Mike Lach is one of the most dynamic reformers you'll ever meet, and has been working inside Chicago Public Schools for several years, helping to build its capacity around curriculum and instruction. Now he's set his sights on history and the rest of the social sciences. But he needs a hand. Here's how he states his problem:

I need to develop a K-12 social science plan for the Chicago Public Schools. I've decided that this is important because (1) social science is inherently worth knowing and (2) learning social science will help learning in other subjects (like reading).

I have the following constraints, that I suspect are true in most other districts.

- Metrics for success are hard to come by. We have no social science testing of any sort right now in Illinois, and I'm not sure that there are decent tests out there other than NAEP. Developing them will be expensive and complicated. Our kids are over tested probably, anyway.

- I don't have enough money to fund mathematics and reading, much less science and social studies. Any solution needs to developed cheaply.

- We're just taking baby-steps


The folks at Education Week deserve lots-o-kudos for their phenomenal coverage of the conventions. I have to admit that I've wondered of late whether Ed Week could survive the downturn in the journalism business. That's still an open question--and it's pretty clear from the outside that EW is increasingly dependent upon foundation grants. But with its embrace of blogging, on-the-ground reporting, and now even video, here's hoping that the answer is yes. Particularly as schools receive less attention from the media writ large, it's important to have American education's "newspaper of record" not just surviving, but thriving....

A few days ago I told Education Week that the nobody at the GOP convention was likely to mention No Child Left Behind, except for President Bush. Well, even he didn't mention his beloved law--or education at all--during his satellite address last night. Representative Mike Castle, a leading Republican moderate and passionate education reformer, explains why:

"You're not going to hear it here," Castle said. "Politically, it's not popular."

"If you look to Congress, you're going to find a lot of experienced


There's a lot to like about this Los Angeles Times op-ed by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, NewSchools Venture Fund CEO Ted Mitchell and iconic investor John Doerr. Hooray for innovation in education! Yes to national standards and tests! But the trio's faith in the federal government's ability to promote good things in education seems to have missed the entire point of the NCLB era:

The federal government, through the NIH (and other programs such as the National Science Foundation, the Small Business Administration and the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency), has proved that it can multiply innovations in many fields and spread the most successful ones. Yet, historically, the federal government has constrained its investment in education entrepreneurship to comparatively small, isolated programs, limited efforts in a bureaucracy that resists change. To fix this, there are key steps the next president should take.

The first is to expand innovation incentives and free them from the earmarks and conditions that have blunted past initiatives. Too many innovators spend too much time and energy raising money to stay afloat and expand. Adequate incentives, coupled with rigorous accountability, would remedy this. We should include two complementary...

Sol Stern offers a wise suggestion in this City Journal Online piece: create an independent agency in New York to verify student achievement results.

In campaigning for mayoral control in 2002, Bloomberg made New Yorkers an offer they couldn't refuse: Give me the sole authority to improve the schools, and then hold me accountable for the results. The mayor promised to give taxpayers a bigger bang for their education buck. If he failed to deliver on that promise, the public would at least know that it was his failure and could vote him out of office... The problem was that the legislation failed to ensure that voters would have access to unimpeachable information about student achievement, a prerequisite to any reasoned judgment about how well the schools were doing under the new regime.

One might point out that state departments of education are supposed to play this role--providing unimpeachable information about student achievement--but it may be that these agencies are too weak and big-city systems too strong for this governance arrangement to work out in practice. So bring in the independent green-eye-shade types, and let the truth be known. But don't expect the arguments...

Liam Julian

Seventeen-year-old Bristol Palin is pregnant, and now we learn from sundry news sources that her mother, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, supports abstinence-only education (or did, at least, in 2006, when she answered a survey question to that effect). The supposition by some in the media is that the foolishness of abstinence-only education is somehow proven by Bristol Palin's pregnancy. Thus, we hear, schools must offer sex education in the classroom. This presumes that Bristol Palin--had she only been enrolled in such school-proffered sex-ed classes--would have made different decisions. Which further presumes that Bristol Palin was several months ago unaware of the existence of contraceptives or could not procure them. Seems a stretch.

Liam went after Michelle Rhee's pay-for-performance plan (the one for the kids, not the teachers) in Sunday's Washington Post.

Evidence shows that when people are paid to complete certain tasks, they derive less enjoyment and satisfaction from them. Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College, wrote last year in the New York Times that paying pupils for their good schoolwork may render them even less interested in it than they already are.

OK, Liam, no more 50 bucks per blog post for you.

Update: This post was originally and erroneously attributed to Liam Julian, who,??stuffy though he undoubtedly is, doesn't refer to himself in the third person.

So the Democratic convention played host to lots of teacher union-bashing, but this week's GOP affair will feature an event co-sponsored by the National Education Association? The times, they are a changin'.

It's hard to find a better example of the positive change that can come from charter school competition than this statement by Washington Teachers Union president George Parker (part of an interview published by the National Council on Teacher Quality ):

Have your views of the role of the union changed over time? How?

I think it has a lot to do with the landscape in the system right now. We have the second highest number of charter schools-56 or 57 charters. So we are in a competitive market here in D.C.

The union has now had to take on a dual role. Previously our main concern was bread and butter issues--to make sure teachers have good benefits and working conditions. We didn't have to be that concerned about keeping children in [D.C. schools]. But now around 21,000 of our students are in charters and around