Flypaper

After months of jockeying with control-freak governor Ted Strickland, Ohio state education superintendent Susan Tave Zelman is on her way out, perhaps to the University of Oregon as ed school dean.

She toughed it out for a while but the handwriting went onto the wall for her once key members of the state board of education decided that placating the governor was more important than retaining Dr. Z, as she is known at the Ohio Department of Education. It must also be said that she didn't try very hard to placate him herself, seeming more determined to demonstrate independence than to make nice with Bob Taft's successor and his agenda. She can, in truth, be ornery, strong-willed, and mercurial, in addition to very bright, boundlessly energetic, and quite creative. But there was no way that a principled educator with her track record could have accommodated the Strickland education agenda, such as it is. Much of it, alas, simply involves seizing control of the system and reorganizing the deck chairs rather than repositioning the ship.

But he's recommended some repositioning, too, in ways that Dr. Z could not (and should not be expected to) stomach, much less preside over. Ohio's standards and accountability system leaves much to be desired--but the Governor's goal is to weaken it, not strengthen it. The state's charter-school and voucher programs also have their flaws--but the Governor's goal is to eliminate them, not fix them. Indeed, the only way Zelman could in conscience...

The Heritage Foundation's Ed Feulner is a heckuva smart guy and he's usually right (as well as Right). His take on A Nation at Risk, and the country's response to it, however, is only half right.

Yes, we're spending pots more money on public education today--close to twice as much per kid in constant dollars--than in 1983 when ANAR was issued. But that kind of spending increase was happening for decades and decades before ANAR, too. Indeed, public education spending has risen for as long as we've had public education. (See page 200 of my book.) No, spending more doesn't solve any problems or boost achievement, but neither was it America's main response to ANAR.

Rather, the main responses were in fact to do a lot more of the two things that Ed praises: lots more school choice (though not enough, and not good enough choices) and lots more accountability (though not enough and it's not working as well as it should). He decries NCLB as overzealous federal intervention, and I don't disagree, but it's not as if repealing it (which only residents of cloud cuckoo land imagine happening) would lead to tons more school choice or accountability. Ed and his Heritage colleagues have a slight tendency to see Uncle Sam as the root of all evil. There's plenty to criticize in American public education--but the federal government is among the lesser culprits....

Clay Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma and a Harvard business professor, is coming out with a new book that's sure to create a buzz in the K-12 space, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Its headline-grabbing assertion is that by 2019, half of all high school classes will be taught online. (At least that's the thrust of this Ed Week article, which provides a nice overview.) Christensen thinks that this development is a good thing, and his arguments will surely spark a debate about the merits (and demerits) of online learning. (He also thinks that online innovation will come from outside the traditional public education system--which is almost surely true, though this view might hurt his speaking tour potential.)

But it's his conception of "nonconsumers" that has me most intrigued. In The Innovator's Dilemma, he explained how a litany of products (such as transistor radios) appealed to people who couldn't afford other mainstream products at the time. Upstart companies succeeded not by stealing market share from other companies, but by selling to people (nonconsumers) who weren't in the market to begin with. Now he applies that theory to education. As explained in Ed Week:

New providers are stepping forward to serve students that mainline education does not serve, or serve well, the authors write. Those students, which the book describes as K-12 education's version of "nonconsumers," include those lacking access to Advanced Placement courses, needing alternatives to

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Reid Lyon, the Godfather of Scientifically Based Reading Instruction (so says Eduflack), provides a ton of important insights into RF's interim evaluation study in this EdNews.org interview.

The Sacramento Bee's editorial page weighs in on the racial remix controversy at Will C. Wood Middle School, coming to the defense of the school's principal:

A Bee analysis found that 80 schools across the state changed racial designations for students in ways that allowed the schools to meet federal standards. And why not? Race is an artificial social construct, not a science. When a child is half black and half white or half Asian or part Indian or part Latino--what exactly is she?

And:

The situation at Will C. Wood highlights a conundrum posed by No Child Left Behind. While the performance of racial, ethnic and socio-economic categories of students can reveal much about how well a school is meeting its needs, those categories by themselves reveal little. A struggling student is a struggling student, whether he or she is white, or black, or Latino, or Asian.

It sounds like Liam's arguments might be having an impact on the Left Coast. Perhaps it's time to move past NCLB's obsession with race, after all.

This month's issue of The New Criterion is all about education. There's lots on the value of the classics/liberal education/learning for learning's sake from smart folks like Roger Kimball, Victor Davis Hanson, and James Piereson. There's also another piece from the always-provocative Charles Murray on the supposed futility of trying to close the achievement gap.

The Washington Post reports that the Institute of Architects has recognized a new building on the campus of the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., "as one of the 'top ten green projects' of 2007":

The building uses 93 percent less water than it would if simply hooked up to the city's water and sewer system; energy efficiency and passive solar design cut energy use by 60 percent; and 78 percent of materials used were manufactured "regionally" (within 500 miles of the site) to cut the environmentally degrading effects of long transit.

It's great to see environmental awareness spreading to all sectors of our society, including think tanks.

Looks like the United Federation of Teachers is not going to back down on the Absent Teacher Reserve issue. (Background here.) Yesterday the union sent the New York Sun a data analysis that challenges claims by The New Teacher Project that educators on the Reserve list are sitting around doing nothing, sapping the district of $81 million. The UFT claims that a third of 665-or-so Reserve teachers are actually teaching and that the drain on the district is closer to $18 million.

The other side isn't buying it:

"I believe this is a red herring of the first order," Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf said. "I believe there is no possibility that her number is accurate."

The president of the New Teacher Project, Timothy Daly, said he knew of no way to collect data on precisely what ATR members are doing inside schools.

"Why didn't I hear about this before now if this is a widespread problem?" Mr. Daly said.

The Styles section features a piece about online services that let parents track their kids' grades in real time. Not surprisingly, the author reports that in many places a new brand of parent-cum-Big Brother is causing "exacerbated stress about daily grades and increased family tension." Here's an idea: employ the real-time monitoring once a student shows signs of struggling, but not before.

Also, a front-page article on Turkish schools in Pakistan, which offer a milder brand of Islam and more rigorous academics than many Pakistani madrasas.

Liam Julian

The political maneuvering of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick might offer a preview of an Obama administration, says Jon Keller in the Wall Street Journal. If he's right, education reformers should be wary:

Education may be the one area where Mr. Patrick could have done the most to demonstrate that he is indeed a new man of the left.... But to the delight of education unions, Mr. Patrick instead appears to be laying the groundwork to dismantle [the state's] reforms. He appointed antitesting zealot Ruth Kaplan to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, where she repaid his confidence recently by disparaging the college preparation emphasis of some charter schools. She said these schools set "some kids up for failure . . . Their families don't always know what's best for their children."

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