Flypaper

I was thrilled to hear that Barack Obama doesn't want to dump standardized tests and replace them with portfolios. A campaign spokesperson emailed Education Week's Michele McNeil this note last night, in response to my posts: "Senator Obama has said he supports testing but wants to make sure our tests are better and smarter. He does not support replacing the current structure of NCLB with portfolios and to suggest otherwise is a willful misreading of his comprehensive agenda on education." Alexander Russo* quotes Obama himself from his speech in Colorado in May: "This doesn't mean that we won't have a standardized test, I believe children should master that skill as well and that should be part of the assessments and tools that we use to make sure our children are learning. It...

An update to the sushi robot story: USA Today's Greg Toppo has determined that it was bought with federal free-lunch funds--though not a federal earmark. That's too bad, because I'm getting tired of hearing John McCain talk about an ???overhead projector??? when he could be talking about a sushi robot.

Right: A sushi robot, but not THE sushi robot recently discovered in a Los Angeles school. Photograph from AUTEC-USA website.

My post about Obama surrogate Melody Barnes's embrace of student portfolios is causing concern within the edusphere. Eduflack notes that ???Retreads of failed experiments are certainly not innovations in education improvement.??? Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge Blog pleads ???Say it ain't so, O,??? and argues that ???portfolios were found to be completely unreliable??as large-scale accountability measures years ago.???

But Michele McNeil, a bona fide reporter, insists on Education Week's Campaign K-12 blog that this position is neither new nor newsworthy.

We've heard Obama's many advisers talk about portfolios before, and in August, Obama himself at a campaign event in Virginia said: "We should come up with teachers, what are the best ways to assess performance. You know, peer review, portfolios, or a mix of things that help us evaluate. And are we measuring progress during the course of a year." In November during one of his first big education policy speeches in New Hampshire, he held up one school district's use of "digital portfolios" as a model of how to reform assessments. And here, the American...

I had the honor of appearing on the Diane Rehm Show this morning, along with D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, Lisa Graham Keegan of the McCain campaign, Melody Barnes of the Obama campaign, Greg Toppo of USA Today, and Rick Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation. We discussed the candidates' education proposals, and all went according to plan until about halfway through the segment when Melody said that Obama wanted to look at different kinds of student assessments, including portfolios.

Portfolios? As Greg and I said on the air, this was news. We're not aware of the Obama camp ever saying before that portfolios might be part of the mix. I'm pretty sure I could hear Kati Haycock screaming from a few miles away. (And I bet that George Miller, the chairman of the House Education Committee, won't be so happy with this development either.) After all, several states experimented with using portfolios as large-scale assessments back in the 90s, and they were found to be completely unreliable, as their grading relies on subjective judgments to a large degree. If you think "adequate yearly progress" is complicated and leads to insane results, wait till you introduce portfolios. With...

William Ayers may be getting a lot of attention these days, but the real education radical to keep your eye on is D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee . As Clay Risen writes in The Atlantic , she is ???the most controversial figure in American public education.??? She's shaking up her district's central office bureaucracy, going to war with the teachers union, and pushing her staff to--this is crazy--be responsive to the concerns of parents. So, as I told the Washington Post the other day, the fact that Barack Obama calls her ???wonderful??? just might indicate that his instincts are reform-minded, after all.

Last Thursday, the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program unveiled a new paper by Sara Mead and Andrew Rotherham, Changing the Game: The Federal Role in Supporting 21st Century Educational Innovation . I was asked to respond to it, surely because of my role helping to create the Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement , which Mead and Rotherham want to rename the Office of Educational Entrepreneurship and Innovation. (Now that's progress!)

As I said at the release, the paper is at once both underwhelming and incredibly audacious. First the underwhelming part: strip away the lofty rhetoric, the (annoying) "game-changing" language, and the Brookings panache, and what Mead and Rotherham are proposing is to steer federal funds to organizations they like. (This through a new program, the "Grow What Works" fund, which would allocate dollars for the "scaling up" of reform organizations such as KIPP or Teach For America.) Or, put less generously, it's pork for their friends. At least that's how the media and critics will depict it, I would guess. That's what happened to those of us in the Bush Administration when we used the "Secretary's Discretionary Fund"...

Martin West and Ludger Woessmann have published a fascinating study in the winter edition of Education Next. Its conclusion--that there is a positive correlation between the prevalence of private schools and high test scores--is something that is widely argued but not so widely proven. West and Woessmann compared PISA scores from 2003 with the number of private schools in 29 countries to find that,

a 10 percent increase in enrollment in private schools improves PISA math test scores by more than 9 percent of a standard deviation, nearly equal to a half of a year's worth of learning. For science and reading, a 10 percent increase in private school enrollment generates an improvement of more than 5 percent of a standard deviation--more than one-fifth of a grade-level. And in educational spending, a 10 percent increase in the private school enrollment leads to a $3,209 reduction in spending per student--on average, more than 5 percent of the total education spending per student through age 15 for OECD countries.

The part, however, that caught my eye was how they controlled for the causes of private school proliferation. They recognized that a country with a high average income or commitment to...

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the cram industry in India and asked a simple question: what will it take to get American students to start respecting education again? These Indian students choose to go to these military style cram schools, which cost an exorbitant amount of money (to the tune of $1,500) for many Indian families, with the understanding that getting into and graduating from an Indian Institute of Technology (there are seven) is the ticket to financial and intellectual success. Interestingly, our close friend Diane Ravitch commented on my post and said that these cram schools have nothing to do with NCLB testing. She's right, of course, although that was not my point in that post. Today, Forbes published Diane's??stupendous critique of pay-as-you-go programs for students (i.e. paying students to show up, behave and get good grades)--and she starts her piece by talking about cram schools (I'd like to think I inspired her, but probably not :)). She takes my question and goes further:

Interesting, isn't it, that while students in other countries are paying $1,500 a year for the chance to learn more, many American students will be paid that same amount just to do

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Sol Stern describes Bill Ayers thusly: "[A]s one of the leaders of a movement for bringing social-justice teaching into our public school classrooms, Mr. Ayers is not a school reformer. He is a school destroyer." Hard to argue with that. Stern, who is writing a book on Ayers and his history in the legacy of public school education, specifically his influence on social-justice teaching, recounts the history of Ayers' involvement in Chicago politics and Chicago schools in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. He's "not just a guy in the neighborhood," asserts Stern; Ayers "still hopes for a revolutionary upheaval that will finally bring down American capitalism and imperialism, but this time around Mr. Ayers sows the seeds of resistance and rebellion in America's future teachers." In short, Ayers uses his position as a professor of education at the University of Illinois to inculcate his students with the notion that they are revolutionaries sent to the schools to brainwash students. This is destructive, indeed.??

Stern's conclusion?

If Barack Obama wins on Nov. 4, the "guy in the neighborhood" is not likely to get an invitation to the Lincoln bedroom. But with the Democrats controlling all three branches of government, there's

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