The Associated Press reports:

A Coffee County High School substitute teacher has been arrested in what police say appears to be a scheme to bilk money from students promised a trip to Disney World.

Police charged 39-year-old Christy Wise with theft by conversion after they say she collected more than $7,400 from students for their senior trip but never booked the reservations.

Nearly 50 students toting suitcases and bags lined up outside Coffee County High on Friday waiting to start their vacation, but the bus never came and Wise never showed up. Police believe Wise never had any intentions of scheduling the trip.

I can't comment with much authority on the legal details of the case, but if you're into ed policy surely it's worth knowing that "a federal judge has dismissed the last of four claims in Connecticut's challenge to the federal No Child Left Behind law."

In the Wall Street Journal, William McGurn picks up where Kathryn Jean Lopez left off , arguing that McCain could win African American votes from Obama (or Clinton) if he would take "this (school choice) campaign into the heart of our cities--and gave a little straight talk about the scandal that their public-school systems represent in this great land of opportunity."

He's surely correct that McCain doesn't share Obama's problem, that he "cannot offend the teachers unions that are arguably the most powerful constituents" in the Democratic party. If he were to take this opening, the question is whether it would be seen as a sincere effort to help the inner cities and their children--as the efforts of mayors Cory Booker and Adrian Fenty are seen--or rather as an attack on public schools. Given that editorial boards are rarely this supportive of school choice , one wonders.

P.S. McGurn also mentions Fordham's Catholic schools report , which we may or may not have mentioned on this blog before ....

The Washington Post editors turn in a nice defense of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program today. As they point out, it will be tough to get Congress to approve the $18 million set aside for the program, especially considering the fierce opposition of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

But the good news, frankly, is that Mayor Adrian Fenty, a Democrat, is going to the Capitol to defend the program--i.e., to defend vouchers. For an issue propelled primarily by the fuel of party affiliation, it's extremely heartening to see a political leader have the guts to say, "Hey, this idea has enormous potential for turning around a district in shambles, and I'm going to stand up for it, simple as that."

(Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark and a man of seemingly boundless integrity and conviction, has also publicly supported vouchers. Let's hope the trend continues.)

An article in yesterday's Washington Post reports on Grover Whitehurst's efforts as founding director of the Institute of Education Sciences to improve the quality and impact of education research.

The No Child Left Behind Act, in which the phrase "scientifically based research" appears 111 times, according to Whitehurst, has undoubtedly upped the demand for more and better education data. But the whole enterprise has proved too politically sensitive for Congress to be able to do it well:

Whitehurst, who in late 2002 became the founding director of the department's Institute of Education Sciences, has discovered that his vision for the role of research sometimes conflicts with the turbulent forces of politics, policy and public opinion.

... [One] proposal called for recruiting double the number of students that Upward Bound is able to serve. Half would participate in the program, and half would become a control group. Researchers would track the progress of both groups.

Scientifically, it was sound. Politically, it was a non-starter.

Critics said it was unethical to introduce at-risk kids to Upward Bound's opportunities if officials knew they couldn't participate. At a February hearing on Capitol Hill, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called the evaluation design "discriminatory."

After lawmakers proposed legislation to halt the study, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings agreed to scrap it.

That's just one example of how lawmakers-turned-program evaluators have mucked things up. For a gorier picture, see Fordham's recent report on the Reading First scandal. That program was...

Congrats to Davida Gatlin, a member of our first class of Fordham Fellows, whose report on alternative certification was released by the Center for American Progress today. And a good report it is, and not just because it cites Fordham's (and NCTQ's) Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative about a million times. Though that helps.

P.S. Do you want to change the world? (Or at least write cool reports?) Hurry up and apply to be in our next cohort of Fordham Fellows.

While most Americans think per-pupil spending in public schools is lower than it really is, many new immigrants think Catholic school tuition is higher than it really is. So said an official at Chicago's Big Shoulders Fund on Friday at a session Fordham sponsored with the Heartland Institute to highlight our recent Catholic schools study.

Big Shoulders has been doing the Lord's work for over twenty years, raising upwards of $150 million to keep inner-city Catholic schools open (or at least stem the tide of closures). A few years ago its leaders wondered why more immigrant families from Mexico weren't enrolling their children in Chicago's Catholic schools. The answer? These families assumed that parochial schools in the U.S. were the bastions of the elite, since that is the case in Mexico, which (like most countries) doesn't have a broad-based system of Catholic education. When Big Shoulders asked the immigrants how much they thought it cost to attend a Catholic school, they guessed way high.

To be sure, we need to find ways to make Catholic schools more affordable for working class and low-income families. But the Church could do a lot of good just by making families aware of how affordable the schools already are....

If states and school districts based layoff decisions on merit, and not seniority, we wouldn't have to read about ridiculous situations like this. See our report on collective bargaining agreements by Rick Hess and Coby for our reasoning on why the "last hired, first fired" rule should be relegated to the history books.

In his appearance yesterday on Fox News , Obama said that "I've been very clear about the fact... that we should be experimenting with charter schools." Actually, he hasn't been very clear about that fact, at least during this campaign. (He was a well-known charter supporter during his Illinois Senate days.) His formal education proposal , for example, never mentions the concept. And it's sure not a part of his stump speech. While he hasn't kept his support a state secret (see here , for instance), to my knowledge this is the most high-profile mention he's given to charter schools to date.

Senator Barack Obama appeared on Fox News Sunday and (among other things) spoke of his school reform bona fides. Chris Wallace asked him to name an issue where he'd be willing to buck the Democratic Party, and Obama pointed to education:

I've been very clear about the fact--and sometimes I've gotten in trouble with the teachers' union on this--that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers...

So far so good; though charter schools were mainstream once upon a time (Bill and Hillary Clinton were big supporters back in the 90s), the issue has become increasingly polarized. And while the UFT has a couple of charter schools itself, most unions have been on a rampage against them. And he has gotten in trouble over his pay-for-performance comments, as at the NEA conference last summer. But here come the caveats:

WALLACE: You mean merit pay?

OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it's been designed, I think, is based on just a single standardized test--I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming into school already three years or four years behind. But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, "You know what? Teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally--that we should pay excellence more." I think that's a good idea, so...

What he describes here--paying teachers...