10/28/09

Easier said than done

A friend of mine who used to be a journalist now refuses to read op-eds or blogs. I understand why. The author can say anything he or she wants without suffering any consequences for what happens later. Also, the author can call for an overhaul of entire systems and industries without worrying about how to get it done.

That's why a staff editorial in today's Korea Times is so refreshing. The KT staff outline many of the problems with "elite" schools that recruit top students.

The KT staff then concludes in staff editorial style:

"Therefore, policymakers and educators are required to overhaul the entire education system and the college admissions policy in order to hammer out more comprehensive measures to free students from private tutoring and narrow the education divide."

Oh...and the staff also added..."
It is easier said than done"

Congrats!

* * *

By the way, whenever I read staff editorials by newspapers advising politicians and citizens about what they should do, I keep in mind that many newspapers have closed down, are printing their papers in red ink, and are struggling with circulation declines. According to a recent story, U.S. newspaper circulation down 10.6%.

Seems that if newspapers want to fix problems that they'd start with that. But I guess, to quote the Korea Times, "It is easier said than done."

* * *

Andy Smarick has a well-researched and pretty smart piece arguing that the attempts to improve low-achieving schools has failed and continuing with the policy is misguided. He goes into some detail about it, but the main points are that (1) instead of trying to reform failed schools, it would be better to close them down and (2) to reopen closed schools as charters.

Wow! Talk about being easier said than done! I'd prefer to start my own newspaper!

* * *

I have been having an ongoing argument with a libertarian friend of mine. He opposes vouchers, tuition tax credits, charters, just about any form of school choice. What does he want? To blow up the whole public school system and start from scratch. We've argued about this over the phone, over lunch, on the radio, and probably in his dreams. I tell him that even vouchers scare many people, why in the world would they be interested in the complete unknown of starting over again.

I wish I had thought to tell him, "It is easier said than done."

* * *

Arguments for completely starting over sound good. They may even be correct most of the time. After all, whatever has been going on probably hasn't been working, that's why some people are calling for reform. There are interest groups embedded, making money off the way things are currently being done. Everyone may want a better mousetrap, but not if you are the mouse.

Just think about the teachers and administrators in the current system. They may love the hypothetical new jobs that they'd have in the hypothetical new system, but I bet they love their current jobs even more than hypothetical jobs. It is hard to pay for lunch with a hypothetical salary. It is hard to impress a woman with your hypothetical car when you're late for dinner.

I reminded my libertarian friend who wants to blow up the school system that after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision overturning Jim Crow that there were black educators worrying about what would happen to them! The entire system was going to be overhauled, segregation was being made illegal, black children would (theoretically, at least, for a decade) be able to attend local schools...and some black educators were wondering, but what about us?

* * *

Calling for overhauling systems is appealing, in the way it was during the 2008 presidential campaign when candidate Barack Obama was making pretty speeches saying that he was for change. He even had a pretty slogan, "Yes, we can," to go along with it.

It is hard to be against change in theory. How has that been working out for president Obama? Apparently, change was and is easier said than done, whether if you're a blogger, journalist, researcher, or president of the United States.

CJL

10/23/09

Gerald Bracey, invited to his final mugging

"Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive."
--G. K. Chesterton

* * *

I don't usually do obituaries because

(1) I don't know the person who has just passed away
(2) It is usually in poor taste to speak honestly about the recently departed
(3) I do know the person who has just passed away, but still feel too close to them to write about them on a blog.

But I will make an exception in the case of Gerald Bracey!

In case you didn't know, he was an education researcher and public schools advocate. He was also highly sarcastic, acidic, a gentleman who was often uncouth and even childish.

A couple of random thoughts and memories:

* Just as I was getting into the education policy analysis world I thought about inviting Bracey to be a speaker on a panel. I asked a couple of prominent education researchers. The first three told me that they refused to be on a panel with Bracey. I could invite him, I was told, but it would be tough to get anyone who was prominent to talk with him.

* My first encounter with Bracey was at a Manhattan Institute panel discussion. The topic was DC education choice. I had read quite a bit about it and was versed in many specifics at that time. So, during Q&A, I went after Bracey. He later wrote about it, saying, "It was not the most hostile audience I have ever faced, even though you could almost see the heat rising from the bald head of Cato's Casey Lartigue as he railed at me during Q & A (even Brennan asked Lartigue if there was a question anywhere in his comments)."

It was the first time that anyone had referred to my head in a professional context.

