All good things must come to an end, including our illuminating, sometimes raucous, usually respectful debate about whether the Massachusetts Miracle proves teachers unions to be not such a barrier to school reform that some reformers claim. (If you missed it, see each episode, in order, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And don't forget to read the comments, especially from the latest installment.)

I started the debate by pontificating about something Diane Ravitch said, so I'll give her the last word. (Sorry Greg.)

But I can't help but get my two bits in first. What this whole discussion made clear to me is that we need to be very careful about labeling teachers unions (or any opponents or proponents of reform) as "strong" or "weak." There is a widespread impression that Massachusetts has a "strong" teachers union because it is a "strong union" state. Yet we've learned during this discussion that the union got rolled, time and again, in the implementation of the 1993 reforms. They used all of their regular tactics, and lost, because of an exceptional array of leaders willing to take...

President Obama?? has selected federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court. Education Week's School Law blog has a nice quick summary of her background. My first reaction is, "wow, another Catholic." She would make six, and she attended Catholic schools, too. The legislative and executive branches have found themselves utterly incapable of staunching the bleeding from Catholic school closures in the inner-city. Maybe she'll turn her judicial activism to solving this problem from the bench.

P.S. Bona fide school law expert Joshua Dunn, an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, co-author of Education Next's Legal Beat column, and co-editor of the forthcoming Fordham/Brookings Institution Press volume Schoolhouse to Courthouse, has this to say about the appointment:

Since she won't change the ideological balance of the Court, her most likely influence on controversial education decisions will be on how she influences Justice Kennedy. ??There is some speculation that Justice Kennedy has sided with the liberal bloc in many cases because Justice Breyer has carefully and amiably wooed him. ??Such pursuits on the Court do seem


And this is definitely one of them. NY Times Magazine reports that in many southern states, proms are still segregated. Yes, you read that correctly. Per "tradition," Friday night is the "white kids' prom" and Saturday night is the "black kids' prom." I have no words to adequately describe how off-the-wall this is so I will refrain from trying.??Read the story for yourself here.

Ohio's charter school sector is a bit like Night of the Living Dead, or so says Fordham's Terry Ryan in this Dayton Daily News op-ed.

Last school year, 326 charter schools operated in the Buckeye State. Fifty-three of them were rated "F" by the state and served less than 150 students apiece. For a myriad of reasons, ranging from poor academic performance to unsustainable financial models, most of these schools should be shuttered. Yet they continue to operate, limping along like the walking dead, hurting students, employees, and communities alike. What should be done about these "zombie" schools????? Says Ryan:

Closing a charter school is hard and painful work. Last year, the Fordham Foundation worked closely with the leadership of two Dayton charter schools to help close their doors after more than eight years of serving families and children. At both the Omega School of Excellence and East End Community School, responsible adults struggled with the difficult decision to close their doors because they cared deeply about these schools and the children in them.

But the schools ultimately were shuttered--Omega closed and East End merged with the


The NYT raises questions about the New York City Leadership Academy, the much-publicized principal training programs.

  • This has to be the biggest head-scratcher in the ongoing saga of the ARRA (hence this nudge from ED). I've been following the law's implementation religiously, and I can't make sense of this. ????It's free money, and the application is as simple as you could imagine. ????One staffer from an SEA's budget office could finish it in no time. So why aren't they applying?
  • Another reason I'm excited about the reforms taking place in Baltimore under schools CEO Alonso.
  • Per Alyson at edweek and contra my handwringing, ED has put together a growing????list of all of its political appointees. (I don't know much about most of these folks, so if you do and you see interesting patterns or commonalities, please share. For example, are most from Chicago? Did many work in the Clinton administration? Are several from the foundation world?)
  • Is "in order to cause state-level internecine warfare" included in the preamble of the ARRA?
  • Mike's second thought is confirmed. ARRA funds aren't as enticing????as Secretary Duncan had hoped.
  • Eduwonk on top of the near-craziness on charter authorizers in NY.
  • Nearly 3/4 of aspiring...
  • The Education Gadfly

