Amy Fagan

Arne Duncan spoke to a packed room last night at the Education Writers Association conference, and got some chuckles by promising not to use his three favorite words during the speech: extraordinary, dramatic and incent.

He spoke a lot about truth and transparency in education and said he feels an "urgency" to improve the system - using both carrots and, when needed, sticks. Some interesting tidbits:

  • He gave journalists props for pushing the country to talk about uncomfortable topics like performance gaps and teacher quality. Our friend Elizabeth Green from Gotham Schools asked him to expound on the teacher quality portion of that. He said teaching is a very private profession and there's a need to "de-privatize" it; open it up so that teachers freely discuss their strengths and weaknesses and learn from those who are more successful.
  • He said the name No Child Left Behind is "toxic" and we should change it. He talked about aspects of the NCLB law that he likes (the focus on disaggregating data), and those he definitely does not (it's overly prescriptive; too "loose" on the goals and too "tight" on how you get there).
  • He complained about state test
  • ...
Laura Pohl

Our Advanced Placement report has garnered quite a bit of national attention in the past two days as it addresses the question of whether the program's expansion is affecting its quality. This column by the Washignton Post's Jay Mathews is the latest news report to feature the study, which the Farkas Duffett Research Group conducted on behalf of Fordham. Mathews, who admits he is particularly obsessed with reporting about the AP program, writes:

This week the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute has released a random survey by the Farkas Duffett Research Group of 1,024 AP teachers which provides the most hopeful news I have seen in a long time on the future of the program, and its accessibility to the middle-of-the-pack high school students I think need it most. Fordham has become a national leader in assessing AP and the similar International Baccalaureate program. It broke new ground two years ago with a study confirming the high standards of rigor and content in both AP and IB exams, based on analysis by professionals in the subjects being tested. The latest study, ???????Growing Pains in the Advanced Placement Program: Do Tough Trade-Offs Lie Ahead????????, takes us into


Back in 2006, I ran for the state legislature in Maryland.???? It's hard to explain how much I learned about issues, my district, people's hopes and concerns, and so much more.???? There really is no substitute for knocking on 10,000 doors and speaking at crowded bull roasts, humid fish fries, and testy candidate forums.???? I'm a much better person for having done it, but????????have no doubt????????it was grueling work???????and losing is no fun.???? More than ever before, I have genuine respect for anyone who puts him/herself through this because they want to make the world a better place.

So the news that Mike Johnston is running to fill an open seat in Colorado's state senate brought a smile to my face.???? Mike runs a high-performing school in Mapleton, CO.???? He helped found New Leaders for New Schools and served as a top education advisor to President Obama's campaign.

A couple days after the 2008 election, Mike and I did a lunch panel at the annual conference of the Colorado League of Charter Schools on the future of education policy during the Obama administration.???? Mike was sharp, thoughtful, and extremely articulate.????...

Guest Blogger

This guest post was written by Fordham research intern Katie Wilczak. She attended the House hearing yesterday morning.

Speaking yesterday at the Committee on Education and Labor's hearing "Strengthening America's Competitiveness through Common Academic Standards," Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP schools, offered a refreshing voice to the oftentimes redundant discourse on the need for national academic standards. Levin shared his experiences managing KIPP schools in 19 states across the nation, stressing the limitations imposed by the maze of standards and assessments in place in each state. Similar to our discovery that NAEP results reveal the inconsistency of state assessments and AYP score cards, KIPP's unique national assessment reveals sharp discrepancies in state expectations for student performance. Levin argued that, along with national standards, states should adopt a common assessment tool that will accurately hold students and teachers accountable for their performance on a level playing field. Most importantly, Levin stressed that adopting national standards and assessments will allow educators and politicians to collaborate across state lines, share experiences, techniques, and outcomes of innovative programs--all of which will lead to the adoption of programs that produce the highest results for students.

You can view the webcast here:...

