As we head toward Easter Sunday, it's worth noting that hope is alive and well in the education reform world when it comes to President Obama's stimulus bill. While it's true that I don't generally share the optimism on this one, I also would prefer the optimists to be right.

I've already offered plenty of reasons to believe that the states won't be able to marshal these dollars toward meaningful reform, but here's one reason that they might: the emergence of smart, focused, passionate education reform advocacy organizations at the state level.

The best known of these include EdVoice in California and ConnCan in Connecticut, but new ones are popping up every day. These aren't think tanks. They are no-nonsense advocacy organizations that know how to drive a policy agenda.

I've gotten to know a bunch of them through our work with the Policy Innovators in Education Network, which Fordham helped to create (along with the Center for American Progress, the Center for Reinventing Public Education, and Education Sector). If anyone at the state level can figure out how to use these stimulus dollars in...

At least when you can watch Fordham's event, "Can Budget Cuts Catalyze Education Reform?" on C-SPAN right now! (And for the next 90 minutes.)

Diane Ravitch is not as enamored with mayoral control as Arne Duncan is. Read her new New York Times op-ed to see why.

Amy Fagan

Fordham's April 9 event--"Can Budget Cuts Catalyze Education Reform"--began airing on C-SPAN at 10 am this morning (watch it streaming online here or buy it on DVD here). It was a great event/discussion with featured guest Marguerite Roza from the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education. The video should be up on our website later today as well. In the meantime, you can take a look at her PowerPoint presentation and enjoy the following pictures from the event.

Marguerite Roza spoke in our conference space in downtown DC.

A C-SPAN camera focuses on Fordham President Checker Finn.

Checker Finn, left, and Dwight Holmes, Senior Policy Analyst, School Finance & Economics Unit at the National Education Association


If you haven't read this week's Gadfly, you should do so ASAP! Up first, Paul E. Barton, formerly of ETS and author of "'Failing' and 'Successful' Schools: How Can We Tell?" explains the grand illusion that is NCLB. Not only does it create an illusion of "high standards" and "equal treatment" (the subject of two recent Fordham Reports, The Proficiency Illusion and The Accountability Illusion) but it also creates an "identification of effective schools" illusion and a "proscribed remedies will fix education" illusion. Want to know what he means? Read it here. Then Mike investigates how Education Secretary Arne Duncan's background as a big city superintendent seems to be influencing his policy decisions, specifically that he views the local level as the preferred locus of power for education.

Then, find out why the NJ pension system is one big Ponzi scheme, we should give Rhee kudos for her work on a new teacher evaluation system, mayoral control is no panacea, the Boston Teachers Union needs to get a clue, the union at two Catholic schools in Staten Island is in for some rude awakening, and one school in...

Russ Whitehurst, the former head of IES (the body responsible for the DC voucher study), gives a thorough and authoritative explanation of the final report's release. It parallels the argument I made here.

If we're right, Secretary Duncan was unjustly accused of stacking the deck. Regardless of your view on the voucher issue or party affiliation, this is wrong. This business of accusing political opponents of bad motives and nefarious behavior hurts reputations and degrades policy discussions and the political process.

To be clear, this cuts across party lines. For example, it was unfair to insinuate that the GOP governors who raised serious concerns about the long-term effects of education stimulus funding were merely positioning themselves for 2012 or, worse, didn't care enough about kids.

The Education Gadfly

Check out Mike's recent appearance on FOX News. He discusses an issue that's sure to raise heated debate around dinner tables across the nation: lengthening the school year! Arne Duncan favors it . Find out if Mike does.....

Do you ever dream about what you'd do if you were Secretary of Education? If you're a teacher, no doubt you'd work to make federal policy more teacher-friendly. If you're a researcher, you'd strive to make it more evidence-based (and to increase the R & D budget). And if you're a big-city superintendent? Of course, you'd do exactly what Arne Duncan is doing: push for maximum flexibility at the district level while attacking federal and state policies that impede your reforms.

Consider the litany of superintendent-friendly policies that Duncan pursued last week, through his stimulus guidance, his intentions to adjust the Bush Administration's Title I regulations, and his comments to the press.

First, he'll now allow districts "in need of improvement" to offer "supplemental services" (free tutoring) directly, rather than outsourcing all of it to private providers. (His predecessor had already granted this permission to Chicago and a few other cities.) Second, he won't give districts a hard time if they can't provide timely notice to parents that their children are eligible to switch schools under No Child Left Behind, at least not if it's the states' fault (for not releasing timely test score data)....

Amy Fagan

Ok, maybe we need to institute an Obama Administration Education "Cool-O-Meter." Seems Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently jumped onstage at DC's crowded and popular 9:30 Club (at a Neko Case concert) to plug the new administration, talk about education and encourage people to go into teaching. You can check it out here, as reported on the Chronicle of Higher Education's news blog:

How did it all come together? Well, The New Republic explains the backstory here.

I've previously stated my strong support for the DC voucher program and derided the Secretary's use of what I believe to be the weakest argument against the program. However, in recent days several reputable outlets have gone farther, charging that the Department did something underhanded, putting its thumb on the scale during the debate over the program's continuation.

The accusation is that the Secretary and his top brass knew that the Institute of Education Sciences final evaluation of the program was finished (showing positive results) but sat on the report, not releasing it until after the debate was over and Congress had effectively killed the program.

From my time on the inside, I find this charge unlikely. Here's why:

IES is a largely autonomous research entity, not an arm of the Secretary's office. In a number of cases, like this one, it is charged by Congress with conducting independent evaluations of important initiatives.

When it is finished with a study, IES leaders typically brief the leadership of the Department on the findings and then the report is released directly. It may...