Flypaper

I just had a chance to tackle Steven Wilson's ???????Success at Scale in Charter Schooling,??????? an AEI Working Paper that generated a good bit of buzz late last year. ????Wilson found that the vast majority of teachers in the best urban charters are graduates of the nation's most elite colleges. ????He concludes that if we want to scale up these great charters we have two options: Either recruit a much higher percentage of graduates of these colleges into the charter world or make the job of teaching in a ???????no excuses??????? charter easier.

Personally, I found this conclusion extraordinarily frustrating, bordering on elitist. I don't know Mr. Wilson personally, but he cares about low-income students and has a very good reputation and an impressive and laudable background, so I don't want to be too critical. But I have to point out that there is another option: ????Realize that there are very talented people who didn't graduate from the nation's elite universities!

First, America's elite colleges do not accurately reflect America. ????Students from privileged backgrounds are drastically overrepresented at these schools. As this invaluable paper found, fully 74 percent of students at the nation's most selective colleges...

I can't even begin to explain the confusion, disappointment, and exasperation I feel about Achieve right now, the organization that's purportedly??all about pushing states to raise standards. First there was the announcement last week that the National Education Association was joining the "common state standards" movement led by Achieve, the??National Governors Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It's fine that the NEA wants to be involved,??but in its release, the organization depicted the initiative as working toward "21st Century Skills."??Was this just spin, or is this effort really about pushing skills over content? There are worrying signs that it's the latter.

Then there's today's announcement that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is joining Achieve's board. This is the same Governor Patrick who has declared war on the Bay State's academic standards and rigorous accountability system. (See this great Education Next article for background.) And sure enough, there he is, in Achieve's release, talking about the 21st Century:

In Massachusetts, our students have achieved at the highest levels, but we still have a persistent achievement gap. We must continue to reform our education system so that every student

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Word came late last week that Chicago lawyer Charlie Rose (no, not that Charlie Rose) is being nominated to be the U.S. Department of Education's General Counsel. Here's the meat of his bio as released by the White House:

Charlie Rose is a founding partner and corporate secretary of Franczek, Radelet & Rose in Chicago where he specializes in representing school districts, municipalities and other public organizations in labor relations, collective bargaining and education law. He has served as the lead negotiator on collective bargaining agreements for many organizations including Chicago Public Schools, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and the Illinois State Board of Education. Rose is a member of the National Council of School Attorneys and was elected a Fellow of the College of Labor & Employment Lawyers in 2008. He is a founding member of the Board of Directors of Advance Illinois and also serves on the Chicago Advisory Board of Facing History and Ourselves. Additionally, he was one of the first members of the Advisory Board of the National College of Education at National-Louis University.

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If President Obama was miffed when his daughters' school closed because of "what, a little bit of ice" earlier this winter, I wonder how he feels about Sidwell being shut down for Washington's six inches of snow today. (Maybe a little better--it really IS coming down around here. I just walked by the White House and took in the view. I hope the Obamas are enjoying it; it's gorgeous. But I digress.)

It's one thing for the Obama girls to miss a few days of school because of inclement weather, but some of their classmates are going to miss school every single day, at least if David Obey and other House Democrats have their way. This morning the Washington Post editorial page relays the story of Deborah Parker, whose two children also attend Sidwell Friends thanks to a voucher from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

"The mere thought of returning to public school frightens me," Ms. Parker told us as she related the opportunities -- such as a trip to China for her son -- made possible by the program. Tell

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Laura Pohl

Girl Scouts badges are so 20th century. Moms as troop leaders for teenagers? Also pass????. But educating young women and providing the public with yummy cookies? Well, those Do-Si-Dos and Samoas will never go out of fashion. So says the 97-year-old Girl Scouts of the USA as it freshens its image to counter an 8% slip in membership over the past 10 years. "We took a step back and asked, 'What do girls need from us right now?' " said Eileen Doyle, the Girl Scouts' senior vice president of program development. "There is consistency in our goals throughout our history, but we can maintain that while being fun, edgy and challenging for modern-day girls." Read the full Washington Post article here.

