In “Students Over Unions” Mr. Kristof says in the Chicago teachers’ strike, let’s remember the real victims: 350,000 children. Ms. Collins is concerned. In “Mitt’s Major Meltdown” she asks remember when we thought the Republican primary voters had picked the most stable option? We may have to rethink this, people. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
The most important civil rights battleground today is education, and, likewise, the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in schools.
Inner-city urban schools today echo the “separate but equal” system of the early 1950s. In the Chicago Public Schools where teachers are now on strike, 86 percent of children are black or Hispanic, and 87 percent come from low-income families.
Those students often don’t get a solid education, any more than blacks received in their separate schools before Brown v. Board of Education. Chicago’s high school graduation rates have been improving but are still about 60 percent. Just 3 percent of black boys in the ninth grade end up earning a degree from a four-year college, according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research.
America’s education system has become less a ladder of opportunity than a structure to transmit inequity from one generation to the next.
That’s why school reform is so critical. This is an issue of equality, opportunity and national conscience. It’s not just about education, but about poverty and justice — and while the Chicago teachers’ union claims to be striking on behalf of students, I don’t see it.
In fairness, it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty. Southern states without strong teachers’ unions have schools at least as lousy as those in union states. The single most important step we could take has nothing to do with unions and everything to do with providing early-childhood education to at-risk kids.
Still, some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved. There are steps we can take that would make some difference, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying some of them — yet the union is resisting.
It’s unconscionable that, until recently, many Chicago elementary students had a school day almost an hour shorter than the national average and a school year two weeks shorter than the national average. Bravo to the mayor for trying to close the gaps.
I’d be sympathetic if the union focused solely on higher compensation. Teachers need to be much better paid to attract the best college graduates to the nation’s worst schools. But, instead, the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers.
There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools. The gold standard study, by Harvard and Columbia University scholars and released in December by the National Bureau of Economic Research, took data from a major urban school district and found that even in the context of poverty, teachers consistently had a huge positive or negative impact.
Get a bottom 1 percent teacher, and the effect is the same as if a child misses 40 percent of the school year. Get a teacher from the top 20 percent, and it’s as if a child has gone to school for an extra month or two.
The study found that strong teachers in the fourth through eighth grades raised the game of their students in ways that would last for decades. Just having a strong teacher for one elementary year left pupils a bit less likely to become mothers as teenagers, a bit more likely to go to college and earning more money at age 28.
Removing the bottom 5 percent of teachers would have a huge impact. Students in a single classroom with an average teacher, rather than one from the bottom 5 percent, collectively will earn an additional $1.4 million over their careers, the study found.
Another study, one from Los Angeles that has been contested, suggested that four years in a row of having a teacher from the top quarter of teachers, instead of from the bottom quarter, might be enough to erase the black-white testing gap.
How does one figure out who is a weak teacher? Yes, that’s a challenge. But researchers are improving systems to measure “value added” from beginning to end of the year, and, with three years of data, it’s usually possible to tell which teachers are failing.
Unfortunately, the union in Chicago is insisting that teachers who are laid off — often for being ineffective — should get priority in new hiring. That’s an insult to students.
Teaching is so important that it should be like other professions, with high pay and good working conditions but few job protections for bottom performers.
This isn’t a battle between garment workers and greedy corporate barons. The central figures in the Chicago schools strike are neither strikers nor managers but 350,000 children. Protecting elements of a broken and unaccountable school system — the union demand — sacrifices those students, in effect turning a blind eye to a “separate but equal” education system.
Now here’s Ms. Collins:
Mitt Romney broke our deal.
Perhaps he didn’t know he’d made it, although, really, I thought it was pretty clear.
He could do anything he wanted during this campaign as long as he sent out signals that once he got in the White House he was not likely to be truly crazy.
We, in return, were going to be able to continue with our normal sleeping patterns through the fall.
It didn’t seem to be a lot to ask, but when the crisis in the Middle East flared up, Romney turned out to have no restraining inner core. All the uneasy feelings you got when he went to London and dissed the Olympic organizers can now come into full bloom. Feel free to worry about anything. That he’d declare war on Malta. Lock himself in a nuclear missile silo and refuse to come out until there’s a tax cut. Hand the country over to space aliens.
Here is the Republican candidate for president of the United States on Wednesday, explaining why he broke into a moment of rising international tension and denounced the White House as “disgraceful” for a mild statement made by the American Embassy in Cairo about the importance of respecting other people’s religions:
“They clearly — they clearly sent mixed messages to the world. And — and the statement came from the administration — and the embassy is the administration — the statement that came from the administration was a — was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a — a — a severe miscalculation.”
Feel free to reread this when you’re staring at the ceiling at 4 a.m.
This all began on Sept. 11. There were protests in the Middle East, at least some of them involving an anti-Islamic movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a cowardly, drunken torturer of children and old women. I did not see any puppies being dismembered, but then I only watched the 14-minute trailer.
A man identifying himself as Sam Bacile told The Wall Street Journal that he made it in California with $5 million from more than 100 donors. However, nothing Bacile said about himself seemed to hold up in the light of day. And if he did raise $5 million, those donors need to hire a lawyer. The trailer looks as though it was made by a 13-year-old boy with access to a large supply of fake beards.
The film popped up on YouTube dubbed in Arabic, stirring outrage. In response, the American Embassy in Cairo said it deplored “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”
Does that seem all that bad to you, people? It was definitely a film whose only point was to offend people of the Islamic faith. I would also call whoever made it not well-guided.
It isn’t clear how the movie, the protests in Egypt and the murders of four American diplomats in Libya fit together. That’s the job of intelligence experts. We’re stuck with the task of evaluating Mitt Romney, who went for a cheap attack at a time when any calm, mature adult would have waited and opted for at least a brief show of national unity.
The one big advantage to being a boring candidate is that you give the appearance of calm and stability. But, suddenly, Romney seemed to want to go for a piquant mélange of dull and hotheaded.
Virtually nobody seemed to think this was all that great a plan. The Romney campaign, according to CNN, helpfully passed out suggestions for supporters who might want to defend Mitt. (When asked whether he was too quick on the attack, loyalists were supposed to say: “No. It is never too soon to stand up for American values and interests.”)
But not all that many other Republicans seemed excited about joining in. A few social conservatives did unveil a hitherto-unnoticed passion for the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom to make fun of religion. “It was disheartening to hear the administration condemn Americans engaging in free speech that hurt the feelings of Muslims,” said Senator Jim DeMint.
And, let’s see, who else. Donald Rumsfeld tweeted support. Party chairman Reince Priebus chimed in: “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said the embassy’s comment “is like the judge telling the woman that got raped, ‘You asked for it because of the way you dressed.’ That’s the same thing.”
On this side: Mitt Romney, a totally disgraced former secretary of defense, a person named Reince Priebus, and a new Republican rape comment.
Two months to go and we’re rethinking our presumption that the Republican primary voters picked the most stable option.