Educational culture

What is the key to a successful school?  The educational culture.

Think of the ingredients that make for a good school. Small classes. Well-educated teachers. Plenty of funding. Combine, mix well, then bake.

Turns out, your recipe would be horribly wrong, at least according to a new working paper out of Harvard. Its take away: Schools shouldnt focus on resources. They should focus on culture.

The study comes courtesy of economist Roland Fryer, an academic heavyweight who was handed a MacArthur Foundation “genius award” earlier this year for his research into the driving forces behind student achievement. Fryer gathered extensive data from 35 New York City charter schools, which generally cater to underprivileged and minority communities. He interviewed students, principals, and teachers, reviewing lesson plans and watching classroom video, to try and pinpoint factors that correlated with higher test scores.

His findings could add some new fire to the debate about what makes a good school. Fryer found that class size, per-pupil spending, and the number of teachers with certifications or advanced degrees had nothing to do with student test scores in language and math.

In fact, schools that poured in more resources actually got worse results.

What did make a difference? The study measures correlation, not causation, so there are no clear answers. But there is a clear pattern. Schools that focus teacher development, data-driven instruction, creating a culture focused on student achievement, and setting high academic expectations consistently fared better. The results were consistent whether the charter’s program was geared towards the creative arts or hard-core behavioral discipline.

If small classes, credentialed teachers, and plush budgets aren’t adding up to successful students, then what is? Fryer measured school culture in a way no academic before him had. He looked at the number of times teachers got feedback. The number of days students got tutored in small groups. The number of assessments for students. The number of hours students actually spent at their desks. Each correlated with higher student scores.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, schools that claimed a “relentless focus on academic goals” also tended to produce better test scores. Schools that focused on self esteem and emotional health? Not as much. (Sorry Gen Y.)

via Everything You Know About Education Is Wrong – Atlantic Mobile.

Perhaps this is one reason why homeschooled children tend to do so well.  In addition to following what is usually a more substantive curriculum, homeschooled children have lots of interactions with their teachers!  And they are indeed immersed in an educational culture.

HT:  Stewart Lundy

Margaret Magdalena Moerbe

Our sixth grandchild was born today!

So bright-eyed and alert already!

Chapel at Harvard

Harvard Divinity School professor Stephanie Paulsell tells about worshipping at Harvard:

On Wednesdays at noon we gather for community worship organized by a student steering committee and the director of religious and spiritual life. When I first came to Harvard Divinity School, the weekly community worship service was deeply ecumenical. While the shape of the service was recognizably Protestant, it also possessed a flexibility born of a desire to create a welcoming, open space for people of different theological and religious backgrounds.

Over the years, as our school has become more multireligious, our students have urged us toward new ways of gathering for community worship. Even the most welcoming service can obscure our distinctiveness, they told us. We want to be with each other as we truly are, they said. We want to be present for each other’s prayers and rituals and practices. We want to be led in Torah study by the Jewish students and in Friday prayers by the Muslims; to listen to a dharma talk with the Buddhist students and hear a sermon with the Baptists; to be with the Episcopalian students for the Eucharist and with the Hindus for puja; to light Advent candles with the Roman Catholics, offer prayers at the flaming chalice with the Unitarian Universalists and keep silence with the Quakers.

These days our community worship is led by one of the religious communities in our school. We begin with brief opening words (our beloved Protestant forms persist!) and a lifting up of the prayers, hopes and longings collected in a notebook at the door of the chapel. Then we enter into the practice of a particular religious community, joining in where we can, maintaining a respectful presence where we feel we cannot. Each week, as the distinctiveness of each tradition becomes visible, we can see more clearly the differences between our ritual practices, our holy books, our music and our conceptions of the divine, and we see the family resemblances, the shared concerns—what Thomas Merton called the “wider oikoumene” of the human family.

The desire of students to be present to each other as distinctively religious people seems to me characteristic of this generation—or at least of this current crop of divinity students. While earlier generations sometimes muted explicit religious symbolism out of a desire to cross the boundaries of difference, this generation seems to be more convinced that it is from the specificity of our religious traditions that we will reach one another.

via Devotional difference: A pluralistic community’s worship life | The Christian Century.

Yes, this is syncretism, celebrated at one of our most prestigious mainline seminaries and lauded in the mainline Christian Century.  This is where liberal theology is these days.  But note the difference.  A few years ago, what was once the multi-denominational and then became the multi-faith worship service would mush all of the different religions in a worship service that would be recognizable to none of them.  Now, though, the distinct worship services of the distinct religions are carried out, but everyone participates in them and honors them all equally.

