Jeff Kuhner

If you're a school administrator and you want to purchase HDTVs, home-theater equipment, iPods, camcorders (you name it) for personal use on the taxpayer's dime, then I've got a place for you: The Northshore School District in Seattle.

The Seattle Times reports that a Northshore contract provision allows for these kinds of questionable purchases for its approximately 90 top administrators. And here's the kicker: When the administrators leave their jobs they get to take the equipment with them.

"To buy things for purely personal use out of taxpayer money, that's what outraged us," said Donna Lurie, who represents the Northshore Education Office Professionals Association, which represents support staff in the district.

Ms. Lurie should be outraged. Northshore administrators already make, on average, over $100,000 a year along with an excellent benefits package. Unlike, say, teachers, who are underpaid and struggling to make ends meet, these administrators seem to be doing very well for themselves. The last thing they need is to haul off electronic goods at taxpayers' expense. What makes this even more outrageous is that the district is suffering from a budget crunch, needing to slash $3.4 million in 2008-2009. The administrators' lavish--and totally unnecessary--perk is siphoning off finite resources, which could be put to better use.

The administrators insist there's nothing illegal about all of this. True. But it is unethical and unseemly. District budgets should focus on putting the interests of students and teachers first--not padding the expense accounts of already-generously compensated...

A year ago today the Village Voice published a lengthy article on the New York City public schools' so-called "rubber rooms," where teachers accused of misconduct are held while their cases are pending. The story is so outrageous it seemed worth revisiting. Frankly, tales like this make it hard to fathom just how poorly-run are many public school districts.

Rubber room hours match that of a typical school day--Argyris would sign in at 8:30 a.m. and be released at 3:20 in the afternoon, with a 50-minute lunch break. Like something out of a dystopian fairy tale, however, this school had no children, just a few cafeteria workers, social workers, and custodians who shared the same lot.

In 2000, there were 385 teachers assigned to rubber rooms. Last month, that number had climbed to 662. Argyris, while she sat and stared at a wall, was paid $62,646 a year. The DOE pays about $33 million a year just in salaries to the teachers in rubber rooms--an amount that doesn't include the salaries of investigators working on the cases of rubber room teachers, the upkeep of the reassignment centers, or the substitute teachers who replace employees like Argyris.

Some teachers spend up to three years in the rubber rooms while their cases float glacially through the district offices. They spend their time reading, playing chess, working on screenplays, knitting--one couple who met in a rubber room "had converted a corner of the room into a small love nest, complete...

Talk about bizarre piggybacking and ahistoricism.

Ronald Reagan didn't make many missteps, but one blunder that's widely acknowledged by just about everyone who follows education was the White House's bungled initial reception of A Nation at Risk in 1983. The "vision" that the President laid out on that occasion had just about nothing to do with what the Excellence Commission said or recommended. It was ships passing in the night.

After dawn broke, Reagan and his team (including Ed Meese) realized that the Commission's report had struck a nerve--even though it had absolutely nothing to do with school choice or with reducing the federal role in education. Whereupon the President began gallivanting around the land with Education Secretary Ted Bell--18 joint events in 11 weeks, it says on page 99 of my book.

But as he traveled he sang from the Commission's hymnal (higher standards, tougher courses, better teachers, etc.), not the one that our good friends at Heritage (and Senator DeMint) are trying posthumously to place in his hands.

"Finger scan replaces tickets in lunch line"

This in Idaho, no less, which is one of only five states not to use a unique statewide student identifier (like a social security number) in its data system--out of privacy concerns, one surmises.

Liam Julian

Would you or someone you know love to work in education policy? Are you confused about where to start? Then the??Fordham Fellows program might be for you! The deadline fast approaches....

It looks like Missouri will be the next state to adopt the big daddy of alternative certification programs, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

Liam Julian

Don't miss Mike talking about the stressed state of American Catholic schools on today's??edition of NPR's All Things Considered.

Liam Julian

Mike shouldn't??assume that??paying kids for AP scores (as in Waterbury) is??always a??slam-dunk. In fact,??according to Education Week,??the author of the very study Mike??cited??"said the main spur for the score jumps at the schools in Texas' Advanced Placement Incentive Program, or APIP, didn't seem to be cash."

And when we're talking A-F grades,??to??assert??that paying kids??for better??ones will necessarily yield better ones is hasty. Lots of studies on this front??are inconclusive; others return results that contradict their predecessors.

Liam thinks that if paying students to pass AP tests worked, "wouldn't we know it by now?" Yes, we would, and we do, and it does.

Liam Julian

Looks like the fine citizens of Waterbury, Connecticut, are not yet flitting through Flypaper. Otherwise, I'm sure district leaders there would have thought thrice before doling out dollars to students who pass AP tests.

Paying students for tests: another day arrives, another place tries it. Forgetting for a moment the ethical considerations that are trampled and the unintended consequences that are ignored in these pay-for-grades schemes--if they really worked, wouldn't we know it by now?