Flypaper

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, hmmm........so 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...

As a homeowner whose property taxes recently went up to support the Columbus City School District's November 2008 levy and bond issue, I was pleased to see this editorial in today's Columbus Dispatch asserting that, "As Ohio families continue to choose public charter schools, officials at traditional public schools need to become nimble in adjusting their budgets to match shrinking enrollments."

Every day, families and businesses adjust spending to reflect changing circumstances. So do charter schools, which often make multiple, mid-year corrections to staffing levels and school spending plans. Yet traditional districts in the Buckeye State have responded far too slowly to factors like changing enrollment.???? Perhaps, as the Dispatch points out, that's because despite a decline in the number of students they serve, many districts have actually seen an increase in funding over the past decade:

Nevertheless, large enrollment reductions, repeated through the years, should trigger staff reductions and consolidation of students into fewer buildings. The district's closure of more than 15 buildings since 2002 has not kept pace with the enrollment drop in that period of more than 12,000 students.

Moreover, a 2006 analysis showed that because of increases in state funding, Columbus...

I'm working on a stimulus project for the great folks at????AEI (stay tuned for more info coming soon), so for the last few weeks I've been burying myself in ARRA-related documents and articles.???? Though I don't want to completely let the cat out of the bag, the recent departmental????guidance????and Mike's post deserve some attention.???? In particular, two things are worth pointing out.

First, the Department really is trying its best to get as much reform out of its $100 billion as possible.???? Just about every time Secretary Duncan talks about the ARRA, he emphasizes that protecting jobs isn't enough.???? He and his colleagues pushed this theme hard during a briefing last Friday, with Duncan even threatening to withhold funding from status quo-defending states.

During a conference call right after the release of the new documents, advisor Jon Schnur, when listing the goals of the education portion of the ARRA, put reform first, a subtle but portentous signal. ????And the Department has even said that it plans to release advice on how states and districts can best use stimulus funding to drive reform and improvement.

Overall, based on the Department's words and...

I was meeting with the good folks at the National Council on Teacher Quality yesterday, and Sandi Jacobs, its V.P. and a former NYC teacher, reminded me of the norms of niceness within our education system. The rule goes something like this: when offering criticism to colleagues, or parents (about their children), or students, first say as many positive things as you can about their performance, before mentioning the item or two where "perhaps they could show some improvement."

So in that spirit...

Both Team Obama and the career civil servants at the Department of Education deserve oodles of kudos for getting out a massive amount of guidance on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in a very short amount of time. I know from personal experience how these sorts of things can take eons, so the couple-of-month turnaround was quite impressive. They also deserve credit for communicating so frequently with the field, via letters, town hall meetings, conference calls, and more. That's not to say that there aren't still a million unanswered questions--that's inevitable. But clearly the Department is responding to queries as quickly as humanly possible. And no doubt, Arne Duncan is...

Detroit is probably our most battered city. For 40 years, numerous forces????????the 1968 riots, population shifts, poor political leadership, the decline of the auto industry, and so much more????????have taken an unprecedented toll on what was once America's fourth largest city and arguably among the most vibrant urban areas in the country.

I spent a week there last year, learning more about its history and challenges and came away very sad and not so hopeful. Beyond the depressing figures (unemployment, crime, foreclosures), there were other, more palpable signs of distress????????I had never seen a downtown area so uninhabited at 2pm on a weekday. (Recently, two national magazines????????one from each side of the political spectrum????????have done very good, long stories on these troubles, and I highly recommend both: Weekly Standard and Rolling Stone.)

So when you add all of these problems on top of the typical challenges of major urban school systems, no one could be faulted for predicting trouble in Detroit's schools. But things are even worse.

Last year, the Council of Great City Schools produced a scathing report pointing to DPS's deficiencies in...

Pages