Flypaper

Amy Fagan

Two fifth-grade students work on math in the common area (filled with desks for testing) at KIPP Journey Academy , a charter school sponsored by Fordham in Columbus.

Last week, Laura Pohl (Fordham's new media director) and I had the privilege of visiting our Ohio colleagues. A particularly memorable part of the trip was peering in on two charter schools in Columbus that Fordham sponsors (authorizes). Both schools are in their first year and both serve just one grade at the moment, but will expand. Here's a little more about them.

At KIPP Journey Academy, walls??are covered with art, inspirational sayings and??photos of the students (there's??a "glow-out" wall, where students and teachers can post compliments of one another). The school of 62 fifth graders, most of whom are African-American students from??low-income families, emphasizes responsibility, respecting yourself/others, setting and attaining high??goals and??giving back to the community. They have longer schooldays, an incentive program for good work and a policy that allows students to contact teachers by phone until 9:30pm, we were told. Like other KIPP schools, students regularly do school chants and we were lucky enough to hear Iyana Hill and Melik Scott??give...

Sadly, new data from NCES shows the loss of faith-based urban schools continues.

Catholic schools remain the hardest hit, losing nearly 300 city schools between 2004 and 2008.????Nearly 100 city-based Lutheran schools were also lost.????A number of other denominations saw similar declines.????Small upticks in the number of Islamic schools and Jewish day schools partially offset the overall loses.

More on these sad trends here, here, and here.

Given the paucity of great schools in America's cities, we shouldn't allow these schools to disappear indiscriminately.????Why not figure out which ones are excelling academically with disadvantaged kids (thereby truly serving the public good), and see what can be done to preserve them?

Here's my humble recommendation to the Department: in the applications and guidance for the "Race to the Top" fund and the "What Works" fund make clear that proposals for tackling this challenge are welcome.????There are lots of ways this funding could help these schools beyond student scholarships such as training the next generation of teachers and principals or strategic planning for struggling networks of schools.

Maybe the best proposal in this area would come from a set of faith-based...

Sara Mead's thoughtful blog post responding to my Washington Post op ed is several hundred words longer than my original piece.??Mead is smart and perceptive, however, in addition to wordy. Once she actually gets her hands on??the book (Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut) on which my op ed was based--due back from the printer in a few days and meanwhile available in pdf form--she will, I think, find that I actually do heed the "factual" points she makes. Perhaps the only fundamental on which we disagree (and it's indeed fundamental) is whether "universal" pre-K is the right goal for American public policy. But the more interesting area of semi-disagreement concerns the markers and criteria of "quality" in the early-childhood field. Mead acknowledges that the field relies overmuch on input measures and should pay greater heed to learning outcomes. She's got that right; indeed, that's one of the book's major thrusts. But then she more-or-less exonerates the field for this oversight with the lame excuse that preschool programs are so egregiously underfunded that they must worry about inputs before they can afford to worry about results. That's mostly wrong. Some programs are doubtless underfunded but in the NCLB era...

A few weeks ago I was at a conference when Diane Ravitch made the point that if teachers unions are such obstacles to reform, how can we explain Massachusetts, a "strong union" state that boasts highest-in-the-country NAEP scores and dramatic gains for poor and minority kids over the past decade? It was a provocative, compelling comment, and a bit of a conversation-stopper. (In some ways the inverse of this conversation-stopper, about the South.)

I've been mulling about it ever since, wondering if she's right that we reformers have exaggerated the unions' negative role. To help me think through this question, I reached out to some friends, including Bryan Hassel, Jay Greene, Andy Rotherham, Greg Forster, Marty West, and Jamie Gass, who each provided thoughtful responses. And I've concluded that no, Diane isn't right. My sense of equilibrium is returning. Here's why.

First, when it comes to state policy, the Massachusetts teachers unions have been remarkably weak over the past fifteen years. They accepted the 1993 reform bill, as it came attached to hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending. But from all accounts it appears that they...

That's what President Obama called for yesterday, in relation to the emotionally heated abortion debate. But it's a good principle for the education "war of ideas" too. Both opponents and proponents of "school reform" tend to vilify the other side with caricatures. Union bosses are power-hungry Machiavellians who want to keep poor children trapped in failing schools. Reformers are greedy capitalists determined to outsource our public education system to the highest bidder.

