The Education Gadfly

The one part of our "open letter" to the incoming Administration and Congress that seems to be surprising folks the most is our call to eliminate No Child Left Behind's public school choice and supplemental educational services (tutoring) provisions. Yes, this proposal is counter-intuitive. We at Fordham??are strong supporters of school choice (Jay Greene, it's true! ), and I personally worked on these initiatives while at the Department of Education. But as I wrote a few years ago , these programs are fundamentally flawed and are incapable of being improved. That's because they rely on school districts to do things they don't want to do, and to do them well. Not likely.

Here's how we put it in our letter:

Though we staunchly support choices for parents and believe in bold action at the state and local level in addressing school failure, this is one area where Uncle Sam should keep out. He should leave it to the states to design their own interventions. If he cannot restrain himself from staying involved, he could provide incentives (i.e., extra money) for states or jurisdictions that tackle these reforms aggressively.

That's a recurring theme for us...

Surely you already know that Bethany Little was the uber-insider that first put big odds on Arne Duncan getting the spot as U.S. Secretary of Education. But we also asked you, our readers, to tell us who you thought would be the pick, and two of you got it right: Steve Glazerman, a senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research (who surely ran a randomized field trial in order to come up with his prediction); and Gregory McGinity, The Broad Foundation's senior director of policy (himself a onetime Washington insider before returning to California).

For their perspicacity, Glazerman and McGinity will get a special gift from Santa this year: signed copies of Checker Finn's latest book, Troublemaker (which makes a great stocking stuffer for any dedicated education wonk).

I am particularly pleased for McGinity (and not because Broad helps to support Fordham's work), but because, let's face it, his Ed in '08 campaign had more than a little trouble this year. So here's a toast to Gregory for ending the year on a high note!

Picture from Christmas Wallpapers...

Now that there's a Secretary-Designate for the Department of Education, we at Fordham are ready with some advice for him. Today we are releasing an "open letter" to the Obama Administration and the incoming Congress about federal policymaking in the years to come. It's our first official statement on No Child Left Behind (and a few other federal efforts) in several years, and it introduces a new "camp" to the debate: Reform Realists . We think that Arne Duncan just might be a "reform realist" himself. (Of course, everyone thinks Arne Duncan is one of their own , so why should we be any different?)

In the letter, we review the current education policy landscape and its main players, and offer our view of the ideal K-12 federal role. We also address the ten big policy battles that are looming on the horizon. In summary, we think that the various education associations, interest groups, experts and think tanks can be broken down into three major groups with distinct agendas:

  • The System Defenders . This camp believes that the public education system is fundamentally sound
  • ...

That's one of the great points in this strong U.S. News and World Report piece by Eduwonk Andy Rotherham.

Critical thinking and problem solving, for example, have been a component of human progress throughout history, from early tools and agricultural advancements to gunpowder, vaccinations, or exploration. And while "global awareness" has historically been as much a martial talent as an economic one, interconnectedness is not new nor is information literacy among elites. Likewise, the idea that there is a hierarchy of knowledge from facts to complex analysis is not a new one. Plato, for example, wrote about four distinct levels of intellect. Perhaps these were considered "3rd-century B.C. skills"?

Rotherham goes on to defend Core Knowledge-style content from the onslaught of the 21st Century Skills juggernaut. (This is what it looks like in one state.) Amen to that.

Sad news: the 'Fly is flying home for the holidays--and will remain out of your inboxes for two whole weeks! It's tough, we know, but that's why we made this week's edition such a humdinger. First up, Mike and Checker introduce Fordham's Open Letter to the President-Elect, Secretary-Designate, and Members of the 111th Congress. This op-ed is chock full of great ideas for the incoming administration. But if you want the whole kahuna, you should read the Open Letter itself! Then, you'll learn of the WaPo's despicable treatment of Tom Nida, Malcolm Gladwell's quarterback problem, and a very silly British teacher who tried to quiet down her 1st grade class by telling them Santa didn't exist (brilliant!).

Next up, we're pleased to welcome Rick Hess, the one and only, back to the podcast. Unfortunately, not much has changed since he left to go do "research" in Hawaii; he still doesn't read the news, doesn't watch TV, and doesn't listen to the radio. But, dear reader, don't let that deter you. You should stay informed... by listening to the podcast, of course, which gives you the 411 on education news...

In light of this morning's release of Fordham's open letter, this article from Tuesday's NY Times seemed all the more appropriate. It's about early childhood education, which President-elect Obama brought up many times during the campaign (more times, say, than NCLB), and which was a highlight of his Duncan announcement speech in Chicago. In fact, during that speech (during which, of course, NCLB was, again, not mentioned), Obama repledged $10 billion to early childhood programs. This part was particularly telling:??

And the $10 billion Mr. Obama has pledged for early childhood education would amount to the largest new federal initiative for young children since Head Start began in 1965. Now, Head Start is a $7 billion federal program serving about 900,000 preschoolers.

???People are absolutely ecstatic,??? said Cornelia Grumman, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocacy group. ???Some people seem to think the Great Society is upon us again.?????

Let's just hope this isn't the first leak of Obama's education platform. As the Notorious B.I.G. wisely once said, (when it comes to education policies and the federal government) "It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see."...

The Education Gadfly

What's the future for education reform now that Arne Duncan's been named education secretary? You can listen to Mike opining on this topic during last night's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (which also featured Andy Rotherham from Ed Sector) or listen to Checker and Michele Norris talking about the same issue on NPR's All Things Considered.

A colleague writes in to say:

The Duncan appointment is good news, however, I'm still hearing that LDH may get Institute for Education Sciences Commissioner.?? That is almost at the level of a classical tragedy--the??Roman sack of Carthage, the burning of the library at Alexandria.

She would destroy everything Russ Whitehurst built.?? It's like having a creationist head the National Science Foundation.

This is non-partisan position. ??We just want a well-respected researcher heading IES who will push rigorous, scientifically-based research on what works.??????

Every serious education researcher to whom I've spoken is aghast at the idea of her taking over the agency.??

That's the headline of a thoughtful letter in today's Washington Post, coming to the defense of Tom Nida, who's under fire from some who question whether his day job at United Bank conflicts with his role as chair of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. I came to his defense here, but today's letter-writer puts it best:

No one works harder than Thomas A. Nida to improve the educational outcomes of D.C. students. He is a tireless advocate for change in what is acknowledged to be a broken public school system. As thanks for his selfless service, The Post found it appropriate to pillory him on the front page... The implied message is that if you do business in the District, don't even think about volunteering in public affairs. Lord knows, if the District were to actually benefit from some of your volunteer work, your business might benefit as well, and that would constitute a conflict of interest! By this logic, only retirees, government employees and journalists would be qualified to serve on public boards.

This article has done enormous damage to the effort to engage volunteers from the business