Weekend Reading

Here, do some reading:

The United States is full of higher-education institutions trying to carve out “a global brand” for themselves, often through “investment”. They generally have multi-billion-dollar endowments, global name recognition, and undergraduate tuition costs somewhere north of $40,000 a year. You could name a dozen of them off the top of your head, and Cooper Union would never be one of them. On the other hand, what you can’t do is name a dozen — or even two — institutions like Cooper, based on a social mission and free tuition and low-key excellence, where the pedagogy is not reliant on the provision of climbing walls, and where the health of the institution is not reliant on jet-setting deans who address the World Economic Forum on the subject of Global Leadership.

An investment is what you do when you spend money today, with an eye to reaping a profit in the future. Investments, by definition, are associated with future cashflow: if they’re not, then they’re not investments. Once Cooper Union starts “investing” in programs and faculty, it will have to charge for those programs and faculty in order for the investments to bear fruit. All of which is to say that this tuition charge is permanent: once it’s implemented, the chances of it being reversed are de minimis.

In 1988, Boston Det. Sherman Griffiths was shot and killed during a police raid on a residence they suspected was occupied by Jamaican drug dealers. The suspected shooter, 34-year-old Albert Lewin was acquitted three years later after a series of investigations revealed widespread corruption and perjury within the department. In the raid that ended one of their colleague’s life, one BPD sergeant admitted in testimony that he had fabricated the informant whose alleged tip led to the raid in the first place. Waiting to establish probable cause — in other words, respecting Lewin’s constitutional rights — was too time consuming. Sources in BPD told the Globe that “enormous public pressure on police to arrest drug dealers . . . has led some detectives to find ‘workable’ solutions to what police see as unworkable constitutional requirements for warrants.”

The Lewin/Griffiths case also brought to light that Boston narcotics cops were routinely falsifying search warrants in drug cases — which means they were routinely raiding homes without probable cause. A Boston Globe review of 350 drug warrants found that fabrication of informants, exaggeration of probable cause, and boilerplate language was common. By one estimate, the number of drug warrants served by Boston police jumped from around 300 in 1985 to more than 3,000 by 1990.

Many of the activists who made their names in the roughest stretch of the immigration wars, from the failure of the 2006 reform bill in Congress to the passage of SB 1070, have disappeared from the scene. Michelle Dallacroce, whose work with Mothers Against Illegal Aliens made her a cable news regular for years, basicallypacked it up in 2008. Chris Simcox, who led the Minuteman Project to prominence from a newspaper office in Tombstone, Ariz., grew absorbed in a brutal legal battle against his wife at the same time three Minutemen went on trial for a robbery that devolved into a triple murder.

The media’s paying less attention now, and the hosts who could be counted on to shower the anti-immigration crowd with coverage have either lost their perches (Lou Dobbs) or moved on (Bill O’Reilly). Talk radio made celebrities out of the restrictionists in the 1990s and 2000s; the Minuteman Project’s Jim Gilchrist famously first heard his calling when he caught Simcox being interviewed by a right-wing California talker. But driving around the Phoenix suburbs, the conservative talk radio that comes in clearest is Salem Radio’s lineup—hosts like Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt, who want Republicans to sign on to reform and win some elections.

In recent years, the U.S. education system has become overly focused on the last element — accountability — at the expense of progress on the others. The most ambitious federal education reform in recent years, No Child Left Behind, increased accountability by measuring schools annually on student tests in reading and math, with escalating consequences for those that did not improve. But it largely failed to address the other elements of the field, an imbalance that partially explains why the initiative has not achieved its aims. By contrast, stronger professions in the United States, such as medicine, law, and engineering, focus more on building their foundations than on holding their practitioners accountable. Doctors, for example, must clear a series of high bars before entering the field; develop a broad knowledge base, through course work and then extensive clinical training; and continually revisit their training, with practices such as hospital rounds. The medical profession places less emphasis on setting targets and making sure physicians meet them — there is no such thing as No Patient Left Behind.

Other countries, meanwhile, have figured out a better way to educate their children, one that looks less like the United States’ education system and more like its stronger professions. Recent international research suggests that the countries that top international education rankings owe their success to approaches that are in many ways the inverse of the American one. Such countries — which include Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, top scorers on the Program for International Student Assessment, an internationally recognized test for 15-year-olds that measures higher-order problem solving in math, reading, and science — all do certain things similarly. They choose their teachers from among their most talented graduates, train them extensively, create opportunities for them to collaborate with their peers within and across schools to improve their practice, provide them the external supports that they need to do their work well, and underwrite all these efforts with a strong welfare state. Because these countries do a good job of honing the expertise of their educators to begin with, they have less of a need for external monitoring of school performance.


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