in the United States offering courses in finance, marketing, business management or long-term planning,” said Richard J. Burke, president of Catholic School Management, a consultancy firm in Connecticut that has provided those services to hundreds of parochial schools — most still open, he said — over the past 35 years. “Parish schools today simply cannot be operated by individual pastors.”

Recently, many Catholic leaders have come to agree.

In Brooklyn, the centerpiece of the five-year plan unveiled last week by Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio is a two-tiered school management structure, with parish priests left in charge of religious matters. A board of laypeople, selected by priests and diocesan officials, would handle just about everything else: marketing, recruitment, managing the finances, even hiring principals.

While reserving the parish priest’s right to veto his board’s decisions, the plan clearly sets a premium on collaboration and on what Bishop DiMarzio called a “communion” of schools and dedicated people. That communion would cut across parish lines, as well as the line of authority that once separated clergy and laity.

“This is a paradigm shift, a whole new way of thinking about our schools,” said Auxiliary Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of the Brooklyn Diocese, who spearheaded the six-month assessment behind the new plan.

In the Archdiocese of New York, which lost 5,000 parochial school pupils last year alone, plans are under way to adopt a similar approach, tapping into the administrative and business talents of parents, alumni and wealthy donors. “Supporting Catholic schools is the obligation of the entire Catholic community,” said Timothy J. McNiff, the archdiocesan schools superintendent, adding that no decision had been made about further school closings. The diocese has closed 15 since the 2006-7 school year.

In Wichita and Memphis, where two of the earliest experiments in reinventing traditional parochial schools were started, Catholic educators see cause for optimism. The Wichita Diocese has mounted a campaign since 1985, asking its 120,000 Catholics to tithe as much as 8 percent of household income to its ministries, which include 39 schools.

The money was not earmarked solely for the schools, but it has allowed all of them to eliminate tuition starting in 2002, with enrollment approaching a 40-year high of 11,000.

In Memphis, with a small Catholic population, the diocese turned to private donors and philanthropic foundations to help support its 30 schools, particularly eight urban schools where only 10 percent of the pupils are Catholic. The diocese has since reopened those eight schools, which had closed because of budget problems, and added 1,500 students systemwide.

In the last few years, research papers published at Catholic universities like Notre Dame and Fordham and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles have explored alternatives like dedicating church resources to educating only the poor, only the affluent or only children with disabilities.

What most proposals have in common is broadening the base of financial support. Some call for including all Catholics in the diocese; others focus on wealthy philanthropists; some use marketing campaigns aimed at filling empty seats with children, Catholic or not.

“The strength of parochial schools has always been the parish community,” Bishop Caggiano said. “But with the mobility of individuals today, that strength can also be a weakness, keeping people from looking beyond to the larger community.”

But it is that small community of family and friends that Catholics cite as the heart of the parochial school experience: looking around in church on Sunday and seeing one’s classmates, or knowing the names of the solemn young altar servers at the funeral Mass of one’s parent. It is the parochial in the parochial school.

Debbie DaGiau, mother of a seventh grader at Blessed Sacrament School in Queens, which is marked for closing this year, said that for the sake of that experience, some parents work two jobs to pay the $3,600 tuition.

“I send Matthew to this particular Catholic school because the school and church and parish are together,” she said. Since the announcement of the school’s proposed closing, Ms. DaGiau said, parents have mobilized to fight, raising funds and marshaling alumni.

“We’ll do whatever it takes,” she said.

    For Catholic Schools, Crisis and Catharsis, NYT, 18.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/education/18catholic.html?hp