With the stroke of a pen on Tuesday, President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan became the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. I'm no economist but I certainly buy the president's basic argument about the need for such a stimulus. Even from the inside-the-beltway bubble, where we Washingtonians are sheltered from the worst of the downturn's ravages, one can sense that we're in free fall. That's why I reluctantly came to concede that now isn't the best time to lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers or education bureaucrats, at least for the economy's sake, since we need these people spending money, making their mortgage payments, and serving as a bulwark to the private sector's collapse.??

But on this blog, we don't evaluate economic policy, we evaluate education policy. And I don't have an Economic-Stimulus-o-Meter at my disposal, I have an Education Reform-o-Meter. So setting aside whatever virtues the stimulus bill might have for the economy, how is it likely to impact the cause of education reform?

Let's start with its many downsides. First, the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which includes at least $40 billion for education (k-12 and higher ed), is designed simply to plug...

As first reported by Politics K-12 yesterday, Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond has decided to return to Palo Alto rather than seek a top position in the Obama Administration. (Seyward Darby of The New Republic provides some back story here.)

Flypaper readers know that I'm not a fan of Darling-Hammond's views on education, but that's besides the point now. A note circulating around Washington yesterday indicated that her decision was in large part related to a major health challenge that a close family member of hers is facing. She will be in our thoughts and prayers.

As for my prediction that she was going to be nominated to be Deputy Secretary of Education, well, as I've said before, maybe I should stick to commentary and analysis and leave the reporting to reporters. At least, for as long as there are still reporters left....

While you're waiting for the Gadfly to appear in your inboxes (who isn't, honestly?) next Thursday (February 26), you could attend this neat event at AEI: Jim Cibulka, recently elected president of NCATE, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, will speak about the future of education schools. This is sure to be a fascinating speech since scads of research have appeared in recent months (see here, here, and here for starters) on alternative certification and its differences (or lack thereof) from traditional teacher training. NCATE and Cibulka himself are sure to play an important role in the ongoing conversation. The venerable Rick Hess will introduce Mr. Cibulka and a wine and cheese reception will follow. Registration starts at 3:45 pm and Senor Hess takes the podium at 4. Find out more and RSVP here....

This just in, from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's office:

"The Accountability Illusion highlights that we have some important problems to fix in the No Child Left behind law," said U.S. Secretary??of Education Arne Duncan. "Our kids need high, consistent standards that reflect college-readiness and career readiness with flexibility at the state and local level on how to achieve those standards."

I spent the morning doing a "radio tour" of talk shows around the country, explaining our new Accountability Illusion report. A common question is why it matters that states are implementing NCLB so differently. After all, states had very different accountability systems before NCLB. That's true, but we think it's a problem, for three reasons.

First, it surely demoralizes educators to know that their very own schools, deemed "in need of improvement" under NCLB, would be considered acceptable, even praiseworthy, if located elsewhere. (Play our "Fix that Failing School" video game to get a sense of just how capricious the system can be.)

Second, what drives the state-to-state variation in Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results isn't a principled difference about what it means to be a good school. Rather, we witness state education departments going through subtle machinations to create outcomes that they judge sensible, or at least politically saleable.

Third, variable and discrepant school ratings were one thing when states set the penalties (if any) for schools that didn't make the grade as defined by the states. But NCLB created the trappings of a national accountability system. Now every state...

Ohio's governor is being assailed, and rightly so, for his education plan, with its preference for creating adult jobs over ensuring that students learn. If he's interested in ideas that are a bit more imaginative and reform-minded, he might look to Philadelphia.

There, Sup. Arlene Ackerman has unveiled a five year plan, which the Philadelphia Inquirer says??includes weighted student funding, closing down failing schools, recruiting to run new schools "organizations with proven track records... such as the Knowledge is Power Program," and importantly, emphases on accountability and on students over jobs. Writes the Inquirer:

Accountability has been a theme of Ackerman's superintendency. Too often, student progress is measured and adults are not held to performance goals, she said.

"If it doesn't work, don't keep it up," Ackerman said. "We shouldn't be spending money to make people feel good."

She acknowledged she had laid out a lofty vision. "We won't be able to do all of this, but we will do it one step at a time," she said.

It sounds like accomplishing even part of it would place Philadelphia on a faster track to success than the Buckeye State, if Strickland's ideas...

The Gadfly is out, folks, and it's great! First up, Checker, Mike, and Amber explain why Fordham's latest report, The Accountability Illusion, is so ground breaking. Not only does our current system of patchwork AYP definitions give the damaging and false illusion of a nationwide standard but it's demoralizing for teachers, students, and parents to boot. Case and point: how would you feel if your school's future was based on a set of arcane state rules about what demonstrates annual "progress" and not on what's really going on in your school? Not so hot. Then read up on Randi Weingarten's (pleasantly surprising) treatise for national standards (good timing Randi!), problems with New York City's conversion of Catholic schools to charter (darn state laws!), the case of the reading test typo (it's called proofreading, guys!), and the new lows of British vocational education (A-levels in fake tanning!). Up next, you'll find reviews of three heavy-hitting reports: Achieve's fourth annual Expectations Gap, Paul Peterson and Matthew Chingos' latest on for-profit management in Philadelphia, and a stellar new Mathematica study on alternative teacher certification.

Then, two of our readers debate...

Take away all the jargon, emotion, envy, confusion, and embarrassment
and much of the No Child Left Behind debate comes down to this: Which
schools are good, which are bad, and does NCLB do a decent job of
telling the difference?

The short answer, provided by a major new study from Fordham and the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association, is no, not by a mile.

The analysis is complex and the report is long but its premise is
simple: Take a set of real schools, pretend that we can drag them across
the map and drop them down in various states, and see how many would
make "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) in each place. If the U.S. had
something akin to a shared notion of what it means to be a good or bad
school, we wouldn't see a whole lot of variation.

Yet we found nearly the opposite. In a few of the 28 states we studied (e.g, Wisconsin, Arizona), almost all of the elementary schools in our sample made AYP, while in other jurisdictions (e.g., Massachusetts, Nevada), almost none
did. Putting it bluntly, most of the...

Democrats for Education Reform appears to be playing a big role staffing the Obama Administration because another one of its picks is getting a key job. Roberto Rodriguez, a longtime staffer??for Senator Ted Kennedy, will be working on education policy issues from the White House Domestic Policy Council. We'll give Roberto the Reform-o-Meter treatment later this week.

I've been running a bit behind all week (we're getting ready for a MAJOR report release tomorrow...stay tuned) but this weekend's New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof deserves a comment. It reminded me of that old story of a homeless man who sat all day, every day on a wooden box and begged strangers for money. One day someone asked him if he'd ever thought to open the box and look inside. "No, why would I do that?" he responded. But later he decided to take a peek. And sure enough, the box was filled with gold. He had everything he needed all along, but had never thought to look inside.

Now back to Kristof. He asks??in his piece, "For??those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our future?"

But he could answer his own question in the affirmative, if he'd only look inside his own column. See here:

There's a real excitement at what we are learning about K-8 education.

First, good teachers