Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts unveiled his education reform plan yesterday--sorta. He released a laundry list of new programs that he thinks will improve the "readiness" of Bay State students, mostly along the lines of the "broader, bolder" agenda (pre-K, health services for zero-to-five, etc.). What he didn't do is figure out how to pay for these goodies.

The most intriguing part of his plan wasn't mentioned by the governor yesterday but was floated in this Boston Globe story: a statewide teachers contract. An Administration official explained that such a measure could save time and money at the local level. That's probably true, but would be it good for school reform?

My gut says no, as a matter of realpolitik. Patrick was swept into office with the help of the state's teachers unions; they will never allow a flexible, district-friendly contract like the better ones we identified here. Instead, they will push for the lowest common denominator: a statewide contract just as restrictive as the worst of today's district contracts. That would tie all Massachusetts districts in the same red tape that currently afflicts just a few.

Still, in theory, a statewide contract...

Our friend Greg Forster wrote a post last week about Checker's and my National Review Online essay in which we report on the findings of Fordham's high-achieving students study and argue that "excellence" (defined as the progress of our top students) is being sacrificed for "equality" (defined as the progress of our lowest-performing students or, in today's parlance, "narrowing the achievement gap"). Greg thinks our evidence doesn't back up our argument:

If the kids at the bottom are doing better while the kids at the top stay the same, is the whole population getting more excellent or less excellent?

Is the whole population getting "more excellent"? No, the whole population is making incremental progress. That's surely good. But excellence is something else entirely. According to Webster's, it's the quality of being "superior, eminently good, first-class."

Greg's definition equates "excellence" with a narrowing of the achievement gap. That's breathtakingly radical. Who knew that Greg had become such a lefty!

Update: My lefty friend Greg now calls me elitist....

Liam Julian

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is going to today??blame Margaret Thatcher for Britain's education woes, the Telegraph reports.

Since??Thatcher is being blamed for things, I think??this school-related??reversal of traditional gender roles??is probably her fault, too.

The Des Moines Register weighs in on Fordham's high-achieving students study and gets it exactly right:

Nicholas Colangelo, director of the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa, said revisions of the No Child law should provide more help to students at the high end and look at how to better measure their progress.

"One of the problems with No Child Left Behind is that it...made the [high-achieving] students invisible. This research is just bringing that out," Colangelo said. "The answer is that we do not have the luxury of not having a better balance. We can't have national policy on education that so strongly focuses on one population of students and pretty much ignores the other. What happens then is there is going to be frustration, and people are going to feel that public schools are not the place for high-ability students. I don't see where the nation gains."

Helping students across the board make academic gains is critical. The national conversation on education should pay more attention to this. It's foolish to waste the potential of any American youngster.

Liam Julian

A??reader (a teacher, it seems) writes??to the St. Petersburg Times:

Did Jeb Bush really say "our education system is an eight-track system living in an iPod world"?

That proves he is frighteningly out of touch, and that he hasn't set foot inside a classroom in at least 30 years: Nowhere have I ever seen one of those obsolete devices in any school I have been in as a student or teacher.

I can assure you our schools are more technologically current than most people's homes. But Jeb Bush still envisions purple-inked dittos, green boards and yellow chalk, back when the teacher wore her hair in a severe bun and rapped knuckles with rulers.

Liam Julian

About the short review that Coby kindly mentions: I wrote it for a lay audience, one not tuned in to every shift in k-12 minutiae, and so I didn't dive into the issues as much as perhaps I could have. I also didn't write about the positive things going on at Douglass High circa 2004 (the debate program, the choir); alas, word count restrictions made it so, and it was more important to note how the positives were undermined by the negatives. The documentary shows a staff that seems to care about??its students and is generally well-intentioned. It doesn't seem so very different, in fact, from staffs one might encounter at suburban public high schools. But whereas suburban schools may be able to get away with employing people who are kind but in many ways incapable, urban schools such as Douglass cannot. After watching Hard Times at Douglass High, one would be hard-pressed to argue against more mechanisms--results-based mechanisms--for holding teachers and administrators accountable.

Update: Here's the New York Times review....

Mayor Bloomberg will announce today that test scores are way up in New York City. But no one, it seems, thinks the gains are legitimate.

Over at National Review Online, Liam reviews the HBO documentary Hard Times at Douglass High, which chronicles the plight of a failing Baltimore high school.

A group of charter school organizations including the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, issued a report this week that presents findings from a panel charged with developing a framework for judging the academic quality of charter schools. The report lays out four essential indicators of academic quality: student achievement, student progress over time, post-secondary readiness and success, and student engagement. Each indicator is accompanied by multiple measures, metrics, and benchmarks that define how each is to be operationalized. For example, student achievement measures include proficiency levels on state assessments, college entrance exam scores, and high school exit exams (as applicable). For the most part, the indicators and their corresponding data points are ones commonly used to measure quality (e.g., graduation rates, percentage of students passing high school exit exams). ??The report has, in a sense, packaged prior disparate indicators all together in one piece.

The report also appears to be a response to those who

believe that the vast diversity in charter school missions, educational models, and student populations--as well as differences in state accountability requirements and individual authorizer expectations--makes it impossible to establish common standards and measures


The story of the 18 pregnant girls who made a pact to become pregnant at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Massachusetts, has been all over the news in the last several days. Everyone hearing the story has been understandably dismayed. My mother even called me to say, "Did you know they are providing in-school day care for those girls?" Sure enough, she's right. Apparently, the day care center is located in a "converted classroom" at the school. We're told that none of the pregnant teens plans to drop out and there's now a waiting list for the free daycare program. Some are now questioning whether having daycare at the school might be encouraging students to have babies. Superintendent Chris Farmer responds, "I think that is hard to believe. Clearly if we can keep them in school, it gives them a better chance in the future."

I would imagine that is true, and the limited research on the topic appears to supports this claim. (Of the few studies I found, however, none utilized rigorous methods and they were generally conducted on isolated programs.) The head of the organization running the daycare responded, "Once this...