The Education Gadfly

Also, don't forget to check out this week's news-filled issue of the Education Gladfly!

Top Nine Ways to Spend Stimulus Dollars from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.

Watch out Massachusetts; your little neighbor to the south is poised to become the next big school reform powerhouse. The Ocean State already benefits from forward-thinking governor Don Carcieri and entrepreneur-turned-school-reformer Angus Davis. Well, they've been looking for a butt-kicking state superintendent to round out the trio and have found her: Deborah Gist, who is currently the District of Columbia's "state superintendent."

The main thing to know is that Gist has been quietly revamping D.C.'s teacher certification and evaluation system to focus on crazy notions like quality, performance, and effectiveness. No doubt she'll bring this thinking to Rhode Island, where the outgoing state superintendent has laid down an ultimatum around these issues, at least for the city of Providence.

So will DC be left in the lurch? Not necessarily; I'm hearing that Kerri Briggs, formerly an Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education under Margaret Spellings, will be taking Gist's place.

Photograph from DC State Superintendent website...

It's been rumored before, but I'm hearing that it's a done deal: John Easton, currently head of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, will lead the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. He's still going through the vetting process, but unless he's failed to pay a whole lot of taxes, he should be moving into Russ Whitehurst's old office soon. I don't know much about Easton, but the Consortium enjoys a strong reputation for policy research. That research, it should be noted, is typically of the non-random-assignment variety, as much policy research has to be. (It's hard to randomly select kids or schools to be subject to accountability, for example.) So perhaps this will reflect a shift at IES, away from uber-scientific studies of discreet classroom interventions, and towards more interest in studying systemic reform.

Photo from National High School Center website...

We got a bit ahead of schedule this week so we thought we'd publish a day early. You know what they say about that early worm... or early bird? Whatever. Anyway, the Gladfly is up. In the top spot find a guest editorial from John J. Johnson, superintendent of the Orange River Regional School District in Pitchfork, TN. He explains how he'd use the stimulus dollars that are surely flowing toward his district. Seat back TVs on school buses? A Broadway show for the school musical? Wii Fit gym classes? Check, check, and check. Get even more ideas from this professional development video. Then, learn about the DC Chancellor's makeover (she loves to bake--and kittens--apparently), new NIPP charter schools, innovative ways to cut class sizes--literally, and the latest antics of the P-22 movement.

Next up is a quartet of edifying expositions of notable studies. First, take a gander at the new stimulus regs (bedtime reading, really), Sarah Palin's new geography textbook (finally, someone sets the record straight on whose Diomede is whose), the latest education manifesto (a whole new take on "realism"), and a...

This morning, the Department of Education posted all the information you could ever want about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (phew). But we're still interested in exploring budget cuts and whether they can catalyze education reform. Are you? Then be sure to sign up for our April 9 event featuring work by Marguerite Roza from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. Who knows, after slogging through pages and pages of government documents, you might just be ready to talk about trimming the fat.

It's easy to focus on education topics based on terminology. For example, in When Private Schools Take Public Dollars: What's the Place of Accountability in School Voucher Programs?, released last week, we focused solely on school vouchers. Not tax credits, or even special education vouchers, but plain vanilla schools vouchers. And we researched the rules and regulations of those voucher programs and asked our respondents to base their answers on that information. We then offered a sliding scale model for school voucher programs.

But because of these blinders, we overlooked an existing sliding scale model. Steve Bowen from the Maine Heritage Policy Center wrote in to tell us that a sliding scale mechanism has been in use in the Pine Tree state for quite some time--just not under the name of a school voucher program. Here's his fantastic overview from a comment on last week's Education Gadfly:

I don't know if it made it into the report you are soon releasing, but with regard to a sliding scale of student outcome reporting on the part of private schools, that is precisely how Maine does it.

Though it frequently seems


Very encouraging article out of Newark, NJ about the growth of high-quality charters in that city and other urban areas in the state.

Some of the best-performing charter schools in urban New Jersey actually posted test scores that were higher than their wealthy suburban counterparts in the most recent round of results released last month. And they were doing so in some of the most impoverished districts, where the test scores have traditionally lagged far behind.

If this interests you and you don't follow charter issues too closely, you might want to skim this article, which describes an ambitious effort underway--funded by the big national philanthropists--to greatly scale up the charter sector in Newark.

Fred Hiatt pens a very good piece in today's Post about Bill Gates' priorities for K-12 education reform and how these align with the positions of the president, secretary of education, and DC schools chancellor.

When I talk to friends or suburban audiences about urban education, the conversation nearly always turns to the role of parents. ????The consensus is that disinterested, disengaged parents are to blame for the discouraging results of inner-city public schools. ????From this, they typically infer that these schools will never turn around until parents shape up. ????(Indeed, President Obama has cleverly tapped into this line of thinking--his most certain applause line in education speeches comes when he lectures parents about turning off the television and reading to their kids.)

I used to have sympathy for this argument, but more and more, I'm convinced that it needs to be flipped. That is, to get more engaged parents in tough neighborhoods, we need better schools. ????This is essentially the case made by Jay Mathews' very good piece in today's Washington Post. ????He argues that great school leaders (like KIPP's Dave Levin and Susan Schaeffler) and teachers (like Jaime Escalante) get great results prior to vast expansions of parental involvement.

This parallels David Whitman's findings about the nation's best urban schools in his excellent book????Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism. ????Rather than blaming parents or...

I want to like the education stimulus package. I really do. Regardless of what the Klonsky brothers might tell you, I'm no Rush Limbaugh, hoping for President Obama's policies to fail. I'd love to see the cause of education reform accelerated as a result of the influx of federal funds. But I'm increasingly convinced that this entire exercise is going to end in a quagmire, or worse.

I know that puts me at odds with much of the education reform community. The major foundations and advocacy groups are giddy with the possibility that these funds, and the leverage they provide to Uncle Sam, could drive deep, long-lasting change in the education system. My heart wishes they were right but my head suspects otherwise.

The reformers are enthusiastic about several provisions in the stimulus bill that they see as offering a golden opportunity for reform, especially the "assurances" that governors must provide in order to get the big bucks. Among other things, they must promise to create robust data systems; elevate their academic standards to college-readiness levels; develop appropriate assessments for students with disabilities and English language learners; and develop ways to measure...