Looks like the United Federation of Teachers is not going to back down on the Absent Teacher Reserve issue. (Background here.) Yesterday the union sent the New York Sun a data analysis that challenges claims by The New Teacher Project that educators on the Reserve list are sitting around doing nothing, sapping the district of $81 million. The UFT claims that a third of 665-or-so Reserve teachers are actually teaching and that the drain on the district is closer to $18 million.

The other side isn't buying it:

"I believe this is a red herring of the first order," Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf said. "I believe there is no possibility that her number is accurate."

The president of the New Teacher Project, Timothy Daly, said he knew of no way to collect data on precisely what ATR members are doing inside schools.

"Why didn't I hear about this before now if this is a widespread problem?" Mr. Daly said.

The Styles section features a piece about online services that let parents track their kids' grades in real time. Not surprisingly, the author reports that in many places a new brand of parent-cum-Big Brother is causing "exacerbated stress about daily grades and increased family tension." Here's an idea: employ the real-time monitoring once a student shows signs of struggling, but not before.

Also, a front-page article on Turkish schools in Pakistan, which offer a milder brand of Islam and more rigorous academics than many Pakistani madrasas.

Liam Julian

The political maneuvering of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick might offer a preview of an Obama administration, says Jon Keller in the Wall Street Journal. If he's right, education reformers should be wary:

Education may be the one area where Mr. Patrick could have done the most to demonstrate that he is indeed a new man of the left.... But to the delight of education unions, Mr. Patrick instead appears to be laying the groundwork to dismantle [the state's] reforms. He appointed antitesting zealot Ruth Kaplan to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, where she repaid his confidence recently by disparaging the college preparation emphasis of some charter schools. She said these schools set "some kids up for failure . . . Their families don't always know what's best for their children."

Liam Julian

This is a travesty. Thank heavens we disaggregate these data.

The media gleefully reported the news that a big interim Reading First study??from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) found the program to have no impact on reading comprehension.

And it's hard to blame the media, for three reasons. First, it loves to pile on the increasingly-unpopular Bush administration. (Contemplate this AP headline: "Bush administration's reading program hasn't helped.") Second, IES head Russ Whitehurst--who has earned a great deal of respect and credibility for moving the federal research and evaluation function toward a new level of rigor and professionalism--stands firmly behind the report. And third, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings's press office totally bungled the response, coming up with nothing better than the "popularity" of the program. (This is hardly the first time Spellings dropped the Reading First ball.) See this, from Amanda Farris,??deputy assistant secretary,??and printed in??the AP story:

Secretary Spellings has traveled to 20 states since January. One of the consistent messages she hears from educators, principals and state administrators is about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools and their disappointment with Congress for slashing Reading First funds

Here's what Spellings's team should have said:

This study provides important insights into the Reading First program, but readers should be cautioned that it's not nationally representative. Because IES launched the study after the program was up and running, the evaluators had to settle for a very imperfect design. The schools selected for study might have

Liam Julian

Regarding the just-released study of Reading First's effectiveness, Mike tells USA Today that

...the study was poorly designed and "certainly not the last word on Reading First's effectiveness." For one thing, he says, researchers looked at "lackluster" Reading First schools that just barely qualified for grants, comparing them to schools that just barely missed getting grants.

Liam Julian

Naomi Schaefer Riley writes in the Wall Street Journal about obstacles beyond??lousy??instruction in the classroom??that often prevent students in urban public schools from attending college: Letters of recommendation that are poorly written (when they're written), guidance counselors who can't be bothered to turn in on time their students' applications, and reams of??confusing paperwork.

The article's title, "Not by Tuition Breaks Alone," is apt. Getting more low-income pupils into college obviously requires more than legislation.

Jeff Kuhner

Sometimes you read a story that makes you wonder what the world is coming to. This was the case for me regarding the Chicago Sun-Times piece about the school bus driver and his aide, who got their kicks taunting and verbally abusing disabled students.

Cathy and Richard Bedard suspected that something was wrong on the bus being taken by two of their three special-needs kids. To find out, they placed a tape recorder in the backpack of their 13-year-old daughter, Tiffany. They were stunned at what they heard once Tiffany returned home and they pushed play.

"F---ing little monster," a man shouted at their 17-year-old son, Rick, who has Down syndrome. They also heard jokes about placing kids on the roof of the bus and threats to break a child's finger.

The driver and his "monitor" were subsequently suspended for six weeks. But First Student Inc., which was contracted by the school district to drive eight disabled children to a special-needs school in Chicago, thought it was appropriate to reassign the two men to another route following the suspension. In other words, they got a slap on the wrist.

When the district learned of this, it put First Student on notice that school authorities were reviewing the $1.5 million annual contract and would try to bid the contract out by the end of the school year. Now, First Student has suddenly gotten serious: They have decided to fire the two men.??????????

"We took...

Liam Julian

Florida Governor Charlie Crist stands with the state legislature, which just passed an anti-bullying law. "I'm against bullying, too," he said.

And I'm against purposeless laws that waste everyone's time.

Liam Julian

Today in The Gadfly, I write about George Orwell's claim that bad writing and bad thinking are mutually reinforcing. I focus on the most egregious cases: sentences punctuated by text-message spellings and abbreviations and plagued by rotten grammar and rampant ambiguity.

What I didn't have space to comment on are the other forms of poor writing that Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"??lambastes, many of which??appear daily on the op-ed pages of America's best newspapers. One of the??sharpest observations in??his essay is that so much writing isn't actually an assortment of words; rather, it's an assortment of hackneyed phrases that people have simply been trained to string together when the appropriate circumstances arise. A writer who follows this training doesn't make his own meaning. He instead allows boring, overused sentences to construct meaning for him.

If you haven't read "Politics and the English Language," you should really turn away from your work for 20 minutes and give it a perusal.