Additional Topics

Happy New Year! Regular readers of Fordham’s Flypaper blog
will notice big changes today. Our website is the beneficiary of a major makeover
(let us know if you like
it), and, most importantly, we’re revamping our approach to blogging. We think
you’ll benefit. 

For the past four years, Flypaper has served as one of the liveliest
and more prominent group blogs in the edusphere. And clearly, many of you like
it. You enjoy the cacophony of voices and perspectives, on all of the major
topics within the world of school reform. 

But group blogs have their limits, even when they avoid
group-think. As new content is added several times a day, important—and
still-timely—posts get pushed down the page, and often out of sight. Readers
with focused interests get frustrated and perhaps confused, and potential
readers get scared away by the messiness of a lot of posts on a multitude of
topics by all manner of authors.

So we’ve split Flypaper into six separate blogs, all of
which will live on the site, and all of which
will comprise what’s now called Education
Gadfly Daily. Here’s the new sextet:

  • Flypaper. Our flagship blog will remain, but
    will now feature content from Checker Finn and me, along with occasional
    guests. Its coverage will remain diverse—but the cacophony will ebb.
  • Ohio Gadfly Daily.
    This blog will present incisive
  • ...

As the curtains close on 2011, take a moment to remember the year that was on Flypaper by revisiting the most-read posts:

1.  The Obama Administration’s war on Stuyvesant and Thomas Jefferson

Mike explained how ED’s crusade for racial diversity may have some
unintended and unfortunate effects on America’s best magnet schools.

2. Osama bin Laden: What our children need to know

Checker took a moment to reflect on Osama bin Laden’s death and the lessons we should draw from the post-9/11 decade.

3. The qualities of a good teacher: A student’s perspective

Penelope Placide, a ninth-grade student at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School
who worked at Fordham last spring as part of her school’s Corporate
Work Study Program, explained what she found when she surveyed her
classmates on what it takes to be a good teacher.

4. K12 Inc. CEO Ron Packard responds to NYTimes’ criticism

The final months of 2011 witnessed a flurry of scathing articles on the merits of online learning from The Nation, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and others. In this post, the head of the nation’s largest online learning company made his defense.

5. The ends of education...


A year ago I played prognosticator and offered “educated guesses” about what 2011 would bring. So how did I do? I report, you decide.

1. Cathie Black will be gone by Easter.

This was perhaps my proudest moment of the year. (I even got some shout-outs from the mainstream media.) In hindsight, though, it wasn’t really a tough call. I mean, Cathie Black? What was Mayor Bloomberg thinking?

2. A new ESEA will be law by Thanksgiving.

For a few fleeting moments this fall I thought I might have a chance. But alas, it wasn’t in the cards. The issue wasn’t substance—something akin to Lamar Alexander’s reauthorization package could pass both chambers of Congress by a wide margin, and the President would happily sign it. Politics were to blame, mostly on the Democratic side of the aisle. Simply put, the reformers and civil rights groups on the Left weren’t going to allow a bill to move that would step away from NCLB’s top-down accountability mandates, and the Administration’s actions on waivers took away the urgency to act.

3. Education-establishment groups will file a slew of new funding-equity lawsuits—and charter school groups will join them.

Half right
I don’t see any sign of legal activity from the charter sector, but this year’s budget cutbacks have indeed led to a new round of school finance lawsuits. Several are underway in Texas, Alabama was home to...


Coming out of a year that has left me ever less enamored of both our
major political parties, their polarized and gridlocked behavior on
Capitol Hill, their uninspiring candidates and ratty presidential
campaigns, not to mention their antics in many a statehouse, I’m ready
for a promising, credible third party. You could call me a recovering
Democrat (adulthood to about 1980) and increasingly disaffected
Republican (the past three decades), the latter made more painful by the
fact that the several live Republicans who would make superb presidents
are the ones who decided not to run.

Until something better comes along, I’m going to fancy myself a
member of the Green-tea Party. Here are its seven tenets, one for each
day of the week:

  • Low taxes, efficient government, a balanced budget, a vigorous
    foreign policy (no more “leading from behind”), and a strong national
  • A full-bore, full-throated war on terrorism, terrorists, pirates and other such menaces, wherever they are.
  • Decent provision for the truly dependent—and no help at all for
    those who can and should provide for themselves, their families and
    their neighbors.
  • Decent respect for the environment—I’ve seen those glaciers melt and
    trash in the ocean—and for conservation of non-renewable resources.
  • Minimal government regulation of just about everything else.
  • That includes governments (and politicians) keeping out of adults’
    lives, bedrooms, beliefs, orientations and practices. (Children are
    another story.)
  • High education standards, plenty
  • ...

The central problem besetting K-12 education in the United States today is still—as for almost thirty years now—that far too few of our kids are learning nearly enough for their own or the nation’s good. And the gains we’ve made, though well worth making, have been meager (and largely confined to math), are trumped by gains in other countries, and evaporate by the end of high school.

This much everybody knows. But unless we want to live out the classic definition of insanity (“doing the same thing over again with the expectation that it will produce a different result”), we need to focus laser-like on the barriers that keep us from making major-league gains. If we don’t break through (or circumnavigate) these barriers, academic achievement will remain stagnant.

The barriers-to-gains that I’m talking about here are not cultural issues, parenting issues, demographic issues, or other macro-influences on educational achievement. Those are all plenty real, but largely beyond the reach of public policy. No, here I refer to obstacles that competent leaders and bold policymakers could reduce or eradicate if they were serious.

How much difference would that really make? It’s possible, of course, that we’re pursuing the wrong core strategies. Maybe standards-based reform has exhausted its potential (more on this next week from Fordham). Perhaps choice and competition really cannot lift all boats. Possibly technology is overrated, alternate certification can never amount to much, teacher quality is doomed to mediocrity, principals don’t truly want authority, etc....


