Michael B. Katz

My advisor was Michael Katz, a social historian who taught and wrote about education, social structure, cities, poverty, and public policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, York University, and the University of Pennsylvania from the late 1960s until his death this past week.

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All a-Twitter about David Kirp

In my Twitter timeline yesterday, I saw a number of people I follow either delighted or highly irritated by David Kirp’s fairly general op-ed yesterday, Teaching Is Not a Business. On the irritated front was Rick Hess:

And a few hours later, there was a rebuttal by Neerav Kingsland, who was less irritated but definitely in disagreement.

Here’s the funny thing: Kirp’s op-ed is general, arguing that unspecified reformers wanted schools to be run like businesses, and that impulse interferes with personal connections in education. While Kingsland is correct that the op-ed used romantic rhetoric about schooling, the most remarkable fact about the piece is that it was published at all in the New York Times. There is no hook to current events, nothing particularly sharp about the rhetoric or the claims. With a few sentences changed, this could have appeared five years ago, possibly ten, and it would have fit those times as well as today.

Given the lack of fire in the piece–Kirp didn’t even use the term corporate reform–I am not sure why there was so much energy devoted to either praise or criticism. In many ways it’s like the various op-eds you can find by Jeb Bush or Tom Vander Ark, sloppy in some way and also probably destined to sink beneath the waves no matter what you think of it. There are a lot of things going on in education, and you pick Kirp’s op-ed? I don’t want to micromanage anyone’s time but my own; on the other hand, Kirp didn’t write world-changing rhetoric. And, if you don’t mind my reminding you, there are far more weighty things to upset or worry you: to pick a few, police conduct in Ferguson, the war between Hamas and Israel, ISIS, Argentine’s default, and Russia-Ukraine tensions.

Elected vs. appointed state chiefs

Over the last weekend, the Arizona Republic published an op-ed by conservative education writer Matthew Ladner, arguing for an appointed state superintendent. Arizona has an elected superintendent, like California. Florida has a commissioner of education appointed by the state board of education, itself appointed by the governor; before 2002, the position was elected. The majority of state superintendents or education commissioners are appointed, either directly by the governor (as in Virginia) or indirectly by a state board (as in Florida). Arizona and California are in a distinct minority.

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Aim for Yale, hit a community college


I’ve been catching up on my long “saved-news-article” queue this weekend. A number in higher ed I skimmed and deleted because they either assumed Yale was all of higher education or clearly wrote from an experience almost entirely at places like Yale. It might be a service to remind reporters in summer that as you prepare “back to school” articles, you should remember that comprehensive (regional) public universities and local community colleges are far more prevalent and serve far more students than well-endowed not-for-profit colleges and universities, let alone Ivy Leagues. Yes, there are still reporters and faculty who forget this basic fact. If you’re not among them, pat yourself on the back and Remind your colleagues. Go ahead and brag; we need folks to evangelize the truth that elite institutions educate a small subset of Americans.

And even within a particular niche, there are sub-niches. In community colleges, just to pick an example, there is the giant Miami-Dade College, which offers some applied bachelors programs along with two-year degrees and vocational programs to almost 150,000 students. There is Florida Keys Community College, serving 2,000. Most community colleges use adjunct faculty for a huge chunk of teaching, but near my new home, there’s Rio Salado College, which teaches more than 50,000 with 23 faculty (really, program coordinators); there are more staff at the college’s public radio station than there are full-time employees called faculty.

So if you’re tempted to slam the idle ways of today’s youth, please don’t pick an elite private institution, or at least make clear you’re targeting a tiny segment.

Whither adjunct and graduate-student unions at public colleges and universities?

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that home health-care attendants in Illinois do not have the right to form a union, or at least that any such union has no right to charge representation fees (or agency fees) from non-members. While the case gave the court the opportunity to overturn a 1977 decision that allowed agency fees for public-employee unions, the opinion left most public-employee union rights intact. Given the conservative lean of the court, this was probably the best that unions could expect, and it will take some time to sort through the consequences.

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