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Friday, November 1, 1996

GROUPS TO WATCH

Funds for New Leadership

Since 1993, the William H. Donner Foundation, of New York, has granted "New Leadership" fellowships to recognize individuals or groups whose grass-roots efforts to better their communities exemplify the principles of the foundation's "human capital" program. These include self-reliance, entrepreneurialism, personal responsibility, and volunteerism.

          This year's winners of the fellowships include: the Reverend Ronald Matlack, of Camden, New Jersey, who established a church on the model of a foreign mission to relieve blight in an urban neighborhood; Carl Elkins, the founder of the Homeless Literacy Project, in New York City; James Robinson, who started a volunteer ambulance corps for youth in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of New York; Terrence Tighe, the founder of an "employability program" that teaches workplace skills and demeanor to K-8 students at an urban Omaha Catholic school; and David Green, the executive director of a network of education services known as the David School for poor families and at-risk youth in Eastern Kentucky. The awards usually amount to $60,000 over three years.

* The William H. Donner Foundation -- tel.: 212-719-9290, fax: 212-302-8734.

Report Card on Devolution

          The Urban Institute and the Annie E. Casey Foundation have launched an ambitious $20-million project to evaluate the effects of devolution -- or the "New Federalism" -- on social services and communities. The multi-year project aims to answer three major questions about the federal government's efforts to devolve many responsibilities to states and municipalities: (1) How will the New Federalism affect state and local budgets? (2) How will it affect state policy priorities and the delivery of services? (3) How will it affect the behavior and well-being of individuals and families? Researchers at the Urban Institute will track the course of devolutionary policies from legislative bodies all the way down to neighborhoods, and analyze their effects according to a number of statistical indicators of social well-being. These indicators include "health status" (e.g. rates of low-birth-weight births and childhood immunization); "child and youth well-being" (child abuse and neglect, teen pregnancies, and teen deaths, for example); "family well-being" (the number of out-of-wedlock births and children in foster care, to name a few); and "economic security" (for example, poverty levels, number of families receiving public assistance, employment rates, and income growth).

          The project may not issue a comprehensive report for at least three years, but will release periodic policy briefs and interim reports.

* Lawrence Thompson, director. The Urban Institute -- tel.: 202-833-7200, fax: 202-429-0687, e-mail: %20paffairs [at] ui.urban.org.

Commission on Giving

          A new commission chaired by Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor and U.S. Education Secretary, is beginning a nine-month study of charitable giving in America. The National Commission on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal is a consulting body to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, of Milwaukee. The commission's executive director is Bruno Manno, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

          Members of the commission include Elayne Bennett, president and founder of Best Friends; Kenneth Dam, professor of law at the University of Chicago; Rev. Henry Delaney Jr., pastor of St. Paul's Church in Savannah, Ga.; Kimberly Dennis, executive director of the Philanthropy Roundtable; Chester E. Finn Jr., John M. Olin Fellow at the Hudson Institute; Jerry E. Hill, director of the Austin Street Shelter, in Dallas; Constance Horner, a fellow at the Brookings Institution; Sister Jennie Lechtenberg, executive director of the Puente Learning Center in Los Angeles; William H. Lock, director of Community Enterprises of Greater Milwaukee; Pastor Juan M. Rivera, co-pastor of Victory Fellowship in San Antonio; and Sam A. Williams, president of Central Atlanta Progress Inc.

* National Commission on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal -- 1150 17th St., NW, #201, Washington, D.C. 20036. Tel.: 202-463-1460, fax: 202-463-1464, Web site: http://www.ncpcr.org.

What Works

A Model Principal

          In the New York Times Magazine, Sara Mosle, a contributing writer, describes Brooklyn's Science Skills Center and its controversial principal, Michael Johnson. Science Skills, a high school whose students come from some of New York's most impoverished neighborhoods, was started by Johnson with the help of New Visions for Public Schools, a Manhattan-based organization that works with the Board of Education and the private sector to promote school reform. Johnson, a 45-year-old African American, graduated from Empire State College with a degree in science education. Like many educators involved in the effort to reform New York's public schools, he believes that poor children are being shortchanged by the system. Unlike most "progressive" educators, however, Johnson is convinced that the way to help poor minority students is not by loosening standards, but by tightening them.

