Three Graduations

I’ve been to three graduations in three days, at Mount Vernon High School, Quander Road School, and West Potomac High School. All were filled with joyful grads and proud parents. All included speeches filled with advice and hope for the future. All were happy occasions.

But the graduation at Quander Road school was something special. These are kids who have, by any measure, overcome special challenges. They spoke openly about what had brought them to Quander–“When I was a heavy drug user,” one began. Another said, “After my parents kicked me out.”

Yet there they were, all having met the Virginia graduation requirements. In a moving ceremony, each graduate was given a rose to present to the person who had been most responsible for his or her success. The flowers went to grandparents, parents, teachers, and friends.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

There are a lot of ways we can and must improve our public schools. But on graduation day, it’s OK to also recognize the hard work that helps so many kids get a good start on achieving their dreams.

Senior Pranks

It’s a rite of passage. Seniors, on their way out the door, want to leave behind some clever prank by which they can be remembered. The senior class at Wakefield High School just pulled off what I’d consider a high-quality senior prank.

On the day of the Democratic primary, the covered the school lawn with gazillions of yard signs. Most of them were for Republican candidates, none of whom was on the ballot. (There were lots of McCain signs.)

That’s a great prank–it’s clever, it requires some careful planning, and it doesn’t hurt anything. (Yes, they did spend part of the morning removing all the signs.)

Reportedly, seniors at a Fairfax high school once let four gerbils loose in the hall. On their backs were painted numbers–1, 2, 3, and 5. It took administrators a while before they realized there was no errant Gerbil #4.

I think pranks like that are fun. But when I hear about seniors trashing part of their school building, or pouring bleach on someone’s lawn, or doing something else that is just destructive, I lose my patience.

Besides, the only memory that will leave behind is, “Thank God THEY’RE gone.”

Congratulations to Creigh, Jody, Steve

It was a hard-fought primary. I supported another candidate. But Creigh Deeds won–decisively–tonight. We have a great ticket of highly qualified candidates who are ready to win in November.

I congratulate all the members of our statewide ticket AND all the down-ballot House candidates who were successful tonight. Savor your victory tonight. Then tomorrow, let’s all get to work!

“It is too late to tweak NCLB”

The astonishing thing about that comment is that it comes from former Assistant Secretary of Education (during the first Bush Administration) Diane Ravitch.

Ravitch is hardly an education apologist. She’s a tough-minded education critic, a former Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a person who has always led the fight for high standards.

As recently as 2005, Ravitch was still arguing that NCLB was effective. But today, she acknowledges what a growing–and bipartisan–group of legislators, administrators, teachers, parents, and students have all recognized.

“Congress should get rid of No Child Left Behind because it is a failed law. It is dumbing down our children by focusing solely on reading and mathematics. By ignoring everything but basic skills, it is not preparing students to compete with their peers in the high-performing nations of Asia and Europe, nor is it preparing them for citizenship in our complex society,” she concludes.

McAllen, TX or Rochester, MN?

Where would you rather get sick? That’s not exactly the question posed by Atul Gawande’s “The Cost Conundrum,” in this week’s New Yorker, but it might be.

The author, a physician on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, starts out by visiting McAllen, Texas, a place where health care costs are the highest in the U.S. He wants to see what lessons the U.S. might learn as we embark on a national conversation about health care.

Along the way, he also looks at the lowest-cost cities, including Rochester, Minnesota. He finds that the Mayo Clinic’s superb model of health care is also extremely cost-effective.

The key quote for me: “Most Americans would be delighted to have the quality of care found in places like Rochester, Minnesota, or Seattle, Washington, or Durham, North Carolina–all of which have world-class hospitals and costs that fall below the national average. If we brought the cost curve in the expensive places down to their level, Medicare’s problems (indeed, almost all the federal government’s budget problems for the next fifty years) would be solved.”

I occasionally get accused of a bias in favor of All Things Minnesotan. But after Mayo docs treated my father’s cancer and my mother’s NPH, I know this–you can’t find better health care anywhere. Nor, apparently, at any price.

“If we want things to stay as they are . . .”

“Things will have to change.” That wonderful line from the movie The Leopard has been going through my mind ever since I first read the talk about the GM bankruptcy.

I grew up in a car dealer’s household. A small-town auto dealer like my dad did a lot more than sell cars.

He was on any board that asked, from the Chamber of Commerce to the school board (yes, apparently it’s genetic) to the church board.

He served on the committees that raised money to build a new high school, a community swimming pool, a new wing for the hospital, an addition to the church . . .

He sponsored Little League teams and ads in the high school musical.

And so did every other car dealer I ever knew. These businesses were part of the fabric of small towns.

I know GM will emerge from bankruptcy. I know that many car dealerships will survive. But today, I’m feeling incredibly sad for the businesses that won’t continue.

And for the small towns that will miss them

The Virginia General Assembly from the perspective of 7 West.