One clear message from today's conference is that Washington, D.C., is the new "it" city for education reform activity. The jealousy in the room is palpable. First, there's Michelle Rhee (speaking now), who is dynamic, entrepreneurial, and fearless. There's Adrian Fenty, who is putting every bit of his political capital into turning around the District of Columbia Public Schools. There's competitive pressure from charter schools, which enroll 30 percent of the city's students. And there's even a reform-minded teachers union president, George Parker; Rhee just mentioned his recent Washington Post op-ed . Consider this concluding line:

The old-school paradigm of union rigidity must give way to a new-school approach of working productively with school leaders to improve student achievement.

Ah, watch the reformers from other cities swoon.

Andy Rotherham might not want to throw Randi tough questions, but D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was more than happy to do so, standing up to ask a question about Randi's dishonest defense of NYC's "rubber rooms" and Absent Teacher Reserve. And yes, it ruffled Randi, who cut her off repeatedly, and then just said that The New Teacher Project's recent report on the subject "had no relationship to the truth." Finally, some excitement!

Update: Now former NYC city council member and regular Randi-basher Eva Moskowitz is asking a question and just said she's disappointed that "the gloves aren't being taken off." Now we're getting somewhere!

"If [teachers unions] are really really really so bad, then why wouldn't the schools in states that are union-free do so much better than the states that have unions?"

To be fair, this is hardly a rant, it's a throw-away line. (As one friend just BlackBerried me, "Andy [Rotherham, the session's moderator] is letting Randi get away with murder." Without tough questions, her rants are on reserve.)

This statement is a real conversation-stopper. But it just doesn't hold up. The states that have made the greatest gains in student achievement since the 1990s--particularly for disadvantaged students--are, by and large, Southern, union-free (or union-lite) states, such as Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. But even more important, as is clear from the updated NCTQ database on teacher union contracts, in states without collective bargaining, teachers associations simply get contract-like provisions into state laws and regulations. Like rushing water finding lower ground, teachers will organize and find a way to protect their weakest members, whether they're allowed to bargain collectively or not.

* Previous rants here and here....

Liam Julian

I read Bob Herbert columns when I have trouble sleeping, and so it was that I noticed his piece, published Saturday, about high schools--how they're not preparing students for college and work, and how too many students drop out.

Herbert's source was Bob Wise, the affable president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, and a former governor of West Virginia. Herbert deserves praise for writing about the sorry state of education for grades 9-12, but he disserves the topic by oversimplifying and misrepresenting it. What is never mentioned is that graduating more kids from high school and ensuring that high-school graduates are prepared for college and work, the two goals Herbert lauds, are not necessarily complements. In fact, the easiest way to mint more high-school graduates is by making high school easier, making a diploma worth less, and shuttling kids through the grades. The challenge is setting high standards and keeping them, while also setting up support networks and alternative routes for students who have difficulty meeting tough academic expectations.

It's bad policy to argue with a man named Wise, but the former governor's quote--"The best economic stimulus package is a diploma"--is true only if diplomas have...

We're only 15 minutes into the main event, and already two of my three questions have been resolved. Yes, someone has spoken about education... and that someone was none other than UFT president (and AFT heir apparent) Randi Weingarten. She brought up Sol Stern's "instructionist vs. incentivist" dichotomy and argued for a greater focus on teaching and learning, Core Knowledge-style. And Larry Rosenstock, founder of High Tech High, called for more innovation in curriculum and pedagogy. (His vision won't satisfy the "what works" crowd, though, as he wants a less conservative, more progressive approach.)

And what about attire? Most men are in suits but there are plenty of open collars, too (mine among them).

No mention of Catholic schools yet.

More later.

Today's conference--see the agenda below --brings together leaders of charter school networks, major funders, start-up curriculum companies (or "tool builders" in NewSchools-speak), policy types, and assorted "edu-preneurs."

