Sec. Arne Duncan made the first (of three) speeches intended to recruit an "army of great teachers" when he spoke to UVA's Curry School of Education last Friday. But his address wasn't the typical rally cry for the teaching profession (although it did include feel-good phrases like "Our children need you" and "A great teacher can change the direction of an individual's life").

Duncan's take on America's teacher preparation programs was in tune with other parts of his agenda that have surprised (and angered) teachers unions - such as Race to the Top's guidelines emphasizing charter schools and teacher evaluations linked to student test scores, and his speech to the NEA last summer that pointed out the tendency for teacher contracts to "put adults ahead of children" and the subsequent need for teacher merit pay.??

His Virginia speech called out teacher training programs for being "theory-heavy and curriculum-light" and for not preparing teachers "for what awaits them in the classroom." Duncan outlined the need to expand human capital pipelines such as Teach For America and The New Teacher Project, in addition to overhauling teacher preparation programs (which certify 22 times as many teachers as alternative programs). Specifically, he cited the need for education programs to train teachers in the use of student achievement data, to better prepare them to work in high-need schools, as well as to track graduates in order to measure their success in the classroom.

Duncan's unapologetic focus on critical reforms,...

The Education Gadfly

Check out this week's Ohio Education Gadfly to read about our upcoming conference, "World-Class Standards in Ohio." We're excited to welcome an impressive lineup of education experts and state leaders, who will discuss Ohio-specific standards issues (timely, since the state is mandated to revise its academic standards by 2010) as well as examine high-performing states and the national ("common") standards movement. Terry is spot on when he says "Ohio, and indeed the country, is at a pivotal moment in the development of standards-based education."

Next, Jamie brings us an informative piece exploring education tax credits (and deductions) and their potential to raise (private) money for education in Ohio. Given Ohio's gaping budget hole, might Ohioans consider this vehicle for school choice?

Also featured in the Ohio Education Gadfly is a video by Mike and Eric in which Ohio Rep. Lynn Wachtmann discusses the current crisis facing Ohio's pension systems. Finally, it wraps up with Flypaper's Finest, and timely recommended readings from Eric, Kalli, and Emmy....

Eric Ulas

You may recall that in 2007, Fordham published a report critical of Ohio's state teacher pension funds. The report found that the current system was wildly unsustainable and essentially hindering recruitment of quality teachers. Don't miss this week's Ohio Education Gadfly for a timely (and fascinating) look at what's happening to the system now. Fast forward two years later-- the fund is going bankrupt (by the admission of its own director) and seeking a handout of cash from taxpayers. Although STRS promises to tighten their belt and to reign in benefits, such measures are little more than short term fixes. Mike Lafferty and Terry Ryan explore this crisis and what might be done about it.

Next, Checker discusses From Schoolhouse to Courthouse, a new book??released by??Fordham and??the Brookings Institute.??This piece (also featured in the Education Gadfly last week) is so good we're mentioning it again. In another piece, Eric examines two new studies and the impact they could have on shaping Ohio's new teacher mentoring programs. Mike also reviews a recent study that measures states' science standards and evolution - with some surprising results.

Finally, our Ohio offices welcome new fall interns Kalli McCorkle from Ohio State University, and Nicole Berry from Wright State University....

Heal for America? William Healy argues in this weekend's Wall Street Journal that healthcare could benefit from a Teach for America-esque program. HFA corps members would be like an at-home medical force, dealing with smaller medical problems that typically go unattended in poorer families and clog up emergency rooms and simultaneously teaching about hygiene, exercise, proper eating, blood sugar, and a host of other useful items that would improve quality of life and lower health care costs. They could also help teach health classes in schools and help families set up doctor's appointments or call in prescriptions.

This idea seems a bit far-fetched to me, but it's nice to know that successful education reform programs are getting positive attention for folks outside the edu-sphere.

There's a lot to chew over in yesterday's New York Times article by Sam Dillon, "Schools Aided by Stimulus Money Still Facing Cuts," (including the implications for our home state of Ohio). Any reader would feel empathy for the L.A. high school students now facing average class sizes of 42.5 students; the many teachers who have been laid off; the schools that have cut back on sports, arts, and more. I certainly do.

