Today's conference--see the agenda below --brings together leaders of charter school networks, major funders, start-up curriculum companies (or "tool builders" in NewSchools-speak), policy types, and assorted "edu-preneurs."

Here are three questions today's gabfest should answer:

  1. Will anyone mention education? Like this conversation several months back, NewSchools events usually represent the ascendance of the "whatever works" view of education reform . Thus there's typically talk of "innovation" and "scalability" and "human capital" and "incentives" (no complaints there) but very little discussion of "curriculum" or "pedagogy" or "rigorous coursework" or "scientifically based reading instruction." That's a huge blind spot for people committed to improving teaching and learning. Certainly plenty of the attendees of the conference--those who run schools-think about these issues all the time. But will they be mentioned from the podium?
  2. Will anyone mention the crisis in Catholic schools? This crisis is relevant for multiple reasons. First, the growth of charter schools (which is at the heart of the NewSchools strategy) has largely been enabled by the decline of Catholic schools. Many a charter move into closed Catholic school buildings; they often serve students who used to attend those schools. To the degree that the charter school movement might be hastening the decline of Catholic schools, that's worth discussing. (If good Catholic schools are being replaced by good charter schools, is that a "win" for school reform?) Second, the most promising developments in the Catholic school world are the rise of independent networks of schools, such
  3. ...
Liam Julian

I've disagreed with Neal McCluskey before--about the federal role in education, the effectiveness of vouchers, the correct spelling of the name "Neal"--but I had a mostly positive reaction to his take, posted today on National Review Online, about ED in '08, the platform of which McCluskey finds as "inspiring as bologna on Wonderbread...without mustard." I suspect Mike won't like McCluskey's disparagement of national standards, though.

As Alexander Russo mentioned yesterday, the annual NewSchools Venture Fund summit comes to Washington today. Here's the agenda:

8:00-9:00 Welcome

Opening by Ted Mitchell, Chief Executive Officer, NewSchools Venture Fund

Comments by Adrian Fenty, Mayor, District of Columbia

9:00-10:30 Opening Plenary

At the Tipping Point: Progress and Prospects of Entrepreneurs in Education

*MODERATOR: Andy Rotherham, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Education Sector

*Larry Rosenstock, Chief Executive Officer, High Tech High

*Randi Weingarten, President, United Federation of Teachers

10:30-11:00 Networking Break

11:00-12:30 Plenary Session II

Inside-Out and Outside-In: Different Paths to Transforming Public Schooling

*MODERATOR: Stig Leschly, independent consultant on education reform

*Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools

*Deborah McGriff, Executive Vice President, Edison Schools and former Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools

*Libi Gil, Senior Fellow, American Institutes for Research and former Superintendent, Chula Vista (CA) Elementary School District

12:45-2:15 Lunch

2:30-4:00 Afternoon Breakout Sessions

Education Entrepreneurs and the Public Sector: Lessons from the Field

*MODERATOR: Jim Peyser, Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund

*Eugene Wade, Chief Executive Officer, Platform Learning, LLC

*Bart Peterson, Chairman, The Mind Trust and former Mayor, City of Indianapolis

*Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

*Jonah Edelman, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Stand For Children

Beyond Dollars: How Can Capital Markets Best Serve Education Entrepreneurs?

*MODERATOR: Joanne Weiss, Partner and Chief Operating Officer, NewSchools Venture Fund


Flypaper readers may not know that above Fordham's palatial new offices sits a well-appointed roof deck. And it features quite a nice view. Checker just noted that from one edge you can see the Washington Monument rising behind the White House and at the other end the National Education Association headquarters. Paragons of liberty, both. (Liam reminds me that a keen-eyed observer can also spy the corner of his apartment building.)

Jeff Kuhner

Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to be the education governor of California. Since becoming the Golden State's chief executive, the former Hollywood action star has vowed to bring the same kind of leadership and muscle to education reform as he once brought to the big screen. Daniel Weintraub, in an excellent article in the current issue of Education Next, however, shows Schwarzenegger has been a dismal failure.

The reason:?? The Terminator has been tamed by California's powerful teachers unions. Weintraub, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, demonstrates that the massive California Teachers Association (CTA) and the feisty California Federation of Teachers (CFA) have successfully blocked almost every major Schwarzenegger initiative. The governor has been reduced to playing defense. He has vetoed countless bills sent to him by the teachers unions' allies in the Democrat-controlled legislature. Thus, Schwarzenegger has succeeded in protecting California's effective system of standards, testing, and accountability from being eroded. But he has failed to go on the political offensive, forging the broad-based consensus necessary for overhauling the state's public schools.

Weintraub concedes that Schwarzenegger's heart is in the right place. He has good ideas. Schwarzenegger knows what needs to be done to bring about meaningful reform--devolve greater power and authority to local school districts; provide much more flexibility in state education spending; make teaching a true profession by giving teachers more pay and training, while holding them accountable for classroom performance; grant principals the ability...

