I emerged from our Board of Ed Curriculum Committee meeting yesterday smiling.? Despite agreement by Karl Wheatley and John Thompson, regular commenters on Flypaper, about the need to define curriculum before we start talking about it (see Curriculum Confusions), I was heartened by the fact that the dozen teachers and administrators sitting around?our conference table?didn't discuss the definition ? though I'm sure each had a different idea about what it was.? A few years ago, I would have been discouraged by that fact -- but?a few years ago the discussion would have gone like this: We don't have a curriculum. Yes we do. No we don't.? Then again,?a few years ago, we didn't even?have a Curriculum Committee!? As a friend of mine told me recently, you don't have to talk about Hirsch anymore.?

In fact, at the local level, in New York state and many other places, thanks to the tireless efforts of a generation of reformers ? I am lucky enough to have gotten to rub intellectual elbows with some of the best, at Fordham and Education Next and Core Knowledge ? the curricular train is finally on the tracks and pulling into a district near you. And guess what?? The teachers are so relieved!

For the first time in my district, teachers are talking about aligning content, vertically and horizontally. Okay, so it's just a reading textbook (Journeys), but it is the first time that K?6 teachers have ever used the same text!? And they...

So what else is new?? Isn't this just the statistic that confirms the message of Nation at Risk or the flat NAEP scores for the last forty years?

The troubling?part of Arne Duncan's Capitol Hill testimony yesterday?is that he concludes from the dismal statistics ? that 80,000 of our 100,000 public schools are failing ? that it's the law's fault. ?This law is fundamentally broken, and we need to fix it this year,? he told the House education committee. We all know what ?this law? means: No Child Left Behind.

Harping about NCLB's tough love approach to school improvement has dogged the revolutionary bill almost from the beginning ? I say almost because it was at first hailed as a masterstroke of nonpartisanship. Under intense pushback from teachers and their unions, however that coalition quickly splintered along predictable partisan lines. Then came a host of nitpicking, from left and right, that has made the NCLB brand poisonous.? ???

The huge law no doubt has flaws. Liam says that ?a seminal problem? with it is ?its focus on race,? the infamous subgroup standard that has sent many schools to the proficiency woodshed. President Obama says we need to replace NCLB with ?a law that's more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids.?? Mike says??NCLB has done ?some good,? mostly for poor and minority students, but has had some ?unintended consequences,? including too much testing in too few subjects.? But the major benefit...

The New York Times is on a roll with its education coverage, today reporting on everything from Obama in Boston to Rick Scott in Florida and rich schools in Bronxville.? And though I got slapped on the wrist yesterday by John Thompson for tweaking the purveyor of ?the best journalism in the world,? it is precisely because they are the best (according to Thompson, of course) that we watch them ? and, occasionally, critique them.

Florida Moves Teacher Bill Forward. It looks like new Sunshine state governor Rick Scott will right the wrong of his predecessor Charlie Crist, who vetoed a pioneering teacher evaluation reform bill last year ? what Andy Smarick called ?the most disappointing education policy decision by a major Republican officeholder in recent memory.?? The revived and revised bill, introduced by Florida legislator Erik Fresen, would link teacher evaluations to student performance, put new teachers on one-year contracts, and institute an evaluation system that would determine raises and firings. ??We are under siege,? the head of one teacher union told the Times. Yup. And it may be time for besieged teacher unions to start thinking of the besieged students who can't read or write.

A Merger in Memphis.? Voters in Memphis decided by a large margin on Tuesday to hand over the reins of their ?103,000-student public school system to their smaller -- ?47,000 students ? suburban neighbor in Shelby County, ?effectively,? as the Times reports, ?putting an end to...

This important survey of Ohio school leaders shows a growing disconnect of opinion between the people who teach in our public schools and those who lead them. While many teachers and other school employees resist changes to collective bargaining laws and education reform measures, superintendents recognize the need for such changes and in fact are hungry for them.

Yearning to Break Free: Ohio Superintendents Speak Out is the result of a statewide survey of Ohio district superintendents and other education leaders on the most critical issues facing K-12 education in the Buckeye State in 2011, including budgets, school effectiveness, and laws that make schools harder to manage.  The survey was conducted by the respected, nonpartisan public opinion research firm, FDR Group, and commissioned and underwritten by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The findings come as policy makers struggle to solve the state’s massive budget deficit while ramping up pupil achievement.