* I learned to be skeptical of Bracey. I remember when we spoke at the same charter school conference a few years ago in Florida. During a break, Bracey told me that I was wrong, that he was actually a school choice supporter. I laughed at him for trying to put that BS past me. He then dared me to prove he wasn't. I listened to him, then realized the game he was running. He then fessed up that he was a PUBLIC school choice supporter, then mentioned that I was one of the few school choice supporters who pushed him on that instead of just dismissing him. He told me that I was a great listener. At times, it seemed that he was playing head games with people, testing to see if they were listening, thinking. He had a PhD in psychology, so he may have been.

He later wrote that he had been invited to a mugging. At that time, he described me as being "laid back." (He later dropped the "laid back" part in the official 14th edition of his rotten apple awards.)

I later asked him what he meant. He said that I seemed to be "super cool" despite my views on things. I completely agree with him about me being super cool. Parenthetically, that reminds me of a very liberal black woman at a minority writers seminar who told me, after we had spent a few days together learning how to write op-eds, that I seemed "normal" even though I worked at Cato.

* One of the few things I liked about Bracey: he was a listener. I always had the feeling that he was listening because he was looking for a flaw in your argument. Nevertheless, he rarely interrupted other people when they were talking. He was a Jekyll/Hyde--a gentleman who would disagree with you in a friendly way, then later eviscerate you in print.

* We mixed it up a few years ago in a discussion on his education discussion group. I remember getting a lot of off-list emails from his critics, some of them prominent, who were happy to see someone taking him on directly. I didn't mind his barbs, I knew they didn't help his point. The attacks always seemed childish. Again, the psychologist in him seemed to be determined to get into the heads of his opponents. I don't allow people to live rent-free in my head. I remember that he got really upset when I turned his style on himself by questioning his funding sources. I didn't really give a damn. It was one of the rare times that he really seemed to get upset. He ended the thread after that.

* I first met Bracey at a debate he had with Chris Whittle in Arizona. It was a crowd of mostly school choice supporters. Bracey, a defender of public schools, was the punching bag. I was amazed when the debate was over that no one talked to Bracey. I spent several minutes probing his facts and figures, much to his amazement.

* Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, Greg Toppo of USA Today, Andrew Rotherham of EduWonk and certainly others Bracey attacked over the years have noted Bracey's passing. Bracey spent a lot of his time focused on correcting the media. As I mentioned to a friend a few years ago, he is similar to Rush Limbaugh in that regard--he spends much of his time correcting and challenging what is written about in the media.

There's a Korean phrase 미운정고운정 that (is much deeper than I could understand, I'm sure) describes the feelings that even adversaries can have about one another. The best comparison I could come up with is two boxers who hug one another after they've been battling each other. There is both a good and bad feeling. The people that Bracey attacked over the years seemed to respect that he was genuine, even though he was uncouth. For all of his flaws and personality quirks, he did keep school choice advocates and education reformers on their toes. We could all be sure that at least one person had read our studies, reports and op-eds.

* I wasn't surprised two years ago when Bracey, who enjoyed debunking myths, wrote me a nice e-mail expressing regret about XM 169 pulling me off the airwaves after my radio co-host and I debunked the Memorandum 46 myth.

My favorite myth Bracey debunked: That American kids today are somehow less informed than kids in the past. He has mentioned it several times, most recently in a response to Bob Herbert of the New York Times. Of course, we still came to different conclusions about what that means for education policy today.

* A few days ago I was complaining to a friend about Bracey. I had come across some comments Bracey had made about education in South Korea. As usual, Bracey had to take a gratuitous shot by putting the worst possible spin on things. Last week I was scribbling some notes for a possible article about education in Korea. If I ever get around to it I will still mention Bracey.

CJL

10/22/09

I agree with B. Obama and Rush L.

Back in DC

Last week I gave four speeches at universities in North Carolina. My main topic was the relationship between minorities and the government. By the third time I had given the speech I was already ready for the Q&A as soon as I stood up to start talking.

Barack Obama

I agree with Obama's administration moving to allow people to smoke weed in states where it is allowed for medical purposes.

I also agree with Obama's ongoing effort to control compensation for company executives whose companies receive government bailouts. That'll learn 'em.

Rush Limbaugh

Those NFL players grumbling about Rush Limbaugh possibly being a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams might have felt differently if he had stated he was in favor of abolishing the salary cap.

Organ donations: A world-wide catastrophe

Economist Gary S. Becker writes in favor of allowing vital organs to be sold. I agree with him. He concludes: "My conclusion is that markets in organs are the best available way to enable persons with defective organs to get transplants much more quickly than under the present system."

