kitchen table math, the sequel: Merryl Tisch & religious education

Friday, August 6, 2010

Merryl Tisch & religious education

In the wake of contemplating whether American citizens will ever be allowed to use vouchers to pay for religious schools, I came across this opening passage from a NY Times profile of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch:
Speaking to a group of Catholic educators in a conference room high above First Avenue, Merryl H. Tisch interrupted a dry barrage of bureaucratic references to attendance mandates and Title 2A with a seeming non sequitur.

“When my refrigerator is broken, I don’t call the service department,” said Dr. Tisch, the newly elected chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents and, by marriage, part of one of New York’s wealthiest families. “I call the head of G.E.”

Dr. Tisch, who tends to lower her voice just as she is making an important point, urged her audience to enlist the soon-to-be head of the Archdiocese of New York, Timothy M. Dolan, to make the case in Albany for religious education. She said that she happened to watch the announcement of Mr. Dolan’s appointment, which was televised live from the Vatican at 3 a.m., and was impressed by his style. “Lay it on the line,” she advised.

Advancing Education, Through Work Ethic and Connections

Published: April 4, 2009

Tisch began her career teaching first grade in Jewish schools.


palisadesk said...

One of the presenters at the Precision Teaching conference was a curriculum leader at a Catholic school in Milwaukee. She says they have a lot of voucher students, so vouchers muct enable parents to choose religious schools in some states at least.

BTW Catherine, I posted a reply to your query about religious public schools in Canada but accidentally posted it to the Whimby thread, so you'll have to look there for it.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I've posted this before, too, but google can't find it.

While reading the biography of Lincoln by Goodwin that details all of his rivals, I learned that NY Gov. Seward tried to get vouchers for Catholic school children.

Back in 1838.

He lost on that issue then.

This battle is not new. The religious freedom issues aren't new, the control issues aren't new.

Catherine Johnson said...

Interesting! (to Allison)

And palisadesk - thanks for telling me about the Whimbey location - I wanted to find your comment & put it up front -

Catherine Johnson said...

This battle is not new. The religious freedom issues aren't new, the control issues aren't new.

Right, and that's what makes it such a difficult argument to win. We have massive 'path dependency' on the subject of public schools and religion.

Nevertheless, change does happen; I think Ed has told me on occasion that history is the study of change... (I'll check that.)

What **is** new at this time is the conjunction of two factors:

* an intense challenge to the primacy of conventional public schools coming from within the Democratic Party

* the worst recession since WWII, arriving on the heels of decades of inflation in public school spending without decades of improvement in student achievement

btw, I've been able to make correct judgments in the past via the 'n of 1' method of simply ascertaining how Ed feels on a subject (or how I feel).

Ed opposed vouchers for many years. Then a few years back he began to support vouches strongly for urban kids.

He has remained, in my view, stubbornly resistant to the idea that if urban kids should have vouchers then **all** kids should have vouchers -- although in recent years he's softened on this, too. His position recently has been that vouchers would be fine as long as there is state regulation of schools receiving vouchers (probably in some form of accreditation).

He would, I'm sure, oppose the spending of vouchers on an Islamic school where the faculty supports sharia law.

Anyway, getting back to my 'n of 1' sampling: when I told him that DC vouchers cost taxpayers about a third what DC public schools cost, he got a LOOK on his face.

It was a Tipping Point look.

Ed isn't an outlier; if he's having that look, other people are having that look, too. Or they're getting there.

Catherine Johnson said...

I wish I knew more about historical change.

I've spent 5 years pestering Ed about it, and one thing he always tells me is that revolutionary change requires a writer or writers....

Of course, revolutionary change has a bad track record.

Joanne Jacobs said...

My mother dated a Tisch brother in college before meeting my father. She used to tell him, "I could have married Bob Tisch." (And my father, an Omaha native, turned down a chance to invest with Warren Buffet when he was getting started.)

If only . . .

ChemProf said...

Catherine, I think you are right to think of Ed as a sort of test case, but let me give you this hypothetical. Imagine there were some sort of New York state law coming down the pike to let every kid have a voucher to spend as their parent likes. There is some kind of accreditation required, but it is minimal.

Now imagine the New York Times starts running stories about a voucher school that does support Sharia, and another one about an evangelical school that teaches creationism, and another one about a Hasidic school (or a Catholic one) that maintains strict gender separation. They also run a couple of stories about poorly trained teachers taking voucher money and not educating kids well. How many stories like this before voters decide that the new situation is worse than the old one?

This isn't hypothetical -- it is exactly what happened when California had a proposition on vouchers a few years ago, and that proposition was voted down. Maybe we've reached a tipping point and the result would be different today, but I'm betting the CTA could run enough ads bringing up these kinds of questions to stop any new proposition. We do seem to have an idea now that charters and vouchers can be used in urban areas where the public schools are particularly disastrous, but I don't think we are ready for general use of vouchers yet.

Plus, I think that ideas like vouchers and charters (and homeschooling) are really threatening to a lot of middle class people who like their neighborhood school and don't think too much about education. Certainly, I've been surprised by how many people ask me what we're planning for my (not even two-year-old) daughter, and when I've mentioned homeschooling as a possibility, have been appalled because "we live near such a good school."

Catherine Johnson said...

Propositions are a bit different because, as I understand it, you just have to sow doubt & the Proposition is done.

New York doesn't have a proposition mechanism, and I don't imagine vouchers becoming legal in one fell swoop.

I can imagine some kind of tax credit becoming legal first - and possibly tied to tax relief.

As to sharia schools, we have something of a test case on that one because there's a charter school being opened in NYC that has some kind of Muslim identity...the first principal was Muslim & there was various controversy surrounding the school.

The TIMES covered it all without hinting at much concern, so we already have some path dependency there.

Also: this being New York, it's impossible for me to imagine vouchers without some kind of accreditation system -- which I don't think would be too deadly for reasons of path dependency, as I mentioned here or elsewhere.

Obviously, this is pure speculation...I'm not good at predicting the future.

I **am** pretty good at having a 'feel' for the zeitgeist, though.

Catherine Johnson said...

Joanne - wow!

Catherine Johnson said...

heck - I just wrote a comment & lost it...

Catherine Johnson said...

"there was various controversy"??



next time, I'll edit

Catherine Johnson said...

Plus, I think that ideas like vouchers and charters (and homeschooling) are really threatening to a lot of middle class people who like their neighborhood school and don't think too much about education.

Yes, I think that's true.

How fond are people in their 20s & 30s of the public schools they attended?

Do you have a sense of this?

I'm also curious to know whether the baby boom generation nets out 'warm' or 'cold' toward the public schools they sent their children to.

ChemProf said...

Most college students I've talked to will talk about specific good teachers, although they sometimes will talk about how the school didn't serve them well. However, for a lot of them, criticizing the school is tantamount to criticizing their parents, and my students (often first generation college and Latina or Asian) won't do that. The big exceptions are the homeschooled or partially homeschooled students who tend to be tougher on public education, to the extent that they experienced it.

These students may change their minds once they have kids in the system, though.

My baby boomer co-workers are the ones asking about when I'm sending my one year old to school. They tend to send their kids to private schools, but are resistant to charters and very opposed to vouchers. Of course these are liberal academics, so may not be representative.

Anonymous said...

For generations, Vermont towns too small to have a high school gave parents vouchers which could be used at any school, including religious, of the parents' choice. I went to college with many who attended Catholic high schools under this program. The religious option has since been removed, however.