A fascinating story in the New York Times about schooling in India has a few things to teach American educators; mainly, that the poor really do want a good education. (I have had extended discussions with colleagues about the question of educating the poor (see here, here, and here) and Kathleen Porter Magee’s The “Poverty Matters” Trap is a must-read for anyone investigating the subject.)

As it turns out, public schools in India, like many in the U.S., are apparently lousy – “in many states,” write Vikas Bajaj and Jim Yardley about India, “government education is in severe disarray, with teachers often failing to show up.” But unlike the U.S., where charter schools and vouchers have begun to offer alternatives, In India the poor have turned to a network of private schools to educate their children. It is much as James Tooley described it in a 2005 story in Education Next (and his subsequent book, The Beautiful Tree), recounting amazing stories from around the world:

[T]he poor have found remarkably innovative ways of helping themselves, educationally, and in some of the most destitute places on earth have managed to nurture a


The controversy over the recent New York Times front-page slam of K12 Inc. was ostensibly about the company’s inability to deliver online education (see CEO Ron Packard’s reply here), but one of the more interesting parts of the ensuing debate was not about computers and education but about delivering education for profit – which is what Packard’s company does. (Full disclosure: I have done some editing work for K12.)

This morning Walt Gardner, who writes the Reality Check blog for Education Week, penned a letter to the Times editor that seems to sum up the anti-profit school of thought pretty well:

Agora Cyber Charter School [the K12 school that was the Times’ whipping post] serves as an instructive case study of what happens when schools are run like businesses. The profit motive always assures that the education of students takes a back seat to the enrichment of investors.

Nevertheless, free market advocates have managed to exploit the frustration and anger felt by taxpayers over the glacial progress of traditional public schools to advance their agenda. In the end, it will become clear that it’s impossible to provide a quality education and show a profit at

Ray Pinney
Member outreach coordinator, New Jersey School Boards Association

Guest blogger Ray Pinney is member outreach coordinator for the New Jersey School Boards Association. In this post, which originally appeared on the NJSBA BoardBlog, he reflects on Fordham and CAP’s Rethinking Education Governance conference and what governance reform means for the Garden State.

After I graduated from college, I took the summer off and backpacked
through Europe because I figured that it might be the last time I could
travel without time constraints (of course, I was right about this).
 Not being able to speak the native languages provided some funny and
not-so-funny incidents. In any case, I am sure most of you have been in
a situation where the discussion is hampered by the two people not
speaking the same language. It can be frustrating at times and shows
how simple things can become so complicated.

A few weeks ago, I described an education reform program I attended,  Rethinking Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century,
which was sponsored by the Fordham Institute.  The presenters were for
the most part academics with impressive credentials. For those who
have been part of public education for...

Statewide textbook adoption distorts the market, entices extremist groups to hijack the curriculum, enriches the textbook cartel, and papers the land with mediocre instructional materials that cannot fulfill their important education mission. This recent Fordham report recommends that legislators and governors in adoption states should eliminate the process, letting individual districts, schools, and teachers choose textbooks themselves. Read it now on

Okay, it's not exactly what Rupert might condone, but since he and his crew are preoccupied and because our News Nuggets shop has plenty to do, I offer some education highlights from my weekend reading:

Charter Fights Move to the Suburbs Winnie Hu had a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times documenting a small trend in the charter movement to open more of the independent public schools in suburbs: about one in five of the nation's 5,000 charters are now in the ?burbs.? Not surprisingly, the story raises some existential questions about public education. ?Mike calls attention to the article in his Myth of the ?good? school post this morning, pointing out that ?One person's `good school' is another person's `bad fit.'? ?But there is also a ?financial question here, which is whether we can afford a good school, or even a good fit, for everyone. Is the computer the answer? Just as we citizens and taxpayers pool our resources to build common roads and ?provide for the common defense,? our ?public school system? has traditionally supposed that we get better education by having common schools. Traditionally, that has meant a central location. But if...

