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City Journal Spring 2006.
Spring 2006
Table of Contents
  L etters

Endangered Speech

To the editor:
In “The Plot to Shush Rush and O’Reilly” [Winter 2006], Brian C. Anderson mentions the Pew Charitable Trusts’ role in foisting campaign-finance reform on America. I wonder if he knows Pew’s history.

“J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil. . . . was a tireless champion of free markets and individualism,” wrote R. W. Bradford in Liberty magazine. “In 1957, he created the J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust, with instructions that it use its funds to Ωacquaint the American people≈ with Ωthe evils of bureaucracy,≈ Ωthe values of the free market,≈ and Ωthe paralyzing effects of government controls on lives and activities of people.≈ . . . In accordance with those wishes, the Freedom Trust funded mostly libertarian and conservative activities, as long as its board consisted of Pew family members and friends.

“But as the family members and friends died off, they were replaced by others who gradually reoriented its spending, first toward mainstream activities, then gradually toward the very activities that the trust had been set up to oppose. In 1994 it gave $6 million to left-liberal causes and just $150,000 to conservative or libertarian efforts.”

Michael Geer
Grand Junction, CO

Too Testy?

To the editor:
In “City’s Pupils Get More Hype than Hope” [Winter 2006], Sol Stern labors to diminish the December news that New York City students outperformed their peers in other large cities on reading and math tests administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress—results that emphatically confirm our upward trend in achievement.

Mr. Stern’s argument shifts throughout. He concludes, for example, that our fourth-graders outperformed their big-city peers nationwide in reading only because other cities have experienced more “white flight.” At the same time, he blames lower performance by white students to explain away New York’s shrinking achievement gap. He fails entirely to credit better minority performance for the shrinking gap, despite the fact (which he neglects to report) that our black, Hispanic, and low-income fourth-graders outperformed similar students not just in other large cities but in the nation as a whole.

In all, 57 percent of New York City fourth-graders scored at or above NAEP’s Basic level, which represents “partial mastery” of necessary skills. The number needs to be far higher, of course, and Mr. Stern contends that our gains are “not exactly headline-grabbing news.” But moving children from functional illiteracy to Basic-level literacy at a higher rate than the rest of the nation is news and has put New York in the headlines of the New York Times. Education Week praised New York and quoted a NAEP board member as saying that our reading strategies (which Mr. Stern scorns) had “elevated the achievement of children.” Indeed, on the day the NAEP scores were announced, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings applauded New York’s reading programs for Spanish-speaking children.

This is the story that Mr. Stern does not mention. As he rightly notes, we (and much of the country) face real challenges, particularly in improving performance in middle schools. But we also hope that he is right in arguing that fourth-grade reading is the key indicator of future success. If so, the future holds considerable promise for New York City students.

Stephen J. Morello
Director of Communications

New York City Dept. of Education

Sol Stern responds:
It’s strange to receive a reply from a flack who merely restates the same phony arguments that my article exposed, as if sufficiently dogged repetition might be enough to exhaust opponents and carry the day. But the arguments remain as false and misleading as before.

My article made an argument about a critical policy issue facing the city. Contrary to expectations, mayoral control has not brought greater accountability or transparency to the school system. Instead of using his power over a $17 billion education empire to spread accurate information about public education, Mayor Bloomberg has treated schools as campaign props and launched a slick PR blitz proclaiming instant success in the classroom. And now, rather than engaging this argument up front—say, by providing evidence that the mayor supports transparency and welcomes open debate of his education policies—the Bloomberg administration is once again blowing the same stale smoke about “record gains” on test scores.

Mr. Morello starts by repeating the administration’s disinformation on the results of the 2005 NAEP tests. He says that our students “outperformed their peers in other large cities” and then concludes that these results “emphatically confirm our upward trend in achievement.” But anyone can see that the first claim has nothing to do with the second, just as anyone who actually reads the NAEP report will see that Mr. Morello is dissembling.

