Weekend Roundup: Improving Schools

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There are two articles out today from education researchers saying criticism of teachers misses the real opportunity to improve the nation’s public schools. The problem, they say, is management.

Three education professors say the current band of school reformers are off base in saying the way to improve schools is to improve teachers. This “blame the teacher” analysis has led to merit pay, battles between management and unions, charter schools and an emphasis on standardized tests, write Saul Rubinstein, Charles Heckscher and Paul Adler. 

The professors have seen this story before, particularly in the analysis of domestic manufacturing in the 1970s. The argument then was that U.S. manufacturers were failing because of bad workers and unions. When Japanese companies came to the U.S. and used American workers to produce best-selling products, we realized that management — not employees — had been holding back manufacturing.

The same is true in education, the professors say. They point to case studies, rural and urban, of school districts that have tried a more collaborative approach between administrators and teachers. The result, they say, is better schools and higher test scores. 

University of Michigan professor David Cohen writes in the Washington Post that “fragmented school governance in the United States, coupled with the lack of coherent educational infrastructure, make it difficult either to broadly improve teaching and learning or to have valid knowledge of the extent of improvement.” 

Cohen writes that attempts to root out ineffective teachers won’t bring about the changes reformers want. 

• Politico reports a growing conflict between states and the Federal Communications Commission about the best way to expand high-speed Internet. 

The states worry that a plan being considered by the FCC will pre-empt their role in regulating local communication systems. The plan was devised by some of the nation’s largest telecom firms — Verizon, AT&T, Frontier Communications, FairPoint. It would set a common, national rate for all calls that connect a call to a different network. That national rate would take away the states’ ability to regulate intrastate calls.

“This is outrageous,” said Jim Cawley, commissioner on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. “It’s profoundly anti-rural, anti-state and anti-consumer.”

• The monthly Rural Mainstreet Index finds slight economic improvement in 10 Midwest and Plains states. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who runs the index, says the results of his survey of small town bankers don’t suggest a recession, but indicates there has been deterioration from earlier in the year.

“Although both farming gauges are down from the beginning of the year, they are up significantly from September of last year, reflecting very strong farm income growth,” Goss said. “Bankers remain less than optimistic about future economic conditions, compared to last year at this time.” 

• Ag research has stagnated, or fallen, since the 1970s. The decline in Congressional earmarks has particularly harmed the nation’s basic research funding.

Some Senate Agriculture Committee members have proposed legislation intended to boost ag research through charitable contributions. 

• Montana members of Congress are continuing their protest of U.S. Post Office closings in their state. Montana could lose 85 local offices and four postal processing facilities. 

“The decisions being made by postmaster general are really going to cement the post office as a thing of the past,” said Sen. Jon Tester. “The proposals he’s put forth are absolutely devastating on rural America, and the economies in those communities are going to be very negatively impacted.” 

• Amazing how writers just toss out “rural” as being equal to “bad” in American politics.

The latest example comes from E. D. Kain in Forbes, who writes that the Electoral College “disproportionally favor(s) rural and conservative America….” Candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time catering to voters in their “rural” states, Kain writes

As proof, he presents a chart showing the “attention paid” to states in the 2004 election. These states got an outsized amount of attention: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa. 

How rural are these states? Well, Florida is 93 percent urban; Ohio is 70 percent urban; Pennsylvania is 75 percent urban; Wisconsin is 59 percent urban; and Iowa is 48 percent urban.

Yes, it is sooooo clear that rural states are getting an inordinate amount of attention.

• The extension in Federal Aviation Administration funding leaves in $200 million in rural airport subsidies. 

 

 

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