Flypaper

Columnist Jay Mathews writes in today's Washington Post about Fordham's latest report, High-Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind.

Here's a teaser:

My theory is that we have unconsciously taken our concern about the income gap--a lively issue in the last several years--and adopted the same vocabulary when we worry about how our children are doing in school, even though making money and learning to read, write and do math are different enterprises. I can understand distaste for people who build 50-room mansions with gold bathroom fixtures. But can anyone learn too much? Wisdom tends to help everyone who comes in contact with it. Ski chalets in Aspen are less useful to those of us who can't afford them.

Fun factoid of the day: Neither the ACT nor the College Board/ETS (giver of the SAT) tells colleges or universities why they cancel student scores. Joe Shmoe faints during a test? Joe Shmoe has his pal Freddy take the test for him? All the same in the testing companies' eyes. They'll cancel the score and let the student take the test again. And this is how they might explain it (as ACT recently did to UCLA):

The ACT cancels scores for a variety of reasons, including illness of the examinee, mis-timing of the test, disturbances or irregularity at the testing site.... It is the ACT policy to treat the ACT's reasoning for canceling a specific score as confidential.

Even in cases where cheating is suspected, as described in today's Los Angeles Times, the testing company investigates students directly--but doesn't tell the high school or college that Joe has run quite the scam.

It seems to me that, although sponsored by external organizations, college entrance exams are inextricably linked to high schools and universities alike. Their value has come into question as some institutions no longer require the scores, but for many students the SAT/ACT remains a...

The Economist reports that Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal apparently struck a deal with state legislators to get his voucher bill passed???a 123 percent pay raise for them in return for an escape from failing schools for 1,500 kids. Unfortunately for Jindal, voters are much more peeved about the politicking than they are pleased about the school reform.

Michelle Rhee's radical teacher pay proposal also made this week's issue. (The Gadfly covered it, too.)

Catching up on the news out of the National Education Association conference earlier this month, I noticed that the union's "representative assembly," in its infinite wisdom, voted against accepting private school teachers and staff as members. As reported in Education Week:

A push by the NEA leadership to admit private school workers was strongly opposed by members who said it would generate conflicts when it came to the union's position on vouchers and religion in schools.

Actually, the smartest thing the NEA could do to dampen enthusiasm for vouchers is to organize private schools. A huge amount of the motivation for voucher supporters is to free poor children from schools under the grip of the unions. Creating unionized private schools would largely remove this motivational factor, and support for vouchers, I suspect, would largely dry up.

So thank you, representative assemblers, for voting as you did. Now, back to our regularly scheduled voucher activism....

That's my synopsis of this E.J. Dionne column about our current economic tribulations.

Since the Reagan years, free-market cliches have passed for sophisticated economic analysis. But in the current crisis, these ideas are falling, one by one, as even conservatives recognize that capitalism is ailing. You know the talking points: Regulation is the problem and deregulation is the solution.

I can hear the education blob-osphere now: "That's right, E.J., and we've had too much deregulation in education, too. Too many charter schools, too much ???alternative' teacher certification, too much power in the hands of principals. What we need are some good old-fashioned regulations!"

Hogwash.

First of all, I suspect that even E.J. would agree that merely calling for re-regulation wouldn't pass as "sophisticated economic analysis," either. But more importantly, in education, we're nowhere near the point where we've deregulated too much. Yes, there have been some high-profile examples when certain states or jurisdictions went too far; the early days of Arizona's or Texas's charter school programs come to mind, as quality-control mechanisms were not strongly in place. But the answer is not a return to old-fashioned regulation, but a move to smart regulation.

That's...

That's a fair way to describe presidential candidate Ralph Nader's opposition to No Child Left Behind, as presented in this Washington Post online chat transcript:

Pikesville, Md.: I am a 28-year-old father, husband, student and educator. Would you be in favor of repealing No Child Left Behind? Do you believe--as many educators do--that NCLB punishes lower-income students/schools while rewarding the schools that already have a wealth of money and community support? Explain.

Ralph Nader: The Nader/Gonzalez campaign favors repeal of the No Child Left Behind law. Narrowly-based multiple choice standardized tests rupture the relationships between teachers and students and forces the teachers to teach to the test which themselves are of poor design. States are gaming the law, violating it and the overwhelming number of teachers are opposed to it--for good reason. There are far better ways to stimulate higher qualities of education and their assessment.

Tests "rupture the relationships between teachers and students"? I hadn't heard that one before....

Editorializing about the recent test score gains in Washington, D.C., under new schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, the Washington Times asks :

Why did the city ever let Arlene Ackerman go--the last superintendent to improve so much?

Not that I'm not glad Rhee is here now, given the passion with which she has pushed for reform. But it's a reasonable question, especially now that Arlene Ackerman is wisely pushing for weighted student funding in her post in Philadelphia, while, sadly, Rhee works to undermine WSF (part of Ackerman's legacy) here.

(The answer, by the way, is that Ackerman left for San Francisco in 2000 partly out of frustration that the D.C. Council and the financial control board micromanaged her. That dynamic is obviously very different in D.C. today, under mayoral control.)

From the New York Sun:

"To counter the power of the city teachers union and business leaders in shaping school policy, New York City should use taxpayer dollars to create two new unions complete with their own budgets and lobbyists, one for public school parents and one for public school students, a group is proposing."

While offering advice on how Obama can defend accusations of socialist tendencies, Matt Miller expounds upon the idea of merit pay in the pages of today's Wall Street Journal. Miller writes:

[Obama] should make a $30 billion pot of federal money available to states and districts to boost salaries in poor schools, provided the teachers unions make two key concessions. First, they have to scrap their traditional "lockstep" pay scale. In this scheme, a physics grad has to be paid the same as a phys-ed major if both have the same tenure in the classroom, and a teacher whose students make remarkable gains each year gets rewarded no differently than one whose students languish. Second, it has to be easy to fire the awful teachers that are blighting the lives of a million poor children.

There are two key points here: the plan itself and the plan's funding scheme. That we still have a lockstep pay scale in the first place simply boggles the mind, and Miller is right to want to abolish it. Making teachers' salaries dependent on tenure makes so little sense it's a wonder physics grads ever buy into this cockamamie scheme. As for...

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