RealClearEd Today 04/23/2014: SCOTUS' Blow to Affirmative Action

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Good morning, It's Wednesday April 23. At RealClearEducation we have the day's top headlines in education news, commentary, analysis, and reports. The Supreme Court yesterday upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action in college admissions. The New York Times has response from the higher ed community, and Politico has a story on "the woman who killed affirmative action -- twice." In the Detroit Free Press, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette lauded SCOTUS' decision, while Mike Sacks writes for The Daily Beast on affirmative action's argument in oppression. As we do each weekday we'll update the site throughout the day with new content - our main page as well as sidebars that focus on specific parts of the education sector in depth.

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"It's a boy, Mrs. Walker, it's a boy." Every fan of Rock and Roll knows those words are the opening to "Tommy" by The Who. The seismic 1969 rock opera was debuting on Broadway this week in 1993. In an April 23, 1993 review in The New York Times, Frank Rich wrote that "Tommy" has done what rock-and-roll can do but almost never does in the theater: reawaken an audience's adolescent feelings of rebellion and allow them open-throated release."

But "Tommy" wasn't a happy tale. It was punctuated with dark themes including murder, trauma, and abuse. The song "Pinball Wizard" entered the popular consciousness through Tommy but the album, originally four sides of two LPs, isn't about Pinball any more than Jim Carroll's "Basketball Diaries" is about sports. "Tommy" was initially banned by the BBC as well as some radio stations in the United States. It nonetheless has sold more than 20 million copies.

In the story, Tommy is left blind, deaf, and mute after witnessing a violent act. If he were an American student Tommy would have ended up in special education, which, despite its reputation and the sense that things are getting worse in schools, is actually something of an educational success story.

Prior to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and 1975's Education for All Handicapped Children Act, many students with disabilities were considered uneducable and excluded from school altogether. While the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) - the successor law to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act - still has plenty of problems and perverse incentives, the past quarter century has been a sea of change for students with special needs.

The special education law worked in no small part because of resources and accountability. Students in special education have a claim on resources, and school districts are explicitly held accountable for serving them. It's not a relationship without problems, but it's an approach that special education advocates favor. However, among policymakers, some of the staunchest advocates of this approach to special education on Capitol Hill balk at applying similarly hard-nosed accountability measures to help other underserved populations. There is no serious effort to dismantle IDEA or other civil rights protections for disabled students, but cutting protections out from under low-income and minority students is more or less fashionable these days. It's worth reflecting on why.

In a 1968 interview with Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner, The Who's Pete Townshend discussed what they were trying to accomplish with "Tommy,"

"This is the difficult jump. It's going to be extremely difficult, but we want to try to do it musically. At this point, the theme, which has been the boy, starts to change. You start to realize that he is coming to the point where he is going to get over the top, he's going to get over his hangups. You're gonna stop monkeying around with songs about people being tinkered with, and with father's getting uptight, with mother's getting precious and things, and you're gonna get down to the fact of what is going to happen to the kid."

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