Hollywood loves to glamorize the heroic inner-city teacher, and occasionally celebrates the heroic inner-city principal . But it can't be too long until it gives Big Screen treatment to the heroic inner-city charter school network leader. Jay Mathews surely hopes the KIPP guys will inspire such a movie (he successfully sold the rights to "Stand and Deliver ," and is no doubt trying to do the same for "Work Hard, Be Nice "). But put your hands on Douglas McGray's New Yorker profile of Green Dot 's Steve Barr , and tell me it doesn't read like an inspirational, action-packed script with a likeable maverick as the lead.

For wonks, the story of Barr's takeover of LA's Locke High School won't be new. But the colorful details (especially about Barr) are priceless. There's Ted Mitchell, quoting Barr (slightly incorrectly, it turns out) calling the LA teachers union president a "pig f&#ker." There's the story of him taking a group of Latino and black kids surfing, only to discover that half of them can't swim. And there's this:

[Barr] drives a decommissioned police car, a


Late last week, the Coalition for Student Achievement released Smart Options: Investing the Recovery Funds for Student Success. This document, developed following a convening of more than 30 K-12 national education leaders, including state and district superintendents, was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. The document provides states with five "big ideas" for investing one-time federal recovery funds that can lay "the groundwork for real student improvement for decades to come."

Using the Smart Options recommendations as benchmarks, the chart below compares the five recommendations from Smart Options to policies proposed in the pending Ohio budget bill, which was passed late last month by the state House of Representatives and incorporates billions in federal stimulus dollars:

< means Smart Options and Ohio's budget are closely aligned

> means Smart Options and Ohio's budget are partially aligned

= means Smart Options and Ohio's budget are far apart


Smart Options Recommendation

Ohio's Budget Bill


Join multistate consortia to develop common world-class

Disappointing news from the Obama administration today. While the President's budget will include funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, it will formalize the Department's recent decision to not allow any new students to join. The proposal would permit all current students to continue in their private schools until they graduate from high school and remove the congressional language requiring program reauthorization before any more money can be spent.

For supporters of this program, this is just about as unfortunate a decision as could have been expected. The only worse alternative--defunding the program immediately and forcing existing participants out of their schools--would've been cruel and political untenable.

Assuming Congress approves the President's proposal, the program won't die immediately. ????It will just wither on the vine.

Let's not forget, a Department evaluation just found that program participants are learning more.

Former NBA star Dave Bing is the new Mayor of Detroit. Bing, who billed himself as the reform candidate the Motor City needs, has been a strong support of charters for years. Maybe this bodes well for the future of bold education reform in the American city arguably most in need of it.

We just concluded our daylong conference??on "International Lessons about National Standards," centered around Bill Schmidt's excellent policy brief??of the same name. An informal show of hands at the end of the session showed a sizable majority of the 200 attendees believing that, within five years, there will be a new national test and lots of states will adopt it as their own. Put differently, they think the NGA/CCSSO-led effort to create a "Common Core" of state standards??will succeed.

Let's hope so. There are innumerable reasons that national standards and tests would be better for the country than the fifty state patchwork we have today (greater comparability of schools across state lines, the opportunity to aim much higher than most states do, the potential that it could create a national marketplace for instructional materials, professional development, and teacher preparation, and on and on).

And we learned today that the leaders of the common standards initiative are interested in getting to common tests too--and to use these standards and tests to drive instructional change at the classroom level. This is a big deal, and could even be (I hate this term) a game-changer.

But pitfalls remain,...

Amy Fagan

Our conference today--on national education standards and the lessons that might be learned from other countries--is spurring some discussion. Debra Viadero from Education Week sums up the intriguing story that MSU's Bill Schmidt told in the policy brief he co-authored (and presented). Essentially, he compared the reactions of Germany and the United States to news of their students' sagging test scores in the 1990s--Germany eventually adopted national standards; the US hasn't??????yet (though as we all heard today, renewed efforts are underway). Will the two nations' stories converge this time around? That's to be continued,??? Debra writes. Read even more about what was discussed at today's event. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development also blogged (and twittered ) about it!

Amy Fagan

This afternoon, Dane Linn , director of the education division for the National Governors Association and Gene Wilhoit , executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers updated everyone on the ongoing effort to develop common standards. They said 41 states showed up to a recent meeting they held. ???The initial response to this idea is very very positive,??? Wilhoit said. Linn said they're asking each state to commit both their governor and their K-12 commissioner to the process. Meanwhile, here are a few questions, answers and discussion points that popped up in the final panel of the day:

Do national standards mean loss of local control? Michael Casserly , executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools answered this one. In part, he pointed out that local schools currently have no control over standards, so moving it to the federal level wouldn't change that. National standards would provide a bit of consistency, clarity and direction, he said, but states would still control funding, monitoring, reporting, credentials and the like.

What is the role of philanthropy in all of this? This question was aptly posed to Stefanie Sanford of the Bill...

Amy Fagan

What would help Jim Shelton--at the Education Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement--do his job better? Clearer standards in this country. Shelton spoke this morning at the conference we're hosting, entitled: International Lessons About National Standards.

Clear, rigorous standards actually encourage more innovation in education, Shelton said, because ???by being clear about end goals, you free people,??? to try many different ways to get there. He said ???while we argued??? as a nation about whether fewer, clearer standards were needed, other countries moved ahead. You can read about other countries' experiences with education standards in the new policy brief released today. Bill Schmidt, Michigan State University professor and author of that brief, also spoke earlier. He said we cannot improve education standards in this country without some sort of national center to direct the process. That doesn't mean federal standards, he stressed. Focused, coherent, rigorous standards can and should be built from the bottom up, by states and others on the ground, he said, and they should be voluntary . But ???we need a national institutional center to pull this off,??? he said.

The day continues as experts from South Korea, Germany and Australia discuss the...

It started at 9 am this morning and Jim Shelton is currently giving his remarks. Watch it live via webcast here.*

*The webcast is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Stay tuned for more information. A video of the event will also be available later this week.

In the midst of the school-funding battle here in the Buckeye State, it is easy to lose sight of the other major education reforms on Governor Strickland's agenda, including revamping the state's academic standards and assessments. The governor says the revisions are necessary in order to incorporate the teaching of "21st century skills" in Ohio's classrooms. I don't agree, but I also don't think it matters much what Ohio's schools are expected to teach or students are expected to learn if the bar by which we judge student and school performance isn't raised.????

Ohio's low cut scores on our state reading and math tests were brought to light in 2007's The Proficiency Illusion, and an Education Trust report out last month highlighted the gap between proficiency levels on Ohio's state achievement tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Akron Beacon Journal columnist Laura Ofobike picked up on EdTrust's findings today:

Are we basking in an illusion of progress under the state assessments? Is the achievement bar set high enough that our students can match up outside Ohio? Draw your own conclusions. Here's what the state report showed, comparing proficiency rates on