    The Massachusetts Miracle debate is back for its sixth round! Sol Stern returns to comment on other debaters' points. If you've missed part or all of this back-and-forth about teachers unions and education reform, you can catch up on it. Here's Sol:

    Despite all of Jay Greene's nit-picking, the fact remains that when Diane Ravitch presented her Finland and Massachusetts counterfactuals to rebut a??widely held theory that teacher unions always depress student achievement, that??was (contra to Jay's assertion)??not the equivalent of presenting a full blown alternative theory of her own. I don't see Diane giving speeches, writing op eds, running to editorial boards, to press??a theory??that unions never do anything foolish or counterproductive. On the other hand I do see many in the school reform movement doing exactly that??to press??their claim that wherever we have public schools, unions are out there undermining reform and depressing student achievement. And they have been immensely successful, as any reading of the New York Post and other media outlets will attest. All??Diane was saying to the school reformers is give us??better proof?? (other than Caroline Hoxby's lone study) to support such an extreme claim and show us specifically how unions


    Robert Costrell, currently the "endowed chair of education accountability" in the University of Arkansas's Department of Education Reform (Jay Greene's shop), and formerly an advisor to three Republican Massachusetts governors, weighs in on our ongoing debate about the meaning of the Bay State's achievement gains in the face of a "strong union":

    Let me offer some comments as a State House participant in the Massachusetts ed reform battles in 1999-2006. I served Governors Cellucci, Swift, and Romney and worked closely with our Democratic counterparts. I have written about this experience in the past, and Mike Petrilli's initial post was absolutely correct: the teacher unions were the largest obstacle to education reform in Massachusetts. In this post, let me add a bit more flesh to Mike's point, and then try to advance the discussion with the further lessons drawn by Massachusetts' ed reformers regarding the unfinished business in Massachusetts.

    It is indisputable that the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) was the largest obstacle to implementing key elements of the reforms, most notably the MCAS exit exams, which were the main driver of Massachusetts' success. Diane seems to minimize "the current effort to show that teachers' unions


    A few weeks ago I experienced an inexplicable burst of optimism about the education stimulus. I had thought that $100 billion in??federal funds--and especially the $5 billion "race to the top" kitty--might encourage some states to make politically-difficult but reform-friendly changes to policy. Maine was my prime example, as it looked poised to finally pass a charter school law in order to qualify for the big bucks from Uncle Sam.

    Well, let the cynicism return. Steve Bowen of the Maine Heritage Policy Center alerted me to this article from today's Morning Sentinel, aptly??entitled "Committee rejects charter schools."

    AUGUSTA -- Members of a legislative panel narrowly rejected a bill Wednesday that would allow charter schools in Maine, setting the stage for a contentious debate on the Senate floor.

    In an 8-5 vote, the Legislature's Education Committee ceded to concerns that allowing charter schools would direct funds away from local school districts already reeling from reduced state subsidies.

    The lawmakers in favor of allowing the independently-run public schools said the legislation's passage was overdue in Maine,


    We've been lamenting the poor (literally) state of teachers' pension funds but what about the union-run health insurance plans? Alas here's a story that had me beat. The Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) was investigating how to transfer the health portion of its insurance trust to an outside provider when the external auditor discovered some (ahem) troubling news: the fund has a projected $67 million deficit. The fund pays for long-term disability for teachers in 90 districts and health insurance in 30 districts (it's not clear whether those two overlap, however).

    The whole situation is being investigated by the FBI and the IN Secretary of State's office. It seems the managers of the fund's portfolio made some very risky investments of their participants' funds--and when the market went south, the fund went south too. Meanwhile, the brokers handling the fund were getting paid big bucks and ISTA has been running around telling its participating districts not to fear and, more importantly, not to pull out. Guess who pays the bill if the fund goes bankrupt? Now the NEA has taken over the Indiana union due to "financial distress," since ISTA had no insurance on its insurance (it self-insured...