Actually, I think both sides care about improving children's lives, want an education system that works for all kids, and think they are on the side of the angels.

So let's keeping fighting the good fight, but by engaging over ideas, not by demonizing our opponents.

There was a time during my government days when we were working on the budget and trying to navigate a sticky situation regarding DC's education funding and the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Representing DC in the talks was Dan Tangherlini, DC's city administrator. He turned out to be extremely smart and cagey, the????savviest????negotiator I had ever come across. In the end, we didn't get what we wanted most, and he did. It was a real lesson for me.

People matter.

Had anyone else been negotiating for DC, I am certain that the results would have been completely different. That he was at the table made all the difference.

I was reminded of those events by this Post article. Tangherlini has been tapped by the Obama administration to be an Assistant Secretary in the????Treasury????Department. I wish him well; I'm sure he'll be an asset.

But it's another reminder of the staffing situation at the Department of Education. They are administering the largest-ever influx of federal education funds, crafting an NCLB ESEA reauthorization, and so much more, and they still aren't fully staffed.

Moreover, they haven't brought in as many proven reformers as some of us had...

A week ago (i.e., in a timely fashion), Andy commented on President Obama's budget request for education. I'm still catching up on the old Reform-o-Meter front, so let's get to work.

As Andy reported, there's plenty of good news for education reformers (key details here). The Teacher Incentive Fund, which supports pay-for-performance programs, would get funded to the tune of $500 million, up from $100 million now. The charter schools program got a more modest (but still important) increase of $50 million. And Teach For America will see $15 million if Obama has his way.

But let's not get too excited. In typical Obama style, there's a lot of love to go around. The Department's more traditional programs get plenty of funding too (voc-ed gets over a billion, for instance), so this is hardly a case of Obama's team showing preference for reform over business-as-usual. In fact, its temerity in cutting wasteful programs should be alarming to taxpayers. Whereas in its final year in office, the Bushies wanted to kill 47 Department of Education programs costing $3.3 billion, Team Obama has only found 12 programs worth sacrificing, to the...

Checker argues in this morning's Washington Post that universal preschool as currently conceived should be reexamined.

For all its surface appeal, universal preschool is an unwise use of tax dollars. In a time of ballooning deficits, expansion of preschool programs would use large sums on behalf of families that don't need this subsidy while not providing nearly enough help to the smaller number of children who need it most. It fails to overhaul expensive but woefully ineffectual efforts such as Head Start. And it dumps 5-year-olds, ready or not, into public-school classrooms that today are unable even to make and sustain their own achievement gains, much less to capitalize on any advances these youngsters bring from preschool. (Part of the energy behind universal pre-K is school systems--and teachers unions--maneuvering to expand their own mandates, revenue and membership rolls.)

In fact, the way in which we think about preschool is grounded in four incorrect assumptions, he explains. Instead of jumping on the preschool bandwagon, we should be asking ourselves four things: if everybody really needs it, if preschool fulfills educational goals, if the existing programs are really doing a good job, and, especially, if Head Start, the long...

I've already expressed concern about how much reform we're likely to get out of the ARRA--possibly not much at all because of problems with the law. ????Stay tuned for more on this.

But two quick things as you head into the weekend. ????According to the latest ED docs, about $13 billion from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund has already been handed out. ED's due to release a new report, so this figure will be going up.

Second, in a????recently released but????little-noticed GAO report on implementation of the stimulus plan there's this disheartening finding also pointing to the struggle to get reform out of the ARRA. ????In one of the states studied, leaders decided to use SFSF funds to protect jobs and programs instead of advancing reforms because of the "funding cliff":

U.S. Department of Education guidance allows school districts to use stabilization funds for education reforms, such as prolonging school days and school years, where possible. However, officials said that Illinois districts will focus these funds on filling budget gaps rather than implementing projects that will require long-term resource commitments.

...

Secretary Duncan visits Detroit, calls it Ground Zero for education reform, and pushes for mayoral control and major change. ????Kudos to Mr. Duncan. ????(Previous posts????here????and here.)

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