Flypaper

In the debate Friday night, Barack Obama responded to John McCain's idea of freezing federal spending by arguing that "the problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel." Then, on Face the Nation (pdf) on Sunday, he furthered his case: "The president has to make choices, and those choices mean that when you deal with a budget you don't take an axe to it, you use a scalpel. There are programs in our government that do not work..."

Yes, there are. And for the better part of seven years, the Bush Administration has been tallying them and calling on Congress to eliminate them. Here's the list of the Department of Education's ineffective programs , for example.

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Program (2008 BA in millions)

Academies for American History and Civics

$1.9

Advanced Credentialing

9.6

I don't always agree with Jay Mathews, but he has written an excellent column this morning. The crux of his argument is particularly well put:

This is a difficult choice and a hard time for D.C. teachers. They are fine people who have chosen a tough profession and put their hearts into their work. Many fear being judged by principals who, unlike Hayes, were not skillful teachers themselves and have little clue as to what helps kids learn and what doesn't. But I don't see any way the city's children are going to get the instruction they deserve -- the imaginative, fun-loving, firm teaching found at schools like KEY -- unless principals are given the power to hire and fire teachers based on demonstrated skill and improved learning in class.

Rhee is likely to pick a few principals who fail, much as Hayes erred in hiring the two teachers. But the great virtue of the approach used at KEY and similar charter schools, the approach Rhee wants to adopt, is that achievement results -- not friendships, not union rules, not inertia -- would determine which principals and which teachers keep their jobs . If Hayes and other KIPP principals

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The Education Gadfly

As many of you, I hope, know, I, Thomas B. aka The Gadfly, have entered the social networking world--on Facebook. ??Just this morning, in fact, Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City Schools, requested to become my friend on said networking site. I accepted his request with alacrity. If you too would like the inestimable honor of being my friend in the world of Mark Zuckerberg's brainchild, my profile can be found here. Now you can be the first to know about those rockin' parties I throw (I hope you didn't miss, for example, David Whitman's book launch party or the first Great Debate!); even better, mini-feed will keep you updated on all my goings-on, which, let me tell you, are super exciting. Sometimes, I clean my wings, and other times I make witty pronouncements on the education world's happenings. Seriously, you don't want to miss out. Friend me!

Education journals get a lot of flack for their low research standards and willingness to publish almost anything. I've heard many people say that what education needs is something akin to JAMA or Science. But look--Science just published an article using sophisticated modeling techniques to predict that most California schools will eventually fail to make "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind. Its title? "School Performance Will Fail to Meet Legislated Benchmarks."

Hello? Any fifth grader could tell you that "school performance will fail to meet legislated benchmarks" when the legislated benchmarks are getting 100 percent of students to the proficient level.

Coming next issue in Science: "Baseball sluggers unlikely to bat 1.000."

Maybe education needs a different exemplar to follow?

"Responsibility! Accountability! Discipline! Oversight! Rules!" So begins Dan Henninger's Wall Street Journalcolumn from yesterday, which, among other things, connects the lack of standards in the financial markets to the loss of standards in our schools.

Once we're done imposing Spartan discipline on the dining rooms of Wall Street, how about some of the same for the halls and classrooms of the average inner-city high school? A nation in panic at the sight of banks imploding has yawned for years while the public-school system melted down.

A handful of Supreme Court decisions going back 40 years relaxed standards of oversight for dress codes, comportment, speech and expulsion, and the average school principal or teacher threw in the towel on daily discipline. Not my job.

Many school administrators can relate to the frontline mortgage-lending officers, some of them old-school bankers who used to help young borrowers understand the difference between the real world and probable ruin. That's what high-school principals used to do. No more.

Suddenly, local lenders were toiling (if they survived) in the easier liar-loan world fostered by Congress, Fannie and Freddie and guys with great tans in Los Angeles. The old

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Kudos to Jay Mathews for writing this:

When fixing schools, beware of miracle cures. Every week people send me ideas they say will change the future of education and lead all humanity to enlightenment. So, when management expert William G. Ouchi let me look at his new work on the surprising power of total student loads per teacher, or TSL, I was skeptical.??

As you should be, Jay, as you should be. But on to the meat of the article: TSL, Ouchi's newest addition to the alphabet soup of acronyms. Yes, that's William Ouchi of the widely read Making Schools Work, which rightly espouses the idea of weighted student funding, or (alphabet soup!) WSF. We've written on this topic too and we think it a darn good idea--but, like its reform-minded brethren, not a panacea. At first read, TSL sounds like an interesting concept. Ouchi does his homework, too, which makes me much more likely to read this forthcoming book (when it is published--unclear when that will be) with an open mind.??

Here's the problem, though. Ouchi (according to Mathews, who it must be noted is the only one, it seems, who has read this elusive...

According to Campaign K-12, Senator Barack Obama told the Clinton Global Initiative gathering today that he would invest $2 billion to close the international "education gap" by 2015--which I think means he'd work to get all kids across the world into schools by that date. The sentiment is fine but the presidential candidate might want to pick up a copy of Clay Christensen's book before he settles on a policy. He might discover that desperately poor children, particularly those in remote rural areas, could be best served through online learning opportunities. Investing $2 billion in the infrastructure and virtual materials to make that happen might be a smarter move than building thousands of schools and hiring millions of teachers.

Rick Hess's recent piece in The American is finally online. As you might recall, this article--"After Milwaukee"--was the subject of a spirited Howard Fuller speech a few weeks ago, and is likely to put Hess in the school-choice doghouse, where he can hang out with Sol Stern.

His critique of the Milwaukee voucher program is two-fold. First, its competitive pressures haven't led to systemic improvements in the public schools, as some free-market advocates had expected. And second, it hasn't led to "innovation or excellence" in the private school market, either.

Hess, for one, isn't surprised about either development:

In the school choice debate, many reformers have gotten so invested in the language of "choice" that they seem to forget choice is only half of the market equation. Markets are about both supply and demand--and, while "choice" is concerned with emboldening consumer demand, the real action when it comes to prosperity, productivity, and progress is typically on the supply side.

Simply put, market reform is not just about choice; it is also about enabling market mechanisms to channel human energy and ingenuity into solving problems and satisfying needs. Dynamic markets require much more

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GADFLY NEWS SERVICE: HUNTSALOOSA, TN. A fourth-grade class in this small town gained national attention yesterday when a group of students petitioned their teacher to postpone their spelling test scheduled for Friday in light of the financial crisis on Wall Street.

"Mrs. Smith is always talking about ???teachable moments,'" said Brandon Johnson, one of the students leading the charge. "It just seems silly to focus on something mundane like spelling when we could be learning about macro-economics instead."

The students' teacher at first dismissed the postponement out of hand, saying "fourth graders need to be able to learn to spell and learn about current events, all at the same time." But she backed down after her principal called for a meeting between the teacher, students, and their parents. This led to even greater controversy.

"We never like to see principals siding with students over teachers," said Nancy Beaker, the president of the National Education Association's local affiliate. "This is doubly unfair because Mr. Grady [the school's principal] is related to the boy who is in the middle of all of this." (They are second cousins.)

It's unclear whether the spelling test will proceed as scheduled, or...

You won't want to miss this week's Gadfly. Checker and Stafford explain why community schools (as espoused by the Broader, Bolder folks and Randi Weingarten over at the AFT) are the antithesis of David Whitman's paternalistic model. Mike has no sympathy for a schools in a struggling economy--fire bad teachers, quoth he! Then, get the deets on a strange new safe haven law in Nebraska, which is redefining "child" to be all youth up to age 19, and the new Tom Loveless study on the sad state of algebra.

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