It isn't just in America where altruism is failing to produce enough organ donations. According to the Korea Times: "Less than one out of 10 South Koreans donate their organs while more than 18,000 patients are waiting for transplants."

CJL

10/7/09

Mini-speaking tour next week

I'll be speaking at four universities in North Carolina next week. Here is an announcement that has been posted on the Fayetteville State University Website.

10/3/09

Radio, Harvard

I'll be a guest on XM 169 The Power this morning from 10:15 a.m. EST. I'll be talking about teaching English abroad. I'll be interviewed by Brian Higgins of MYB Talk. I sang last night for about five hours with friends but I'm sure my voice will be fine.

Tuesday, I'll be interviewed by a Harvard University representative who wants my input on a new doctoral program for education leaders. It is a collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School.

Some folks at the Booker Rising site are (again) reminding me that I'm not as smart as I think I am.

CJL

10/1/09

Volunteering at the school choice rally

Yesterday morning I volunteered at the rally for the Opportunity Scholarship Program. My, how time has flown! Six years ago I was one of the folks who was lobbying Congress to set up the program. Yesterday I met some teenagers who were in the 2nd and 3rd grades back when we were pushing for the program. Now, some of them are big enough to whip my ass in a fight. So, yes, there is a good reason for these kids to get a quality education.

Some of the school choice movement's greatest advocates and political leaders (Virginia Walden Ford, Howard Fuller, Kevin Chavous, Rep. Boehner, former education secretary Spellings, and DC Mayor for Life Marion Barry!) were there yesterday.


This group was organized...I wasn't looking, but I bet they walked off the bus in 2s.

* * *


I had my group line up against the wall. They had a tough teacher with them, believe me, I was saving them by taking control. That was a no-nonsense lady. She wasn't even interested in small talk with me as we walked the kids over.

* * *


Behind the scenes, the staff volunteers were loading up the water and food. Considering how heavy the water was I figured it was a good time to get out my camera to document the heavy lifting being done. Gerard Robinson (the brother about to drop the water) is the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. As I mentioned to him then..."Good to see you putting that Harvard education to good use."

* * *


The morning before the rally I was told that anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 people were expected to attend. The estimates were anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people were there.

I wonder if the reporter quoted him in the story.

* * *


My man! Marion Barry! We talked school choice a few months ago at a different rally. He told me then that he has always been a school choice supporter. I asked why he led the charge against the 1981 tuition tax credit referendum and was invisible when Republicans tried to pass DC choice in 1995. He said he just didn't like those particular proposals...which he later translated as, "There wasn't any money for D.C. in those plans."

* * *


A few years ago at an event I was standing next in line while a lady went on telling Mayor Barry how great he was and how much he had done for the city. I've seen that a number of times. I said to him that time that it must be nice to have people praising him like that. He responded, "You gotta earn that." I said I was using my own money when I help so I guess I would be less effective. He then gave me a quick lecture I don't recall about the virtues of public service.

* * *

Media. There were more lurking around.

* * *


These folks were hanging around. I remember going on Capitol Hill a few years ago with the lady on my left. My, how time has gone by...

* * *


We recognized each other almost immediately. Six years ago we didn't have many black fathers attending rallies and events so he was noticeable just for that reason.

* * *


The woman with the yellow shirt was ready to attack a public school heckler who showed up. I remember talking with her a few years ago.

* * *


I love this couple. They have been some of the movement's strongest parent advocates. She hugged me so tightly when she saw me that I think I lost 2 pounds.

* * *

After the rally was over I went on Capitol Hill with some of the parents to hand out propaganda about the voucher program. Not to say you can judge people based on their staff, but the folks at the offices of Reps. Tiahrt, Issa, and Jackson were absolutely delightful. If you ever get arrested then those are some folks you'd want in your speed dial.

Another added benefit about Jackson's office was the number of beautiful looking ladies working for us all. Tiahrt and Issa are both Republicans, their staff were really friendly even before we told them why we were there. Jackson is a Democrat, but even after we told the staff why we were there, they were still incredibly friendly. Of course, based on his father, Rep. Jackson may want to have my number in his speed dial.

On the other hand, the staff in the office of Rep. Barbara Lee seemed to be concerned we were there to spread the H1N1 virus. The folks in the offices of Delegate Norton and Reps. Emerson, Clyburn, and Serrano were fine.

CJL