ON THE ISSUE of education, 2010 has been a year marked by people who have inspired the public, as well as edu-crats who have infuriated them with policies and proclamations that stifle good education. So it's time to give out some grades for the year.
Let's start with the educrats:
My top pick for the "You've Got to Be Kidding" award are the parents of the two eighth graders in the Easton, Pa., schools who sued the district in federal court because the girls were stopped from wearing "I boobies" bracelets. The district has to maintain order and the girls should use other ways to show their concern. A real waste of our legal system and the school district's money to defend an utterly frivolous suit.
I also give out a failing grade to Lincoln University in Oxford, Pa. I expressed many concerns about journalism professor Kaukab Siddique, who denies the Holocaust, delivers hateful diatribes against Israel and Jews, and, in my view, is clearly out of place teaching at an institution funded by taxpayers.
I also supported the average taxpayer in battling Big College, my name for the cabal of U.S. schools that are unrelenting in raising the cost of tuition and fees. Did you know that a sizable number of colleges, including Cornell, have started to counsel their students to get food stamps?
Food played a big role in my next two dunces. The St. Paul, Minn., public schools, in a misguided attempt to combat childhood obesity, have declared their schools "Sweet-free zones." No sweets allowed, even if you pack it yourself in your child's lunch.
And principals in Philadelphia public schools are now evaluated not just on discipline and academics, but on how many kids they get to eat free breakfast in school. We may lag in reading and math, but we'll lead the world in bagel-eating.
Hands-down, my educrats of the year are clearly the Neshaminy teachers union. They refused to pay anything for their health care, so they "worked to contract," meaning they took down classroom decorations and refused to write college recommendations. You may have heard the union's radio commercials telling listeners how wonderful their teachers are. It's a sad reminder of the "truth in advertising" caveat.
The good news for 2010 is that the positive developments in education and parenting clearly gave hope for 2011.
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie took on the excesses of the state teachers union and exposed their greed and resistance to changes that would benefit taxpayers and schools. His showdowns with individual New Jersey teachers have become YouTube legends, and public polling indicates he has traction with the public in battling the NJEA's "business as usual."
The Los Angeles Times also contributed to improving public education by publishing the names of the city's public-school teachers and the scores their students received on standardized tests over the last several years, focusing on how much students gained or regressed each year with individual teachers.
It was clear that teachers in nearby rooms were vastly different in the results they got with students year after year. I think the numbers offered proof that teachers with kids in the same general economic and academic areas were getting very different results. An obvious boost for the idea of merit pay.
My big hit for the year was the documentary "Waiting for Superman." The film by Davis Guggenheim, who directed Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth," uses the stories of public-school kids as they and their parents struggle to navigate bad public schools and the lotteries that, if they're among the lucky few, will deliver them to fine charter schools. Another devastating look at teachers unions and a system that's failing so many kids. I interviewed Guggenheim and was impressed with his passion to break through a system that satisfies adult needs rather than those of the kids.
MY EDUCATION hero of the year, Michelle Rhee, is also the hero of the film.
She has been driven from her position as head of the D.C. public schools, but she's started a national advocacy group called Students First that will raise money to elect people who will push for school reform.
That reform includes choices in schools like charter schools and vouchers. It will also push for merit pay, tenure reform and in general challenge outfits like the NEA and NJEA. I predict this outfit and Rhee will the big education story in 2011.