Flypaper

Amy Fagan

Just a quick sidenote about the speech this morning. Obama complained pretty emphatically about state standards and the current system--50 different sets of standards, from the lowest-of-the-low to the highest-of-the-high. Nothing illustrates this mess more clearly (we believe!) than Fordham's latest study, The Accountability Illusion, which "moved" a set of 36 real schools from state to state to see how many of them would make "adequate yearly progress" under the different rules set by each state under the No Child Left Behind Act. It found great variation. In some states, nearly all of the sample elementary schools failed to make AYP, while in other states, nearly all of these same schools cleared the bar just fine. So, the way that schools are currently rated seems to be rather idiosyncratic, random and opaque. If you'd like to read more about this, Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli (who both happen to be out of the country at the moment!) just penned a related op-ed for Education Week's March 11 issue. You can check it out here.

In his first major education speech since taking office, President Obama made the case for charter schools as incubators of innovation and excellence in public education. The president's remarks are music to this charter supporter's ears but I'm afraid they still won't be enough to save charter schools in places like Fordham's home state of Ohio, where our governor (along with the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and powerful teacher unions) has launched a frontal assault on charter schools:

  • While Obama acknowledges that charters need "broad leeway to innovate," the governor is seeking new operating rules such that Buckeye State charters would be forced to do business within the cookie-cutter mold he has prescribed for traditional district schools.
  • While the president believes that decisions about charter school openings and closures should hinge on how well they prepare our students, Strickland wants an arbitrary ban on for-profit school operators.
  • While Obama calls for upholding the charter school bargain of autonomy in exchange for greater accountability, Strickland wants to saddle charters with regulatory compliance burdens that, coupled with deep funding cuts, would effectively strangle the schools.

President Obama rightly warns that the "expansion of charter schools must not...

With Mike away on vacation, I get the keys to the vaunted Reform-o-Meter. Certainly President Obama's big speech today deserves to be taken for a spin.

On the up side, the President supports tough standards, strong assessments and accountability systems, performance pay, new pathways into teaching, getting rid of bad teachers, high-quality data systems, charter schools, and linking teachers to student performance. Also, he understands the complications arising from 50 different state-based accountability systems (though he didn't take a position on national standards).

On the down side, he failed to take a position on the DC scholarship program, his teacher initiatives lacked clarity, he's using the "21st century skills" language (which could be benign or serious depending on what's underlying it), he's pushing more money into the ineffective Head Start program, and indexing Pell Grants above inflation and making this mandatory spending could prove very expensive over time.

Although a number of the minuses are concerning, most of the pluses are quite encouraging not to mention significant. It deserves a solid Warm.

As for significance, this was a big speech. While these positions could lose their character...

President Obama delivered a major, long (over 4,500 words), and substantive speech on education this morning. Transcript here; coverage here and here.

The media will likely focus on the several issues certain to raise the ire of unions, such as performance pay, firing weak teachers, and strong support for charter schools. But there are many other noteworthy points throughout the speech as well as some standard fare and a few passing references that will need more filling out.

The speech had familiar anchors: achievement gaps, personal responsibility, and international competition. It also made use of the common Obama tactic of framing his positions as inhabiting the sensible middle ground between polarized parties and being beyond the ideological battles of the past. Interestingly, he twice made the point that money alone would not solve our education problems.

As for the substance, it was built around ???????five pillars???????: 1) early childhood, 2) standards and assessments, 3) recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers, 4) promoting innovation and excellence, and 5) higher education

In early childhood, he touted funding in the stimulus for Head Start and child care programs. He also challenged states to raise...

The NYT turns in a very good article about the recent charter conversion of seven Catholic schools in Washington, DC.???? This topic combines two extremely interesting issues: the loss of faith-based urban schools (especially Catholic schools) and the proliferation of charters in America's big cities.

There's much to chew on here, but two matters are of particular interest to me.???? First, can you take the Catholic out of these Catholic schools without reducing their effectiveness? So, is faith a thread that runs through the entire fabric of the school, which, if removed, will cause the entire garment to unravel????? Or is faith just one of many pillars supporting the school's work????????one that can be removed or replaced without significantly threatening the school's structural (educational) stability?

