Lawmakers, principals, teachers, and parents clearly find it hard to hold back struggling pupils, whether they're failing high school exit exams or elementary school grade-level tests. This hesitancy to hurt kids' feelings--or, as we're usually asked to believe, to gravely damage their social skills, self-esteem, etc.--in fact probably leaves them worse off for the amount of knowledge and skills they lose. That's the thinking at Bruce Randolph Middle School in Denver, where principal Kristin Waters has ended social promotion.

Students and teachers are up in arms that Karen Salazar was fired??from a Los Angeles high school for "encouraging political activism among her students," namely by accusing the LAUSD of denying students "basic human rights" and "doing it on purpose in order to keep them subservient [and] to subjugate them in society." Pretty bold comment there from Ms. Salazar, who calls her student supporters "warrior scholars." Administrators termed her teaching too "Afro-centric" and apparently thought her "advocacy crossed the line."

I'm all for creatively engaging high school students in the subject matter (I used to have to do it myself once upon a time), but it appears that the subject matter was less important here than the politics. Frankly, teachers aren't given the same degree of intellectual freedom as, say, Flypaper bloggers are.... Besides,??does political activism appear in her English Language curriculum standards?

I've been arguing lately that John McCain needs to distance himself from NCLB, because it's unpopular with his base and, increasingly, with the general public. Plus, as I told Education Week, everyone knows that the law needs some reworking. Without saying so, he cedes the "mend it, don't end it" line to Barack Obama--who can claim to be anti-NCLB and pro-school reform at the same time.

Well, forget about that. At a reporter roundtable we hosted this morning,* McCain education advisor Lisa Graham Keegan offered a glimpse at the Senator's nascent education plan. To my ears, it sounds like a major departure from No Child Left Behind as we know it. And I wasn't the only one hearing that. Let me rely on the reporting of real journalists. First, Michelle McNeil at Education Week's Campaign K12 blog:

McCain... wants to move away from sanctions and instead use tutoring and public school choice as "opportunities" for children and families rather than as punishments for schools. And perhaps more importantly, he wants to make the aid available to families immediately without waiting two or three years. And maintaining the current sanction of restructuring schools at five years if they are failing to meet adequate yearly progress isn't a priority for him, either. In addition, McCain will work more closely with governors to come up with other options for addressing failing schools, [Keegan] said.

And Maria Glod at the Washington Post quoted Keegan thusly: "The federal government cannot position itself continually as the bully in this. No more will we say that's what 50 states are going to do, because he doesn't believe that's our best hope for improvement."

Keegan also mentioned McCain's interest in??a growth model that would provide incentives to accelerate the performance of...

Liam Julian

"In a major legislative success for Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Senate voted 25-12 Wednesday for a bill that would let up to 1,500 low- to middle-income students in New Orleans attend private schools at taxpayer expense."

Article here.

Liam Julian

Greg Toppo's story in??USA Today about the rift between two segments of left-leaning education types is noteworthy. Education has for some lengthy period been relegated to the outskirts of political conversation, and it's refreshing to see it command a little spotlight, however briefly. The story, summed up, is this: Al Sharpton ("a political gadfly," writes Toppo) and Joel Klein have teamed up to do right by poor and minority children, and part of their agenda might run afoul of teachers' unions, which have traditionally been partners of civil rights organizations and personalities such as Sharpton. What does Randi Weingarten think about it?

"Too often what happens is that when people get into this, they blame all the people who have been toiling in this field without the resources and without the public focus on it," she said. "It's like saying that those of us who have been frontierspeople in this fight for equity for the last 50 years are the ones who should be faulted, as opposed to saying, ???We'll join you ready for duty--what can we do to help?'" ??

The above is called peevish whining. Weingarten is scandalized, it seems, that some are not ready to "join" her and would rather put forth ideas of their own. But what are Weingarten's ideas other than sound bites and continuation of the failed status quo? And what does Richard Kahlenberg think about it all?

Education historian Richard Kahlenberg said that while unions' and civil rights groups' interests "are usually aligned," this isn't the first time they've clashed. "It's been an uneasy alliance over the years."

Kahlenberg, the author of a recent biography on legendary American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, said a deep rift between the groups "would be disastrous--these are two groups that are essential to

Liam Julian

In this week's Gadfly, published mere moments ago, one can find a riveting examination by Checker of what we mean when we talk about "international benchmarking." We pull no punches regarding Eleanor Holmes Norton and the minions of A.J. Duffy. And Checker explains why Fordham now makes movies.

Regarding the news that Al Sharpton and Joel Klein will team up to bring fresh ideas into education, unions be damned, New York teachers union head Randi Weingarten had this to say:

"Too often what happens is that when people get into this, they blame all the people who have been toiling in this field without the resources and without the public focus on it," she said. "It's like saying that those of us who have been frontierspeople in this fight for equity for the last 50 years are the ones who should be faulted, as opposed to saying, 'We'll join you ready for duty--what can we do to help?'"

These words illustrate more clearly than any Weingarten has uttered that the UFT puts its own interests before those of students. Two reasonably well-respected public figures propose new ideas for closing the achievement gap, and Weingarten issues a self-pitying apologia so obsessed with the plight of her union that she fails even to mention the students for whose future she is supposedly so concerned. Time spent toiling aimlessly in the field and starving in the wild frontier, which Randi would have us believe are her union's main claims on Al Sharpton and Joel Klein's attention, are not the criteria by which serious ed reformers judge applicants to their club. They're more concerned with what you can bring to the challenge of educating kids.

Gadfly Studios

Mike and Christina discuss a recent rash of education reform proposals.


Liam Julian

Some good news from Boston.

Liam Julian

It's true--it's tough to predict the future. Of course, that doesn't mean we should be content to let the progression of technology sweep us up and take us where it may. A strong argument can be made, for example, that books, regardless of whether they can be rendered "obsolete" in a decade, deserve to be taught and protected and cherished. My friend Coby is more sympathetic to industry's and technology's whims than??I am. He has more confidence that it will do the "right" thing, largely, I think, because Coby is reticent to call one educational path "right" and another "wrong" (though he may disagree with??that assessment). Others, however, are less shy about ascribing judgements to change, recognizing it??isn't always positive, and??airing their concerns about the direction in which, say, education is heading.

On another note, Coby nails it here.