From the Washington Post:

In his quest to transform American education, President Obama appeared yesterday to put his faith in pledges from some of the interest groups that helped scuttle reform in years past, but the industry's promises fell well short of the White House's expansive claims.

"This is a historic day, a watershed event," Obama said after a meeting with lobbyists representing??teachers,??administrators, bus drivers,??and textbook publishers. "Over the next 10 years -- from 2010 to 2019 -- they are pledging to cut the rate of growth of national education spending by 1.5 percentage points each year."

Oh wait, just kidding...this was the health-care announcement from yesterday. Education costs will continue rising as usual. (Once we get past the recession, that is.)

While Andy grows increasingly pessimistic about the education stimulus, I am starting to see some more reasons for hope. (Of course, it would be hard for me to be even more pessimistic than I was when Congress churned the law??out of its sausage-grinder.)

Why??do I think this monstrosity might actually do??a little bit of??good? I spent some time last week with leaders of state-based education reform organizations (through the Policy Innovators in Education Network, which Fordham helped to launch). And sure enough, I heard bona fide stories of state legislatures contemplating doing politically difficult but reform-minded things because they think it will help them snag "Race to the Top" funds.

The best example in Maine, which is considering becoming the 42nd state with a charter school law. The argument that might finally push legislators over the top is their desire for more federal cash. Note this press release from the (optimistically-named) Maine Association of Charter Schools:

President Obama and US Secretary of Education Duncan have made expanding public charter schools a priority of their education policy. According to Newsweek, "Duncan recently warned that he may withhold federal education stimulus money from states that

Amy Fagan

Interested in learning more about amazing "no excuses" schools that are changing the lives of disadvantaged students? David Brooks raves about these schools in his recent column and recommends some relevant reading material--including David Whitman's Sweating the Small Stuff, which Brooks praises as "a superb survey of these sorts of schools." Congrats to Mr. Whitman! We couldn't agree more (OK, yes, we published the book). Check it out. The other book Brooks recommends??? Whatever It Takes, by Paul Tough. He calls it a "gripping account" of Harlem Children's Zone (which is the subject of much of his column).

And the praise just keeps on coming. Joel Klein mentions Sweating the Small Stuff in a recent column that he wrote as well. Check it out here.

Laura Pohl

Students at Dayton View Academy walk silently through the school halls.

One thing that sets apart Fordham from other education think tanks is our sponsorship of charter schools in Ohio . This week I've had the opportunity to tour two of these schools in Dayton, Dayton View Academy and Dayton Academy , as well as two charters sponsored by other institutions. Talking with the students, teachers and administrators and seeing them in action has been a good reminder that beyond all the education policy talk in Washington, there are real people living, learning and trying to make a difference. Here are photographs of a few of the students I met.

(To learn more about Dayton and its education challenges, I recommend reading this interesting Dayton Daily News opinion piece by Terry Ryan, Fordham's vice president for Ohio programs and policy.)

Dayton Academy students Chloe Tate (left) and RaeAunna Curlett (right) demonstrate how to use EdPAD portable computers.

Lunchtime at Dayton Academy

Listening to the...

Last week's Fordham Institute and Catalyst Ohio report, Checked Out: Ohioans' Views on Education 2009, still has people talking in the Buckeye State.???? On Sunday, Fordham's own Terry Ryan discussed the survey findings on the Ohio News Network's statewide public affairs program, Capitol Square.???? Yesterday, the Columbus Dispatch editorial board questioned components of Governor Strickland's education reform plan in light of the survey: one should be surprised that Ohioans have relatively little faith in the state government to fix education. Asked which entities they would trust to decide how to spend tax money for schools, 47 percent said they would trust their local school districts most. Another 22 percent would trust individual schools most. Only 17 percent said the State Board of Education. The least faith was placed in the governor, at 3 percent, and lawmakers, 4 percent.

Many education reformers argue, and respondents to the Fordham survey seem to agree, that improvement is more likely if states set performance standards and give school districts and principals plenty of latitude in deciding how to achieve them.

How unfortunate, then, that Gov. Ted Strickland's proposed education plan is heavily prescriptive, setting detailed formulas that mandate precisely how


Collectively, we should be increasingly alarmed about the education portion of the ARRA. ????States have begun to file their applications for the first big batch (~$33 billion) of stabilization funds.

First, although the application requires the governor to sign assurances promising to make progress in four areas, remarkably, it requires neither a plan for accomplishing those goals nor details on how these billions of dollars will be spent. ????The states that have applied so far have obliged, including none of this relevant information in their packages.

Second, the Department sent a letter to states on April 1 saying that states don't have to demonstrate progress on the assurances to get the second batch (~$16 billion) of stabilization funds. ????They only have to have systems in place to collect data.

Third, governors lack the power to require districts to use these funds wisely. ????From the guidance released in April:

III-D-14.???? May a Governor or State education agency (SEA) limit how an LEA uses its Education Stabilization funds?

No.???? Because the amount of Education Stabilization funding that an LEA receives is determined strictly on the basis of formulae and the ARRA gives LEAs considerable


Got a really interesting note from an excellent program officer at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. ????He sent the Department's ideas for best using ARRA funds????to a number of the most reform-minded leaders in the districts the foundation's working with. ????Not a single one of them had seen the document.

This begs the question: How many other reform-minded district employees and reform-oriented nonprofits are unaware that the US Department of Education has provided specific ideas for using nearly $100 billion to advance reform?

Expert author David Whitman alerted me to an important video on the Duncan closures-starts issue (click here then scroll to "Part 2:????Arne Duncan on the McKinsey Study"). ????In it, Duncan talks about his hopes for turning around the nation's worst schools. ????It's not full-fledged closures, but it's close; certainly closer to closures than, say, "turnaround specialists."

The very positive test results out of NYC showing significant gains for the city's traditional public schools seem to validate many of the reforms put in place during the Klein-Bloomberg era (and bolster my optimism about what's possible in traditional city school systems). They also appear to be changing the debate on mayoral control.

I'm eager to see Diane Ravitch's analysis of these scores.

Included among the test scores is even more great news for the city's charters. Notice too that these super high-achieving schools are new starts, not turnarounds (see David Brooks recent column for more on this).

So why does NY still have a charter cap? ????And for that matter, why do 26 states and DC still have caps?...

As I've alluded to a number of times, I'm convinced that turnarounds are not a scalable strategy for fixing America's struggling urban school systems. There is simply too much data from the world of education and other industries showing that the success rate of turnaround initiatives aimed at persistently failing entities is staggeringly low.

The answer is not trying endlessly to fix failing schools; it's closing them down and starting new schools. This is how other industries improve over time.

This is a big subject in the book I'm currently writing, hence my current fixation and????irascibility????on this issue. But the reason I'm belaboring this point on Flypaper is because I worry the new administration may be heading in the wrong direction.

They put $3 billion in the ARRA for the School Improvement Fund (under Title I) and they are proposing this program get another $1.5 billion in the 2010 budget. Moreover they are encouraging states to use dollars from the ARRA stabilization fund for school turnarounds.

Then today, ED released a statement that read in part:

Duncan said that if the nation's educators could turn around 1,000 schools per year