The New York Times reports today that Idaho will set aside somewhere from $200,000 to $600,000 to fund a pilot program that will make chess education available to all second- and third-graders. The state will use a curriculum called First Move, which was developed by the Seattle-based nonprofit Foundation for Chess.

Third-grade teacher Deborah McCoy has already started teaching chess in her classroom and is quite pleased with the results. "So many kids spend their time plugged into video games, iPods, television and so they are more isolated," she said. "They learn give and take in chess. There are courtesies that you follow. It has been really beneficial for them."

You'd have to guess she's mostly right about the benefits, though one wonders if it's the state's place to be experimenting like this with curricula. Once you start offering funding for niche subjects you risk opening the floodgates to every other hobbyist-lobbyist in the state.


In a "Friday Guest Column" at Edbizbuzz, the AFT's Nancy Van Meter goes on the attack against supplemental services providers. Actually, she stays on the attack, as her day job for at least five years has been to criticize and question the one tiny part of No Child Left Behind that gives parents choices.

Still, she's right that just because "established interests" don't like the program doesn't mean there aren't problems, as one tutoring company executive recently argued. Most SES companies are struggling to demonstrate effects on student achievement. The industry's explanation--that the programs are too short to have an impact on state test scores--is unlikely to persuade people that we should be spending several billion dollars a year on this initiative.

Nancy is right that there should be "accountability" for results--but she's wrong that government officials should pile on regulations such as those requiring particular credentials for tutors, as her organization has been advocating. Let's take a page from charter schools--another reform that Nancy gets paid to hate--and expect achievement in return for autonomy. If providers aren't willing to sign on to that deal, they should get out of this business. And if established interests don't like that deal, well, let's just call them what they are: lobbyists for the status quo....

Ed Week reports on an interesting new study showing the impact of teacher absences on students: "taking into account the effects on student achievement that might be produced by various characteristics of the teachers, students, and schools--including teachers' levels of skill and effort--the researchers found a small but significant negative impact on student math scores attributable to teacher absences alone," such that 10 days off were akin to "the difference for a student of having a first-year teacher as opposed to a second-year teacher." In their sample, teachers averaged 5.3 sick or personal days each per year.

None of this is terribly shocking, but did the unions miss a PR opportunity here? Instead of saying "see, an inexperienced substitute is no substitute for a true professional; teachers really matter," Rob Weil of the AFT urges us to "be careful about overemphasizing these results," in case the authors "are implying something that may not be true: that teachers are taking more days off than they are allowed." And why on earth would anyone get that impression? Perhaps because "teacher sick days occurred on a day adjacent to a weekend or a holiday 52.3 percent of the time, compared with 45.7 percent of the time on the other days, which usually fell midweek," and "conversations with school principals revealed that many teachers viewed such absences as an entitlement that they could use to fit their preferences."

There was no mention of whether teachers' golf handicaps improved after their...


New Yorkers got a dose of d??j?? vu yesterday when New York's new governor, David A. Paterson, and his wife Michelle held a press conference to discuss their marital infidelities.

In more disturbing news, this New York Times story reveals that Governor Paterson's father, Basil A. Paterson, is an adviser to Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Jeff Kuhner

Iran's students are being taught the virtues of Islamic world supremacy and jihadism. This is the conclusion of a major new study on Iranian textbooks by Freedom House (read the full story here). The study, entitled "Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran's Textbooks," is a somber reminder that Iran's theocratic regime is teaching its children to embrace anti-Americanism and prepare for a holy war against the West.

Saeed Paivandi, a sociologist at Paris-8 University and one of the West's few experts on Iran's post-revolutionary education system, looked at 95 compulsory textbooks taught in grades one to eleven. His conclusion: Iranian students are repeatedly told that humans don't all enjoy the same rights; rather, we are classified into a distinct hierarchy--with Muslim men at the top, and women and non-Muslims occupying the lower rungs of the social ladder.

The textbooks assert that "some individuals are born first-class citizens, due to their identity, gender, and way of thinking, while others become second- and third-class citizens. Those who are excluded from the inside are victims of this discriminatory system."

In fact, following the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini and his mullah thugs to power, Iran has systematically imposed a series of discriminatory laws that deny non-Muslims access to senior government posts, sanction the murder of homosexuals, enforce a strict quota system for Christians and Jews in universities, and insist that all Jewish- or Christian-owned businesses be publicly designated as non-Muslim.

Iran is one of the world's...

Liam Julian

Barack Obama said today that our currently segregated schools create and prolong achievement gaps. He compared them to segregated schools 50 years ago. These ideas are patently false--segregated schools circa 1960 are not, for a pile of reasons, analogous to the naturally, racially separated schools that exist today. To keep blurring this distinction doesn't get anyone "beyond race"; it merely misrepresents a complicated issue by eliding the facts and history of public-school desegregation. And it neglects to acknowledge the fine work being done in some of the most educationally separated settings.

The Mississippi Board of Education wants superintendents to be held accountable for student learning, the Clarion-Ledger reports. Supes in underperforming districts would be removed after two years, even if they were elected by the public. (Yes, some southern states still elect local superintendents.) Unfortunately voters don't appear to put student achievement high on their priority lists when voting for education officials--at least in the case of school boards--so this tonic is more than appropriate. Fair is fair: if educators are to be held accountable, their bosses should be too.


Liam, you're right to question whether Catholic schools are necessarily better than public schools or public charter schools. Of course not; there are great Catholic schools, and lousy ones, and everything in between, just as is the case for the other sectors. But where there are strong Catholic schools--particularly those serving non-Catholic poor kids--it's a tragedy to see them going away. Could their buildings be sold to charter schools? Sure. Could those schools be excellent? You bet. But is it harder to start excellent new schools than to maintain excellent schools that already exist? By a mile.* That's why great Catholic schools are worth the fighting for--and worth paying for too.

*Do I sound like Margaret Spellings, answering my own questions? Absolutely.

Gadfly Studios

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has announced a pilot plan to let some states "differentiate" between really bad schools and mediocre ones--i.e., those that fail just one or two of their subgroups instead of all of them. In exchange for a pressure valve on the so-so schools, states must agree to crack the whip on the most egregious offenders. Is this a well-calculated adjustment or a ham-fisted over-correction? Fordham's own Michael Petrilli tells Fordham's own Christina Hentges what he thinks about it in this week's Fordham Factor.