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GADFLY NEWS SERVICE: HUNTSALOOSA, TN. A fourth-grade class in this small town gained national attention yesterday when a group of students petitioned their teacher to postpone their spelling test scheduled for Friday in light of the financial crisis on Wall Street.

"Mrs. Smith is always talking about ???teachable moments,'" said Brandon Johnson, one of the students leading the charge. "It just seems silly to focus on something mundane like spelling when we could be learning about macro-economics instead."

The students' teacher at first dismissed the postponement out of hand, saying "fourth graders need to be able to learn to spell and learn about current events, all at the same time." But she backed down after her principal called for a meeting between the teacher, students, and their parents. This led to even greater controversy.

"We never like to see principals siding with students over teachers," said Nancy Beaker, the president of the National Education Association's local affiliate. "This is doubly unfair because Mr. Grady [the school's principal] is related to the boy who is in the middle of all of this." (They are second cousins.)

It's unclear whether the spelling test will proceed as scheduled, or...

You won't want to miss this week's Gadfly. Checker and Stafford explain why community schools (as espoused by the Broader, Bolder folks and Randi Weingarten over at the AFT) are the antithesis of David Whitman's paternalistic model. Mike has no sympathy for a schools in a struggling economy--fire bad teachers, quoth he! Then, get the deets on a strange new safe haven law in Nebraska, which is redefining "child" to be all youth up to age 19, and the new Tom Loveless study on the sad state of algebra.

When I first read this article, I was skeptical. Giving bonuses to teachers and principals at failing schools? Doesn't that undermine the whole concept of merit pay--as in, rewards for meritorious performance? But perhaps not.??

Lest we get strapped to an imaginary bar--and thereby eliminate the idea of improvement--Bloomberg and Klein just may have taken the right approach. These schools are failing, yes, and they will be closed as a result, but they're still open now. And since they're still open, they still have students, who, it must be pointed out, are not mere numbers in a statistical study. In that sense, that these teachers still have an incentive to keep working with the students they have, even if only a third of them are proficient, is a positive thing. That's not to say that strong standards are somehow less important in situations such as these. But sometimes balancing short term and long term goals require seemingly contradictory policies.

When times get rough, why do school districts cut the good stuff? It's a very good question and one we should be outraged about, explains Mike. Read the whole argument on National Review Online.

Educators, researchers, and policy types around the world admire (and envy) Finland's students, who repeatedly demonstrate remarkable academic prowess on international assessments. [Finland, in fact, won the most medals in our recent Education Olympics event .] Unfortunately, though, Finnish students are not immune to the school and university tragedies that have become all too typical in the U.S. ??Just yesterday outside Helsinki, a young college student went on a shooting rampage at his small campus, killing nine of his classmates and himself. This follows a school massacre last November, in which an 18-year-old high school student also killed nine of his classmates. Both young men posted disturbing YouTube videos alluding to their violent intentions.

Teams of psychologists and social workers have descended upon the campus. Witnesses tell stories of the gunman firing at helpless students and staff. The Finnish government questions its gun ownership laws. A community tries to deal with the shock. An all too familiar storyline for Americans.

In our zeal to discover, replicate, and bottle the magic and mystery that is the Finnish educational system, let's not forget one thing: ??Even though they are academic superstars, Finnish students are still just kids, dealing...

Fraud! Misleading information! A huge price tag for America! I'm not talking about the mortgage-backed securities meltdown. I'm referring to the new TOM LOVELESS ALGEBRA STUDY.

AP story here. The main point: The number of kids taking "Algebra" doubled from 1990 to 2007--but test scores for these 8th graders have actually declined. Call it the name game: the prestige of the course labels goes up, the amount of learning goes down. Just wait till reformers tackle "Calculus."

Enrollment continues to decline in a number of big-city school systems. In Washington, DC , the student population is down 8 percent from last year, in large part because of charter school expansion. And Cleveland's schools are serving fewer than 50,000 kids for the first time since 1894. (The district peaked at 150,000.) The cities are on the leading edge of this trend; with children from the baby boom echo now graduating from high school, many schools across the country are going to see a contraction in coming years-except places serving the influx of new immigrants.

Wondering why k-12 education doesn't seem like a salient political issue this year? Yes, it's mostly because of the economy and Iraq, but there are bigger trends at work. Even eight years ago, when schools were a top issue, a lot more families had children going through the system. Now they have moved on, and so has public attention.

Don't fret though; in another 15 years or so we'll see another expansion as the baby boomer's grandchildren start heading to school in droves....

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