Flypaper

Liam Julian

Roy Romer, chairman of ED in '08, tells NPR why education is not a big issue in this year's presidential election.

Liam Julian

Tough to miss over the weekend were two pieces--one in the New York Times, the other in the Wall Street Journal--about high-achieving high school students and their struggles. (Such students, the Times tells us, do not eat lunch.) Columnist Anne Applebaum rightly points out in today's Washington Post that similar stories appear each spring, without fail, and that they provide vivid contrasts to??articles about America's thousands of high school dropouts. It seems clear that a two-tiered (or three-, four-, or five-tiered) public education system exists--has always existed--and that the tiers are growing farther apart. Far less clear is why so many are unwilling to recognize it. They abstain from reality by??not offering classes of different difficulty levels (thus the hasty push to get more kids into AP courses, for instance); by denying??the benefits of quality career and technical education; and by insisting that most, if not all, students should (must!) go to college. But this approach just isn't a smart one. To paraphrase: You have to reform the education system you've got, not the education system you wish you had. Doing otherwise can exacerbate the??trends one is attempting to mitigate....

Monday's Washington Post had a fascinating article on new research showing the impact of social networks on smoking. (The research team previously completed a study showing the impact of social networks on obesity.)

In a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, the team found that a person's decision to kick the habit is strongly affected by whether other people in their social network quit--even people they do not know. And, surprisingly, entire networks of smokers appear to quit virtually simultaneously.

Taken together, these studies and others are fueling a growing recognition that many behaviors are swayed by social networks in ways that have not been fully understood. And it may be possible, the researchers say, to harness the power of these networks for many purposes, such as encouraging safe sex, getting more people to exercise or even fighting crime.

"What all these studies do is force us to start to kind of rethink our mental model of how we behave," said Duncan Watts, a Columbia University sociologist. "Public policy in general treats people as if they are sort of atomized individuals and puts policies in place to try to get them to stop smoking, eat right, start exercising or make better decisions about retirement, et cetera. What we see in this research is that we are missing a lot of what is happening

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Or so reports Politico in an article that has Ed in ???08's fingerprints all over it:

Although it takes a back seat in campaign coverage compared with the economy and the Iraq war, education remains a high priority for many American voters. An April 21 CBS News/MTV poll of young voters found that education was their third most popular concern, behind only the economy and Iraq and ahead of health care, terrorism and the environment.

A Pew poll in January also found that more Americans chose education than terrorism as the most important problem facing the nation.

While the presidential candidates emphasize their commitment to improving America's education system, the issue has received scant attention from the media. Less than 1 percent of the questions in presidential primary debates were devoted to education, according to a forthcoming study whose results were provided to Politico on a confidential basis.

The editorial board of the Washington Post looks back on Mayor Fenty's first year after taking control of the D.C. public schools and is pleased so far. Unlike me , they're not too concerned by the fact that Chancellor Michelle Rhee is abandoning weighted student funding --rather, they look forward to "the promise of music, art and physical education teachers in schools this fall."

And ironically, they caution that:

There have been problems, including with the amount and quality of information provided to the public as changes are made.... We also worry about the amount of money being spent. In seeking control of the schools, Mr. Fenty vowed that money was not the issue, but an extra $200 million later, it's clear that the administration was either kidding itself or the public. The system needs to show it is fixing, not just throwing money at, the problems.

Transparency is one of the great virtues of weighted student funding. Rhee's step backwards is only going to make it harder to tell how money is spent in D.C.

The United Federation of Teachers is protesting a teacher's removal to one of New York City's famed "rubber rooms."

The president of the union, Randi Weingarten, said yesterday that Mr. Brown was asked to leave the school last week after he criticized his principal in front of one of her supervisors.

"She won't ever meet with me or talk to me," Mr. Brown told the supervisor, according to Ms. Weingarten.

"This is the worst abuse of the rubber room," Ms. Weingarten said. "This is a principal who wants her way, and if she doesn't get her way, she'll go to every length."

A spokesman for the city's Department of Education, Andrew Jacob, declined to specifics of the case, but he said the principal had not reassigned the teacher to a rubber room alone.