Liam Julian

Three cheers for Sean Cavanagh, who pointed out in a recent, long Education Week article that ?A set of stock phrases, sound bites, and buzzwords has come to dominate the public discourse on education, summoned reflexively, it often seems, by elected officials and advocates who speak a shared, accepted language.? Laudably, Cavanagh doesn't spare his own clan, journalists, from censure, noting that ?the pervasiveness of today's education language, often echoed uncritically in the media, is striking.? But public figures receive, and deserve, the most blame: e.g., the president, his education secretary, New Jersey's Governor Christie, and Michelle Rhee, among others. This sort of coverage of the ed-policy-world lexicon is belated and necessary, because a significant percentage of the words spoken and written in this realm are wholly empty. In my own scribbling, I often place quotation marks around ?reform? and ?reformers,? precisely because those words have been drained of meaning and now exist as shibboleths and emotional signifiers. And it's not just the ?reformers? who engage in this semantic subterfuge. Listen to Randi Weingarten talk for two minutes and then ask yourself if anything she has just said is logical, precise, or testable, or if her emanations aren't just one vague utterance attached to another. Weingarten does not use words to clarify but to befuddle. When we unthinkingly, uncritically accept the impoverished language bandied about the ed-policy world we allow ourselves to be taken by Weingarten and her word-warping ilk. Not good.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy...

The Education Gadfly

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="190" caption="Photo by Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times"][/caption]

This past weekend, the education-reform world lost a long-time champion with the passing of David T. Kearns, former deputy secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush. Here are some thoughts from those with whom he served.

Leslye A. Arsht

Former Counselor to the Secretary of Education, When David Kearns was Deputy Secretary

It was impossible, when I heard that David Kearns had passed, not to have a sad, then bittersweet moment.

David, who might have coined the ?believe in better? attitude, defied death for a very long time?and he lived his life?post-cancer diagnosis?with the grace, dignity, energy, and enthusiasm that he modeled before it.

I believe everyone who worked with David, as I did for only a brief time, while he was deputy secretary, was energized and empowered by him in ways that may not have been apparent, until we'd left his daily presence.

He taught us to be undeterred by big obstacles, and to meet those barriers with big solutions; to use the tools/ ideas/strategies available, regardless of their genesis; while at it, be open to a better approach; be relentless and unwavering in the demand for forward movement; know it will be messy but bring people along; be as kind and as cheerful as your nature will allow.

Never STOP trying.

I'll never forget him. His memory


For those of you following the public union fights in the Midwest, I recommend Steven Greenhouse's story in today's New York Times.? According to Governor Mitch Daniels and other Hoosier state government managers Greenhouse spoke to, Daniels' 2005 executive order eliminating collective bargaining by state employees has saved millions of dollars while streamlining services.? Not everyone is happy, of course, but when you hear that because of union rules in Wisconsin a county executive can't close a juvenile detention center that houses just one child, the logic of public sector collective bargaining seems hard to support.? And it is a logical impasse that has so many teacher union representatives tongue-tied.? Here's Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which represents 98,000 public school employees in the Badger state, worrying to Greenhouse about the abolition of collective bargaining:? ?Layoffs may not be based on merit or effectiveness, but on anything management wants it to be.??

Uh?? This would seem to presume that the union is for merit and effectiveness layoffs.? I guess she has forgotten?about?the Last In First Out union rule.

?--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

In an essay about the fracas in Wisconsin Jonah Goldberg argues in the L.A. Times that ?Public unions have been a 50-year mistake?.

A crucial distinction has been lost in the debate over [Gov. Scott] Walker's proposals: Government unions are not the same thing as private sector unions.

It is a point well-worth making.? While private sector unions came from the ?bloody adversarial relationship? between management and labor, says Goldberg, public unions are ?rankly political? animals. They deliver money to legislators who, not surprisingly, vote them nice salaries and benefits. Public sector unions are simply ?the party of government.?? It's like bargaining with yourself.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow