I finally watched??Charlie Wilson's War last night (we have a toddler at home; we're not in the movie-theater stage of our life!). Toward the end, the Philip Seymour Hoffman spook character tells Tom Hanks's Charlie Wilson, "Charlie, you're a hard man not to like." And I have to say, that's how I feel about Arne Duncan too. There he is, day after day, saying the right things, earnestly trying to do good, enthusiastic about the "transformative" possibilities of the federal stimulus package.

Granted,??I'm actually quite skeptical that any of this is going to make our schools better, but that's no reason to root against Duncan. And he surely deserves praise for a couple of provocative statements he made this week.

First, in??a press call that was like manna from heaven for charter school advocates, he said flatly that "States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to the Top Fund," referring to his $5 billion carrot-qua-kitty. (That??wasn't enough to put a Maine charter school bill...

Amy Fagan

Just in case you weren't aware ??? the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation actually acts as authorizer for six charter schools in Ohio! New Media Manager Laura Pohl and I took a trip out to Ohio last month to meet some of the kids and staff and see the schools. We had a terrific time! Below you'll find photos and a video from our trip, and here's a story written by our Ohio team about one of the schools ??? Columbus Collegiate Academy. Enjoy!

Dayton View Academy students in P.E. class wave to a visitor.

Working on reading skills at Dayton View Academy.

An inspirational wall at KIPP Journey Academy in Columbus.

Math class at Columbus Collegiate Academy.

Columbus Collegiate Academy

Dayton Academy

Dayton Academy


Today's Ohio Gadfly is a must-read. In Capital Matters, Checker, Terry, and I offer Fordham's recommendations for the state's pending biennial budget. Terry ponders, amidst Democrats and education interest groups clamoring for more money, if we haven't in fact seen the "golden age" of school funding in the Buckeye State.???? Mike highlights the ups and downs endured by Columbus Collegiate Academy in the start-up charter school's first year of operation, Matt and Rachel recommend some good reads, and more!

Duncan on measuring teacher performance and the need to lift charter caps (but ME balks).

Ed Week's Diplomas Count is out.

Apparently, the ARRA is a boon for school cafeteria equipment.

Looks like New Haven is getting serious about reform...a decade after Amistad.

Make sure to read????Mike's take on WI....

Bees really dislike having their hive disturbed and that's obviously true of universal-pre-school advocates, too. The Pew-backed advocacy squad has picked Steve Barnett of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) as their designated hit-man to go after me and my new book. At a Fordham-hosted event last week, he didn't actually hit me (or even bare his teeth) but he made clear that he and his team don't like the book one bit, and now he has posted an amplified version of his grievances on the NIEER website [PDF]. I especially love his accusing me of joining "the radical left" because I urge a targeted (means-tested) rather than universal approach to pre-schooling. This is no place to respond to his Wilsonian fourteen points--the book itself deals in one way or another with nearly all of them--but??let me make three observations:

  1. Barnett apparently??can't make up his mind whether universal means everybody or not. At one point, he faults me for making cost estimates based on ALL four year olds, implying that participation would be far smaller; at another point he says that a decent program will in fact
  2. ...

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction just released the state's preliminary school ratings under the No Child Left Behind act, and a mere 79 schools were found to be "needing improvement." That's about three percent of all public schools in Wisconsin--practically a rounding error! Wisconsin has figured it out. It has virtually no failing schools!

Or wait, maybe the state has just made it almost impossible for schools to be snagged by NCLB's net. As we wrote in The Accountability Illusion:

In a few of the 28 states we studied, such as Wisconsin and Arizona, almost all of the elementary schools in our sample made AYP; in other states, such as Massachusetts and Nevada, almost none did. To put it colloquially, most of the schools in our sample would be considered failures in some states but just fine, even deserving of praise, in others. These are the same exact schools, mind you. Same students. Same teachers. Same achievement. What's different--sometimes drastically different--are the arcane rules that vary from state to state.

Or as we wrote in...

As part of my book research, I've been looking back on the thinking that led to charter schooling.???? An educator named Ray Budde is often credited with originating some of the basic ideas as well as coming up with the name ???????charter schools.???????

This name and the concepts underlying it gained fame in 1988 when AFT president Albert Shanker made a National Press Club speech and wrote a column on the subject.

Two things you might want to check out.???? First, this 1988 report from Minnesota's Citizen League, which organized the various ideas swirling around at the time and turned them into a cogent set of recommendations, which ultimately led to the nation's first charter school law in 1991.

Second, this case study on the development and early years of Minnesota's charter school sector (commissioned by Eduwonk in his PPI days and written by Jon Schroeder).


As you may recall, last week brought news that??math scores were up across the great state of New York.??I responded warily, expressing concern that this development probably was the result of teachers and students getting used to the tests, not that "the kiddos are learning more math."

Joel Klein's folks weren't happy with this take, and??Andy didn't like it either:

NYC just reported significant gains on the measures they're held accountable for: state reading and math scores. Maybe I'm naive, but that seems like more reason for encouragement than cynicism.

I wish Andy were right (I really do!) but check out this??New York Daily News article from yesterday. The headline says it all: "Math exam scores have risen--but it's because tests have gotten easier." Give this a read:

It's the state exam version of grade inflation. Soaring scores on the state math test don't necessarily add up to better schools or smarter kids. That's because it has gotten easier to teach to the test as the questions have gotten easier to predict, a Daily News analysis revealed. And, the


Many people know that then-AFT head Albert Shanker gave a speech at the National Press Club in 1988 floating the idea of what eventually became known as charter schooling. But what was the response of the Reagan administration to this new idea? The following quote comes from the New York Times (April 1, 1988):

"Responding to Mr. Shanker's remarks, William Kristol, chief of staff and counselor to Education Secretary William J Bennett, said the department "didn't have problems" with the proposal, but added, "We think there is lots of evidence that traditional methods are working."

How times change. Bill Kristol as chief of staff to the ED secretary, a national union pushing charter schools, and a Republican administration preferring traditional reforms over school choice.

The Education Gadfly

(Video may take a minute to load.)