Second, why can't we rewrite our charter laws to allow for faith-based charters????? These schools would get to keep their faith components while receiving public money in exchange for public accountability (state assessments, open enrollment, etc) like all other charters.

My opinions on this are driven by two pragmatic beliefs.???? Given the paucity of great urban schools, it doesn't make sense to allow...

I'm heading out of town this evening for a spring break, but before I do I thought I'd check in and give our Reader Reform-o-Meter a check. As loyal Flypaper readers know, whenever we put someone or something through the Reform-o-Meter treatment, you get to voice your vote, too. To see how readers have reacted to recent Obama Administration decisions, check out these posts on Arne Duncan's statement about school vouchers, the appointment of Charlie Rose as Education Department General Counsel, and the selection of Robert Gordon and Roberto Rodriguez as Obama's White House education staff. (Click on "view results.")

Mostly the readers and I are simpatico, with a cumulative rating of "Luke Warm" for the Obama team so far. But one anomaly stands out: Our readers LOVE Charlie Rose. He's off-the-charts "Red Hot" with 42 votes for that rating. I believe that's a record. Which makes me wonder: is there just a whole lotta love out there for Charlie, or did someone organize a stuff-the-ballot campaign?

Have a great week, and enjoy the posts of my Flypaper colleagues while I'm away....

In his classic book, The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them,??E.D. Hirsch describes the education "thought-world," born from schools of education but dominant throughout the education system. Its??ideas are nicely summarized??in this book review in Commentary Magazine, as:

The American fondness for romanticism, with its feckless assumptions about human nature, about the innocent perfection of childhood, and about the "unnaturalness" of formalized pedagogy. That romantic background melded nicely with the Progressives' "child-centered" educational agenda to produce two "fundamental tenets." The first of these Hirsch calls "formalism": the belief that the acquisition of factual knowledge is less important than the acquisition of formal tools (like "critical thinking") that will enable future learning. The second is "naturalism": the belief that education is most effective when connected to natural goals and dispositions, rather than being tied to the forced and artificial setting of the classroom.

Now, you might expect to find such fuzzy notions rampant in liberal bastions like Takoma Park, Maryland, where I live. But in truth they extend to every corner of this country, or so it appears from a report I got from my sister. She lives in a solidly Republican exurb of...

The Cincinnati Public Schools have been praised (including by yours truly) for embarking on top-to-bottom overhauls of the district's most persistently underperforming schools. Student academic performance was seen as driving the district's tough decisions to dismiss whole staffs and fundamentally redesign one elementary school last year and three more schools this year. Today, however, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the "professional atmosphere" in the schools also played a part in the decision making:

Under the federal law, 10 city schools fit the bill for a total overhaul. Those schools failed to meet mandatory improvement goals for six consecutive years or more.

But districts have several options to comply with the law, and the total staff replacement is only one option.

Rothenberg, Mount Airy and South Avondale schools, in addition to the poor test scores, also had teachers and workers who weren't responding to management directives and didn't work as a team, according to the notes.

Seven other schools, while statistically similar, were spared the radical redo, thanks in part to what CPS leaders saw as good attitudes and "cohesive" and "positively focused" staffs.

For instance, Rockdale Academy, just four blocks from South Avondale, scored

...

The Wall Street Journal editorialized????today on the DC Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) Program, echoing points Mike and I made late last week:???? Secretary Duncan's support, which some consider good but????insufficient and others rate as ???????warm,??????? was welcome; and President Obama's silence is conspicuous and less welcome.

This morning, the Center for Education Reform released a new charter schools report.???? You can find it here along with some supporting material, including information on state funding showing that charters receive less per student, typically much less, than traditional public schools in every state.???? (A superb Fordham study found the same thing back in 2005.)???? The CER report also has new state-level information on school closures.

Overall, it's an accessible document????????short introduction and then one-page summaries on each state (student performance, number of schools, authorizers, funding, etc.).???? They've gathered some interesting, useful information that makes this a good document to have by your desk, especially if you follow charters closely.???? To be clear, it's not a university-style scholarly study with regression models and p-values.???? But it is classic CER: one part new data and one part strong advocacy.

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