30 September 2010


CHARTER SCHOOLS. In her usual penetrating style, Gail Collins discusses several layers of issues raised by the new film "Waiting for Superman", which critiques America's public schools, and appears to advance charter schools as a more viable alternative. It is a well-documented truth that over the past several decades, public schools have been treading water while schools in all other developed nations have been forging past us in reading, math and science skills. Clearly a major overhaul is needed, including (in my opinion) scrapping seniority, requiring all teachers to undergo annual re-training and annual examination of their teaching skills and currency of subject knowledge, and raising the standards expected of students, both for passing a class and for graduation from every level of education. We are producing a nation of illiterate, math-challenged, science-ignorant underachievers whose greatest workplace achievement may be learning to say "Would you like fries with that?"

However, charter schools are a questionable alternative. While they may have value as laboratories for new ideas, their performance has been dismal. Unregulated and unencumbered by universal standards, only 17 percent of charter schools do a better job than the comparable local public school. In Texas, only 37 percent of charter school students passed state academic achievement tests, compared with 80 percent of public school students.

Collins is right -- "the regular public schools are where American education has to be saved." Here is her complete essay. It should be required reading for all educators, school boards and legislators.

MARIJUANA. In case you've been living under a rock, California voters will soon have the opportunity to pass or defeat Proposition 19, which would legalize personal marijuana use, allow local government to regulate the production and sale of marijuana, and allow local government to impose taxes on same. We as a society do move at a glacial pace, with no discernable distinction between rational thought and emotional panic, over certain hot-button issues. I've advocated for forty years that precisely this approach (legalization, regulation, taxation) should replace prohibition, which has NEVER worked. There is an Alice in Wonderland quality to our taking the saner path with regard to much more destructive substances like alcohol or tobacco, yet we resist that path when it comes to marijuana, a measurably more benign substance. Note: it is significant that the bulk of financial backing for opposition to Prop 19 comes from .... you guessed it, the alcohol and tobacco industries. When in doubt, follow the money.

Timothy Egan offers a tongue-in-cheek (and very informative) summary of the history and current status of marijuana laws in this country, along with his own pointed reality check. "Most of the bad things associated with marijuana come from its criminalization. If legalization curbs the violence -- of the Mexican drug lords, of the gangsters who still wage turf wars in parts of California, of the powerful and paranoid growers of the north -- it will have done society a big favor." Ya think?

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