Kudos to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings for taking to the pages of the Washington Post to defend DC's endangered school voucher program. But I can't help wondering, yet again, what's up at 400 Maryland Avenue. I've never viewed Spellings as a strong supporter of school choice, though she continues to fight hard to protect this $13-million-a-year program. (Maybe it's time I admit that she's a voucher advocate, after all.) But what's beyond doubt is that she's a believer in scientifically-based reading programs (once claiming "phonics" as her religion). And yet, when it comes to the impending death of her beloved billion-dollar-a-year Reading First program, all she does is send letters and issue statements.

Madame Secretary and associates: may I suggest that the next time you place a Post op-ed, you make it about Reading First?...

Rereading this Washington Post article on Michelle Rhee's plan to woo teachers into ceding tenure and seniority privileges, I noticed a passage near the end that illuminates a different ed policy discussion:

Rhee can restrict seniority rights through a little-used District law that allows principals to diminish seniority rankings and use them among several other factors... The law was aimed at addressing "bumping rights," which allow senior teachers losing their positions during cutbacks to displace less-experienced peers at other schools.

"Bumping rights had been viewed as a problem for those of us trying to get quality teachers in the classroom. But we knew it was a challenge getting it out of the contracts," Kevin P. Chavous, who was on the D.C. Council when the law passed, said in a recent interview. "Even after the law was passed, superintendents operated under the assumption that bumping rights were still there."

Chavous's observation bolsters the claim that at least some of the blame for poorly-run schools should be redirected from unions to lily-livered leaders. In this Chavous echoes a recent Fordham report, The Leadership Limbo , which found that many big-district teacher contracts give school and district leaders...

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham intern Amy Ballard.

Stafford points out the recent Washington Post article on the apparent diversity crisis at TJ. She's right: blaming the school for its demographics is ridiculous. However, as a former TJ student, I have a few more things to say about the never-ending diversity debate.

All it's doing is hurting the students. I was a member of the 2001 entering class that saw a lamentable nosedive in minority student enrollment (cited in the article as the beginning of the current diversity discussion). Yes, the numbers of African American and Hispanic students were low, but my nine black and Hispanic classmates were forced to stand under a negative spotlight for their entire four years of high school. They stood out in the crowd, not for their accomplishments or ambitions like many TJ kids, but for their race. Asian American students were forced to justify being there in numbers disproportionate to the surrounding population and endure racial jabs like "Asian F" or "Asian fail" (both referring to a B+). White students became hypersensitive to their classmates'...

Probably not, but since I missed last week's patriotismpalooza, I figure I have some catching up to do. (And he's British!) Perhaps he just wanted to drive home his point, in this Financial Times column, that the American economy is in trouble if we don't improve our school system. But he overreaches here:

Younger cohorts are no better educated than these soon-to-retire boomers. Broadly speaking, educational quality has topped out--and on at least one measure, it is actually deteriorating. In 2006, Americans aged 55-59 collectively possessed more masters degrees, professional degrees, and doctorates than Americans aged 30-34. This impending loss of educational capital is entirely outside the country's experience.

Well, that's technically true but somewhat selective, as the younger cohort also has a greater percentage of people with just bachelor's degrees. If you consider bachelor's degrees and advanced degrees combined, these two cohorts look about the same. (See figure 1.1 here.) And as someone with just a bachelor's degree, I can't help but wonder whether these "advanced" degrees are really related to "greater human capital." We know that master's degrees in education don't make teachers more effective; maybe advanced degrees in...

The Associated Press has a playful piece peering into the future for Barack Obama's or John McCain's children, should their respective dad win the presidency.

Malia Obama turned 10 last week, and her sister Sasha is 6. Should their father, Barack, win the election, they'd be the youngest kids in the White House since Amy Carter arrived at age 9. They, too, would become the subjects of anecdotes that wind up in history books. They'd have challenges that face few children. Their fashion faux pas, the first braces on their teeth, even their first boyfriends might be documented forever. Their parents' choice of school--public or private?--would be debated.

I'm not sure whether their orthodontic treatments or love lives will make national news, but the AP is certainly right that the decisions the Obama girls' parents make regarding schooling will be scrutinized. If a President Obama sends his daughters to another private school (like the one they attend now) while watching over the demise of Washington, D.C.'s fledgling private school voucher program for poor children... well, you'd better believe his neighbors...

Liam Julian

Two friends have an op-ed in today's Tallahassee Democrat calling for the establishment of a national public service academy, a "civilian West Point for our best and brightest public service-minded women and men."

Two years ago, a gentleman came to Fordham to talk with Mike and me about the same topic. Two thoughts that occurred to me then occur to me now. How much is this going to cost? (Easy answer: a lot.) And don't??scads of private enterprises already fulfill this need and do it pretty well? Think, for example, about all??the competitive, "service oriented" organizations that flourish in education alone.

Liam Julian

Rod MacKinnon, former head of Bexley Grammar School (one of the U.K.'s most popular; it accepts approximately one pupil out of every nine who apply), took to the pages of the Telegraph yesterday to denounce a Labor government that views schools as tools for social engineering.

There are those who wish to use children and schools as social engineers with a view to creating a different society but we should not even be trying to do such things; children need to be nurtured, educated and cared for, not thrown into the frontline of social reform.

When New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy called the severance package of the retiring Keansburg, N.J., Superintendent, "an absolutely outrageous, excessive, ridiculous package to pay anyone," she didn't really mean "anyone." "Anyone" does not include high level consultants and traders, CEOs and chairmen, or partners from big firms who routinely receive these sorts of financial benefits while no one bats an eye. According to the New?? York Times, Superintendent Barbara Trzeszkowski will walk away from 38.5 years of service with $740,846--$14,449 for unused vacation days, $170,137 for unused sick days, and $556,290 in severance--plus an annual pension of $103,889.

Is this the future of merit pay? Chairman of the Keansburg school board, Joe Hazeldine, explains that Trzeszkowski was "worth every single penny she earned, if not more." In fact,

"She took Keansburg from the bottom of the Abbott districts to the top. Our college acceptance rate quadrupled. We had kids going to Ivy League schools. That doesn't just happen. How do you put a price on that?"

The responses to Trzeszkowski's contract have centered on whether or not the district's Abbott classification should come into play. Named after a NJ Supreme Court case in 1990,...