          As a result, Science Skills Center is focused on preparing students to do well on standardized tests, including the New York State Regents exams and the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. At a time when only 20 percent of New York's public-school students receive a Regents diploma, all of Johnson's students -- even those designated as special-education students -- take, and pass, the Regents exam.

          Not surprisingly, this has made Science Skills Center extremely popular with New York's parents, many of whose children have to be turned away simply because the school does not have enough space for all the applicants. But "progressive" educators are horrified by Johnson's emphasis on tests, his autocratic style, and his rigorous, back-to-basics curriculum. They think that schools should prepare students for the world as it already exists. "Parents at my school have some very fundamental questions," he observes. "Can my kid read? Can my kid add the grocery bill? Can my kid go to college? Some of my colleagues want to duck those questions and say, 'They're not important.' But we can't just say that we don't believe in measuring our kids against kids in other parts of the city or state, because colleges are making decisions based on those comparisons. . . . Harvard it still looking at scores, so that's what I'm going with."

* "Scores Count" by Sara Mosle, New York Times Magazine, September 8, 1996.

A Classical Curriculum

          Gene Edward Veith, dean of arts and sciences at Concordia University, in Wisconsin, writes that too many proposals to reform America's schools focus on means -- vouchers, technology, teacher certification -- rather than on ends. Although he does not disparage these means, what American education most urgently requires, Veith contends, is a new philosophy of education -- a return to the classical conception of education as the knowledge a person requires to be truly free, and to the classical "trivium" of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. "To be educated in any discipline," he writes, "one must know its basic facts (grammar); be able to think deeply about the subject (logic); and be able to act on that knowledge in a personal, original and independent way (rhetoric)."

          Veith cites three examples of how the classical approach to education is being used in primary and secondary schools. The Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS), which currently has 26 member schools, was founded in 1993 by the Reverend Douglas Wilson, a Protestant minister from Idaho, to promote the idea of a Christian education organized around the trivium. In the prototype ACCS school, the Logos School (founded by Wilson in 1980), the primary grades are devoted to acquiring basic knowledge -- reading, arithmetic, patriotic and biblical stories. Middle school and junior high are devoted to "the questioning and probing of reality that is logic."

          Finally, the high-school years, ages 15 to 18, are devoted to self-expression, and beginning rhetoric classes use textbooks by Aristotle and Cicero. According to Veith, "The level of discourse, the depth of thinking, and what can only be described as a richness of character set the Logos seniors apart. Such are the benefits of a classical education."

          Other attempts to construct an educational philosophy around the classical trivium are the Paideia Project -- used today in some 30 school districts nationwide -- and the Westside Preparatory School in Chicago. These schools help broaden the horizons of thousands of children, including poor children often written off as ineducable.

         The classical approach to education is valuable, Veith contends, because it offers a "comprehensive, universal paradigm for learning." In his view, the classical education movement holds the key not only to educational reform but to an educational renaissance in America.

* "Renaissance, Not Reform: The Classical Schools Movement" by Gene Edward Veith, in Philanthropy, Culture & Society, August 1996 -- Capital Research Center, 727 15th Street N.W., Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005. Tel.: 202-393-2600, fax: 202-393-2626, Web site http://www.capitalresearch.org/.

Private Schools and Special Ed

          In Meeting the Challenge, Janet R. Beales, who directs the Reason Foundation's Study Program, points out that, contrary to a widely held myth, public schools do not accept every student. Students that public schools believe they cannot educate are often sent, at public expense, to private schools that specialize in the education of a certain type of student.

          Beales distinguishes between three broad categories of difficult-to-educate students who are served by the private sector: "special-education" students are those with mental, physical, emotional, or disabilities. Over 100,000 students, or about 2 percent of the nation's special-education population, currently attend nonpublic schools at the public's expense. (Typically, the private school will operate under contract with government agencies at the local, state, or even federal level).

          "At-risk students" include dropouts, teen parents, homeless youth and students with drug problems. School districts in at least 17 states contract with private schools to educate these students. Charter schools -- autonomous, publicly funded schools freed from most state and local regulations -- play an especially large role in serving these students.

