I've gotten lots of feedback about my Education Gadfly column on extra-curricular activities; several friends have written gleefully to make the connection between my piece and Randi Weingarten's big speech last week, particularly its call for schools as community centers. (Checker made that connection in the Gadfly itself.)

That's all in good fun, and yes, on the surface, it might appear that we're talking about the same thing. But upon closer inspection, you'll find that our visions are actually polar opposites. First, here's Randi:

Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools--schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need... and suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical, and counseling clinics, or other services the community needs.

And now me:

Here's a suggestion: architects designing high schools of the future should skip the classrooms but keep the gym, the auditorium, and other common spaces. In other words, forget the "school" and build a "community center" instead. Kids could learn academics at home and come to the center for all the rest.

Randi's vision...

Japan's famously demanding education system figures significantly in Natsuo Kirino's new novel Real World, reviewed in Sunday's New York Times books section:

"Real World" begins with a matricide. No longer willing to cooperate with the expectations of the "total idiot" who forced him to attend a prestigious high school even though he lacked the aptitude to succeed in such an environment, Worm bludgeoned his mother to death in what Terauchi, whose worldview allows no possibility of forgiveness or salvation, dismisses as a mindless, infantile response to frustration....

Welcome to present-day Tokyo, where "air pollution advisories" announce the arrival of summer vacation and where vacation isn't a holiday from the 11-month academic year, but a break to be spent in cram schools taught by brainwashed college students who advocate studying hard enough to "spit up blood" as the avenue to a "tremendous confidence ... you can build on for the rest of your life."

I'm back after a week's vacation (yes, I believe in extra-curricular activities in my own life too) and see that Flypaper has been buzzing along. But I also notice that we failed to mention Jonathan Alter's hard-hitting Newsweek column taking the teachers unions to task for blocking meaningful school reform. Atler writes:

Teaching is arguably the only profession in the country with ironclad job security and a well-honed hostility to measuring results. Because of union resistance, NCLB measures only schools, not individual teachers. The result is that school districts fire on average only one teacher a year for poor performance. Before recent reforms (which have boosted test scores), New York City dismissed only 10 of 55,000 teachers annually. What business could survive that way?

Hear hear, though teachers are right that today's tests are hardly the best instruments for measuring their performance. But we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good; if we harnessed the resources we currently spend on our fifty-state system of tests for one common system, we could afford to measure subjects beyond reading and math, online, in a way that encouraged intellectually-challenging schoolwork rather than test prep....

Liam Julian

My take on yesterday's New York Times Magazine piece on "integration" is here . (I'm not employing around integration??so-called "contemptuous quotes "; I'm merely noting that the terms "integration" and "segregation," which once were used to denote, respectively,??the de jure??combination and separation of black and white students,??are today used in reference to de facto racial separation caused by housing patterns. But the two different meanings are too often conflated, which is why we must call attention to the way in which they're used.)

One part of the Times Magazine article that I didn't have enough space to explore??is the idea that new class+race school assignments hold much promise for significantly elevating academic achievement. This contention??is, I think, a real stretch, especially when so many other curricular and instructional and management reforms (many of which do not involve complicated schemes) would do so much more to boost student learning. I suspect that not a few diversity proponents have simply realized that fluffier justifications for busing pupils hither and yon??do not, for most parents, outweigh the flaws of complicated school assignment plans. Thus...

Liam Julian

Michelle Rhee gets some support from Senator Joseph Lieberman.

Liam Julian

How we allowed ourselves to not immediately thank the anonymous blogger codenamed Eduwonkette for her delightful Photoshop work is beyond me. We were remiss. However, if she wishes to join us right-of-center think tank folk for cocktail hour, she would do well to jettison her visions of beer and embrace our right-of-center ritual, which involves sipping cognac from snifters and remarking about how this, that, and the other is really going to hell in a handbasket and what is to be done about it all.

Finally. At long last. A group of serious analysts, commissioned by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, has concluded that NBPTS needs to include student learning gains in its evaluation of teacher quality! What's more, that conclusion is based not on ideology but on some very sophisticated analysis of which teachers do and do not actually turn out to be more effective in the classroom. I didn't have Tom Kane's study to lean on but have been making that argument for approximately twenty years. So have numerous Fordham studies, reports, and manifestos. (See, for example, ??pp. 213-215 of Troublemaker; Better Teachers for Better Schools, and this and this Gadfly item.) Find the study by Kane et al at

But will NBPTS take this sound advice? Education Week reporter Debra Viadero is far from confident. Read her excellent piece over at (subscription required)....

Liam Julian

The folks at Education Sector are really putting it all out there. First this and now this, from Andy Rotherham, who finds a host of problems with the NAACP convention speech and education platform of John McCain.

Then, at the bottom of his post, we learn:

In the interest of transparency as I start to write more about the campaign I should note that I'm supporting Senator Obama. And, although in my role at Education Sector, a non-partisan 501c3 organization I've had contact with both campaigns around our published work and theories of action, in my free (personal and non-compensated) time I have contact with the Obama campaign on policy issues.

Wait a minute. Isn't this just another way of saying: "In??my free time,??I actively work for Senator Obama, who I'm supporting, and in??my non-partisan 501c3 time,??I criticize Senator McCain and tell you I'm supporting Obama"???

The issue isn't transparency, as Rotherham writes. It's fairness. If Rotherham wanted to maintain even a patina of impartiality here,??he might have mentioned in his post something--anything--about how the deficiencies he identifies in McCain's education platform are filled by what Obama is offering....

Here we are, somewhat dubious, but still enthused that Maryland reported record gains in proficiency scores this year, when we learn that Maryland neglected to mention they made their test easier. By making the test time 1 hour shorter (which, they claim only prevented the students from getting fatigued but did not decrease the difficulty--isn't part of what makes tests difficult the time limit?), some questions were necessarily cut. These were not just any questions, however, these were the psychometrically approved questions.

Maryland had taken an off-the-shelf test, created by psychometric experts at Harcourt or similar, in 2002 and combined it with in-house questions. They argued that the off-the-shelf test lent validity to the assessment because it had been tested on millions of students across the nation, while the in-house questions were more relevant and aligned with the curriculum. In a cryptic Baltimore Sun article, we learn that Maryland elected to drop the vetted off-the-shelf questions for the following four reasons:

Although students had to answer about 40 questions on the standardized portion of the test, Maryland officials did not count most of them. Instead, they elected to count the questions that focused on