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...

During my time at the Alliance, I got to know and greatly respect the work of ConnCAN, a nonprofit education research and advocacy organization in Connecticut. Led by Alex Johnston and Marc Porter Magee, the group was doing interesting analysis, getting great press, and, when necessary, taking on tough political fights to improve the achievement of under-served kids.

The excellent work continues with ConnCAN's "Success Stories." ????They've put together????3-minute videos on the state's 15 top "gap-busting" charters, magnets, and traditional public schools. Not only are the videos refreshing and encouraging, but you also get the clear sense of why the schools are succeeding. ????They share a set of critical characteristics that lead to improved student learning. ????It's fascinating to watch a couple videos and see how the same words and themes keep coming up:????high expectations, family, use of data, achievement, excellence, behavior, community, team, leadership, hard work.

Let me end with three quick points before sending you off to watch a couple of these clips before starting your day. ????

First, it can be done. ????There are plenty of great schools for low-income kids. ????No more excuses....

Lynne Munson of Common Core offers the inside scoop on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills's pep rally held at the NEA yesterday. (Typically we would rely upon news??bulletins from Education Week, but its reporter Steve Sawchuck was disinvited.) Lynne reports that:

Paige Kuni explained that in the "search, cut, and paste environment" students live in today, they only need to know "enough of the most crucial information." She didn't say who decides when enough is enough or what P21 considers crucial. Is it enough earth science to know that the earth is round? Enough literature to have heard of Shakespeare? Enough history to know that we once fought a civil war because the North and South disagreed about something?

But even more telling was what wasn't said:

In their remarks, none of the panelists mentioned science, geography, foreign languages, history, literature, art, civics-the list goes on and on.

It's pretty clear that in this "search, cut, and paste environment," the P21 crowd would cut content, and paste in fuzzy skills in their place. It's time to hit "escape."... here.??First up, take a closer look at our new voucher and accountability paper. Checker and Christina explain how Fordham would marry the two: a sliding scale. In other words, more public dollars=more public accountability. Then Mike contemplates the pension reform??happening in New Mexico. Further in, find out how E.D. Hirsch would change testing, why we're optimistic about??vouchers, the quick and sloppy disbursement of stimulus dollars, and misbehaving employees in New York City's DOE. Next, dig into the new RAND charter study, the??relationship of research and practice (maybe we can learn a thing or two from Japan), and the how-tos of single-sex education. Finally, don't forget the podcast, wherein Rick and Mike debate whether talking in paragraphs is really the same thing as substantive thought. (Did you hear that, Barack?) They also discuss (obviously) less weighty issues such as whether or not students should be forced to check one box when identifying their race and if Jay Mathews' recent declaration that America just won't buy into vouchers has any merit.

Don't forget two terrific upcoming Fordham events. On April 9 we'll host Marguerite Roza as she...

I just caught a bit of the President's "virtual town hall" on TV, and it happened to be his answer to an education question. ????He provided a solid and sympathetic description of charter schools and noted that many are accomplishing great things. ????He also said that some aren't doing so well and that they should be closed. ????But he added an interesting aside: low-performing traditional public schools should be closed too. ????I like that.

On teacher pay, rather than defending the merits of performance-based compensation systems, he explained why teachers shouldn't be evaluated based solely on a single "high stakes" test at the end of the year (and added a quick swipe at NCLB for evaluating schools that way). ????He wants to work with teachers to develop alternative ways to evaluate performance. ????He said that he talked to Bill Gates yesterday about ways technology can be used to help teachers learn effective methods. ????Sounds like what these folks are up to .

Finally, on the subject of removing low-performing teachers, the president tried to get a teacher in the audience to admit that...

The NYT reports on a new study finding that if a school is within a block of a fast-food restaurant, its students are more likely to be obese. ????I've been fascinated by obesity studies since I read that 100 years ago the wealthiest quartile in America was the heaviest but today the poorest quartile is. ????Lots of factors play into this beyond personal behavior (exercise and diet), from education to the availability of fresh food and grocery stores to culture and geography. ????The CDC has a great map showing obesity by state and changes over time, and Surgeon General Sanjay Gupta has been looking into this issue for CNN (the "fattest cities" map is striking).

Lots of potential implications for schools and even more for public policy in general.

The trusty Reform-o-Meter has become a little rusty lately; that's because there hasn't been a lot of action at the U.S. Department of Education worth rating. This is particularly true since we still don't know who the picks for Deputy Secretary, Undersecretary, or Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education will be.

Still, Secretary Duncan has made a couple of selections lately that together are worthy of comment: Jo Anderson to be his Senior Advisor and ??Gabriella Gomez to be his Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs. What do they have in common? They both used to work at a major teachers union.

Let's tackle Anderson first. Here's a summary of his bio from the Department's press release:

Anderson currently serves as the Executive Director of the Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA). Before assuming that post in 2005, he held a variety of other positions with IEA-NEA, working on a range of issues from school restructuring to professional development. In 1995, Anderson founded the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) to facilitate school restructuring and reform efforts throughout Illinois. He also held posts with the Industrial Areas Foundation and the National Consumers Union and was a