          "Adjudicated students" are juvenile criminals who, under compulsory state education laws, are required to attend school until a certain age. About 35,000 adjudicated youth are housed in 2,000 privately operated facilities, including training centers, ranches, shelters, halfway houses and group homes.

          Although meaningful comparisons between education outcomes for difficult-to-educate students in public and private schools are currently impossible, given the lack of reliable data, Beales documents the wide variety of learning environments provided by the private sector to deal with such students. These arrangements include residential schools, day schools, charter schools, independent study programs, religious schools, and home schools.

          Given this wide variety of options, Beales contends, the commonly heard argument that school-choice policies would turn public schools into a "dumping ground" for the most difficult-to-educate students is simply not credible. On the contrary, a large-scale school-choice program would benefit these students by providing them with a "supply of schools as diverse as the students they are intended to serve." The fact that, even now, private schools already serve many students with special needs, sometimes enrolling the most difficult among them, "lays bare the myth of the public-school dumping ground."

* "Meeting the Challenge: How the Private Sector Serves Difficult to Educate Students," by Janet R. Beales, Policy Study no. 212, the Reason Foundation -- tel.: 310-391-2245, fax: 310-391-4395, Web site: http://reason.org.

Cautionary Tales

Public Schools and Special Ed

          Although the cost of educating a child in New York City's public-school system comes to $8,000 per year, that figure, argues Kay S. Hymowitz in her profile of New York City's "special-ed" schools, is actually quite misleading. A full-time special-ed student costs the city $23,598 per year. A part-time special-ed student costs $10,207 per year. But an ordinary student receives only $5,148 in educational services per year. New York's "regular education system," Hymowitz argues, "resembles a parking lot full of 1968 cars, while special ed is like a handful of shiny new Cadillacs."

          All this might not be so bad if special-ed classes were actually helping their students. But two-thirds of special-ed students exiting the system in 1995, Hymowitz writes, dropped out instead of graduating. Of the remaining third, only half received a diploma that was worth anything.

          New York's special-ed system is a monument to good intentions gone awry. In 1975, Congress passed the All Handicapped Children Act, later called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Initially, the law called on the federal government to pay 40 percent of the cost of the vast program it had called into being. In fact, today Washington funds a mere 7 percent of the program, leaving New York taxpayers to pay the rest.

          The law was based on several assumptions: First, that if a team of experts examined a child, it could evaluate his or her problem with scientific precision; second, that this team of experts, drawing on the latest scientific advances, could devise an effective program to treat the problem; and third, that educators could then successfully implement such a program, no matter what the cost. In fact, Hymowitz points out, the initial assumption was completely wrong: Different teams of experts, evaluating the same child, have issued sharply different diagnoses. And if assumption one is flawed, it follows that the others are unworkable.

          Today, more than 60 percent of the children assigned to special-ed programs are classified as "learning disabled," a term so vague and expansive, writes Hymowitz, "that it is a standing invitation to any poorly performing child." Hymowitz believes that a substantial number of "learning disabled" children come from chaotic, problem-ridden families; their deprivation is cultural, not neurological. Yet the law governing special ed specifies that the category "learning disabled" should "not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of . . . environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage." In other words, many of the students enrolled in expensive special-ed programs have no right to be there.

          But there are powerful political forces blocking reform. Special-ed schools have provided jobs for thousands of psychologists, social workers, and evaluators. As a result, the unions are quite satisfied with the status quo. Parents of handicapped children also seem pleased with New York's special-ed program, and politicians, fearful of being accused of a lack of compassion, are unwilling to antagonize these parents. As a result, a special-education system that costs a great deal, accomplishes very little, and starves regular public schools of badly needed funds appears impervious to reform.

* "Special Ed: Kids Go In, But They Don't Come Out" by Kay S. Hymowitz, City Journal, Summer 1996.

