An article in yesterday's Washington Post reports on Grover Whitehurst's efforts as founding director of the Institute of Education Sciences to improve the quality and impact of education research.

The No Child Left Behind Act, in which the phrase "scientifically based research" appears 111 times, according to Whitehurst, has undoubtedly upped the demand for more and better education data. But the whole enterprise has proved too politically sensitive for Congress to be able to do it well:

Whitehurst, who in late 2002 became the founding director of the department's Institute of Education Sciences, has discovered that his vision for the role of research sometimes conflicts with the turbulent forces of politics, policy and public opinion.

... [One] proposal called for recruiting double the number of students that Upward Bound is able to serve. Half would participate in the program, and half would become a control group. Researchers would track the progress of both groups.

Scientifically, it was sound. Politically, it was a non-starter.

Critics said it was unethical to introduce at-risk kids to Upward Bound's opportunities if officials knew they couldn't participate. At a February hearing on Capitol Hill, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called the evaluation design "discriminatory."

After lawmakers proposed legislation to halt the study, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings agreed to scrap it.

That's just one example of how lawmakers-turned-program evaluators have mucked things up. For a gorier picture, see Fordham's recent report on the Reading First scandal. That program was...

Congrats to Davida Gatlin, a member of our first class of Fordham Fellows, whose report on alternative certification was released by the Center for American Progress today. And a good report it is, and not just because it cites Fordham's (and NCTQ's) Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative about a million times. Though that helps.

P.S. Do you want to change the world? (Or at least write cool reports?) Hurry up and apply to be in our next cohort of Fordham Fellows.

While most Americans think per-pupil spending in public schools is lower than it really is, many new immigrants think Catholic school tuition is higher than it really is. So said an official at Chicago's Big Shoulders Fund on Friday at a session Fordham sponsored with the Heartland Institute to highlight our recent Catholic schools study.

Big Shoulders has been doing the Lord's work for over twenty years, raising upwards of $150 million to keep inner-city Catholic schools open (or at least stem the tide of closures). A few years ago its leaders wondered why more immigrant families from Mexico weren't enrolling their children in Chicago's Catholic schools. The answer? These families assumed that parochial schools in the U.S. were the bastions of the elite, since that is the case in Mexico, which (like most countries) doesn't have a broad-based system of Catholic education. When Big Shoulders asked the immigrants how much they thought it cost to attend a Catholic school, they guessed way high.

To be sure, we need to find ways to make Catholic schools more affordable for working class and low-income families. But the Church could do a lot of good just by making families aware of how affordable the schools already are....

If states and school districts based layoff decisions on merit, and not seniority, we wouldn't have to read about ridiculous situations like this. See our report on collective bargaining agreements by Rick Hess and Coby for our reasoning on why the "last hired, first fired" rule should be relegated to the history books.

In his appearance yesterday on Fox News , Obama said that "I've been very clear about the fact... that we should be experimenting with charter schools." Actually, he hasn't been very clear about that fact, at least during this campaign. (He was a well-known charter supporter during his Illinois Senate days.) His formal education proposal , for example, never mentions the concept. And it's sure not a part of his stump speech. While he hasn't kept his support a state secret (see here , for instance), to my knowledge this is the most high-profile mention he's given to charter schools to date.

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.