Photograph from Girl Scouts website

If the state of Ohio were a charter school, it could see its public funding frozen and lose its authority to open new offices and agencies. According to the Columbus Dispatch:

State Auditor Mary Taylor says she can't conduct the annual State of Ohio audit for the 2008 fiscal year because Gov. Ted Strickland's administration has failed to provide the necessary financial records.

The delay raises questions about Ohio's financial condition, Taylor said. Had the situation involved an entity smaller than state government, Taylor said she would have declared the state books unauditable.

???????Unauditable??????? is a big deal here in the Buckeye State, especially for charter schools. Provisions in Governor Ted Strickland's first biennial budget, enacted in 2007, raised the stakes for unauditable charters so that the state can immediately cut off their funding and a school's authorizer loses the ability to open additional schools until the school in question's books are in order. Strickland's pending budget proposal would seek to make that law permanent. Charter supporters haven't fought the provision except to point out that unauditable school districts don't face similar sanctions and that the law still doesn't solve the financial woes of struggling charters....

I think possibly the biggest mistake we've made in K-12 urban education is elevating the importance of a school's sector (traditional public, charter public, or private) above its academic quality. That is, rather than distinguishing schools based on how well they serve disadvantaged kids, our politics and policies distinguish them based on who operates them. Think of all of the ???????us vs. them??????? arguments you've heard over the years. Think of all of the urban superintendents who measure their success by how much money, power, or market share their sector has.

I've quietly had a dream of becoming an urban superintendent and beginning my tenure by saying, ???????From this point on, we will be driven by a single principle: Getting as many students into great schools as possible. I don't care if it is a neighborhood public school, a charter school, a Catholic school, a Lutheran school, or any other type of school. My position is that we love great schools no matter who runs them. Let me be clear. I am not in charge of protecting a system; I'm in charge of making sure all kids are well educated.???????

Well, I've been beaten to the punch, and...

By my calculations, it's been more than three weeks since the Obama Administration announced a new appointment for the Department of Education. Secretary of Arne Duncan is in place, of course, and people have been nominated for three Assistant Secretary positions: Peter Cunningham for communications; Carmel Martin for policy; and Russlynn Ali for civil rights. But that's it. We still don't know who the Deputy Secretary or Undersecretary or Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education will be. Tick, tick, tick.

So in the meanwhile, let's turn our attention across town to the Obama White House. As any veteran of the Bush Administration can tell you, the people staffing the President can wield enormous power. So White House personnel are key, a 6 out of 10 in terms of importance.

Here the staff is on board, and is rock solid. Two key individuals are worth mentioning: Robert Gordon, who has the Orwellian title of Associate Director for Education, Income Maintenance, and Labor at the Office of Management and Budget; and Roberto Rodriguez, the education policy staff member on the Domestic Policy Council. By all accounts,...

As reported by Steve Sawchuk at Education Week's Teacher Beat blog, Philadelphia superintendent Arlene Ackerman has moved to turn some of her lowest-performing schools into charters. And for one primary reason: to get out from under the onerous teachers union contract, which keeps her from starting fresh with a new staff in these buildings.

The president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Jerry Jordan, called the plan "irresponsible" in a news release. The district, he said, should invest in smaller class sizes, providing resources and hiring certified teachers. Its district-run reconstituted schools with these features showed improvement, he argued.

But according to my colleague Dakarai Aarons, who spoke to Ackerman this week, she thinks that progress hasn't been enough.

"There were contractual constraints that prevented them from putting teachers where they were needed," she told Dakarai. "Give me the right as superintendent the right to transfer teachers. Give me some release from the contractual constraints. In an in-district charter school, we can start all over again. The students have to stay. Everybody else has a choice."

As Eric wrote last week, there's a lot that other would-be reformers could learn from Ackerman. Anyone up for...

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