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...

Suzannah Herrmann

After explosive growth in online learning options in Ohio and nationally, the state could soon be poised to take a huge step backward. Governor Strickland's proposed budget would cut funding substantially to Ohio's charter schools, including cybercharters. His proposal would burden existing cybercharters with all manner of punishing new requirements and limitations. They would include outlawing the for-profit firms that appear to be running the best of those schools; thus battle lines are being drawn about cyber-education policy in Ohio.

Whether????called e-learning, virtual schooling or cyberschooling, online learning offers huge potential. Lawmakers have caught on. At the same time the governor wants to all but abolish some of the state's most successful online-learning efforts, Ohio legislators just this week introduced House Bill 4 to create the first state-led online-learning initiative to be piloted in high schools. It would offer Advanced Placement courses via teleconferencing equipment to every Ohio high school, providing access to classes that students wouldn't otherwise have because those classes are too costly. It also would make experts in advanced science, math, foreign languages, history and other specialized subjects accessible to...

Laura Pohl

This week's Education Gadfly should have you riveted: Checker and Mike respond to President Obama's address to the nation (in which he talked tough about everything...except education) and panelists at an event for the release of our new report, The Accountability Illusion, agree that national standards are a must. You can read up on a failing charter school principal's quest to misrepresent thriving charter schools and learn about the fate of a high schooler who ignored demands to stop texting in class.

And don't forget about this week's Education Gadfly Show podcast. This week, Mike and Rick discuss increasing class size, increasing the federal role (and New York Times' na????vet????), and decreasing school years in Oregon. Then Amber gives us the low down on Tom Loveless's new Brown Center report on education and Rate that Reform explains the death of fun at school dances. Don't miss this week's Education Gadfly Show!...

Guest Blogger

(This is the first guest post to come from Andy Smarick, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education where he helped manage the Department's research, budget, and policy functions. From 2007 to 2008, Andy served at the White House in the Domestic Policy Council.)

At the recent Fordham event on school accountability, Fordham trustee Diane Ravitch made what I thought was the most provocative comment of the evening. While discussing interventions for struggling schools, Dr. Ravitch said that urban superintendents should be punished??????receive demerits??? I believe were her words???when they close a school. Dr. Ravitch would prefer for districts to apply serious interventions in an effort to turn these schools around.

I'm of the exact opposite mind. If I were a state chief, I'd try to find some way to reward urban superintendents who regularly close persistently failing schools and replace them with new schools possessing the building blocks of success. I'm opposed to relentless efforts to fix failing schools for three reasons.

  1. There's a good bit of research on
  2. ...

I hope you enjoyed my live-blogging of the Common Core event on 21st Century Skills on Tuesday, but for a more coherent overview see this lucid post from Core Knowledge's Robert Pondiscio. (Common Core, Core Knowledge, it's a conspiracy!) And follow his links to the presentations by Diane Ravitch, Don Hirsch, and Dan Willingham which unmask the "21st Century Skills" movement for what it is: a big fraud.

Hooray for Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, who has conditioned his (praiseworthy) support of D.C. voting rights in Congress on the extension of the city's federally-funded school voucher program.

This move will please no ideologues. Conservatives think the Constitution's framers meant for District of Columbia residents to be disenfranchised. And liberals think that any public support for private schools is anathema. And yes, there's some irony in conditioning voting rights on the continuation of a program that is opposed by D.C.'s??representative in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton.

But I quite suspect that this move pleases one key constituency: the 1,700 children receiving vouchers under the program, and their families. A ticket to a good school and full representation in Congress? Now that's change we can believe in.

Note: The Wall Street Journal editorial page has a great piece on the plight of the DC voucher program here.

And neither was the headline, but you can find??Checker's and my??National Review Online article about President Obama's education agenda here.

I've just finished reviewing the latest Brown report from Tom Loveless at Brookings for this week's Gadfly. And it's a good one. It's a three-parter and I suggest you read the entire trio, but I was most interested in his PISA (Program of International Student Assessment) study, which is the real headliner. That's because NGA and other national groups are looking to the test as the holy grail of international standards and assessment*. Loveless's study, in a nutshell, presents a stinging indictment of PISA's fascination with political ideology and student attitudes???neither of which belongs in a test of science (he doesn't go so far as to say that, but I am???.).

PISA, you see, asks lots of questions about self-efficacy in science, as opposed to science content itself. Added up, these questions give us measures of students' ???self-concept in science,??? ???enjoyment of science,??? ???interest in scientific topics,??? and ???future motivation to learn science,??? to name just a few. PISA finds a positive correlation between these things and student achievement, but Loveless finds otherwise--the more confident kids are in their science abilities, the lower that nation's scores.

But one question: Who cares either way? This isn't...

Nancy Pelosi's troops are on quite a tear. First they went after Reading First, a program that by most accounts is doing wonders helping disadvantaged children gain basic literacy skills. And now they are seeking to take away a lifeline to 1,700 impoverished Washington, DC students in the form of school vouchers. Dan Lips and Robert Enlow have the details in this National Review Online piece; this video plea from DC voucher recipients is worth watching (and crying about)??too.

As reported by The Hoff at Education Week's NCLB Act II blog, earlier this week the nation's governors unanimously agreed to work toward common (i.e., national) standards. Were it not for our imploding economy this surely would have been front-page news. Think about it: the governors are open to throwing out their own standards--the heart of their education accountability systems--in favor of frameworks that would have reach from coast to coast. This is a big deal!

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) told Hoff:

"We want states to improve their standards, and one way to look at that is through international benchmarking."

But he insisted that the process shouldn't "federalize education."

The setting of standards has "got to be done by the state and local governments," he said.

As I mentioned back in December when the National Governors Association, along with Achieve and the Council of Chief State School Officers, released a report on international benchmarking, this bottom-up, "let's all hold hands" strategy is the one most likely to succeed politically, and perhaps substantively. It's not going to lead to national standards overnight, but it gets us started on the path. Which is long overdue....