That's my synopsis of this E.J. Dionne column about our current economic tribulations.

Since the Reagan years, free-market cliches have passed for sophisticated economic analysis. But in the current crisis, these ideas are falling, one by one, as even conservatives recognize that capitalism is ailing. You know the talking points: Regulation is the problem and deregulation is the solution.

I can hear the education blob-osphere now: "That's right, E.J., and we've had too much deregulation in education, too. Too many charter schools, too much ???alternative' teacher certification, too much power in the hands of principals. What we need are some good old-fashioned regulations!"


First of all, I suspect that even E.J. would agree that merely calling for re-regulation wouldn't pass as "sophisticated economic analysis," either. But more importantly, in education, we're nowhere near the point where we've deregulated too much. Yes, there have been some high-profile examples when certain states or jurisdictions went too far; the early days of Arizona's or Texas's charter school programs come to mind, as quality-control mechanisms were not strongly in place. But the answer is not a return to old-fashioned regulation, but a move to smart regulation.


That's a fair way to describe presidential candidate Ralph Nader's opposition to No Child Left Behind, as presented in this Washington Post online chat transcript:

Pikesville, Md.: I am a 28-year-old father, husband, student and educator. Would you be in favor of repealing No Child Left Behind? Do you believe--as many educators do--that NCLB punishes lower-income students/schools while rewarding the schools that already have a wealth of money and community support? Explain.

Ralph Nader: The Nader/Gonzalez campaign favors repeal of the No Child Left Behind law. Narrowly-based multiple choice standardized tests rupture the relationships between teachers and students and forces the teachers to teach to the test which themselves are of poor design. States are gaming the law, violating it and the overwhelming number of teachers are opposed to it--for good reason. There are far better ways to stimulate higher qualities of education and their assessment.

Tests "rupture the relationships between teachers and students"? I hadn't heard that one before....

Editorializing about the recent test score gains in Washington, D.C., under new schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, the Washington Times asks :

Why did the city ever let Arlene Ackerman go--the last superintendent to improve so much?

Not that I'm not glad Rhee is here now, given the passion with which she has pushed for reform. But it's a reasonable question, especially now that Arlene Ackerman is wisely pushing for weighted student funding in her post in Philadelphia, while, sadly, Rhee works to undermine WSF (part of Ackerman's legacy) here.

(The answer, by the way, is that Ackerman left for San Francisco in 2000 partly out of frustration that the D.C. Council and the financial control board micromanaged her. That dynamic is obviously very different in D.C. today, under mayoral control.)

From the New York Sun:

"To counter the power of the city teachers union and business leaders in shaping school policy, New York City should use taxpayer dollars to create two new unions complete with their own budgets and lobbyists, one for public school parents and one for public school students, a group is proposing."

While offering advice on how Obama can defend accusations of socialist tendencies, Matt Miller expounds upon the idea of merit pay in the pages of today's Wall Street Journal. Miller writes:

[Obama] should make a $30 billion pot of federal money available to states and districts to boost salaries in poor schools, provided the teachers unions make two key concessions. First, they have to scrap their traditional "lockstep" pay scale. In this scheme, a physics grad has to be paid the same as a phys-ed major if both have the same tenure in the classroom, and a teacher whose students make remarkable gains each year gets rewarded no differently than one whose students languish. Second, it has to be easy to fire the awful teachers that are blighting the lives of a million poor children.

There are two key points here: the plan itself and the plan's funding scheme. That we still have a lockstep pay scale in the first place simply boggles the mind, and Miller is right to want to abolish it. Making teachers' salaries dependent on tenure makes so little sense it's a wonder physics grads ever buy into this cockamamie scheme. As for...

More on yesterday's announcement that D.C. test scores are up. A Washington Post article today says that some principals are attributing their schools' successes to Michelle Rhee. Super, great, on and on.?? It was this line that really caught my eye:

At Bell Multicultural High School in Northwest, Principal Maria Tukeva introduced a Saturday "Quiz Bowl" in which students competed on sample tests for prizes such as iPods and movie tickets.

iPods? iPods?!?!?!?! Now, perhaps they were the little guys that retail for around $50 and I shouldn't have had a heart attack after reading that sentence. Or not. Is a fancy gadget really an appropriate reward for correct test scores? What's next, laptops? High-definition plasmas (50 inches or more thankyouverymuch)? It's a slippery slope to motivate students this way. We all want the principals to be creative, but throwing a sexy reward at them isn't the way to go.

Not to mention that in Washington, DC, we've had a little problem with iPod theft for some time now....

I'm always on the lookout for interesting education research, and Natascha (Fordham intern and fellow Wahoo) does a nice job helping me track down studies. She found this one carried out??by researchers from our favorite university. Basically, they conducted experimental research with children ranging in age from 6 to 11 and found that the "style of information processing triggered by happiness could be a liability." They??"induced" (their word)??happy or sad moods in children by playing certain types of music and video clips (unclear from the summary whether Mozart was the happy or sad music), then asked them to perform tasks which required attention to detail. Children induced to feel sad repeatedly did better on the task than those induced to feel happy. Researchers concluded:

Happiness indicates that things are going well, which leads to a global, top-down style of information??processing. Sadness indicates that something is amiss, triggering detail-orientated, analytical processing. However, it is important to emphasize that existing research shows there are contexts in which a positive mood is beneficial for a child, such as when a task calls for creative thinking. But this particular research demonstrates that when attention to detail is required, it may do more harm


Some days our blog exhausts me. Not writing for it--I'm usually too busy--just reading it and thinking how I would have said something differently myself or would have bitten my tongue and said nothing at all. When we started it, I promised not to edit, just occasionally to point out what I take to be errors--and once in a while to pen items myself that can't wait for next Thursday's Gadfly or aren't appropriate there.

In the past, these are the sorts of??"corrections" I would have sought to make via quiet meetings in the office, but Mike insists that today's fashion is to air our internal disagreements in public. So here are a few that cropped up today (which is just half over):

For reasons not clear to me, Liam wants to prove that the Democratic party is not anti-charter school??or anti-merit pay. So he names a few worthy Democrats and Democrat-leaning organizations that themselves have advanced the charter and/or merit-pay cause. He's right about the names. Indeed, there are more. But a few swallows do not prove that spring has come. Go to state capital after state capital around this broad land and anywhere that charter...

Liam Julian

Chinese students are, overall, far more advanced in mathematics than their American peers. Which is probably why they can create Segway armies.

(Hat tip to The Big Picture.)