This is the difference between ecumenism and polytheism.

Anti-business Republicans

The line of attack on Romney from the rest of the Republican field (except for Ron Paul) is that he is a capitalist!  He made profits!  He fired people!  In other words, the ostensibly conservative candidates are attacking him from the left, sounding like Occupy Wall Streeters or, at least, Democrats.  National Review is indignant:

Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman seem to be engaged in a perverse contest to be the Republican presidential candidate to say the most asinine thing about Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm at which he served as chief executive, helped turn around a number of failing businesses, and, in the process, produced magnificent profits for his investors and for himself. Mitt Romney ran a firm that invested in struggling businesses, made money, and never asked for a bailout — and Romney’s rivals apparently expect Republican voters to regard that as a liability. . . .

As you can imagine, companies that are buyout targets often are in very poor shape, and reviving them is no small thing. Many of them go into bankruptcy. Product lines are discontinued, retail locations are closed, assets are sold off, and, almost inevitably, jobs are lost. Some never recover. When the restructuring is successful, reinvigorated firms expand, add locations, develop new products, and create jobs. That is the creative destruction of capitalism. Staples has 2,000 stores instead of one store because of a Bain investment. And, as Herman Cain is well-positioned to appreciate, Burger King was severely underperforming when Bain and a group of franchise owners acquired it from corporate parent Diageo in 2002. The restructured burger chain, which went public a few years back, is now valued at more than $3 billion. Household names from Dunkin’ Donuts to Guitar Center have been among Bain’s projects.

Bain’s business is high-risk and high-reward. Romney made a pot of money — by investing in real businesses, which, it bears noting, employ many thousands of real Americans. Governor Perry likes to brag about the jobs created in Texas during his tenure: Perhaps he should subtract from that admirable sum those positions at companies in which Bain invested, for the sake of his intellectual integrity.

Romney also is being roasted for saying that one of the things he prefers about the private sector is that when it comes to the incompetent or the unsatisfactory, “if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” Choice — including the choice to fire a non-performing employee, or to fire your bank if you prefer another one — is the essence of the free market. In education, health care, and any number of other spheres of American life, more choice desperately is needed. An education system in which incompetent teachers could be routinely fired would be a real improvement over the current regime of tenure and “rubber rooms” — and Romney has nothing for which to apologize in connection with that remark, nor for taking on the thankless task of explaining the goodness of profits to an Occupy Wall Street heckler. Huntsman mocked Romney for the remark — but whoever the next president of the United States is, he should be provided with a very long list of people in the federal bureaucracies who need firing. If Huntsman does not have one, he has not thought hard enough about the issue.

Wall Street has its share of miscreants, and they should be recognized as such when appropriate. But to abominate Mitt Romney for having been a success at the business of investing in struggling American companies, connecting entrepreneurs with capital and producers with markets, is foolish and destructive. Republicans ought to know better, and the fact that Gingrich et al. apparently do not is the most disturbing commentary on the state of the primary field so far.

via Romney’s Profitable Past – The Editors – National Review Online.

Now there are kinds of conservatism that are, in fact, critical of the untrammeled marketplace, the kind that reduces all values to economic value and that destroys tradition and culture in favor of an uncritical consumerism.  But I think what we are seeing from Newt and company is not Burkeanism but demagoguery.

Also, in the reactions to this rhetoric, I think I am seeing the conservative establishment (Rush Limbaugh, National Review, etc.) finding an excuse to rally behind Romney.

UPDATE:  Newt Gingrich apparently recants this line of attack against Romney.

UPDATE:  Newt now recants his recantation.

LCMS before the Supreme Court

The case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School vs. the EEOC is being argued before the Supreme Court.   J. Christian Adams sees the Justice Department’s case as being a major assault on religious liberty.  Here is his take:

Like so much from this Justice Department, Holder’s radical legal positions are at odds with long American traditions. This latest species of Holder’s radicalism is a frontal attack on faith communities.

In the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Holder’s DOJ argued that a church cannot fire an employee for acting contrary to church teaching, and contrary to an employment contract that incorporates that teaching. A teacher filed a complaint to the government about how the school handled her narcolepsy, which presumably would involve sleeping at work. The church school then fired the teacher because the church forbids lawsuits among believers based on 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. (“But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!”)

