Flypaper

Checker and I have some, about how to implement the stimulus package,??in this week's Gadfly. Here's a snippet:

Be transparent. This is already an Obama administration mantra and for good reason. Particularly when implementing your innovation fund, there's no such thing as too much transparency. That's because discretionary federal dollars are like boiling oil, at least in education. Instead of statutory strings attached, there are non-statutory risks. Two are paramount--and have plagued previous education secretaries. First, when you give money to the QRS organization or project, you're not giving it to the XYZ group. That will anger the XYZ folks, who will complain to you, to the White House, to the Congress, and to the media. If complaining doesn't lead to their palms, too, being crossed with federal dollars, they will lambaste you, QRS, and the program itself. That's another big part of what got Reading First into deep trouble--grumps from those who did not get funded. (Read more here.) And second, you will be accused of favoritism, of giving money to your friends, admirers, and political backers. (But why would you give money to your enemies?) That's what happened when Rod Paige steered dollars toward worthy but

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This letter to the editor is worth reading:

To the Editor:

Education Week readers should know that Massachusetts' stellar scores in science and math in both grade 4 and grade 8 on the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study are due to more than strong academic standards and content-oriented professional development ("Standards Help Minn. Vie With Top Nations," Jan. 21, 2009.) As in Minnesota, the only other U.S. state to participate in TIMSS in both 1995 and 2007, many factors have contributed to impressive gains, an indication of the latest "Massachusetts Miracle."

I was the deputy commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999 to 2003, responsible not only for assuring the academic quality of the state's math and science standards (with considerable help from mathematicians and scientists), but also for aligning the state's teacher-licensing regulations, and the revised licensure tests based on them, directly to these standards. The new licensure tests for elementary and middle school teachers, in particular, stressed content, not pedagogy, and weighted math and science more heavily than before, leading to an academically stronger teacher corps in K-8 since 2002.

But there is one more factor your

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According to this New York Times column, the father of modern biology, who was born 200 years ago today,??would be "pleased,??but not surprised" by the developments in genetics and other fields that have furthered our understanding of evolution and natural selection. But no doubt he would be outraged to learn that only four in ten Americans believe in the theory of evolution, according to a new??Gallup Poll. The news is slightly less glum for young Americans (aged 18-34); about half of them believe in the e-word. Perhaps the other half are clustered in the 23 states that, as of 2005 at least, had squishy enough standards on evolution to earn this element a D or F from Fordham's science experts.

Get the minute-by-minute at Education Week's Politics K-12??blog. It looks like the contours of the bill are closer to the Senate version; it's not clear yet if the reform-minded??pieces of the House bill (on charters, merit pay, data systems, etc.) made it through.

After last week's bursts of Reform-o-Meter ratings, it's been all quiet on the Southwestern (Maryland Avenue) front. Expect some key announcements soon, though, about the final contours of the stimulus package (Fritz Edelstein is hearing that school construction is in but $40 billion of state aid is out) and the nomination of the deputy secretary of education.

My composite rating so far is "luke warm."

Meanwhile, what's the current temperature of Arne Duncan and company, education-reform-wise? The last time we checked, over a week ago, Team Obama had earned a cumulative rating of ???Luke Warm??? from me and an even chillier ???Neutral??? from our readers. But now, after the appointments of Carmel Martin and Russlynn Ali, and the President and First Lady's visit to a charter school, both Reform-o-Meters are up to Luke Warm. Perhaps an insider-friend of mine is right to claim that the Obama team is trying to make the education reform crowd feel good before it makes its big Linda Darling-Hammond announcement. If that's right, expect this warming trend to come to an end...

Perhaps the only thing related to K-12 education that Ohio's governor and lawmakers aren't talking about ???????fixing??????? is the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS). Odd, as few things are more outdated and in need of reform than the pension system.

We pointed out two years ago that the system is opaque, unsustainable, encourages early retirement, hinders mobility, and discourages many from entering the teaching profession. None of that has changed, and according to the system's latest annual report (which covers July 2007 through June 2008), things are only getting worse. As the economy has melted down STRS's unfunded liability has topped $18 billion (up $3.7 billion from the previous year and equal to roughly two-and-a-half times what the governor wants the state to spend on K-12 education next year). As this liability has increased, so has its amortization period, up from 26.1 years in 2007 to 41.2 years in 2008 (despite state law requiring an amortization period of no more than 30 years).

STRS attributes the dire situation to ???????investment returns being less than expected, retirees living longer and payroll growth being less than expected.??????? The pension system isn't likely to see its investments rebound...

Regular Flypaper readers know that I've been skeptical of the stimulus package moving through Congress, at least as it relates to education. I'm worried that bailing out school districts will delay painful but necessary choices and reforms; that it sets a precedent for greater federal funding of education, which will inevitably lead to greater federal micromanagement; and that eventually, reformers are going to have to win battles without buying off the education establishment.

But then I listened to President Barack Obama's comments from last night. I finally heard what I've been waiting for: a clear, compelling case for saving hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs.

I took a trip to Elkhart, Ind., today. Elkhart is a place that has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America. In one year, the unemployment rate went from 4.7 percent to 15.3 percent. Companies that have sustained this community for years are shedding jobs at an alarming speed, and the people who've lost them have no idea what to do or who to turn to. They can't pay their bills, and they've stopped spending money. And because they've stopped spending money, more businesses have

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AEI's Rick Hess (our Gadfly Show co-host) picks up on some themes elaborated at last week's ???Left at the Altar??? event (video now available!) in this National Review Online article:

Despite the buyer's remorse that suffused conservative opinion on George W. Bush's education agenda, the real problem was not his administration's willingness to compromise with the Left on No Child Left Behind, K-12 reform, or higher education; this was appropriate and inevitable for a governing party. The problem was how it compromised. The administration embraced the expedience of grand gestures and good intentions instead of relying on a more principled position shaped by fiscal restraint, respect for government's limitations, and attention to the importance of incentives.

He also weighs in on the stimulus bill moving through Congress:

When it comes to education, conservatives can identify the conditions under which they might view the proposed aid more warmly by focusing on incentives, cost-effectiveness, and fiscal restraint. States and localities would have to demonstrate that they were reallocating dollars from less effective programs and services to more effective ones. School systems would identify and remove poor teachers and redirect

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So says Benjamin Berrafato, a fifth grader at??New Lane Memorial Elementary School in Selden, New York. This young man composed an open letter to his classmates recently (reprinted by the New York Daily News, no less) urging them to resist "illegal" homework. Why, you may ask, is homework illegal? Benjamin explains:

Homework is assigned to students like me, without our permission. Teachers expect us to do homework, even though we'd rather not. It can be hard sometimes. We get punished if we don't do it. If we do it, we get no reward; we just don't get punished.

Simply put, if we don't, we get punished, and if we do, our reward is ... nothing.

Thus, homework is slavery. Slavery was abolished with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 6, 1865.

So, every school in??America??has been illegally run for the past 143 YEARS. That's something to think about.

Probably a good thing we don't let fifth graders make education policy. He does, however, cite outside sources, abide by the rules of logical argumentation, and write with relatively good grammar. I bet you he learned how to do all that while doing his...

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