A new AP poll out today spends some time asking respondents about the state of public schools. The approximately 1,700 adults gave their opinions about how well schools prepare kids for college, how safe schools are, etc. etc. The Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog has an interesting take on the relationship between education and economic productivity (which lends itself to exploring how Americans view their kids schools vs. everyone else's), but other results deserve some attention.

According to the poll, both the general population and parents think students should spend more time studying math (38% and 40%, respectively) and English (21% and 21%, respectively). The next most popular subject? History and government, says the general population (10% apiece), and "other" (10%) say the parents. Sure it makes sense that they'd want more time devoted to math and English, the bread and butter of our standardized testing system, but yikes. These results don't exactly give much hope to the push to keep the liberal arts in the curriculum. And one has to wonder what exactly these "other" subjects are, considering the survey lists choices in just about every major subject.

Another disturbing result:...

Performance-based pay (PBP) programs for teachers have been??growing, especially since the advent of the federal Teacher Incentive Fund program a couple years ago. ProComp out of Denver is probably the best known PBP and rather unique since it's being funded by a $25-million mill levy approved by taxpayers. Like many of these plans, ProComp is extremely complicated, which is part of the reason that management and union reached an impasse in contract negotiations over how to change and improve it for the next iteration.

ProComp is a voluntary program--indeed, this was one of the major reasons it was passed--and less than half of Denver teachers have now joined the plan. That??means roughly??$87 million in ProComp dollars will be left over at the end of the 2008-09 school year. Not surprising,??DPS says it could find a place for those extra greenbacks, perhaps by directing it??to younger teachers leaving the system at high rates. But Henry Roman, involved in the program from the get-go, says not so fast:??"At this stage, I feel more information is needed before people make final recommendations." Indeed.??Before that money is redirected anywhere,??stakeholders need to stop and ask themselves why so few teachers have signed on...

Don't miss this important new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality regarding the preparation of competent elementary-school math teachers. Titled No Common Denominator, it finds, after reviewing a national sample of ed-school-based undergraduate teacher prep programs, that fewer than 15 percent of them require enough of the right kinds of courses. It names names, too! It also makes a boatload of recommendations, nearly all of them contrary to current practice and some of them??also contrary to??conventional teacher-quality-reform wisdom. All this was unveiled earlier today (at a well-attended event on the roof??of the Hotel Hay-Adams, looking down??upon the White House itself). If you'd been there you'd have enjoyed a fine presentation by top NCTQ policy analyst Julie Greenberg. Second best is to read what she wrote--there are PDFs for the press release, executive summary, and full report (and a version with full appendices)....

From: U.S. Department of Education []

Sent: Thursday, June 26, 2008 5:06 PM

To: U.S. Department of Education

Subject: FYI - Reading First Letter from Secretary Spellings

FYI - You may be interested in the following letter sent from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to Senator Robert Byrd, Senator Thad Cochran, Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Michael Enzi, Congressman David Obey, Congressman George Miller, Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon and Congressman Jerry Lewis.

June 25, 2008

Dear [NAME]:

Reading is the skill on which all other learning depends.?? And so it is with disappointment I note recent Appropriations Subcommittee actions to eliminate critical funding for the groundbreaking Reading First program.

The program's origins trace back to a historic and bipartisan Congressional vote to create the National Reading Panel.?? The panel examined more than 20 years of scientific research to determine the most effective methods of reading instruction.

Reading First applies these findings to the classroom and to training teachers in the use of scientifically based reading research to improve the literacy skills of more than 1.6 million students.?? State-reported performance data released this month indicates impressive gains in reading comprehension,

Liam Julian

Christina, remember that the NEA headquarters is merely a??block away from the Russian embassy, the two being separated by just the University Club, the American Chemical Society, and M Street, if I'm not mistaken. I've long suspected an underground passageway connecting their outfits, and your perceptive juxtaposition has??only strengthened my suspicions.

Photo by Flickr user freedomtoast. (See the picture over at Flickr for a translation of the poster.)

Liam Julian

...that William F. Buckley, Jr., spoke no English until he was seven years old? Spanish was his first language, French his second. We read volumes about the need to offer pre-K in large part to ensure that a pupil begins Kindergarten??in possession of words the number of which does not substantially trail that of those at the beck and call of most of his classmates. I wonder, though, if a child whose vocabulary is paltry at age five is really in such bad shape, or if his skimpy vocabulary merely bespeaks other disadvantages that pre-K can't help. Surely Amber knows the answers, and I hope she'll tell them to me. And before anyone gets all huffy about this: No, I don't think Buckley's magical story should be the foundation on which we build early education houses. It merely made me think, is all, which happens infrequently enough to be worthy of documentation.

Liam Julian

The newest Gadfly is up. Amber's editorial is a fair-minded evaluation of the relevant research that seeks to clarify whether school-based childcare centers are a smart idea. She finds in favor of common sense. Checker gives us an update on the state of the charter movement; pretty good, he thinks. And don't miss the podcast--it's Kuhner's last. We're taking next week off for the Fourth, so Gadfly will next be coming to you July 10th.

Seventy-five percent more Americans Better said: Americans are seventy-five percent more likely to express confidence in the police than in the public schools. That's one take-away from this graph in today's Wall Street Journal, which shows that only one-third of Americans have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the schools.

It's also fair to say, however, that three times as many Americans express confidence in the public schools than in Congress. Perhaps lawmakers should remember that the next time they try to "fix" our education system.

The X Prize Foundation is teaming up with British telecoms giant BT to expand its offerings. The Financial Times says

The next prizes are likely to focus on cancer, renewable energy and oceanography. The foundation aims to revive a spirit of adventure in research, like the 18th-century prizes to measure longitude and the early 20th-century aviation prizes.

I guess I was foolish to expect the article to announce the unveiling of the long-awaited Education X Prize. The foundation's website shows they have thought a bit more about the idea, though.

I'd wager that stupid immigration policies, which George Will assails in today's Washington Post, pose a much greater threat to long-term American competitiveness than sub-par schools.