We DC-based policy types are susceptible to getting dangerously far removed from the quotidian thrills and struggles of real schools. So I visited four schools earlier this week while in NYC. It was a complete delight. If you find yourself suffering from policy- or research-induced edu-malaise, here's a highlight from each school.

At the Cornelia Connelly Center, an all-girls Catholic middle school on the Lower East Side serving a 100 percent minority and 90 percent free and reduced-price eligible student body, my two "student ambassador" tour guides were pulled out of their mandatory Latin class where they were, at the moment, learning the roots of the word "intractable." "I like Latin," one of the young ladies told me, "it helps me understand English better, too." Walking past a picture of the president hanging next the history classroom, the other young woman said, "We were allowed to watch the inauguration in school. Some students got pretty emotional. It showed what we could become."

At the remarkable Harlem Success Academy charter school (run by the remarkable Eva Moskowitz), the school's powerful culture was evident everywhere, from the founders' vision to the teachers'...

The Education Gadfly

In honor of Earth Day, we'd like to offer up and oldie but a goodie: last year's Fordham Earth Day video. Enjoy!

It's well-documented that school funding, generally speaking, is too opaque. District budgets mask differences in teacher pay from school to school, just as they often fail to show differences in how other centrally-controlled resources are deployed in schools. These accounting shortcuts (or cover-ups) mask deep inequities in funding between schools, often at the expense of those with poor and at-risk students.

Greater transparency and clarity in district- and school-level budgets would help, so I whole-heartedly agree with the New York Times editorial board that Secretary Duncan should push for this in return for the $13 billion in Title I stimulus funding:

Arne Duncan, the education secretary, will need to make sure that states and localities clearly understand what he means when he asks them to report per-pupil expenditures school by school.

To the extent possible, the new reporting standard should take into account extra programs that are sometimes parceled out to affluent schools but not to poor ones ??? from administrative budgets that are billed to, say, the school district's headquarters.

Most important, the local districts should not be allowed to persist with sloppy bookkeeping that masks teacher salary differences in high poverty


Picking up on Andy's perspicacious observation last week, consider this quote:

Americans regard education as the means by which the inequalities among individuals are to be erased and by which every desirable end is to be achieved. Confront practically any group of citizens with a difficult problem in the sphere of human relations and they will suggest education as the solution.

Sound familiar? This comes from George S. Counts's American Education: Its Men, Ideas, and Institutions, published in 1930.

Our fickle Reform-o-Meter has been trending chilly lately, so this should come as a sign of spring: crank up the heat to hot, hot, Red Hot. That's because it's time to give the Obama Administration credit for hiring two fearless education reformers for key positions at the Department of Education: Jim Shelton (pictured at left), who will lead the Office of Innovation and Improvement, and Peter Groff (pictured at right), who will head the Office of Community and Faith-based Initiatives.

Both of these offices were created under the Bush Administration, and promoting, as they do, various forms of school choice and government aid for religious organizations, there was always a question mark about whether a Democratic team would even keep them in place. Not only has President Obama chosen to do so, he's put serious people at the helm.

Let's take up Jim first. Here's how Education Week puts it:

James Shelton, a former program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is now heading the U.S. Department of Education office that was seen under President George W. Bush as a way to help promote charter


Students who attend a private school through Ohio's EdChoice Scholarship Program still take the state's achievement tests each spring. The results are reported to the state education department, but nothing much else is done with the data. The results aren't reported publicly. The achievement and progress of voucher-bearing students isn't analyzed. The program's impact on student academic performance isn't assessed. To its credit, the Ohio House of Representatives wants to change that.

In February, Governor Ted Strickland proposed that any private school that enrolls a voucher-bearing child would have to administer the state's achievement tests to all of its students, even those kids whose parents are paying out of pocket for their education. While the results of those tests might tell us something about the private schools participating in the EdChoice program, it would tell us nothing about the impact of the program on the voucher-bearing students specifically. Under the pending House version of the budget bill, the state's test would only be administered to voucher-bearing students but the results of those tests would be publicly reported in a meaningful fashion. Specifically, the education department would be required to compile and report the performance of...

At least that's how it appears to me. Almost everyone else has moved onto the stimulus and the economy, but not SCOTUS. See this report from Ed Week blogger Mark Walsh??on yesterday's hearing in Flores v. Horne. First, note this veiled reference to growth models:

Kenneth W. Starr, the lawyer representing Republican state legislative leaders who are seeking relief from a federal court order that effectively is forcing the state to spend more on ELL programs, told the justices that English learners "are, in fact, making progress" under the program funded by the legislature.

This drew a sharp response from Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who cited detailed test results showing that English learners in the Nogales, Ariz., school district, where the class action began in 1992, still lagged their peers around the state.

"You are right," Breyer said to Starr during the oral arguments in Horne v. Flores (Case No. 08-289). "They have made progress, but they aren't quite home yet."

"But not home yet, your honor, is in fact the key question. What is home?" replied Starr.

Now, let's pause for a moment. As Joshua Dunn, co-author of Education...

Amy Fagan

Our president, Chester Finn Jr., and our distinguished visiting fellow Andy Smarick have penned a very nice piece in the Washington Post today about the crisis in urban Catholic schools and the need for the Obama administration to step up and help ??? with stimulus funds, education tax credits or scholarships, or by simply voicing concern and support.

They write:

America can no longer be distracted by the ideological battles surrounding educational choice and competition. The issue today is simply our willingness to save vital institutions that have admirably served poor children for generations. Republican administrations have pushed this issue as far as they were able to--but without great success. We are audacious enough to hope that, for the sake of hundreds of thousands of at-risk children, this Democratic administration will put its shoulder to this wheel and push until there is movement.

It had been a while since I glanced at our reader polls for recent Reform-o-Meter ratings, so I just took a look. (You can too: see here, here, here, here, and here, and click on "view results.") The pattern is consistent: our readers are always at least a tad tougher on the Obama Administration than I am. In the end, it doesn't add up to a different cumulative rating-both readers and I consider Team Obama "Neutral" on education reform so far, which, let's face it, is pretty disappointing. But the readers are edging toward a "chilly" outlook, while my needle is leaning toward "luke warm."

What's it going to take for the R-o-M to get warm again? Strong appointments for Deputy Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education would help. So would a reversal of the Administration's decision to rescind scholarship offers from 200 needy District of Columbia families. And smart moves around the Secretary's "Race to the Top" incentive fund and his $650 million slush fund (I mean "innovation" fund) would help too. For now, it's clear that President Obama continues to straddle...

Amy Fagan

The massacre at Columbine High School happened ten years ago, on April 20, 1999. Hard to believe it has been that long. It's revisited, remembered and analyzed in several stories, including the Denver Post here and here, the Star Ledger, the Associated Press, a piece by, and coverage by CNN and ABC.