It's an absolutely beautiful, sunny day in downtown D.C. this Friday, but I can't seem to shake this article that I was reading this morning on the metro into work. It's not about Michelle Rhee's school reforms, or alternative certification, or pay for performance, or teacher quality, or school choice, or student achievement, or any of those very important things we pontificate about here at Fordham. It's about homeless kids. It was in a pile of articles on education that our interns gather for us each day and I started to breeze by it for something "meatier" on the aforementioned topics. But then I stopped and read.

The article centers upon homeless schoolchildren in Ohio and Michigan. We learn that Ohio had a 12 percent increase in student homelessness between 2005 and 2007, with over 13,000 kids experiencing homelessness at some point in that timeframe. Michigan had about 18,000 homeless children during the last school year, a 16 percent rise from 2006-2007. Toledo has seen a tripling of homeless kids in the last two years, Cleveland a 60 percent increase. Heavy foreclosures from our current housing crisis are apparently driving the increases. But poverty, breakdowns in families,...

Liam Julian

It occurs to me that we may need to start on this blog a "Quick and the Ed Watch" category. It's not that we want to, you see; it's that somebody needs to.

The reason is exemplified by Kevin Carey's latest post about John McCain, in which the blogger is upset by the following sentence, from McCain's speech to the NAACP, that laments that talented people without proper certification are barred from teaching in public schools: "They don't have all the proper credits in educational ???theory' or ???methodology'--all they have is learning and the desire and ability to share it."

Carey is exercised by the inclusion within quotation marks ("contemptuous quotes," he calls them) of theory and methodology. Such punctuative liberty is "ridiculous," Carey writes. Furthermore, he continues, it "is garden variety anti-intellectualism and doesn't speak well of Senator McCain's approach to policy or other matters."

But are we so sure that knowing about educational theory and methodology, be they quoted contemptuously or not, is a necessary condition for effectively running a classroom? Is it not true that much of this theory and methodology is a relatively...

Liam Julian

The new issue is out. Where to begin? Mike tells us why the U.S. educational system is so successful (yup, successful), Checker tells us why Randi Weingarten is no Al Shanker, and Amber tells us why there are problems with the latest study from Jay Greene et al. This week's edition tested positive for EPO, and we're not ashamed to admit it.

Liam Julian

Judging from several of the comments on my last post, the ideas that undergird merit pay for teachers are not lost only on NPR reporters. Corey, for example, writes:

Does LeBron play better when he's paid $20 million than if he, and everybody else, were paid $1 million? That's a legitimate question. And different from asking if it's fair to pay LeBron the same as everybody else when he's clearly better.

It's also a different question than asking whether the players currently earning $1 million will work harder to try and earn as much as LeBron than they would if they had no potential for salary increases.

What is missing here is an understanding of, inter alia, the job market. Merit pay is engineered not only to develop better teachers by encouraging those already in the field to work harder, but it's also--and maybe more so--designed to attract talented people to classrooms and keep the best teachers from leaving and pursuing other careers. So, yes, it is incredibly foolish to ask, as Larry Abramson did, "Is performance pay working if it just rewards teachers who are already doing a good job?"

Liam Julian

Candidates Obama and McCain have both spoken about their support??for merit pay for teachers. NPR's Morning Edition wondered if such pay plans actually work, so??reporter Larry Abramson went to Colorado to find out.??

After interviewing a teacher who has benefited financially from??merit pay, but who doesn't believe the bonuses have actually improved her teaching ability, Abramson asks:

This raises another question: Is performance pay working if it just rewards teachers who are already doing a good job?

Wow. Can we imagine such a question being applied to another professional field? Is performance pay working if it just rewards LeBron James when he's already doing a good job? If NPR's reporters??have handy??a dictionary, and they must, they might want to check out the definitional passage below the word??incentive.??

The Economist reports this week on Randi Weingarten's election to the AFT presidency.

Pure speculation or not, I find compelling Mike's lead editorial in this week's Gadfly, which argues that extra-curricular activities in U.S. K-12 education foster "creativity, leadership, and the other '21st Century skills' that employers crave."

But his closing line, light-hearted as it is, really disappoints, because it exemplifies the wrong-headed thinking that permeates ed policy and engenders so many ridiculous ideas for revamping K-12 to make us "more competitive." He says:

So the next time that foreigners come to investigate what accounts for America's economic success, don't show them the extra-curriculars. They're our secret weapons; we might want to keep it that way!

To all you K-12 ambassadors out there, please don't listen to Mike. If China dispatches a special envoy to come study our schools, show them everything we've got. Contrary to what Mike and many much more irrational fear-mongerers out there suggest, we want foreign economies to thrive, because trade is not a zero-sum game; improving circumstances in one country benefit us all.

"N.J. raises bar for pupil test scores":

New Jersey made it harder yesterday for public school students to prove their proficiency on state exams--a change that could cause more schools to run afoul of the federal No Child Left Behind Act....

... with the changes, passing rates are likely to drop in a majority of tests, markedly in some cases, [Education Commissioner Lucille Davy] said.

In sixth grade, for example, state estimates show the language arts passing rate would have risen from 76 percent to 80 percent this year using the old cut scores, but instead will drop to 54 percent.

In an age when most states are wimping out on standards, one wonders how on earth the Board of Education mustered the will to do this. On the other hand, one wonders what, exactly, this means:

To provide districts some short-term protection against the predicted drop in passage rates, state officials plan to reduce the proficiency requirements considered by No Child--but set by the state.


After watching the interview with Michelle "The Hammer" Rhee (so named by her detractors for "hammering" away at the calcified system and "nailing" incompetent teachers), you may need a break. Why not play a board game from the Washington City Paper poking fun at how hard it really is to fire a DCPS teacher? Fun abounds, but don't get stuck on the "Teacher Files a Grievance" square!

Charlie Rose interviewed D.C. Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee last night. Not only does she provide an in depth look at D.C. education politics (and what she thinks is the most important way to improve education: recruiting and maintaining high quality teachers) but she even lays into our old friend, Randi Weingarten. Teaser:

I believe that one of the things we have to be cognizant of is believing in charter schools doesn't mean starting a charter school or two charter schools. If you truly believe in charter schools, then you believe in an open market system where charter schools can flourish. If [Randi Weingarten] really believed in charter schools, is she advocating for a lift of the cap of charter schools? I don't think so.

Take that, Randi!

Warning: the interview is worth watching through to its 54-minute completion.