Of course New York City students scored higher than those in Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles; they always have. The Bloomberg administration certainly can’t take credit for that. But with the exception of a small improvement in fourth-grade math (which was matched or bested by most other cities), our students did not show gains on the NAEP tests between 2003 and 2005. In the crucial area of fourth-grade reading, where the Bloomberg administration invested tens of millions of dollars in a dubious program called “Balanced Literacy,” there was no gain at all.

No independent source supports the administration’s claim to have brought about historic improvements in test scores. Mr. Morello’s reference to praise from an unnamed NAEP board member is just more PR spin. That board member is Sheila Ford, who did not speak officially for the NAEP board. Ms. Ford also happens to be a protégée and booster of Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins, the progressive-education ideologue who has multimillion-dollar contracts to run Balanced Literacy teacher training for the city. As for the comments by Margaret Spellings, I pointed out in my article that because of its interest in showing that the No Child Left Behind Act is working, the Bush administration has been putting the brightest gloss on student achievement across the country.

But New York City and its children derive no benefit from ignoring the faults of a school system walled off from scrutiny.

The Marriage Gap

To the editor:
Kay S. Hymowitz, in “Marriage and Caste” [Winter 2006], dances around several issues that I believe are relevant to whether people get married:

religious influence, traditional moral values, and political demographics. I would be willing to wager that “values voters” are overwhelmingly more likely to be married with children. It isn’t just a marriage gap; it’s a values gap.

Scott Tuttle
Via e-mail

To the editor:
I have been volunteering for a crisis-pregnancy center for 13 years, and I think that Kay S. Hymowitz’s analysis is accurate. The single moms I meet are not interested in marrying the fathers of their children. They are devoted to their children but seem oblivious to the essential role that a father plays; when the children are older and it is more obvious, it will be too late. Also, when women come in with crisis pregnancies, very often they will consider only two choices: abortion and raising the child.

Frances Moyer
Via e-mail

To the editor:
Kay S. Hymowitz attributes virtually all of the maturity that results in stable marriages, and in the benefits thereby conferred on children, to women. The only reference to men involves economics: they provide financial stability for women, who can then confer social benefits on the children.

Reading the article, one might conclude that a bequest from a rich uncle would do as much as, if not more than, a caring father.

Evan W. Joshua
Via e-mail

Kay S. Hymowitz responds:
Mr. Tuttle and I agree that we are a nation divided about marriage, but I believe that attributing this division to a lack of traditional values generates more heat than light. Certainly to say that the women Ms. Moyer describes are deficient in values seems wide of the mark. These poor mothers highly prize their children; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be so averse to adoption. But they do not understand how important it is for their children to grow up with their own married parents. Like much of the country for the last several decades, they are confused about the purpose of marriage, which above all is to tie a father to his children and to his children’s mother.

I hope that this answer reassures Mr. Joshua. If my article doesn’t give enough credit to fathers, it’s not because I don’t take their role seriously. In fact, my article explicitly argues against the “strength-in-numbers theory,” the idea that marriage matters simply because it means two incomes and two sets of hands. But any analysis of the marriage gap has to focus on mothers for the simple reason that the vast majority of single parents are mothers.

Street Smarts

To the editor:
Nicole Gelinas writes: “[M]any of the city’s new private-sector jobs, including those in health care and education, are taxpayer-supported, so they are wealth consumers, not wealth creators, like Wall Street jobs” [“Gotham Needs Wall Street; Does Wall Street Need Gotham?,” Winter 2006].

All those wealth creators learned how to create wealth somewhere. Let’s think of education not just as an expense but as the best kind of investment for producing wealth creators.

Scott Marriott
Via e-mail

Nicole Gelinas responds:
Mr. Marriott posits that workers in education should not be labeled “wealth consumers,” since they educate people who go on to create wealth in the private sector. This is indeed how the system should work, but in New York, at least, it doesn’t. New York public schools—held captive by the teachers’ union and by union-backed politicians—don’t produce great wealth, if the quality of the education they provide is any indication. But they certainly consume it.

 


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