- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

Three leading education reformers, including a liberal voice for school choice, received the first Fordham prizes yesterday for efforts to save students from failing educational practices.
The $25,000 prizes from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation were awarded at the Capitol Hilton to:
Anthony S. Bryk, a scholar-reformer of urban schools at the University of Chicago, who applied his decades of studying the organization and effectiveness of parochial schools to help reform Chicago's public schools and establish a charter school to train teachers.
E.D. Hirsch Jr., University of Virginia English professor, whose research on reading comprehension and writing by college students led him to write his acclaimed best seller, "Cultural Literacy," followed by a core-knowledge curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade.
Paul E. Peterson, Harvard University government professor, whose research of school choice led to a way to test the value of school vouchers in carefully controlled studies that measured both student achievement and social consequences of vouchers.
Mr. Peterson "did not seem destined for the enemies list of the National Education Association" until his pro-voucher research conclusions, states the Fordham Foundation prize book for the 2003 awards.
"A fan of [former Democratic Vice President] Hubert Humphrey and a registered Democrat, Peterson considered himself 'a quirky liberal.'"
But as he began his voucher-program studies in the mid-1990s, Mr. Peterson "was troubled by the deplorable state of big urban school systems, believing they were 'at the core of the larger problem of inequality in American society. They have to be fixed first.' …
"Yet more than any other individual, Paul Peterson's groundbreaking research has provided the evidentiary force that has helped enable thousands of disadvantaged students to use vouchers to attend private schools," the prize book states.
"He has withstood attempts by the public education empire to strike back, and his ingenious randomized control experiments with vouchers have clarified both the benefits and the shortcomings of choice as well as the urgent need for more such evaluations of education reforms at the elementary and high school level."
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Fordham Foundation, said the awards are "the first to focus, laserlike, on educational excellence and out-of-the-box accomplishment in this field. The other education prizes reward those who swim in the mainstream."
Mr. Finn said he personally resigned from a MacArthur Foundation panel that selects recipients of the $500,000 MacArthur "genius" prize, formally called the MacArthur Fellowship, because the foundation consistently chooses "establishment thinkers and progressive educators with conventional ideas" that have caused much of the educational and cultural malaise facing the United States.
For the same reason, he said his colleague, Diane Ravitch, a trustee of the Fordham Foundation and visiting fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California, also resigned from the board of judges for the $25,000 Harold W. McGraw Jr. education prize, named for the chairman emeritus of the McGraw-Hill Companies.
Mr. Finn and Ms. Ravitch were leaders of the federal education research component of the U.S. Department of Education from 1985 to 1988 under Secretary William J. Bennett in the administration of President Reagan.


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