That's the title of a longish piece on merit pay in the latest Christian Science Monitor. This article, part 1 of 2, takes a look at Denver's ProComp and the difficulty of figuring out two things: how to use merit pay systems to get rid of bad teachers and how to tie bonuses to the results of individual teachers. It also makes the case that younger teachers are not enticed to the profession by the promise of a cushy retirement. They want to see their rewards now, not later. Since the (large) size of teacher pensions (in a sour economy) have turned into a hot potato issue recently, this might prove fodder for arguing to readjust the pay scale. It's a good read for anyone unfamiliar with the debate.

George Will sits down with Arne Duncan and comes away impressed. Though Will's major takeaway is that "time and talent" are needed to turn around schools, this quote caught my eye:

By closing failing schools and opening replacements, Chicago is ensuring that the portfolio of schools is churned and improved.

"Portfolios"?! "Churn"?!

When a major syndicated columnist begins using language once reserved for wonks and academics, you know that systemic ed reform has gone mainstream. Paul Hill and Ted Kolderie should be smiling.

It's been rumored before, and it's not quite official, but Jim Shelton, until Friday a program director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has started work at the U.S. Department of Education. He told colleagues in an email that he will lead its "innovation portfolio." I'm making a little leap of faith to assume that he means he will head the Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII).

If true, this is another great appointment. (I'll save the Reform-o-Meter treatment* for another day, once the news is confirmed.) But I won't wait to say how it makes me happy to know that OII will be in such good hands. I was fortunate to get to play a role in creating OII, and those of us that got it off the ground consciously tried to model it after Gates and other "venture" philanthropies. That's most apparent in the rhetoric we used to describe the office, which we wanted to be the "nimble, entrepreneurial arm of the U.S. Department of Education" that "makes strategic investments in innovative educational practices." As a part of a government bureaucracy, it hasn't always been able to live...

Amy Fagan

Check out this story and interactive spread by Libby Quaid/Associated Press about teaching as a second career and alternate certification. It highlights several career-switchers, including Peter Vos, a neuroscientist and head of an internet startup who now teaches computer science to kids in Maryland; and Alisa Salvans, a makeup-artist-turned-chemistry-teacher, in suburban Dallas. Along with the main story, there are video interviews with these folks and others, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

And.....(smirk) we'd be remiss if we didn't note that the package also cites a 2007 study by the Fordham Institute and the National Council on Teacher Quality (it's referenced in the "Teacher Profiles" section; the study is called ???Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative').

Ohio's congressional delegation has been boasting about the infusion of money the Buckeye State's public schools would receive from the federal stimulus package. Newspapers published charts showing how each district would fare.???? School leaders started making plans for the money. The trouble is, so did Governor Strickland.???? Details now emerging about how the governor intends to use the education dollars included in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act are leaving school leaders unhappy and lawmakers crying foul.

Take the case of Trimble Local Schools in rural Athens County.????Trimble is oft-described as the state's poorest school district (based on its property wealth valuation per student) and has become the poster child for school funding reform in Ohio. According to the feds, Trimble is due roughly $600,000 from the stimulus bill to provide educational services to low-income students. But under Strickland's budget proposal, Trimble would actually see a $136,000 funding cut over the next two years.

Governor Strickland is using more than $1 billion in one-time money to boost state spending on K-12 education over the next two years. The governor does have some discretion over how the federal stimulus dollars are...

ED Senior Advisor Mike Smith voiced some contrarian views????on national or "common" standards yesterday. ????It's nice and highly uncommon to see a high-ranking administration official critique arguments made by his bosses, especially on an issue where a consensus is developing around a position embraced by the administration. ????Though Smith ultimately comes down on the side of President Obama and Secretary Duncan (and Fordham for that matter), it shows thoughtfulness to address both sides of the issue fairly and publicly. I suppose a certain degree of independence comes with long experience and a personal request of service from the Secretary.

Amidst all of our adult arguments about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, we seem to forget that there are 1,700 living, breathing children involved. Here's a reminder video from the Heritage Foundation:

On Saturday, the Washington Post's editorial page????again????wrote in favor of the threatened DC Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) Program. ????The Post's editors have been a sympathetic and level-headed voice on this issue for some time. ????While supporting the program's intentions--helping disadvantaged kids in low-performing public schools access higher-performing nonpublic schools--they are also arguing that we all allow evidence of effectiveness drive the ultimate decision on the program's fate. ????The key data will be made available shortly in the form of the final program evaluation report, which is due this spring. ????(The second-year report, can be found here.)????

The Baltimore Sun's editorial page weighed-in this morning in favor of the bold school reform plan announced by that city's superintendent. ????The plan is excellent and the editorial is very well done. ????This line was particularly striking to me: "To turn around the whole system, you have to maximize the number of good schools and minimize the bad." ????Right on, I say. ????Close bad schools, open new schools, replicate great schools, and--I'm hoping more people start adding this final one--make successful nonpublic schools accessible to kids as well....

Another couple recommendations from my finally shrinking to-read stack.

This superb 2006 Brookings teacher quality report????from Gordon, Kane, and Staiger graphs the influence teachers have on student learning. ????The whole report is worth reading, but if nothing else, check out figures 1, 2, and 4. ????They clearly make the case that we ought to be agnostic about what type of preparation program a teacher comes from and instead focus on his/her achievement effects. ????The variation among the products of different preparation programs is much greater than the differences between the programs. ????(The very same thing can be said of school types.)

This interesting Education Next article from West and Woessmann finds that Catholic populations a century ago in various countries have a bearing on the number of Catholic schools still operating in those nations today. ????More importantly, the competitive pressure generated by these schools appears to have improved student achievement and school efficiency in both public and private schools. ????Lots of interesting implications but the one that springs to mind first is that this suggests that America's urban school systems would be even lower performing and more expensive today were it not...

This morning, NYT columnist David Brooks turns in an uneven????analysis????of President Obama's education speech. ????His opening hook (the president's anecdote about studying early in the morning with his mother) takes him off the rails a bit. ????An extended discussion about the importance of "relationships" culminates in this curiosity:

Most important, it would increase merit pay for good teachers (the ones who develop emotional bonds with students) and dismiss bad teachers (the ones who treat students like cattle to be processed).

Both parentheticals are inapt.

After reviewing the president's support of high standards, good assessments, and quality data, Brooks ends by properly chastising Mr. Obama for being "shamefully quiet" about????the DC scholarship program, which congressional Democrats have all but killed. ????But then he writes the following:

But in the next weeks he'll at least try to protect the kids now in the program.

We don't know that. ????The president hasn't said as much, and he signed legislation that does quite the contrary. ????While his press secretary provided a small ray of hope, this problem now cannot be easily solved through the budget or appropriations process. ????Due to language in the omnibus, reviving the...