Mike Umphrey, an AP English Teacher in Polson, Montana, (and a loyal Flypaper reader!) offers??a great response to my post from a few days ago:

My main reaction tends to be "Bah, humbug."

I don't believe there is much of a conservative case to be made for any centralized DC-based education initiative. Cities and towns are perfectly capable of running schools.

However, as a classroom teacher I could certainly use access to excellent materials available free online. I would like to be able to send my writing students who have trouble with something such as parallel structure to a flash based tutorial, with a built-in assessment that could be configured to report to a data base so I could track individual progress. I could use dozens of such mini-lessons. I'm creating them myself, but good grief. Why are such things locked up in proprietary sites or available in low-quality and fragmented ways due to efforts of people such as myself, in a multi-billion-dollar publicly funded public service?

Most materials available free are not high quality. Most materials available from proprietary operators could also be improved. And in my field-the humanities-most materials have a strong liberal bias.

The Education Gadfly

An interview with Steve Farkas, President of the Farkas Duffett Research Group . Fordham commissioned the FDR Group to research and write its latest report "Growing Pains in the Advanced Placement Program: Do Tough Trade-Offs Lie Ahead?"

Growing Pains in the Advanced Placement Program from Education Gadfly on Vimeo .

President Barack Obama's "first 100 days" come to an end today, as you may have noticed from the barrage of fawning press coverage (not all of it on the editorial pages). I agree with the majority of the country that the President is doing many things right, but when it comes to the one issue that I know a fair amount about, I worry that he's doing many things wrong.

It shouldn't surprise us that President Obama is "straddling the Democratic divide" on education. During his campaign he was careful to placate both the teachers unions and the reformers within his party, and that's the way he's governing too. But what the reformers may not want to admit is that they have gotten a raw deal so far.

Consider our Reform-o-Meter. It may not be a scientific instrument for gauging the reform-mindedness of the new Administration, but I'd argue that it's a reasonable indicator. And the cumulative rating for Team Obama to date is: "Neutral." How uninspiring. How not "bold."

But it gets worse. So far I've rated 17 actions of the Administration....

Certain segments of the edu-sphere like to call those of us at Fordham silly (though, I'll admit, colorful) names, like "wing-nuts on crack ." These bloggers tend to represent teachers unions. (Yes, Fred, I'm talking about you.) So they might be struggling with the cognitive dissonance caused by American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten's testimony before Congress this morning, which quoted a recent Fordham study:

A report issued earlier this year by the Fordham Institute detailed the variability of NCLB's system of accountability, while also reinforcing the argument for common state standards. The Fordham report concluded that "Schools that make AYP in one state fail to make AYP in another. Those that are considered failures in one part of the country are deemed to be doing fine in another. Although schools are being told that they need to improve student achievement in order to make AYP under the law, the truth is that many would fare better if they were just allowed to move across state lines."

Perhaps Fordham is actually a well-respected education policy think tank? Or maybe Randi's gone to the dark side....

Fordham's latest report is out this morning; it focuses on the dramatic expansion of the Advancement Placement program in recent years. In 2002-2003, 1 million students participated in AP by taking at least one exam. Five years later, nearly 1.6 million did???a 50+ percent increase.

But is growth all good? Might there be a downside? Are ill prepared students eroding the quality of the program? Perhaps harming the best and brightest? To find out, we commissioned the Farkas Duffett Research Group to survey AP teachers in public high schools across the country.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the AP program remains very popular with its teachers. But there are signs that the move toward ???open door??? access to AP is starting to cause concern. Read the report to learn more. Also check out this video with Steve Farkas, the report's primary author, and this New York Times article.

One of the survey??questions :

Has the quality of your AP students in terms of their aptitude and capacity to do the work...


Amy Fagan

Read more about our new Advanced Placement Program report in this piece in the New York Times. The author, Jacques Steinberg, also has started a lively discussion on the NYT college admission blog, The Choice. Readers are welcomed to join in and share their thoughts!

And???..our AP report is being highlighted by Education Week as well. Check out the story here.