This is indeed a bold consolidation of power. But the plan also calls
for turning Indianapolis into a district of total choice, in which all
schools would compete for students — a bold diffusion of power.

Terry Ryan said it well, praising The Mind Trust’s Indianapolis school reform plan, Creating Opportunity Schools, as a “bold and dramatic transformation of public education akin to what has taken place in New Orleans and New York City." And it's true that “the most controversial part of the reform plan,” as Terry writes, “calls for neutering the role of the current IPS [Indianapolis Public Schools] school board, while turning governance over to a new five member board appointed jointly by the mayor and the City-County Council.” This is indeed a bold consolidation of power. But the plan also calls for turning Indianapolis into a district of total choice, in which all schools would compete for students — a bold diffusion of power. By combining mayoral authority and parental choice, as Paul Peterson suggests in his masterful 2010 book Saving Schools, The Mind Trust proposal would create “a marriage made in heaven”:

Theoretically, the excellence movement’s two central thrusts


Creating Opportunity Schools coverThrough this report (prepared by Public Impact),
The Mind Trust proposes a dramatic transformation of public education in
Indianapolis, akin to the structural changes that have taken place in New
Orleans and New York City. It observes that great schools across the country
share a set of core conditions that enable them to help all students achieve.
Among these core conditions are the freedom to build and manage their own
teams, refocus resources to meet actual student needs, hold schools accountable
for their results(and close those that don’t perform), and create a system of
school choice that empowers parents to find schools that they want their
children to attend. To create success in the public schools of Indianapolis
(IPS), the Mind Trust proposes these bold moves: shift funding from the central
office to schools; give high-performing schools autonomy over staffing,
budgets, and curriculum; provide parents with more good choices; unite all
public schools under a new banner of quality called Opportunity Schools; and
allow the mayor and the City-County Council to appoint the IPS school...

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.

From where I sit, the basic strategies
aren’t ill-conceived. Rather, they’ve been stumped, stymied, and
constrained by formidable barriers that are more or less built into the
K-12 system as we know it.

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 I’m talking about are not cultural issues,
parenting issues, demographic issues, or other macro-influences on educational
achievement. Those are all plenty...

A new round of the popular education board game, Poverty Matters, began last week with a New York Times op-ed
by Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske, titled, “Class Matters: Why Won’t We
Admit It?”  (Interestingly, the essay is really about poverty, not
class, and the paper that Ladd wrote on which the essay is based is
titled Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence.  See also Kathleen Porter-Magee’s The `Poverty Matters’ Trap from last July’s Flypaper.)

Ladd and Fiske’s essay was one of those broadsides that spreads
through the teacher ranks like a brush fire. I received my email copy
from one of our district’s veteran teachers, a hard-working, dedicated
woman who rarely misses an opportunity to remind me that she and her
colleagues would be doing a fine job were it not for unmotivated kids
and their irresponsible parents.  And Diane Ravitch weighed in
calling to mind, in tune with the season, the story of Scrooge and Tiny
Tim, offering to “update this tale for today’s school reformers” by
calling attention to Ladd and Fiske’s op-ed. (Ravitch says she uses
Ladd’s Education and...

voodoo doll photo

The power of the voodoo. Who do? You do. Do what?
Photo by Juha-Matti Herrala

2005’s hurricane catalyzed one of the largest
governance experiments in American education to date, as Louisiana implemented
its Recovery School District law under which it took responsibility for the
worst schools in the Big Easy (and a few others throughout the Bayou State).
While other state-takeover initiatives have seen mixed results, Louisiana’s push has yielded big upticks in student-test scores. Two reasons why
Louisiana’s initiative has fared well: It doesn’t get bogged down in the
schools’ day-to-day operations. (It offloads that responsibility onto school
leaders—where it belongs.) And it scraps the current edu-governance system (no
more school boards, locally elected or otherwise), giving site management over to
charter networks and other external providers. The idea has some converts:
Michigan (with
its Education Achievement System
) and Tennessee both recently announced the
creation of their own...