Last year I attempted to rank the top education stories of the year using Google (e.g. 2,200,672 results in 0.18 seconds versus 1,607,000 results in 0.12 seconds). It was fun, but it was bit too nuanced (algorithmically speaking) to work. (My top ten stories of the year, according to this measure, were: 1. Race to the Top, 2. Bullying, 3. Recession and public school, 4. Common Core Standards 5. New York Wins Race to the Top, 6. Parent Trigger, 7. Waiting for Superman, 8. Character Education, 9. PISA results 2010, 10. Arne Duncan.)
So, this year, I simply Googled for “Education 2011” stories and found some good summaries of the year’s top education events—and Rick Hess’s predictions of next year’s important issues and trends. Without further ado:

The Condition of Education 2011

This is a fascinating report from the National Center for Education Statistics that, says NCES, summarizes “important developments and trends in education using the latest available data. The report presents 50 indicators on the status and condition of education, in addition to a closer look at postsecondary education by institutional level and control. The indicators represent a consensus of professional judgment on the most significant national measures of the condition and progress of education for which accurate data are available.” Some of the important indicators, which you might call perennials, include:

  • Reading—Young Children’s Achievement and Classroom Experiences
  • Paying for College: Changes Between 1990 and 2000 for Full-Time Dependent Undergraduates
  • Mobility in the
  • ...

As everyone knows, Kevin Carey has a long essay in The New Republic about Diane Ravitch's apostasy of the education reform movement, much of it fair and on point. But I'm friendly with Kevin, and I'm friends with Diane, so I was disappointed that, respectful tone aside, Carey nonetheless pursues a vicious attack on Diane's personal integrity, hinting that her criticism of Joel Klein in particular and school reform in general was sparked by Klein's decision not to hire her long-time partner. Here's the key passage:

Diane Ravitch
When [Harold Levy] created a program to train new principals, Ravitch suggested he tap [her partner Mary] Butz to lead it. Butz got the job.

When Klein became schools chancellor, he created a new principal-training program. This time, Butz wasn’t hired, and she left New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) a year later. In the course of reporting this story, I was given e-mails between Ravitch and Klein that had been obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). They helped to shed light on what may have happened behind the scenes.

In November 2002, The New York Times published an editorial calling for Klein to “give potential principals access to a sophisticated training program.” Ravitch sent a testy e-mail to the Times editorial-page editor, Gail Collins, noting that Butz was already running a principal training program: “Those who

The Education Gadfly

TroublemakerSchool reformers are a dime a dozen these days, with education policy a suddenly sexy field and more than a few people willing to challenge the status quo. But it wasn’t always so. Back in the 1960s, when Fordham Institute president Checker Finn got his start as an education gadfly, contrarian thinking was hard to come by. In Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform Since Sputnik, Finn takes readers on a magic bus ride through the most momentous twists and turns of the past 40 years of education history—many of which he found himself in the middle of. What lessons should today’s reformers take from past education battles? Which critical episodes are most often overlooked? And does Finn’s own life experience make him optimistic or pessimistic about America—and its schools—going forward?

Listen to Checker answer those questions and more, and be sure to check out additional installments of the Ed Next...


Multiplication is for White People coverIn this book, MacArthur “genius” Lisa Delpit
offers an interesting follow-up to her acclaimed Other People’s Children, tackling the continuing challenge of
boosting minority student achievement. Using innumerous anecdotes and the
occasional data point, Delpit weaves through the complexities of race, class,
and culture in America’s schools—and society. In the end, she finds a racial “expectation
gap” that pervades our present system. To counter it, educators must develop a “no
excuses” attitude (though not necessarily the KIPP-like model of how to implement
it), and fight the “responses to oppression” that foster chronic
underachievement. The read is quick and enjoyable, and she covers a number of
issues, from malnutrition myths to stereotyping to the squishy meaning of
“basic skills.” While we don’t always agree on the means of reaching the end,
we can definitely get behind Delpit when she says “There is no simple recipe,
and the only real solution is for humans who care…to confer, collaborate,
argue, ponder, and act to fashion a space for real dialogue and understanding.”
Educators and reformers alike would be wise to give this book a look (it’s now
available on pre-order)—Delpit adds grounding, and some color, to a discussion
that is often arid and unproductive.

Lisa Delpit, “Multiplication
is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children
(New York, NY: The...


This post originally appeared as an op-ed column in the Columbus Dispatch.

Recent news
that White Hat Management, the big, Ohio-based, profit-seeking
charter-school operator, faces financial problems surely was received as
an early Christmas present by many longtime charter opponents,
particularly within the Buckeye State.

The company’s founder and leader, Akron industrialist David Brennan,
has been a larger-than-life target for school-choice foes since Gov.
George V. Voinovich appointed him in 1992 to head a commission intended
to advance choice in Ohio kindergarten-through-12th grade education.

That commission’s work led to the Cleveland Scholarship Program, the
nation’s first publicly funded voucher program. Its constitutionality
would be debated and litigated until being upheld by the U.S. Supreme
Court in 2002, a decision that has reverberated across the country.

Brennan’s vision, doggedness and political connectedness in the
education-policy sector have not been limited to vouchers. Without him,
Ohio’s charter-school program might have been stillborn, or strangled in
its crib by the outraged forces of the public-school establishment.
From Day One, the teachers unions teamed up with the League of Women
Voters, the PTA, the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio AFL-CIO
and others to savage charters at the Statehouse, to challenge them in
the courthouse and to denounce them in every sort of public forum.

The vitriol of these attacks was illustrated in 2003 by
then-Cleveland Teachers Union president Richard DeColibus, who announced