In a long and mostly thoughtful letter to the editor of the New York Times , American Federation of Teachers President Edward McElroy takes issue with David Brooks's recent column about the dueling education policy statements ("Broader, Bolder " vs. "Sharpton Attacks "). He writes, reasonably, that

According to [Brooks], reformists "insist school reform alone can make a big difference." This verges on a Talmudic debate over the word "alone" when the real issues are what actually goes into that reform. The question of how teachers should grapple with the enormous social problems brought into the school every morning comes immediately to mind.

Further, he talks of how the reformists want to put the children first. Well, so do those who signed the E.P.I. statement, and so do teachers. What matters is whether what you try actually works for the children.

OK, we can debate whether there's any evidence that what the E.P.I. crowd wants actually "works," but I'm happy to concede that teachers (if not always their unions) want what's best for children. But he couldn't stop there. He goes on:

Blaming "ineffective teachers"

Liam Julian

Good news out of Louisiana. Bad news out of Louisiana.

On Wednesday's NewsHour, John Merrow resumed his series on Michelle Rhee's efforts to revamp the D.C. Public Schools. This installment centers around Hart Middle School, a chronically-failing institution that landed on Rhee's radar as a candidate for dramatic restructuring. Merrow interviews teachers, students, and administrators from the school, all of whom resent the threat posed by Rhee's evident willingness to mix things up. We also hear from William Lockridge, a member of the D.C. Board of Education, who says that Rhee is misguided and hasn't "taken a thorough analysis of this school district." All of which adds up to an amazingly widespread and unyielding adherence to the status quo. At a school that has missed AYP five years running, everyone wants more of the same.

Merrow tells us that after the segment was taped, Rhee dismissed all the administrators at Hart and replaced them with a private management company. So far, Rhee has emerged surprisingly unscathed from such controversial adventures; the somehow ever-popular Marion Barry got a taste of Rhee's teflon when his plan to protest the latest round of school closings fizzled. If the resentment that comes through in the NewsHour segment is any indication, though,...

Mike and Checker, who were at the Excellence in Education summit in Orlando yesterday, may have more to say about this. Apparently New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, speaking at the summit, discussed the possibility of his seeking the power to certify principals and teachers, currently the province of ed schools alone. Call him reckless or brash or whatever you will, but Klein has done more than any other district leader in recent memory to bust the monopoly that has stifled change and innovation in public schooling.

Speaking at lunch today, Secretary Spellings stated that it would be fine with her if NCLB were renamed the "Motherhood And Apple Pie" program. MAAP. Not bad.

What was bad, however, was her verbal embrace of the appalling Al Sharpton (along with Joel Klein, Roy Romer, Andy Rotherham, and sundry worthies), co-chair (with Klein) of the recently-announced "Education Equality Project".

More on Sharpton here and here.

E.J. Dionne's column in yesterday's Washington Post reminded me that I had failed to comment on Barack Obama's Father's Day sermon. As Dionne wrote,

The reason Obama's speech is important beyond all of the short-term political calculations and analysis is that it reflects a hard-won consensus that family structure matters.... When Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about "the weakness of the Negro family" in 1965, he was denounced for "blaming the victim." This was a misreading of what Moynihan was saying, and also of the purpose of his words. Moynihan's view was vindicated years later when many of the most important African-American advocates of equality came to see strengthening the black family as essential to the civil rights agenda.... It augurs well that Obama clearly stands with Moynihan.

Here's the relevant passage:

How many times in the last year has this city lost a child at the hands of another child? How many times have our hearts stopped in the middle of the night with the sound of a gunshot or a siren? How many teenagers have we seen hanging around on street corners when they should be sitting in a classroom? How many are sitting in prison

Liam Julian

About our new report, a concerned reader writes:

I couldn't help noticing that the cover of your report on the progress of high achieving students shows a student conducting a science experiment WITHOUT wearing safety glasses. This would be considered unacceptable by any responsible science teacher, and I was surprised to see it on your cover. Your report is otherwise excellent, but as a science teacher and scientist, my safety radar is always on.

It would be a fair point if the pupil in question were not a high-achieving student, which he most certainly is. High-achieving students are not those who slosh acidic amalgams, who pour with reckless motions, who generally irritate when they titrate. Those actions are the province of the low-achiever. Thankfully, as we show in our new report, students at the bottom of their science classes (those constantly huddled around the eyewash fountain) are making significant progress. One day, they, too, may shed their safety glasses.

Update: An acquaintance, who is employed at the National Institutes of Health, writes that perhaps our high-achiever is, in fact, merely "calibrating his glassware with deionized water."??Or...

That's how Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings just described* the decision by the House Appropriations Committee to defund the Reading First program. And she's right.

* Here at the Excellence in Education summit in Orlando.

Liam Julian

This week's Gadfly, just out, contains a sharp essay from Checker and Mike that asks, "Can we be equal and excellent too?" Natascha and Amber dissect the evaluation of Washington, D.C.'s voucher program, and we give a wag of the finger to performance-based assessments: "Will Rhode Island really hold back a student who flubs a flute recital?"

I got distracted yesterday by the release of our high-achieving students study, but Tuesday's news out of California is still worth celebrating. A federal judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Education acted reasonably when determining that the Golden State's teacher internship program passes muster as an "alternate route to certification," and, as a result, that teachers engaged in that program can be considered "highly qualified" under the law. (See this Education Next article for background.)

The controversy stems from a poorly worded passage in No Child Left Behind that, on the one hand, explicitly states that teachers in alternate route programs can be considered "highly qualified," while, on the other hand, explicitly states that teachers must have "full state certification" before stepping foot in a classroom. What Congressional drafters didn't seem to understand was that most alt route programs give their candidates a "provisional" license so they can start teaching right away. So what did Congress intend?

I was involved in this scuffle back in my days in the Administration, and we were quite happy to interpret the confusing language in a way favorable to alternate routes. After all, we believed (and I still...