Here are three questions today's gabfest should answer:

  1. Will anyone mention education? Like this conversation several months back, NewSchools events usually represent the ascendance of the "whatever works" view of education reform . Thus there's typically talk of "innovation" and "scalability" and "human capital" and "incentives" (no complaints there) but very little discussion of "curriculum" or "pedagogy" or "rigorous coursework" or "scientifically based reading instruction." That's a huge blind spot for people committed to improving teaching and learning. Certainly plenty of the attendees of the conference--those who run schools-think about these issues all the time. But will they be mentioned from the podium?
  2. Will anyone mention the crisis in Catholic schools? This crisis is relevant for multiple reasons. First, the growth of charter schools (which is at the heart of the NewSchools strategy) has largely been enabled by the decline of Catholic schools. Many a charter move into closed Catholic school buildings; they often serve students who used to attend those schools. To the degree that the charter
  3. ...
Liam Julian

I've disagreed with Neal McCluskey before--about the federal role in education, the effectiveness of vouchers, the correct spelling of the name "Neal"--but I had a mostly positive reaction to his take, posted today on National Review Online, about ED in '08, the platform of which McCluskey finds as "inspiring as bologna on Wonderbread...without mustard." I suspect Mike won't like McCluskey's disparagement of national standards, though.

As Alexander Russo mentioned yesterday, the annual NewSchools Venture Fund summit comes to Washington today. Here's the agenda:

8:00-9:00 Welcome

Opening by Ted Mitchell, Chief Executive Officer, NewSchools Venture Fund

Comments by Adrian Fenty, Mayor, District of Columbia

9:00-10:30 Opening Plenary

At the Tipping Point: Progress and Prospects of Entrepreneurs in Education

*MODERATOR: Andy Rotherham, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Education Sector

*Larry Rosenstock, Chief Executive Officer, High Tech High

*Randi Weingarten, President, United Federation of Teachers

10:30-11:00 Networking Break

11:00-12:30 Plenary Session II

Inside-Out and Outside-In: Different Paths to Transforming Public Schooling

*MODERATOR: Stig Leschly, independent consultant on education reform

*Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools

*Deborah McGriff, Executive Vice President, Edison Schools and former Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools

*Libi Gil, Senior Fellow, American Institutes for Research and former Superintendent, Chula Vista (CA) Elementary School District

12:45-2:15 Lunch

2:30-4:00 Afternoon Breakout Sessions

Education Entrepreneurs and the Public Sector: Lessons from the Field

*MODERATOR: Jim Peyser, Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund

*Eugene Wade, Chief Executive Officer, Platform Learning, LLC

*Bart Peterson, Chairman, The Mind Trust and former


Flypaper readers may not know that above Fordham's palatial new offices sits a well-appointed roof deck. And it features quite a nice view. Checker just noted that from one edge you can see the Washington Monument rising behind the White House and at the other end the National Education Association headquarters. Paragons of liberty, both. (Liam reminds me that a keen-eyed observer can also spy the corner of his apartment building.)

Jeff Kuhner

Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to be the education governor of California. Since becoming the Golden State's chief executive, the former Hollywood action star has vowed to bring the same kind of leadership and muscle to education reform as he once brought to the big screen. Daniel Weintraub, in an excellent article in the current issue of Education Next, however, shows Schwarzenegger has been a dismal failure.

The reason:?? The Terminator has been tamed by California's powerful teachers unions. Weintraub, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, demonstrates that the massive California Teachers Association (CTA) and the feisty California Federation of Teachers (CFA) have successfully blocked almost every major Schwarzenegger initiative. The governor has been reduced to playing defense. He has vetoed countless bills sent to him by the teachers unions' allies in the Democrat-controlled legislature. Thus, Schwarzenegger has succeeded in protecting California's effective system of standards, testing, and accountability from being eroded. But he has failed to go on the political offensive, forging the broad-based consensus necessary for overhauling the state's public schools.

Weintraub concedes that Schwarzenegger's heart is in the right place. He has good ideas. Schwarzenegger...