Thoughts on Civil Society

Crime's Terrible Toll

          In Body Count, former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and his two co-authors, Princeton criminologist John DiIulio and John P. Walters, the former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, focus on what they call "superpredators," cruel, cold-blooded, shockingly young men who can and do kill at random, without rhyme, reason, or remorse, and without any fear of retribution. Over the next decade, they predict, the number of such superpredators is bound to increase substantially, leading to an unprecedented crime wave. "America is a ticking crime bomb," they declare, and when it explodes our streets will be inundated with young killers, possibly leading to an "authoritarian backlash" that will undermine our free institutions and bring us "only a short step away from achieving a quasi-police state."

          The root cause of predatory street crime, the authors contend, is moral poverty. "By 'moral poverty'," they write, "we mean the poverty of being without loving, capable, responsible adults who teach the young right from wrong. . . . In the extreme, it is the poverty of growing up surrounded by deviant, delinquent, and criminal adults in a perfectly criminogenic environment -- that is, an environment that seems almost consciously designed to produce vicious, unrepentant, predatory street criminals."

          Among the causes of moral poverty, Bennett and his co-authors cite the cultural revolution of the 1960s that undermined traditional values and institutions and a welfare system that subsidized illegitimacy and subverts the work ethic. But they pay particular attention to drugs, which, they argue, cause moral poverty by dissolving "the bonds of human and familial ties." By making drug-addicted parents indifferent to everything, including the well-being of their children, drugs sever family members not only from one another, but also from the traditional values of the larger society. Growing up in such families is like being raised by a pack of wolves, and those who survive the ordeal are likely to lack certain character traits -- such as empathy and impulse control -- that we think of quintessentially human.

          From this it follows that if we are serious about eradicating moral poverty, we must conduct an uncompromising war against drugs. The authors of Body Count argue that, contrary to widely-held misconception, America's war on drugs was yielding impressive results until the Clinton administration came into office. Since Clinton's election, however, "the nation has suffered the greatest increase in drug use and the largest expansion in the supply of illegal drugs ever measured."

          Besides waging the war on drugs with renewed vigor, eradicating moral poverty requires that we reform our schools and our systems for criminal justice, welfare, and adoption. Most importantly, however, promoting traditional values among young members of the underclass requires the "re-moralization" of our culture through "a widespread renewal of religious faith and the strengthening of religious institutions."

* Body Count: Moral Poverty . . . and How to Win America's War Against Crime and Drugs by William J. Bennett, John DiIulio, and John P. Walters (Simon & Schuster).

1996 Samaritan Awards

          The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is a nonprofit educational institute that explores the moral dimensions of a free society. Last year the institute established its Samaritan Awards to honor and encourage the moral and practical advantages of private charity. From nearly 700 applicants, Acton recently honored 10 leading models of effective private charity, both secular and religiously based. Each winner received a $1,000 grant; three finalists will soon be chosen by a national panel of judges and awarded cash grants of $10,000 each. The 10 model programs for 1996 are:

Best Friends Foundation (Washington, D.C.) -- Offers adolescent girls mentoring and character-building activities and encourages them to abstain from sex, drugs, and alcohol.

Cumberland College Mountain Outreach Program (Williamsburg, Ky.) -- Provides opportunities for students to volunteer building houses, drilling wells, and doing repairs for needy Appalachian families.

Enterprise Mentors International (St. Louis, Mo.) -- Trains and provides loans to would-be entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Francis House (Syracuse, N.Y.) -- Provides a home to terminally ill patients.

Fresh Start Surgical Gifts (Encinitas, Calif.) -- Supplies reconstructive surgery to needy children with serious deformities.

Gates Community Chapel / D.B.A. Freedom Village U.S.A. (Lakemont, N.Y.) -- Offers troubled teens character-building activities at a working farm and Christian home.

Interfaith Housing Coalition (Dallas, Tex.) -- Alleviates homelessness with transitional housing, job placement, and living skills.

Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE) (Milwaukee, Wisc.) -- Liberates low-income families from limited educational options through scholarships.

Teen Challenge in South Texas (San Antonio, Tex.) -- Tackles drug and alcohol addiction with a 12-month, faith-based counseling program.

Victory Fellowship of Texas (San Antonio, Tex.) -- Mentors and rehabilitates gang members, prostitutes, and addicts by encouraging spiritual change.