It might not be The Wire (apologies to our friends at Quick and the Ed), but yesterday HBO announced plans to air an edu-documentary this summer: Hard Times at Douglas High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card.

Today's "daily article" from First Things--one of the preeminent Catholic journals in the country--provides a great write-up of Fordham's Catholic schools report.

Every generation lives off the cultural inheritance of its predecessors. Among that inheritance for today's American Catholics is a network of parochial schools built by their immigrant forebears, which served both to teach the faith and ground the community. But today, many of those Catholic schools in urban areas are facing a near-fatal financial crisis.

After providing an excellent overview of our findings and recommendations, the author, Mary Rose Rybak, questions our enthusiasm for Catholic schools educating non-Catholics--not to mention converting Catholic schools to charter schools as a means of keeping their doors open.

The reformers at the Fordham Foundation see Catholic schools as one answer to the problem of urban education because they are good schools. But it is worth asking a few questions: To what extent are these schools excellent because they are Catholic, in the sense that they express a commonly held worldview, center a religious community, and participate in a shared faith life? And what effect will it have on their excellence if they cease to be Catholic, in the sense of primarily educating Catholics as Catholics? Will these schools still retain their excellence?

It does appear that Catholic schools continue to provide an excellent education to non-Catholics; consider the school voucher studies that show that inner-city private schools (which means, mostly, Catholic schools) significantly...

USA Today's Richard Whitmire turns in a provocative thumbsucker at Politico on John McCain, his (still to be fleshed out) education platform, and his top education aide (and former rodeo star) Lisa Graham Keegan. To the dismay of many education writers (not to mention Ed in '08), Whitmire reports that "education will be a back burner issue for McCain, lagging far behind terrorism and the economy, a notion not disputed by his aides."

That disappoints Whitmire, too, who offers up his own suggestions for what the candidate might embrace:

Recent victories on the reform agenda side, such as high-flying charters and the astonishing success of Teach for America, have captured the imagination of young, independent-minded Democrats. If the Democratic nominee fails to tack back to the center, these voters may be open to a switch. Pushing hard on charters, for example, could add up to a reform platform akin to Bush's "I'll bring you Texas" accountability, which fleshed out his "compassionate conservative" credentials.

Yes, that would be great, and a nice complement to some of the ideas Checker Finn and I laid out in the Weekly Standard a month ago. But everyone's kidding themselves if they think McCain is suddenly going to try to be an education president. The voters are burned out on the issue, with No Child Left Behind fatigue running deep, and McCain doesn't need to use education in the same way that President Bush...

Liam Julian

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that almost "nine in 10 public elementary school parents in Jefferson County [Kentucky] say it's important to bring together students from different races and backgrounds to learn." (The Supreme Court ruled last year that Jefferson County may very rarely, if ever, consider race when determining how it assigns students to schools.)

But the article also notes:

At least 90 percent of parents said any changes to assignment rules should maintain family choice, minimize time on buses, allow siblings to attend together and ensure parents know which middle and high schools their children will attend.

That's a lot to ask from an assignment plan that seeks to make schools more racially diverse. All things being equal, most parents will, at least in surveys, support engineering school diversity. But in big districts like Jefferson County, parental choice and minimal time on buses??are often just logistically incompatible with racially mixed schools. Parents support diversity, but not if it means their kids attend class all the way across town and wake up at 5 a.m. each morning to catch the bus.

Liam Julian

Catholic school teachers may feel called to their profession by a higher power, but??they're also called to??higher salaries.

From a column in today's Detroit News :

The teachers at Alain Locke Senior High School in south-central Los Angeles' troubled Watts neighborhood were fed up.

They were sick of their 50-percent-plus dropout rate. They were sick of gang violence. They were especially sick of their district bureaucrats' ever-changing education fads.

So they did the unthinkable: They made history by boldly turning over their public high school last fall to a charter school organization--and risking their own jobs.

And from an editorial, also in today's News :

Skeptics in California said it would never happen, but it did. Union teachers at Locke Senior High in Los Angeles have decided to give to charter nonprofit operator Green Dot the chance to make the disadvantaged school flourish again. Green Dot will take over the school by this summer.

Why is this L.A. high school the talk of the News 's opinion pages today? Because Motor City superintendent Connie Calloway plans to restructure five struggling schools in Locke's image.

Sounds like a pretty solid plan. Green Dot made its name as the first charter management organization to invite unions into its schools. But its labor contract is generally several-hundred pages shorter than a typical district contract. And in most other ways it embodies the kind of common-sense practices that produce well-managed schools. Again from the News editorial:

Green Dot teachers are unionized, but they have a much more flexible contract that makes teacher

Guest Blogger

A post from guest blogger and Fordham board member Diane Ravitch.

When No Child Left Behind was first passed, I supported it. It seemed to me a good idea to test kids in reading and math from grades 3 through 8; after all, if you don't have basic skills, you are severely limited in your ability to learn anything else. I could not, at first sight, see why anyone would object to establishing baseline goals for basic skills.

As the full consequences of the law have unfolded, I have begun to have second thoughts. I must say that my views changed very considerably after a daylong session in November 2006 at a conference that Rick Hess and Checker Finn organized at AEI called "Is the NCLB Toolkit Working?" The dozen or so papers presented that day all gave the same answer: No. If I recall correctly, less than 5 percent of eligible children were taking advantage of choice options; less than 20 percent of eligibles were utilizing after-school tutoring. The after-school tutoring seemed to be a swamp of incompetent providers and badly-administered programs, as best I could tell. I must say that the day was mind-changing for me.

I put those findings together with the increasing evidence that states were inflating their test scores to prove that they were well on their way to 100 percent proficiency (a phenomenon a Fordham Institute report called "The Proficiency Illusion"), and I began to recognize that NCLB...

"Per pupil spending down "

* Until you realize the article's about charter schools.

Liam Julian

Florida has joined Achieve's American Diploma Project Network. The press release notes that Florida Governor Charlie Crist made the decision after chit-chatting with Minnesota's governor, Tim Pawlenty.

Liam Julian

It's dubbed "the dismal science" because economics offers conclusions that may "work," but which often ignore ethical and moral considerations. Today at Marginal Revolution, economist Alex Tabarrok makes the dismal case that we should pay organ donors for their, you know, organs. (Iran does it, he writes, and while the Mullahs' methods seem effective, "better follow-up of donors would be an improvement." Follow-up of donors, one would assume, is a pretty basic aspect of any??body-parts donation system.)

Evermore, it seems, education reformers are turning to economics for answers to education-related problems. Not a few commentators (including Mike and Diane Ravitch) have complained that many such economics-based answers eschew considerations of instruction and curriculum. Education's economic solutions also sometimes neglect to account for unintended consequences, many of which pose ethical problems.

Take, for example, the suggestion that schools pay students for good test scores or attendance (the latest instance of which comes from New Jersey). It doesn't render the repulsion that paying organ donors does, but it still involves ethical considerations (e.g., Is it right to pay a young person to do that which is expected of him, will benefit him, and his peers do for free?) and unintended consequences (e.g., creating students who work hard only when shown the money).

We debate such policies in terms of whether or not they'll work, but rarely do we scrutinize the collateral damage they may cause and ask if the possibility of their supposed benefits...