Flypaper

Senator Barack Obama appeared on Fox News Sunday and (among other things) spoke of his school reform bona fides. Chris Wallace asked him to name an issue where he'd be willing to buck the Democratic Party, and Obama pointed to education:

I've been very clear about the fact--and sometimes I've gotten in trouble with the teachers' union on this--that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers...

So far so good; though charter schools were mainstream once upon a time (Bill and Hillary Clinton were big supporters back in the 90s), the issue has become increasingly polarized. And while the UFT has a couple of charter schools itself, most unions have been on a rampage against them. And he has gotten in trouble over his pay-for-performance comments, as at the NEA conference last summer. But here come the caveats:

WALLACE: You mean merit pay?

OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it's been designed, I think, is based on just a single standardized test--I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming into school already three years or four years behind. But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, "You know what? Teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally--that we should pay excellence more." I think that's a good idea, so...

What he describes here--paying teachers...

Here in D.C., the politics of education reform seem tame compared to what our Fordham team in Ohio faces, a point made clear in this Columbus Education Association interview with Governor Ted Strickland. In outlining his "6 point plan" on education, Strickland continues the attack on charter schools that began during his campaign, calling them "destructive to our students and wasteful of our tax dollars," * repeating his previous calls for "a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools," and strongly hinting that if only he had a Democratic legislature he could truly kill the state's charter (and voucher) program.

He'd also like to turn back the clock on accountability, arguing that "testing and assessment ought to be diagnostic," and "teachers must have the freedom to teach without the fear of standardized test results communicating that you're a bad teacher."

Of course he's genuflecting before the unions, so much so that this quote--which apparently addressed how teachers have influenced his life--seems like a comic Freudian slip about their role in his administration: "Teachers have incredible power and monumental influence. What's most important... is that (teachers) need to be respected by the government."

And what about the students, Governor?

We hope Democrats outside Ohio (e.g., Eduwonk) notice that he's giving the party a bad name in education.

*Correction: The CEA wrote to tell us that their interview had erroneously attributed the Governor's "destructive and wasteful" quote...

Jeff Kuhner

Linda Shaw wrote an interesting piece in last week's Seattle Times. Apparently, civil disobedience against the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) is alive and well--at least, as embodied in Carl Chew, a 60-year-old science teacher who refuses to give the test to his sixth-graders at Eckstein Middle School.

Mr. Chew, a former artist who has been teaching for eight years, is opposed to high-stakes standardized testing. He claims he is taking a stand against WASL and No Child Left Behind in general.

"I did it because I think it's bad for kids," he said.

For his actions (or non-actions), Mr. Chew has been placed on leave for two weeks without pay. The WASL is given each year to students in grades 3-8 and grade 10. It covers math, reading, writing, and science. It is used to measure whether the schools in Washington state are meeting the goals established in NCLB.

Whatever one thinks of NCLB or the WASL--and I am the first to admit there are problems with both of them--Mr. Chew's supposed "civil disobedience" is not the way to fix them. In fact, it is a recipe for educational chaos and anarchy. WASL is a state-mandated exam. By refusing to give the test, Mr. Chew failed to fulfill his duties as a teacher. If he doesn't like the WASL, he can complain to his union, write an Op-Ed piece, call his local political representative, or advocate for its overhaul or termination at...

At The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez writes that we can help save our inner cities by saving faith-based schools. She rightly praises President Bush for using the "bully pulpit" at last week's White House summit to call education "one of the greatest civil-rights challenges," and to urge Congress to help inner-city Catholic schools.

Lopez then urges John McCain to follow the President's lead and take this issue to the campaign trail, to offer "real solutions that could lift poor Americans out of a cycle of dependency." I'd love to see the candidates wrestle over Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools, but I have a feeling there will be other issues on voters' minds this November. Unless Ed in '08 pulls off a miracle, that is.

Evidently Reverend Jeremiah Wright made some controversial statements about education and race last night. Over at The Corner, Byron York asks Checker for his take on the whole thing.

The upcoming issue of Education Next (which Fordham sponsors) reveals that "Almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states." In fact, they vastly underestimate these figures:

The average respondent surveyed in 2007 thought per-pupil spending in their district was just $4,231 dollars, even though the actual average spending per pupil among districts was $10,377 in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available).

And:

On average, the public underestimated average teacher salaries in their own state by $14,370. The average estimate among survey respondents was $33,054, while average teacher salary nationally in 2005 was actually $47,602.

Obviously troubling, considering how frequently exaggerated claims about funding are invoked in ed policy debates.

Checker writes about the twenty-fifth anniversary of A Nation at Risk in the Wall Street Journal and the Gadfly. He also talked about it last week on "America's Business with Mike Hambrick," a radio show associated with the National Association of Manufacturers:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZFyg0vlTkM

Sunday's New York Times Magazine features an article on K-12 arts education. The piece sets out to refute Obama's evidently misleading claims that teaching the arts leads to improved student performance on standardized tests.

There is indeed a correlation between, for example, how many years students spend in arts classes and their SAT scores; more art, higher scores. But that doesn't prove that it's the added exposure to the arts that boosts verbal or math performance. Another study shows that students who take more courses in any subject do better on the SAT. Meanwhile, a British study found the opposite: the more arts classes students took, the worse they did on their national exams. A more plausible explanation, Winner speculates, may be that academically motivated students in the U.S. gravitate to the arts, eager to show supercompetitive colleges they aren't just grinds who do well on their SATs. In England, it's weaker students who are steered onto the arts track.

Fair enough, but there are more important reasons to teach kids about art and music. As Checker and (Fordham board member) Diane Ravitch argued in the Wall Street Journal last year, the breadth of our curricular offerings allows us to "acquire qualities and abilities that aren't easily 'outsourced' to Guangzhou or Hyderabad."

Indeed, the iPod, Google, Hollywood--these world-beating American icons sprouted from fertile minds that, though they certainly benefited from some technical know-how, would never have found proper nourishment in a drill-and-kill, math-and-science-only environment. Are we...

In today's Wall Street Journal, Checker wishes A Nation at Risk a happy twenty-fifth.

Liam Julian

Science writer Jonah Lehrer on algebra: "Abstract concepts, untethered to experience, are never internalized by our neurons."

Or are they?

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