A question to ponder if new research on Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS) pans out. Robotic teachers, you ask? CNN has more.

The Magnolia State, long the basement-dweller among states for its laughable standards for "proficiency" on its NCLB tests, is raising the bar, reports Education Week. This is consistent with a pattern we noticed in last year's Proficiency Illusion report, where states with some of the lowest standards (such as Texas) bring them up a notch, while states with high standards (such as South Carolina) let them slide a bit. Thus, we found a "walk to the middle," as opposed to the "race to the bottom" that we expected. So to Mississippi we say: welcome, walkers!

Photo by Flickr user christianabe....

Now you know the thesis of this Education Week commentary by USA Today editorial page writer Richard Whitmire; here are the key paragraphs:

I attended a press briefing not long ago by former Arizona schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan, McCain's top education adviser. Although the McCain campaign talks strong on school accountability, she had nothing good to say about the NCLB law. All children proficient by 2014? Let's stop pretending. The federal government sanctioning state schools? Not our way of doing business.

Many conservatives have long disliked the law's federal intrusions. McCain is not going to stand in their way. It's not his issue. Under a President McCain, it would only be a matter of time before NCLB got renamed and pushed back to the states.

A few weeks ago, I listened to an Obama education adviser, Mike Johnston, brief the press. Obama has "no intention" of backing off tested accountability on math and reading, said Johnston. While a President Obama might rename the law and offer some additional measurements of school performance, odds favor his disappointing the teachers' unions.

The "press briefings"...

The Voice of San Diego, ??a local independent paper, examines the ongoing deliberations over a new teachers union contract in that fair city. The interesting context, picked up by the piece, is that San Diego's new superintendent, Terry Grier, enjoyed one of the most flexible teacher contracts in the country in his last post in Guilford County, North Carolina--that according to Fordham's Leadership Limbo report. (Check out video of Mr. Grier's comments at a panel we held to discuss the report.) And guess which district has one of the worst contracts, according to our analysis? That's right; none other than San Diego.

Of course (and unfortunately), it won't be so easy for Superintendent Grier to simply replace San Diego's restrictive contract with Guilford County's flexible one. As the National Council on Teacher Quality just reported, it's state law that matters even more than local actions when it comes to teacher policy. Which means that Mr. Grier might soon be having Carolina on his mind....

The Gadfly briefly addressed this issue a few weeks ago and the editors at Newsday have taken it up in another form on their blog, Viewsday (ha ha...). New York State has been engaged in a heated debate over special education, specifically whether more or all students should be mainstreamed. More recently, and this is what the Newsday editors were really concerned with, the discussion has turned to what to call diplomas granted under Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Should they really be called a "diploma" if they're not worth the same as a regular high school degree? This may not be a matter of semantics.

Employers and universities should know what kind of course work stands behind that piece of paper. While NCLB has attempted to address the state-to-state and school-to-school discrepancies, we're a long way from national standards. Labeling IEP degrees "IEP certificates" rather than "IEP diplomas" could have a few benefits; I'll focus on two. First, many too many students wind up in special education because teachers want them out of their mainstream classrooms for reasons other than their physical or learning disability. Perhaps they're disruptive, have social adjustment issues, or are bringing issues...

I have to admit that I had been hoping for a while someone would do this. A new advocacy group founded this past spring, Strong Schools DC , has fomented a grassroots revolution and the D.C. teachers union is up in arms, reports the Washington Post . Strong Schools is relying on the common sense of teachers to get Michelle Rhee's new merit green-red funding scheme passed. Instead of pressuring the union, which as much as we'd like hell to freeze over, is probably never going to support the abolition of tenure, Strong Schools is recruiting teachers to spread their message. It's subversive and I like it.

The premise is simple: if you reward teachers for good work, as Rhee's green track does, they'll support you. It's called self-interest and it has our favorite anti-reformer Randi Weingarten off balance. Apparently she's "never seen anything like this"--that's a shocker. Treating teachers like a herd of sheep, who can't be fired, who have no incentive to improve achievement except for their own conscience, and who are afraid to be evaluated is never going to recruit the talent and hard work needed in the...

The NCLB conversation has gone digital--at NewTalk.Org, a fancy shmancy blog that allows big thinkers to "talk" via posting for a set time period. This week, it features some big names in the education world; our very own Checker Finn is participating, along with good friends Rick Hess, Diane Ravitch, and Philip Howard. PBS's John Merrow moderates. The "conversation" runs until August 7th.

Liam Julian

From time to time, while digging up material for forthcoming Fordham reports, op-eds, or blog posts, I stumble upon an unrelated article that catches my interest and causes me to pause and read. Here's one such, written by Checker, entitled "An Open Letter to Lawrence H. Summers." It was published six years ago. Checker writes:

It's up to you. If you want to, you can lead Harvard out of its moral quagmire and clarify its murky standards, while demonstrating serious leadership for a nationwide higher education community that hasn't had any in years.

Alas, it wasn't to be.

Liam Julian