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham board member Diane Ravitch. Visit her blog, Bridging Differences, at

Dear Mike,

It is absurd of Dean Millot to call you a "McCarthyite" for pointing out that Bill Ayers was a terrorist. He was a terrorist. He says so. He doesn't deny it. His actions, which he proudly acknowledges, confirm it.

McCarthy was known for making false charges. Yours were not false. McCarthy was known for saying that someone was guilty if he associated with another person who was clearly guilty. But Ayers was not a terorrist by association with terrorist. He was a terrorist; he planted bombs. Maybe he killed people, maybe he didn't. I don't know, but one thing certain about bombs is that they have the power to kill people.

And it is not true that no one was killed by Weathermen bombs. First of all, I have never heard until Dean Millot wrote it that the Weathermen warned people before they bombed something. That is a new one on me. I lived through that era and can't recall any reports of advance warnings. Second, three Weathermen--including Ayers's girlfriend Diana Oughton--were killed when one of their own bombs exploded as they were building it in a luxurious townhouse in Greenwich Village. By the way, they were packing the bombs with nails, presumably to maim people, not buildings, and to create terror wherever they would be exploded. Also, a researcher was killed...

Now that Sol Stern has completely ruffled the feathers of the "whatever works" crowd, he's turned his sights to one of the most visible leaders of the "what works" movement, Institute for Educational Sciences director Russ Whitehurst. In a new City Journal Online piece, Stern critiques the recent Reading First evaluation and (joining Fordham's Amber Winkler, among others) points out its fatal flaw: the likelihood that the study's "control schools" were implementing many of the same programs as the study's "treatment group":

One reading scientist willing to speak on the record about these concerns is University of Illinois professor Timothy Shanahan, former president of the 85,000-member International Reading Association (the world's largest professional organization of reading teachers and scholars) and a recent inductee into the Reading Hall of Fame. Shanahan told me that he asked IES officials about the study design and was told that it was too late to change it.

Stern, reading the Washington tea leaves and sensing Congressional Democrats' eagerness to kill off the program, wants IES (i.e., Whitehurst) to admit the evaluation's limitations:

IES officials should at least point out that influential people in Washington are drawing unwarranted conclusions from a study that many reputable reading scientists find deeply flawed. It would be a stunning display of irresponsibility to remain silent after their study has contributed to so much public misunderstanding.

As I...

Clearly blogging is having a dumbing-down effect on my punditry. Though it is silly ("unwise"? "counter-productive"? "cynical"?) to expect 100 percent of students to attain proficiency and for proficiency to still mean something, as our friends in South Carolina recently discovered.

Corey Bower seems to think so. He points to this passage from this New York Times piece about some affluent suburban public schools that are adopting a "global studies" curriculum:

Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, cautioned that American schools were already giving short shrift to American history and government and could not afford to layer global studies on top of already stretched curriculum.

"In some of these trendy schools, there is an ethos that we are all citizens of the world, and that's all that matters," he said. "Students need to be taught to be American citizens first."

To be fair to Corey, the reporter's paraphrasing of my views wasn't entirely accurate. By all means schools should be teaching students about the rest of the world; that's why Fordham reviewed the states' world history standards, for example. But it appears that the school profiled in the article is finding time for "global studies" by trimming American history and civics. Given that schools are already narrowing history out of the curriculum, I found this disturbing. And it's hardly "reactionary" or "anti-world" to believe that American students should be taught about American history and citizenship--before being taught how to be "citizens of the world." Or if it is reactionary, and I don't know it, then I've suddenly gotten a lot more conservative in just the past few weeks. No doubt I'm spending...

Dean Millot at Edbizbuzz seems to think so.

I'm tempted to leave it at that, because, as Millot himself implies, this debate is pulling us further and further away from education policy and more and more into the realm of the bizarre. But it's not every day that I'm likened to one of the most despicable characters of the 20th century so, alas, let me respond.

Millot argues that the term "terrorist" is "hyperbolic" because the Weather Underground did not practice "the deliberate indiscriminate use of force against innocents to strike fear in the general public." Instead, they "just" blew up government buildings, taking care not to injure anyone.

This strikes me as semantic jujitsu (the Weathermen did use violence to forward their political aims), but I'm certainly happy to concede that what Al Qaeda perpetrates, for example, is much, much, much worse.

Still, were the Weathermen's actions defensible? Hardly. Sometimes we at the Fordham Institute are considered "bomb throwers"--but only figuratively. We tend to disagree strongly with the teachers unions, but it would be morally reprehensible for us to call on school reformers to bomb their headquarters, even in the middle of the night when no one could be hurt. That's not how democracies are supposed to work.

Furthermore, Millot argues that Ayers was a "fugitive from justice," but since all charges were dropped because of "prosecutorial misconduct," he is presumed...