This particular Lutheran church had well established dispute resolution mechanisms within the church, and based on church teaching. Instead, the teacher went to the government, contrary to church teaching.

Holder’s Justice Department believes that religious schools should not be able to enjoy a longstanding exemption to various employment laws which conflict with church teaching, or, the “ministerial exception.”

Assistant to the Solicitor General Leondra R. Kruger argued that the religious school could not fire the teacher for filing a complaint to the government even if church teaching forbids it.  At oral argument, Kruger advocated positions so extreme that even Justice Elena Kagan appeared to reject them.

It’s not hard to see where this slippery slope slides. What if a teacher in a Catholic school does something directly contrary to Catholic teaching? Or, consider this possibility offered by American Catholic:

“Then, too, what also about Catholic women using this principle to sue the Catholic Church in the United States because they are excluded from the priesthood? There’s absolutely no doubt that when it comes to ordination, the Catholic Church discriminates in favor of males. Should SCOTUS be able to tell the Catholic Church in the United States that it must redress the imbalance?

Yes…if, as an organization, the Catholic Church is bound by federal employment discrimination statutes.

No…if, as an organization, the U.S. Catholic Church is exempt from federal employment discrimination statutes.”

Far fetched? Not to Kruger.

At oral argument, she wouldn’t categorically preclude the possibility. Instead, she told the Court that the government interest isn’t currently sufficient to justify an assault on the male priesthood. Kruger said “the government does have a compelling and indeed overriding interest in ensuring that individuals are not prevented from coming to the government with information about illegal conduct.” In other words, even if church doctrine prohibits you from settling disputes with the church through the government, the Obama administration cares not. Holder wants informants, or as the DOJ prefers to call them, complainants.

via Rule of Law » Holder’s Quiet Court Attack on Religious Freedom.

Here are some of the blow-by-blow arguments:

Hosanna-Tabor was represented by religious-law Professor Douglas Laycock. He began by saying that EEOC violated a bedrock constitutional principle that churches do not select government leaders and government does not select church leaders.

But he had problems during oral argument. One came from Justice Anthony Kennedy (who is likely the swing vote in this case), concerned that someone suffering retaliation from a church employer couldn’t present his or her claims in court.

Laycock rebutted that substantial church interests should bar civil trials, and Kennedy objected that you can’t know if substantial interests are at stake unless someone presents them in court.

Justice Antonin Scalia came to Laycock’s rescue, saying, “I think your point is that it’s none of the business of the government to decide what the substantial interest of a church is.”

The justices then rejected the argument of Leondra Kruger, Obama’s lawyer for the EEOC, who argued that there’s no ministerial exception in the Constitution, only the same rights that secular organizations possess to choose their own affiliations.

At this, Scalia exploded. “That’s extraordinary! There, black on white in the text of the Constitution, are special protections for religion. And you say it makes no difference?”

Kagan agreed with Scalia’s rejection of the argument that the First Amendment doesn’t protect churches from government ordering who they should hire as pastor or priest.

Justice Samuel Alito (a Catholic) made a critical point, asking if a Catholic priest married and the church removed him from ministry for violating Catholic doctrine, could the EEOC order him reinstated.

When Kruger answered no, Alito replied that EEOC was making a judgment that certain teachings — such as the Catholic belief that priests must be celibate — are more important than the Lutheran doctrine that ministers cannot sue the church.

Chief Justice John Roberts (also Catholic) agreed, saying, “You’re making a judgment about how important a particular religious belief is to a church.” Government cannot make such theological judgments.

I’ve had questions about this case, but the key element is that the teacher refused to go through the church dispute resolution process and went straight to a lawsuit, despite 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 and despite what her contract said.  I can see the religious liberty issues at stake, and they are important indeed.

UPDATE:  The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the Lutheran school!  The ruling was also broadly written so as to protect churches from other usurpations on the part of the government.  Read this analysis, which hails the ruling as a landmark decision  in the protection of religious liberty.

Romney wins New Hampshire; Paul is 2nd

M. Romney 39.4%

R. Paul 22.8%

J. Huntsman 16.9%

N. Gingrich 9.4%

R. Santorum 9.3%

R. Perry 0.7%

B. Roemer 0.4%

M. Bachmann 0.1%

G. Johnson 0.1%

H. Cain 0.1%

via Politics, Political News –

You be the analyst.