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


Here are a few off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts about John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate:

1. Clearly he wasn't looking for someone with a national profile on education. That should surprise no one; how many times do we have to stress that this election ain't about schools? Still, it's noteworthy that both Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty-the favorites to get the nod-built a strong track record on education. Palin might care about the issue but it's hard to know yet; from the little that I could find it appears that she's fairly conventional on the topic, voicing support for more funding, charter schools, homeschooling, and support for teachers.

2. Don't expect to hear a lot about inner-city schools. Let's see, we have a presidential candidate without much education experience, and a vice presidential candidate from Alaska. I'm not sure either one...

If the candidates aren't going to take my advice, surely the National Education Association isn't going to either. But still, let me offer one suggestion to its executive director, John Wilson: Find a different line of attack against merit pay than this one:

The unions oppose [merit pay] because it puts too much emphasis on one measure and doesn't consider factors outside teachers' control, John Wilson, the executive director of the 3.2-million-member NEA, said in an interview here.

"It's very tough to hold the faculty accountable for test scores without holding students and parents accountable," he said.

That's a great point, John. Let's figure out a way to hold third-graders "accountable" for learning to read. "Suzy, until you decode those ten words, no recess for you!" Or parents: "Mr. Smith, we're going to garnish your wages unless you show up...

Liam Julian

Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein writes today about Michelle Rhee's proposed teacher-pay plan.

Sure, there will be times when teachers will be treated in an arbitrary and capricious way if they give up their tenure rights. Guess what: It happens all the time in the private sector, where hiring, promotion and pay decisions are sometimes made with incomplete information, favoritism, or undue emphasis on one factor or another. But despite this imperfection, despite the numerous instances of unfairness and poor judgment, somehow the vast majority of Americans manage to find a job, move up the ladder and enjoy their work, and companies manage to operate successfully and turn a profit. Pretty incredible, huh?

Yesterday, I bet that Barack Obama wouldn't mention NCLB in his acceptance speech, nor would he say much about education at all. I was right on the first count and wrong on the second. Here's what he said about k-12 schools:

America, now is not the time for small plans. Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy.

You know, Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance.

I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries, and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability.

No, it wasn't a major part of his speech--his segment on healthcare was about twice as long--but it was more attention for education than he gave, say, judges.

Don't expect John McCain to say "No Child Left Behind" next week either. With the bases of both parties dead-set against the law,...

This must be a first: a New York Times blog post about a blog post about a phone call about a blog post.

The world has truly changed forever....

The newest issue of Education Next* has just gone online, and one of my favorite articles is this one about the early educational experiences of the presidential candidates. Its author, Peter Meyer, writes,

We might ponder the fact that neither John McCain nor Barack Obama had the experience of attending the public school down the street, standard fare for most Americans. Just how the two candidates' early schooling informs their assumptions and beliefs about education reform is hard to know, but their stories provide an interesting window through which to view their policy beliefs.

Read those stories here.

*I'm part of its editorial team....