But of course there's another story between the lines here, which is that districts have often been either unable or unwilling to cut costs sensibly. Tim Daly of The New Teacher Project is quoted describing a common problem, that "Districts tend to make their problems worse by laying off good teachers and keeping bad ones," firing based on seniority (as often required by collective bargaining agreements). Yet it's even deeper than that, for education is an industry that has rarely been forced to grapple with spending cuts; nearly every year this century, education spending per-pupil has grown, in good economic times or bad. It has rarely faced much pressure to really reinvent itself in order to contain costs. For example, Marguerite Roza explains that schools have long suffered from something called "Baumal's disease," in which costs rise for lack of innovation. (Whereas firms in other industries become more efficient by replacing labor with technology, for example.)

Dillon's article implies a day of reckoning is at hand. He writes:

Driving the layoffs was

Eric Ulas

Education Week features an insightful new study that finds excellent teachers tend to raise the performance of their peers.

We've known for a long time that great teachers matter hugely to student performance but showing a ???spillover effect' of teachers on other teachers has the potential to influence attitudes and practices in several important policy areas; primarily teacher merit pay and mentoring programs.

C. Kirabo Jackson, one of the study's authors noted:

If it's true that teachers are learning from their peers, and the effects are not small, then we want to make sure that any incentive system we put in place is going to be fostering that and not preventing it. If you give the reward at the individual level, all of a sudden my peers are no longer my colleagues-they're my competitors. If you give it at the school level, then you're going to foster feelings of team membership, and that increases the incentive to work together and help each other out.

A team-based performance incentive system is an intriguing idea that critics of individual merit-based pay might see as middle ground.

The results of this study can also be applied to teacher mentoring programs. Recent studies have shown that highly structured teacher mentoring programs have marginal effectiveness. But in seeing evidence that top-notch teachers affect peers, might it be possible that more informal mentoring programs would produce better results?

Having experienced a highly structured mentoring program in an urban...

The Education Gadfly

The Q&N took a little break but it's back--with a whopper.


"[Arne] Duncan apparently thinks that you can just demand and command improvement. He wants to replace everyone ... except the ones who matter, the children. They are unmotivated and lazy. Yes, there are many incompetent and idiotic and mean administrators who need to go. There are even some bad teachers, but these are really rare. The problem starts with the students. What is Duncan going to do with some so-called students who act like miscreants each day?"--John Trotter, chairman of Atlanta Metro Association of Classroom Educators

AJC: Learning Curve: Necessary roughness?


53: Percentage of administrators whose schools received federal stimulus money who??said they were nevertheless unable to avoid cutting core subjects and special education teaching positions, according to an online survey.

Education Week: Administrators Detail Spending From Stimulus (subscription required)

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on Friday that Cincinnati Public Schools will be the focus of a study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP). TNTP will analyze teachers' contracts in hopes of proposing policy changes in a report scheduled to come out a few weeks before the district's contract expires with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

There are two reasons this is such exciting news. First, TNTP is well known for creating effective partnerships with urban districts and churning out reports that can improve district staffing practices immensely.?? Cincinnati Public Schools could greatly benefit from this. For two of TNTP's very impressive reports that offer recommendations on improving district staffing procedures, see Missed Opportunities and Unintended Consequences.

The second reason to be excited is simply that Ohio needs more partnerships with groups like TNTP, whose consultants can offer a great deal of insight on how?? to improve?? teacher hiring, firing, recruitment and retention procedures (much needed in a place like Cincinnati). TNTP also can circulate innovative ideas - all the more important in a state like Ohio, which isn't keen on brands such as Teach For America, or robust alternative teacher/principal programs that spur entrepreneurialism in districts that need it.

Admittedly, there is no guarantee that Cincinnati Public Schools will take TNTP's recommendations to heart, or that the district's staffing practices will improve enough to have a tangible impact on student achievement. But it's like getting excited when a new restaurant comes to town,...

How will stimulus dollars affect union contracts? It's a question remaining to be answered and at the heart of??this New Yorker piece on the Big Apple's Rubber Rooms. Therein, Steven Brill weaves a tale that will make you laugh--or cry--about a few colorful characters who currently sit in teacher detention on charges of misconduct and/or incompetence. He also raises some interesting questions, like how seniority and tenure will hold back a system like New York's from getting some of Arne Duncan's Race to the Top kitty. But whether you're looking for a piquant narrative or a more serious discussion of the consequences of a calicified system, this article is a good read.

For past??Gadfly coverage of the famed Rubber Rooms, see??here and??here.

Laura Pohl

Students at Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) , one of the six charter schools Fordham authorizes in Ohio, file out of school on Monday. Like so many other charters around the United States, CCA holds classes in an unconventional building: the Seventh Avenue Community Baptist Church. Watch Flypaper this week for more photographs and multimedia from CCA.