December 15, 2015

LAUSD Threat, NYC School Closures, Affirmative Action, On Federal Ed Policy Is The Issue Smarts or Structure?

By Bellwether

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Terror coming to U.S. public schools? LAUSD shutting down today in the face of a threat. Reports vary on the nature of the threat. Update: More here.

New York closing some under-enrolled schools. Rumor is the union is not as happy about this as they make out in the Times story. Bigger picture, advocates debating whether this goes far enough but should the mayor send Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein some flowers to thank them for making a set of hard decisions to right size the system before he got on the scene?

Instead of today’s murky affirmative action processes would straight quotas work better?  And Stuart Taylor weighs-in on mismatch. There are lots of preferences that go into college admissions, even at elite schools, including legacy status, institutional ties, athletics, unusual talents, geography as well as race and class. Yet we are fixated on the race angle. Taylor argues that legacy admissions have a smaller mismatch effect. But I’d speculate some of the other murkier ones might have a more pronounced effect. It’s mostly speculation because the data are hard to come by.

Rick Hess cheers the new education law. But he writes,

 In a fairly clever Game of Thrones-inspired column, Andy Rotherham depicted federal involvement in schooling as a “hedge” against inequity. I found that a remarkably telling word choice. It suggests a sophisticated strategy of risk management. In fact, I’d argue that the federal “hedge” is a series of mandates, rules, regulations, and “guidance” that mostly create unintended distortions and fuel a pervasive culture of compliance. It provides “political cover” which pushes state officials to miscalculate, pursue change on a political timeline favored by the U.S. Department of Education, and ignore in-state concerns. It strikes me that those troubled by a reduced federal role seem to imbue federal efforts in this area with a sleekness, modesty, and effectiveness which I don’t recognize. Now, as we return authority to states and districts, no one should imagine that folks in the states are somehow smarter or more informed than their counterparts in Washington (although I’ve never quite understood why Washington-centric reformers are so confident that the obverse is true—that political appointees at the U.S. Department of Education are nobler, smarter, and care more than those yahoos out there in the states. Ah, well). In any event, to my mind, the biggest virtue of state and local control is simple: leaders are responsible for the results of their handiwork.

Perhaps there are people who think policymakers at one level of government or another are smarter or nobler than those at another, but I’m not one of those people. The issue is structural. It’s not by accident (or a surplus of caring) that federal education dollars are more targeted toward poor kids than state dollars or that it was the federal government that pushed the states to clean up their act on special education. Rather, it’s that the politics work better for disadvantaged populations at some levels of government than others.

Bear climbs occupied treestand.

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