CATO's Neil McCluskey, at the end of a long post arguing against my call for national standards and tests, says of the idea that "harsh reality just seems to??eclipse impossible dreams."

Isn't this the same CATO that advocates a universal education tax credit system? I thought CATO specialized in impossible dreams. Strange.

There's a lot for conservatives to dislike about the Bush Administration when it comes to education and the No Child Left Behind Act. But they should give the President some credit: he certainly split the Democratic Party on the issue. Consider the news out of Denver, where the "Ed Challenge for Change" event showcased the bitter divide between progressive reformers and teachers unions--a direct outcome, I would argue, of NCLB. Consider this, from the Rocky Mountain News:

"It is a battle for the heart of the Democratic Party," said Corey Booker, the 39-year-old rising star mayor of Newark, N.J.

"We have been wrong in education," Booker said of his party and its alliances with teachers unions that put adults before children. "It's time to get right."

Booker was among those who appeared Sunday at the Denver Art Museum to challenge the Democratic Party to reconsider its course on education.

In references sometimes veiled and sometimes blunt, they tackled the party's often-cozy relationship with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which typically support--financially and otherwise--Democratic candidates.

"The Democratic Party is supposed to look out for poor and minority kids," said Washington,


The website of one of the leading education trade journals, Gourmet magazine, has a feature on Tony Geraci, who's been charged with making Baltimore's school lunches more nourishing. Replacing sugary snacks and processed entrees will be whole grains and fresh fruits and veggies. Geraci has even promised that within a year students will be munching on Maryland-grown produce at least three times a week.

"I just had two first-graders tell me that they had never had a fresh peach," Geraci said. "And that's my point. Kids need to know what real food is." Pointing to a second-grader who was digging in, he added: "When I see this kid right here with a face full of peach juice, it brings joy to my heart. Look at that smile. Look at that face. That's why I'm here."

Geraci also plans to involve students in designing menus and helping farm a 33-acre plot of land in East Baltimore, ?? la Alice Waters.

The Kauffman Foundation's Ben Wildavsky reviews the new Charles Murray book in today's Wall Street Journal, and doesn't like what he reads. He describes Murray's vision as "dismayingly fatalistic":

One can accept the idea that inherent academic abilities are unevenly distributed while also believing that many low-achieving kids--and high-achieving kids, too, for that matter--could learn a lot more than they are learning now. International tests show that students in many other nations bypass American kids in reading and math. Could such comparative results really be a function of higher raw intelligence overseas--or are they more likely to reflect superior educational practices? It is telling that hard-headed education reformers like Eric Hanushek, Chester E. Finn and Jay Greene believe that we can do much more to boost the academic achievement of children upon whom Mr. Murray would essentially give up.


While accusing education reformers of being wooly-headed romantics, then, Mr. Murray conjures up a romantic vision of his own. In his brave new world, the bell curve of abilities is cheerfully acknowledged; students and workers gladly accept their designated places in the pecking order; and happy, well-paid electricians and plumbers go


Liam implicitly made a point in his post yesterday that's worth making explicit. Namely, that even the most rigorous research studies won't answer many of the fundamental questions in education, or any field, because some of those questions come down to values. Here's a corollary: we can't just ask if something "works," we also have to ask whether it's "right." That's an important reminder to those of us who like to talk about giving schools autonomy as long as they get results. "Accountability-for-autonomy" is shorthand, actually; the full tag line should be "do whatever works to get strong results, within the bounds of ethical practice."

That sentiment is why even corporations (most at least) worry about corporate "values," not just bottom-line objectives. They smartly vest authority in ground-level managers to make important decisions, and hold them accountable for getting results. But they limit these leaders' actions by clarifying the lines they may not cross.

Likewise in education: we want schools to boost student learning on standardized tests, but we don't give them carte blanche. Cheating is of course out of bounds, but so should be short-sighted practices like stripping all subjects but reading and math from...

Gadfly Studios

They waited until the last second, but the Americans finally won a medal in this year's games--and a gold, no less. Pandemonium ensued on the set of Education Olympics Today. Get the full story at

Just when New York says its cash incentives program for good grades isn't working (original article here), DC decides to go ahead and try it too. Now really, Michelle, seriously?

Liam had some interesting commentary on this yesterday.

Guest Blogger

David Whitman writes about the coverage of his new book, Sweating the Small Stuff.

On Monday, August 18, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post wrote a complimentary column about my new book, Sweating the Small Stuff, which recounts the tale of six inner-city secondary schools that have succeeded in closing the achievement gap. When a first-rate reporter like Mathews calls your book "splendid," "lively," "readable," and drops a few other bouquets suitable for framing and book jacket blurbs, it may seem churlish to quibble with his column. But his opposition to my subtitle--Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism--and more generally to my use of the term "paternalistic" to describe these gap-closing schools has since triggered a groupthink blogfest decrying my use of the "P-word."

Unlike Mathews and columnist George Will, nearly all of the armchair commentariat criticizing the paternalism label has yet to actually read Sweating the Small Stuff, though they have read Mathews' column and a Fordham Institute press release on the book. Several bloggers, including Joanne Jacobs and Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge Blog, are keeping an open mind about the utility of the paternalism label. But without having read...

Liam Julian

The evidence, as always, is mixed. Yesterday, the New York Times noted that the Big Apple's dollars-for-high-test-scores program hasn't worked. Today, I receive in my inbox notification from the Hoover Institution??that another, similar program "that rewards both teachers and students for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement (AP) exam has been shown to increase the percentage of high ACT and SAT scores earned by participating students, and increase the number of students enrolling in college...."

Our wonderful research director Amber will no doubt cringe when she reads that I am largely unconcerned with what that which she nominally directs says on this point. The government should not institute programs that pay students in return for good grades, no matter what the research finds (and I promise you, it won't conclusively find anything... but that's a whole other post). Regardless whether you??think the??concept screwy, as I do, or whether you??believe it's a scrumptious idea, it remains indisputable that a school that rewards monetarily those 11-year-olds who ace their spelling??exams is??undertaking a controversial??action--one in many ways tangential to the school's fundamental purposes (a strong argument holds that??paying kids in fact??undermines those purposes)--over which reasonable people??certainly will??have...