"Before he was reassigned, the principal reviewed the situation with our legal office, and they approved the reassignment, and they're in the process of preparing charges," Mr. Jacob said.

Unions are wrong about a lot of things, but it probably is indeed the case that some principals value loyalty over competence and consequently make stupid personnel decisions. Most of them attained leadership positions by toeing the district line, and now they expect the same obedience from their employees. Thus, a New York City teacher who's smart enough to realize how poorly-run her school is has to hold her tongue or risk having it ripped out.

So well done on...

Anecdotal gripes that gifted children are not getting their needs met abound. Take this post from a gifted-education advocate that states: "Schools in America are not being evaluated equitably, and the gifted children are among the ones who are suffering" and "NCLB does not even talk about gifted and talented children--our country's greatest natural resource."

Flypaper readers will be happy to learn that we have an upcoming study titled "High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB" written by esteemed Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless due to be released in the next month. As its title suggests, it will examine empirically how gifted students have fared during the NCLB era. Stay tuned to find out whether anecdotes and opinions about meeting gifted children's needs have any relationship to their academic progress.

Of course our fallen soldiers deserve the recognition they receive this special day (deserve much more than that, for sure), but this Memorial Day Weekend brought some recognition for a few living heroes, too.

I'm referring to this shout-out for SEED from uber-columnist Tom Friedman in the Sunday New York Times. (By the way, nice title.)

Every once in a while as a journalist you see a scene that grips you and will not let go, a scene that is at once so uplifting and so cruel it's difficult to even convey in words. I saw such a scene last weekend at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore. It was actually a lottery, but no ordinary lottery. The winners didn't win cash, but a ticket to a better life. The losers left with their hopes and lottery tickets crumpled.

The event was a lottery to choose the first 80 students who will attend a new public boarding school - the SEED School of Maryland - based in Baltimore. I went along because my wife is on the SEED Foundation board. The foundation opened its first school 10 years ago in Washington, D.C., as the nation's first college-prep, public, urban boarding school. Baltimore is its second campus. The vast majority of students are African-American, drawn from the most disadvantaged and violent school districts.

Some reformers are upset that he didn't use the term "charter" to describe the school, though to be fair, SEED...

This Memorial Day Weekend also brought a great piece in the Washington Post about the Washington Middle School for Girls.

You won't see metal detectors or security officers at either campus of the Washington Middle School for Girls. Instead, you'll find parents clamoring to get their kids into the school.

The parents look beyond the physical setting to what happens in these classrooms, which is nothing less than the transformation of the same kind of children who drift through the city's public schools and emerge, on average, less likely to succeed than when they entered.

Left unsaid is that this thriving Catholic school is part of the NativityMiguel Network, which is the KIPP of the Catholic school world. Its 64 middle schools nationwide are proving that the decline of Catholic schooling isn't inevitable and that a traditional, faith-inspired education can still work miracles. Read our recent report on Catholic schools to learn more.

School reformers have been infatuated with D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee since she took office last fall. But for me, that ended today when I read that Rhee has ???scrapped??? the weighted student formula (WSF) used in D.C. for the last decade.

This is no mere ???budget formula change,??? as the Washington Post headline would have us believe. WSF is a comprehensive reform, one that banishes old-fashioned funding schemes and makes possible a host of other reforms. By developing school-level budgets based on per-pupil funding amounts, tailored to the needs of students, WSF is efficient, fair, and transparent, unlike district-centered models that control funding from a central office and allocate teachers and other resources to schools based on staffing formulas or the whims of bureaucrats.

Under WSF, inequities in funding between schools can be erased, as funding levels are based explicitly on the students each school serves. In contrast, the type of system to which Rhee would return allocates teachers to schools and then lets school ???budgets??? be driven (primarily) by the sums of their salaries. Certain schools can far ???outspend??? others for no better reason than that veteran teachers chose to teach there. Marguerite Roza and others have found that such nuances can lead to huge funding inequities between schools in the same district ??? inequities that may be worse than those between districts or between states.

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