The New York Times had a nice piece Saturday on the Garden State's alternative certification program, the first and largest state effort of its kind. (Forty percent of New Jersey's teachers come to the classroom through this "alternative.") An idea that was once a lightening rod is no longer so:

At one time the alternate route was controversial, said Roger Leon, who took it in 1992. He is now an assistant superintendent in Newark. His superiors and fellow teachers had a dim view of teachers who had not majored in education, he said.

Mr. Leon admitted he confronted a steep learning curve. "I spent the entire weekend before school opened organizing the classroom, getting it to look just right," he said. "And then they showed up. I was like, ???Oh, my goodness.' I recall a paper airplane flying past me."

Today nontraditionally trained teachers are commonplace in Newark and in other cities. Newark hired 115 this year, as well as 37 through Teach for America, another nontraditional program.

We've long believed New Jersey's program to be a model, and wish we can say that it exemplifies the typical alternative route to teaching. Unfortunately, it does...

It's no secret that Senator John McCain's age will be a factor in this year's presidential race. At 72, he would be the oldest man to take the office in the nation's history.

But I can't help but wonder whether age might also be a factor when it comes time to select the next education secretary--that is, if Senator Barack Obama wins in November.* That's because the two Democrats most qualified for the position are also both in their 70's: Roy Romer (79), the chairman of Ed in '08, former Los Angeles superintendent, and former governor of Colorado; and Jim Hunt (71), the former four-term governor of North Carolina and head of the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy.

I've mused about a Secretary Romer before, so let me ponder a Secretary Hunt. (Warning: Gush alert.) I'll be frank: he'd be incredible. I'm down in Raleigh right now for the Hunt Institute's annual governors symposium (no media allowed, which means no live-blogging for me). It's only the second chance I've had to spend time with the...

Liam Julian

Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews and Checker Finn debate: "Is AP Good for Everyone?"

As the D.C. voucher program comes under attack, where is Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose initial support for the program was instrumental in its birth? Apparently too busy working on a much more pressing public-private partnership issue: the management of the Senate cafeterias.

Sadly, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program seems to be on its last legs. Non-voting D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has lobbied hard to kill the program, said, "We have to protect the children, who are the truly innocent victims here."

Victims? Of a cruel plot to give students trapped in failing schools a real shot at a decent education? How can anyone swallow this?

Several New York City high school principals are receiving performance bonuses under the terms of an old program even though their schools fared poorly under the district's new grading system. The old program uses the same tests as the new one but apparently sets lower achievement benchmarks.

The UFT is upset about this:

"It's a cockeyed situation," said teachers union president Randi Weingarten. "One set of metrics can generate a bonus and yet a separate set of metrics for the same exact school can generate an F. It just shows that using one set of data as the be-all and end-all just doesn't make [sense]."

It's cockeyed, for sure, but the real problem isn't that they're using one set of data. The problem is that the district keeps casting its accountability systems in concrete rather than soft, malleable Play-Doh. High-performing organizations are flexible enough to adapt to changing external circumstances and agile enough to carry out internal adjustments on the fly.

Public school districts will never do either of these things truly well since they're largely chained to the inertia of the political process, but some government agencies have proved that they can slim down...

Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews was busy this weekend. In addition to engaging in a friendly scuffle with Checker over AP and IB, he whipped up a piece detailing the latest from New Orleans's charter school sector.

Update: And this one on whether we're shuttering enough low-performing charter schools.

As you can see, we're not exactly doing cartwheels over here upon hearing what Eleanor Holmes Norton had to say about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. She's apparently concerned about "protecting the children." There was not one mention in the Washington Post article, however, about basing future funding decisions on the evidence regarding impacts of the program. Choice supporters (like ourselves) would surely like it if the rigorous external evaluation of the program pointed to significant and large positive impacts for children participating in the program, but alas, it's simply not that cut and dry.

The first year impact evaluation (released last June), in fact, measures differences occurring just 7 months after the start of the students' first year in the program. Not surprisingly, researchers found no statistically significant impacts, positive or negative, on student reading or math achievement for year one. They did, however, find that the program had substantial positive impact on parents' views of school safety (i.e., parents in the treatment group perceived their child's school to be less dangerous than parents in the control group) and on parents' overall satisfaction with their child's school. These findings echo what we have...

With all the talk about Reading First and scientifically-based reading research of late, this unusual reading strategy caught my eye. It claims reading to fido has its advantages:

Without a scientific study, Pluchino [reading teacher] said, it is difficult to determine whether reading to Amelia has directly improved the students' reading ability. But every student in the class has moved up a reading level since last fall, she said, and they are now reading faster and with more fluency.

Yes, dog is man's best friend, but it remains to be seen whether he's a reading teacher's too--at least until someone coughs up some biscuits for an evaluation.

Liam Julian

About my earlier post, commenter Carol writes:

Liam, you had me all the way until the end when you failed to mention students culpability (as well as teachers and admins) when it comes to academic achievement.

It's a good point; older students??bear significant responsibility for their educations. But the larger idea is that simply moving people into a new "culture" doesn't necessarily change their attitudes or behaviors and won't cultivate that responsibility. Proactivity and vigilance is imperative. The best charter schools, as is always noted, succeed because they push a rigorous academic culture on their students (no matter who are those student or what color is their skin, etc.) and they brook no dissent. A forthcoming Fordham report argues that such paternalism is, in fact, necessary. I oversimplified all??that by writing that schools with "good" teachers succeed, and those with "bad" teachers fail--but reduced to its basic form, it's true.