Opinion

The Great Debate

America is losing another generation to science illiteracy

By Margaret Honey
The opinions expressed are her own.

Steven Brill has it exactly right when he says that “our nation’s economy, security, and core values depend on [the] success” of our public schools.

That’s what President George W. Bush had in mind when he signed “No Child Left Behind” into law in 2001. Signaling his strong concerns about that legislation’s shortcomings, it is also why Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced earlier this month that he would override the requirement under No Child Left Behind that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Mr. Duncan said he is waiving the law’s proficiency requirements for states that have adopted their own testing and accountability programs and are making other strides toward better schools. Without the waivers, he said, 80 percent of American schools would get failing grades under the law.

But No Child Left Behind has an even more pernicious effect – it is discouraging the teaching of science courses, particularly at the elementary level, at a time when America needs them the most. What is more central to our current economy, security and core values than science? Where would we be without Google and Apple, stealth technology, gene-based therapy, and high-tech prosthetics?

Recent national studies show that at the elementary level, science is barely being taught. More than eight hours of instructional time are devoted each week to teaching “English Language Arts” (“ELA” is a story in and of itself) and over five hours per week to math. By comparison, science is taught for less than three hours.

The upside downside of social media protests

By Philip Howard
The opinions expressed are his own.

In Bahrain, Iran and Syria, tough rulers are using social media to entrap activists and crowd source the identity of people who attend protests. After Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway, flash mobs in Philadelphia and the violent rioters in England and Vancouver, some people have been tempted to blame the Internet, specifically social media, for the violence. It may be appealing political rhetoric but is certainly wrong — and dangerous to act on.

Breivik left a trail of hatred in chat rooms, and “liked” neo-Nazi groups on Facebook. He may have been radicalized by reading hate writings online, and he may even feel vindicated by the online rhetoric of radicals in other countries. Urban youth from London to Vancouver and Philadelphia have used their Blackberries and Twitter accounts to brag about violent exploits, prompting the British Prime Minister David Cameron to say that “everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media.”

Yet it was only six months ago that young civic leaders in North Africa and the Middle East used social media to activate the most significant popular movement for democracy those regions have seen in decades. If the upside of social media is the inspiring Arab Spring, is the downside unpredictable criminal destruction and political repression?

Our disturbing relationship with Gaddafi

By Mark Ensalaco
The opinions expressed are his own.

Thomas Jefferson once said “rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.”

The Arab Spring is reminding the world that struggles for dignity, freedom, justice and human rights spring from our deepest aspirations as human beings. At the same time the dictatorial violence in Syria and Libya remind us of the evil that springs from the insatiable will to absolute power.

The repression in Syria has claimed more than 2,200 lives according to the United Nations. Thankfully, the bloodshed is coming to an end in Libya, but it must be remembered that in Libya, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, it took a bloody civil war and NATO intervention to destroy the decades-long tyranny of Muammar Gaddafi.

Events in Libya compel us to reflect on fundamental moral questions that are larger than geopolitics and the price of petroleum. But it is impossible to reflect on those moral questions without scrutinizing the compromising attitudes that stem from our acute concerns about national security and access to cheap oil.

The reform movement is already failing

By Diane Ravitch
The opinions expressed are her own.

Reuters invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Ravitch’s reply. Here are responses from Joel Klein and Deborah Meier as well.

In my nearly four decades as a historian of education, I have analyzed the rise and fall of reform movements. Typically, reforms begin with loud declarations that our education system is in crisis. Throughout the twentieth century, we had a crisis almost every decade. After persuading the public that we are in crisis, the reformers bring forth their favored proposals for radical change. The radical changes are implemented in a few sites, and the results are impressive. As their reforms become widespread, they usually collapse and fail. In time, those who have made a career of educating children are left with the task of cleaning up the mess left by the last bunch of reformers.

We are in the midst of the latest wave of reforms, and Steven Brill has positioned himself as the voice of the new reformers. These reforms are not just flawed, but actually dangerous to the future of American education. They would, if implemented, lead to the privatization of a large number of public schools and to the de-professionalization of education.

Top ten myths about the Libya war

By Juan Cole
The opinions expressed are his own.

The Libyan Revolution has largely succeeded, and this is a moment of celebration, not only for Libyans but for a youth generation in the Arab world that has pursued a political opening across the region. The secret of the uprising’s final days of success lay in a popular revolt in the working-class districts of the capital, which did most of the hard work of throwing off the rule of secret police and military cliques. It succeeded so well that when revolutionary brigades entered the city from the west, many encountered little or no resistance, and they walked right into the center of the capital. Muammar Qaddafi was in hiding as I went to press, and three of his sons were in custody. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi had apparently been the de facto ruler of the country in recent years, so his capture signaled a checkmate. (Checkmate is a corruption of the Persian “shah maat,” the “king is confounded,” since chess came west from India via Iran). Checkmate.

The end game, wherein the people of Tripoli overthrew the Qaddafis and joined the opposition Transitional National Council, is the best case scenario that I had suggested was the most likely denouement for the revolution. I have been making this argument for some time, and it evoked a certain amount of incredulity when I said it in a lecture in the Netherlands in mid-June, but it has all along been my best guess that things would end the way they have. I got it right where others did not because my premises turned out to be sounder, i.e., that Qaddafi had lost popular support across the board and was in power only through main force. Once enough of his heavy weapons capability was disrupted, and his fuel and ammunition supplies blocked, the underlying hostility of the common people to the regime could again manifest itself, as it had in February. I was moreover convinced that the generality of Libyans were attracted by the revolution and by the idea of a political opening, and that there was no great danger to national unity here.

