Former NBA star Dave Bing is the new Mayor of Detroit. Bing, who billed himself as the reform candidate the Motor City needs, has been a strong support of charters for years. Maybe this bodes well for the future of bold education reform in the American city arguably most in need of it.

We just concluded our daylong conference??on "International Lessons about National Standards," centered around Bill Schmidt's excellent policy brief??of the same name. An informal show of hands at the end of the session showed a sizable majority of the 200 attendees believing that, within five years, there will be a new national test and lots of states will adopt it as their own. Put differently, they think the NGA/CCSSO-led effort to create a "Common Core" of state standards??will succeed.

Let's hope so. There are innumerable reasons that national standards and tests would be better for the country than the fifty state patchwork we have today (greater comparability of schools across state lines, the opportunity to aim much higher than most states do, the potential that it could create a national marketplace for instructional materials, professional development, and teacher preparation, and on and on).

And we learned today that the leaders of the common standards initiative are interested in getting to common tests too--and to use these standards and tests to drive instructional change at the classroom level. This is a big deal, and could even be (I hate this term) a game-changer.

But pitfalls remain,...

Amy Fagan

Our conference today--on national education standards and the lessons that might be learned from other countries--is spurring some discussion. Debra Viadero from Education Week sums up the intriguing story that MSU's Bill Schmidt told in the policy brief he co-authored (and presented). Essentially, he compared the reactions of Germany and the United States to news of their students' sagging test scores in the 1990s--Germany eventually adopted national standards; the US hasn't??????yet (though as we all heard today, renewed efforts are underway). Will the two nations' stories converge this time around? That's to be continued,??? Debra writes. Read even more about what was discussed at today's event. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development also blogged (and twittered ) about it!

Amy Fagan

This afternoon, Dane Linn , director of the education division for the National Governors Association and Gene Wilhoit , executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers updated everyone on the ongoing effort to develop common standards. They said 41 states showed up to a recent meeting they held. ???The initial response to this idea is very very positive,??? Wilhoit said. Linn said they're asking each state to commit both their governor and their K-12 commissioner to the process. Meanwhile, here are a few questions, answers and discussion points that popped up in the final panel of the day:

Do national standards mean loss of local control? Michael Casserly , executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools answered this one. In part, he pointed out that local schools currently have no control over standards, so moving it to the federal level wouldn't change that. National standards would provide a bit of consistency, clarity and direction, he said, but states would still control funding, monitoring, reporting, credentials and the like.

What is the role of philanthropy in all of this? This question was aptly posed to Stefanie Sanford of the Bill...

Amy Fagan

What would help Jim Shelton--at the Education Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement--do his job better? Clearer standards in this country. Shelton spoke this morning at the conference we're hosting, entitled: International Lessons About National Standards.

Clear, rigorous standards actually encourage more innovation in education, Shelton said, because ???by being clear about end goals, you free people,??? to try many different ways to get there. He said ???while we argued??? as a nation about whether fewer, clearer standards were needed, other countries moved ahead. You can read about other countries' experiences with education standards in the new policy brief released today. Bill Schmidt, Michigan State University professor and author of that brief, also spoke earlier. He said we cannot improve education standards in this country without some sort of national center to direct the process. That doesn't mean federal standards, he stressed. Focused, coherent, rigorous standards can and should be built from the bottom up, by states and others on the ground, he said, and they should be voluntary . But ???we need a national institutional center to pull this off,??? he said.

The day continues as experts from South Korea, Germany and Australia discuss the...

It started at 9 am this morning and Jim Shelton is currently giving his remarks. Watch it live via webcast here.*

*The webcast is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Stay tuned for more information. A video of the event will also be available later this week.

In the midst of the school-funding battle here in the Buckeye State, it is easy to lose sight of the other major education reforms on Governor Strickland's agenda, including revamping the state's academic standards and assessments. The governor says the revisions are necessary in order to incorporate the teaching of "21st century skills" in Ohio's classrooms. I don't agree, but I also don't think it matters much what Ohio's schools are expected to teach or students are expected to learn if the bar by which we judge student and school performance isn't raised.????

Ohio's low cut scores on our state reading and math tests were brought to light in 2007's The Proficiency Illusion, and an Education Trust report out last month highlighted the gap between proficiency levels on Ohio's state achievement tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Akron Beacon Journal columnist Laura Ofobike picked up on EdTrust's findings today:

Are we basking in an illusion of progress under the state assessments? Is the achievement bar set high enough that our students can match up outside Ohio? Draw your own conclusions. Here's what the state report showed, comparing proficiency rates on


If you're like me, you're generally skeptical of this Twitter business. ????It seems kind of like LoJack but for people. ????But I've come around lately, thanks in part to my colleagues here at TBFI.

I wasn't able to make it to their international standards conference today, but because I'm following Fordham on Twitter, I was able to keep up all day. ????And some really interesting stuff happened--it was a great event.

If you're interested in TBFI's work, just go to your Twitter account and search for educationgadfly and then choose to follow. ????You'll be glad you did.

And while I'm at it, props to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for their twittering. ????They're excellent at it--updates are germane and timely but not incessant. ????It's particularly interesting this week since it's NCSW. ????You can find them at charteralliance....

If you've ever hired anyone, you know that that colleague you get is nearly always quite different than the candidate you interviewed--sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always different.

This interesting paper about teacher quality adds to the substantial but far-from-conclusive literature on what makes for a great teacher. In short, a few previously unstudied teacher characteristics appear to correlate with improved student achievement, but nothing revolutionary.

If you're looking for something on the same subject but with a reduced wonk factor and more talk about college football (seriously), check out this New Yorker article by author of all things curious, Malcolm Gladwell. Other professions face the same recruitment challenge, but they address it differently than those in the teacher-hiring business; instead of big barriers to entry and few back-end check-ins, they open up the floodgates on the front-end and then weed out along the way.

It's National Charter Schools Week, and the Alliance has all kinds of activities planned and news to share. Here are a couple highlights:

Lots of information and resources can be found here.