Liam Julian

Here's another interesting video from The New Yorker Conference (those New Yorker people are always so darn interesting!). In this one, the magazine's financial columnist, James Surowiecki, chats with Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern about the future of unions. This year's New Yorker Conference is supposed to focus on innovation, but even as Stern talks about how organized labor has innovated and changed with the shifting economy, it's clear that he still thinks of employment as a collectivist enterprise. That is, he thinks of writers as working in a writer's community, not as individuals who should??be hired, fired, paid based on their individual skills.

Liam Julian

Mississippi has passed legislation, and the governor has signed it, that would fire superintendents whose districts are labeled "underperforming" for two years straight. (Before it's active, the law needs to be approved by the feds, for Civil Rights-related reasons that Education Week explains.) The Gadfly likes the law. I don't.

Officials note that the Magnolia State is one of just three (in the company of Alabama and Florida) where some superintendents are elected. The thinking is this: Local elections for superintendent are easily corrupted because of their small turnouts; elected superintendents are more likely to make decisions based on politics, not on the interests of students; and elected superintendents, especially those supported by teachers' unions, may fill the superintendent role for years without appreciably improving the classroom instruction of which they're ostensibly in charge. (These concerns relate to few. Most superintendents in Mississippi are appointed.) Furthermore, advocates for the new law say, if the state holds teachers accountable, it should treat superintendents similarly.

Fair points, but points outweighed by the pitfalls of Mississippi's new law. Pitfalls such as: There is no solid definition of "underperforming";...

Lisa Graham Keegan, school reform trailblazer and former state superintendent of Arizona, has quit her day job to spend most of her time working on behalf of Senator John McCain's campaign, reports the Arizona Republic:

"Having Senator McCain be in a position to get ready to start talking about education a little bit more fully in his campaign, it's just a great opportunity to be a part of," said Keegan, 48, of Peoria. "It just didn't make sense to do both at the same time."

Keegan is an extremely effective advocate of school choice, meaningful accountability, and the smart use of data and technology. This is another sign that McCain isn't planning to cede the education issue to his opponent.

Reid Lyon, former Reading Czar and one of the creators of Reading First, posted a comment about Shep Barbash's Education Next article that's so crucial to the current debate that it's worth excerpting at length:

The recent Reading First Impact Study interim report did some thing s correctly (employed a strong design for the questions they asked), but appeared to miss some very important confounds, leading me to have difficulties interpreting the results. First, the evaluation did not address all of the evaluation targets established in the law, thus narrowing the scope and comprehensiveness of the evaluation Congress intended. Second, and most importantly, the sample of states selected for inclusion in the study was not sufficient to test a number of variables that are critical to interpreting the data. As hard as I try, I cannot see how the sample would be considered representative. Third, the evaluation examined the effect of resources (Reading First funding) on a single measure of reading comprehension. As Steve Raudenbush has argued convincingly, an evaluation study comparing a group that received the resources versus another group that did not answers very little about the programs actual effectiveness or the ability of a

Gadfly Studios

Amber and Christina discuss the good and bad of the Reading First interim evaluation report:


Terry posted earlier today on the pressure mounting on attorney general Marc Dann to quit office in light of recent scandals.

He's just resigned.

Google announced yesterday that it will launch Friend Connect, a free service that will allow any website to operate as a so-called "social website," in the mold of Facebook and MySpace.

Friend Connect is aimed at the millions of Web sites that could benefit from having members interact but can't enable such connections because of a lack of technical expertise or hardware.

If anyone struggles from a "lack of technical expertise," it's district and state education agencies, whose websites often recreate for those seeking meaningful information the experience of a drugged mouse struggling frantically and usually in vain to find the cheese at the end of a maze.

Wouldn't it be great if, say, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District pasted a bit of Google code into its trainwreck of a website and allowed users to build a community that either a) collaborated to make sense of the content for everyone or b) bypassed the content altogether and built a kind of parallel knowledge base that became much more useful for the average visitor to the website?...

Although details are still murky, this plan out of Denver, inspired by Chicago's Renaissance 2010 and New York's New Visions for Public Schools, seems promising.

The key here will be to keep these schools sufficiently insulated from district regulations. It's unclear whether they'll be charter schools, contract schools, private schools, or some hybrid thereof. But as long as they're truly free to experiment with non-traditional schooling methods--e.g., extended learning time, college-prep culture, rigorous curricula, no-nonsense discipline, variable teacher pay--these schools could make a real impact in the Mile High City.

It's great to see these bureaucracy-busting approaches catching on around the country.

Photo by Flickr user stevenm_61.

Jeff Kuhner

Australia's aboriginal community is suffering from a serious epidemic of children watching pornography at home--and then simulating sex acts in the classroom. Some of these aboriginal children are as young as seven. Even more disturbing, plenty of Australian social workers and community leaders think there's nothing wrong with it. In their twisted minds, these children are not suffering from child abuse, despite being fed an endless diet of adult porn and, in some instances, having their parents sexually molest them.

The story in the Australian should be a wake-up call to the country's authorities to crackdown on child abuse, improper sexual behavior in the classroom, and rampant pornography. A formal investigation by a former Supreme Court judge found that communities on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands were not only inundated with porn, but that welfare workers and local aboriginal leaders--those who are supposed to be protecting children--deliberately sought to dissuade teachers from tackling the problems of child abuse.

The judge's report is replete with disturbing examples of illicit sexual behavior by students in classrooms. In one case, a seven-year-old girl dropped her pants in class, simulated sexual intercourse, and jammed several plastic objects into her vagina....

The Education Gadfly

Fordham is thrilled to welcome Amber Winkler to our ranks. As our brand new Research Director (see her bio), she'll be overseeing Fordham's vast research enterprise (and helping us produce sophisticated studies like this one). And she's blogging too! We're a boy band no longer.