I do not mean to underestimate the challenges that still lie ahead– mopping up operations against regime loyalists, reestablishing law and order in cities that have seen popular revolutions, reconstituting police and the national army, moving the Transitional National Council to Tripoli, founding political parties, and building a new, parliamentary regime. Even in much more institutionalized and less clan-based societies such as Tunisia and Egypt, these tasks have proved anything but easy. But it would be wrong, in this moment of triumph for the Libyan Second Republic, to dwell on the difficulties to come. Libyans deserve a moment of exultation.

The parents: the force that can’t be beat

By Joel Klein
The opinions expressed are his own.

Reuters invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Klein’s reply. Here are responses from Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier as well.

Like Ronald Reagan, Steven Brill believes “facts are stubborn things.” That’s why he found his two-year immersion in the world of edu-politics enormously frustrating. There, ideology and spin often matter most.  As Brill puts it, the world of public education “give[s] new meaning to the notion that if you repeat something that is plainly untrue enough times it starts to seem true, or at least become part of the debate.” It’s maddening but, sadly, as Brill demonstrates, even the mainstream media often go along for the ride.

In Brill’s essay above, as well as his just-released book, “Class Warfare”, he doggedly chases down the facts and repeatedly punches holes in the current protagonists’ talking points, especially those of the “school reform deniers” — i.e., the unions and their academic supporters — though he takes a few shots at the reformers as well. When he says the facts show that “public education is failing our children,” and “[t]his is not a matter of money,” or “not about class size as much as it is about who is in front of the class,” he’s demonstrably correct but, rest assured, that won’t stop the deniers from attacking him with cherry-picked data and flawed analyses.

If only the unions were the problem

By Deborah Meier
The opinions expressed are her own.

Reuters invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Meier’s reply. Here are responses from Joel Klein and Diane Ravitch as well.

As I read Brill’s opening paragraphs I was cheering. Aha, he’s going to apologize for his New Yorker attack on the teacher unions! He’s going to acknowledge the difficulty of finding honest data for his students to use when it comes to education.

I’ve become such a habitual skeptic about virtually all school data for over 30 years.  But democracy depends on us trusting some common sources of data.  Yet, Brill’s attack on teachers and unions, and his defense of the new “reformers,” rests largely on anecdotes.

The school reform deniers

By Steven Brill
All opinions expressed are his own.

Every year I tell students in a journalism seminar I teach about the junior reporter for The American Lawyer – the magazine I founded and edited –who committed a classic error when he submitted a draft of a profile about some lawyer in the news who had made it big. Midway through the article, the young reporter described a showcase this lawyer had in his office that displayed a bunch of combat medals. The reporter declared, matter-of-factly, that our legal hero had won the medals for his heroics in Vietnam, which was relevant, he added, because the lawyer made his war record and his lock-n-load approach to his work part of his pitch to potential clients.

In the margin next to the statement about the lawyer having won the medals I wrote, “Who says?” When the reporter came to ask me what I had meant, I told him to check with the Pentagon about the supposed medals. Which the reporter did, and which caused a mini-scandal after we reported in our otherwise positive profile that our hero hadn’t won them.

The story has three points. First, that reporters should believe nothing told to them by a biased source, especially when what they are being told is a checkable fact. Second, that while opinions deserve balanced reporting of both sides’ views, facts are facts. They are knowable. The guy either got medals or he didn’t. Third, the best way to test facts that you think you know is to put them in front of the person with the greatest stake in refuting them. In this case when we confronted the lawyer with the Pentagon’s records that he had not won any medals, he produced no evidence to the contrary and, in fact, ultimately confessed his deception. Case closed.

Of the Tea Party, by the Tea Party, for the Tea Party

By Maureen Tkacik
The opinions expressed are her own.

There is one thing more nauseating than watching our elected officials weasel their way through another Sunday morning rationalization of our ruinous economic policies: Watching the sole beneficiaries of those policies publicly distance themselves from those politicians on CNBC.

I am talking, generally, about rich people, although to be fair some rich people are more dishonest than others, as a tense Wednesday morning exchange between celebrity analyst Meredith Whitney and the network’s veteran correspondent Rick Santelli demonstrated. Delivering a meandering monologue assailing “children on both sides” of the aisle for…insufficiently gutting what remains of the social safety net, Whitney laid the blame for this failure on an unlikely constituency:

“Call it Tea Party, whatever you will, the fringe element is — I characterize (as) — freaked-out white men who are unemployed and have been unemployed for three years and they’re scared to death.”

from MacroScope:

Emerging markets: Soft patch or recession?

Could the dreaded R word come back to haunt the developing world? A study by Goldman Sachs shows how differently financial markets and surveys are assessing the possibility of a recession in emerging markets.
One part of the Goldman study comprising survey-based leading indicators saw the probability of recession as very low across central and eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. These give a picture of where each economy currently stands in the cycle. This model found risks to be highest in Turkey and South Africa, with a 38-40 percent possibility of recession in these countries.
On the other hand, financial markets, which have sold off sharply over the past month, signalled a more pessimistic outcome. Goldman says these indicators forecast a 67 percent probability of recession in the Czech Republic and 58 percent in Israel, followed by Poland and Turkey. Unlike the survey, financial data were more positive on South Africa than the others, seeing a relatively low 32 percent recession risk.
Goldman analysts say the recession probabilities signalled by the survey-based indicator jell with its own forecasts of a soft patch followed by a broad sustained recovery for CEEMEA economies.
"The slowdown signalled by the financial indicators appears to go beyond the ‘soft patch’ that we are currently forecasting," Goldman says, adding: "The key question now is whether or not the market has gone too far in pricing in a more serious economic downturn."

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