Over at the Charter Blog, Nelson Smith provides some very interesting color????to the "A System of Schools" report I touched upon yesterday. ????His analysis is spot-on and encouraging, so much so that I may add this report to my "peruse when you need a lift" file.

Flypaper readers know we've been all over the saga of the District of Columbia's federally-funded "Opportunity Scholarship Program" in recent weeks, but I've yet to give the latest twists the proper Reform-o-Meter treatment. How to view Arne Duncan's spin of the IES evaluation report, and his decision to rescind scholarship offers to 200 students not yet in the program?

Mostly, I see this as a story of opportunities missed or squandered. That's not meant as an indictment of the Obama Administration's overall performance; with very little staff, too little time, and an enormous stimulus bill to implement, Arne Duncan and his team are doing a respectable job of keeping it all together at the Education Department. When it comes to the voucher program, however, they've made some early mistakes. The key question now is whether they will learn from them--and possibly salvage a valuable little program that is accomplishing some of their major objectives.

Their first blunder was underestimating the symbolic importance that both sides of the school choice wars assign to the D.C. program. It's a little bit like Vietnam: on the surface, it's small and strategically insignificant. But both??...

I've gotten some push-back from some friends about this post from yesterday; they think I went too soft on the newest members of the Obama Administration. (If you click on "view results" under our poll, however, you'll see that Flypaper readers are all over the map on the issue.)

Their main concern was what they considered to be my overly sunny view of John Easton's appointment as IES director. After all, there are at least a dozen brilliant, left-of-center education researchers who could have filled the role; why did Duncan have to go with a Chicago "crony"? The Chicago part might be fair, but I think my friends have a myopic view of what it takes to lead a large research organization such as the Institute of Education Sciences. Yes, being smart and well respected by the field is important. But so too is having management expertise, politically savvy, bureaucratic smarts, and a vision for how to bridge the research community and the world of educators.

To be honest, I have no idea if John Easton has all of these attributes, though his experience indicates that he might. But I bet that most of the "brilliant researchers"...

Amy Fagan

Jay P. Greene had??an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.??He talks about the problems that charter schools are facing in New York:

With voucher programs facing termination in Washington, D.C., and heavy regulation in Milwaukee, the teachers unions have now set their sights on charter schools. Despite their proclamations about supporting charters, the actions of unions and their allies in state and national politics belie their rhetoric.

In New York, charters are facing, among other things, budget cuts and strangulation by "red tape." What does this mean for education reform in general???

Vouchers made the world safe for charters by drawing union fire. But now that the unions have the voucher threat under control, charters are in trouble.


Back in April 1995, the New York City Partnership, an organization of NYC-based business leaders, released a report on overhauling Gotham's public education system. ????Titled "A System of Schools," the report has held up remarkably well over time, bordering on prescient in places. ????(This link--to a scanned version of an old hard copy--might be the only place you'll be able to find it. ????Thanks to Charter King, Nelson Smith, who played a role in that project and owns this collector's item original.)

The report not only called for mayoral control of the city's schools, it includes this amazing line: "Within five years, every New York City school should function as a charter school." ????(I made a similar argument in Education Next, and I'm currently writing a book along these lines.)

However, today's slow????proliferation of charters in urban areas????in the face of continued opposition and the ongoing debate about mayoral control in NYC????demonstrate again the????endless recycling????of many ed reform issues.????

Along those line, if you'd like a shot of humility, read this short article from the NYT on the report's original release. It's fascinating to read Mayor Giuliani's and...

The hiring machine is finally cranking up over there at 400 Maryland Avenue, in fact outpacing the Reform-o-Meter's ability to keep up. (Well, I shouldn't blame the Reform-o-Meter. It is always willing. I'm the one who has fallen behind!)

So today we'll play catch-up by giving three of the newest senior officials of the U.S. Department of Education the R-O-M treatment: the nominees for Under Secretary, Director of the Institute of Education Sciences, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education. (We'll tackle Jim Shelton and Peter Groff, respectively the new heads of the Office of Innovation and Improvement and the Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives, later.)

To be honest, none of these three positions is critical to K-12 education reform. The Under Secretary job is focused on higher education, IES, of course, concerns research, and OVAE is mostly focused on community colleges. So all three appointments together merely merit a 2 on the significance scale (of 1-10).

Let's start with Martha Kanter, the designee for Under Secretary. I can't find much about her, though this Chronicle of Higher Education blurb is pretty good. The main thing to know is that the Obama team...

That's where President Barack Obama says??he wants to take us. But does anyone else find this statement a little bit ironic, as we've just borrowed $100 billion from future taxpayers and spent it on bailing out today's education system? Oh wait, I forgot, any spending in education is now an investment. Phew, that makes me feel a lot better.

Amy Fagan

Would a school deemed "healthy" under the No Child Left Behind Act remain so if it were plopped down in another state? That was the basic premise of our major report, The Accountability Illusion, released earlier this year. What we found, essentially, was tremendous variation amongst the states when it comes to how schools are labeled under NCLB.

Now you can read over our study's fascinating findings quickly and easily in a newly-published Accountability Illusion policy brief. This brand new, 10-page document, boils down our study and provides a clear, succinct portrait of its most salient findings.

And keep in mind--those findings are particularly relevant these days, as everyone discusses how exactly the Obama administration will handle NCLB and what changes they'll make.

So check it out. Find out which states have created NCLB accountability systems that go easy on schools and which states have opted for a tougher route. And read about Fordham's own take on the broken NCLB accountability system and what could and should happen next!...

Amy Fagan

Will Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review, has an interesting column in today. He, like many others, bemoans the fact that so many students are ill-prepared and forced to take remedial college courses.

But he takes the focus off of 21st??Century Skills and instead argues for more focus on 19th??Century Skills like reading, writing and comprehension. He stresses, of course, that he LOVES his Mac, but notes that when he's assembling the Concord Review, "I still have to read and understand each essay, and to proofread eleven papers in each issue twice, line by line, and the computer is no help at all with that."

Later, he writes: "Computers can check your grammar, and take a look at your spelling, but they can't read for you and they can't think for you, and they really cannot take the tasks of academic reading and writing off the shoulders of the students in our schools."

He says those who focus too much on testing/accountability in reading/math, AND those who focus too much on 21st??Century Skills, BOTH tend to miss the boat. "Neither group gives much thought, in my view, to whether any of our high school...

Amy Fagan

Ok, this really has NOTHING to do with education, other than--please, everyone, teach your children not to be like this guy! And by ???this guy,' I mean ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. In the strange, never-ending drama that is his life, Rod now reportedly wants to participate in a reality TV show where celebs are dumped off in a Costa Rican jungle and viewers vote them off. Apparently, he'll petition the court to loosen the travel restrictions that are currently part of his bail. Um...really? There are no words...Except that, secretly, I do really want to see what his hair would look like in jungle humidity.

Howler monkey image from Flickr user Zorro D50.??

Blagojevich image from The Cleveland Plain Dealer....