Flypaper

Seemingly upholding her "mom-in-chief" moniker, Michelle Obama took her two daughters to their first day at Sidwell Friends this morning. The first family moved to Washington this weekend--two weeks before the inauguration--so that Malia and Sasha could start the spring semester along with their classmates.

Laura Pohl

"School" is out in Sheffield, England. The singular term has so many negative connotations that a new school there has dropped the offending noun from its name, according to a report in The Guardian. Instead, the institution will be called a "place for learning," said headteacher Linda Kingdon.

"We decided from an early stage we didn't want to use the word 'school'," she told local newspaper the Sheffield Star. "This is Watercliffe Meadow, a place for learning. One reason was many of the parents of the children here had very negative connotations of school. Instead we want this to a be a place for family learning, where anyone can come."

(Editor's note: Beginning today, Fordham's Ohio team will be blogging on Flypaper. This first post is from Terry Ryan, Vice President for Ohio Programs & Policy.)

Ohio has long been known as the cradle of presidents. The Buckeye State has seen eight of its sons serve as the nation's top executive. More recently Ohio has been the incubator of education reformers.

Three national newsmakers with roots in Ohio and a passion for fixing schools are Michelle Rhee (raised in Toledo and a graduate of Maumee Valley Country Day School), Adrian Fenty (a graduate of Oberlin College in Lorain County) and Michael Bennet (former assistant to Ohio Governor Richard Celeste). All three have been at the forefront of American education reform over the last three years, and all three are Democrats.

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An op-ed in today's Indianapolis Star??argues for a statewide weighted student funding (WSF) system to deal with the state's budget challenges.

Headlined "Less on overhead, more into classrooms," its author argues:

...research by management expert William Ouchi and colleagues that indicates centralized budgeting is not a good idea. "Schools perform better on fiscal and academic outcomes when there is a) local control of school budgets by principals and b) open enrollment, which allows per pupil funding to follow the child."

The latter idea, known as Weighted Student Funding, is being piloted around the country and gaining acceptance. In its purest form, students could choose any public school in their region and per-pupil funding would go with them. The allotment would be higher for students with special needs, and school buildings would have flexibility to spend as they deem fit. Because parents could choose their child's school, a competitive environment would force principals to spend wisely, thus more money for instruction.

[Incoming superintendent of public instruction] Bennett is philosophically behind the idea. What's encouraging is that he understands the next wave of education reform: spending more effectively.

There are two interesting questions here. One is whether states...

Amy Fagan

In case you're perusing Flypaper to gather some interesting, timely info with which to wow fellow party-goers tonight?????? here are two interesting AP stories involving funding and schools:

The first piece discusses President-elect Obama's plan to resuscitate/modernize schools across the nation as part of his economic stimulus plan. I'm pretty sure Fordham experts will have a lot more to say about it as days and weeks unfold! According to the AP story, Congress begins work on the economic recovery program on Wednesday.

The second is a story about one very lucky school. According to the piece, Oprah Winfrey recently donated ??$365,000 to a private school in one of Atlanta's poorest areas. The school is run by Ron Clark, who opened a letter from Winfrey last week and saw a piece of paper flutter to the ground. The gift was ???incredible,??? said Clark, whose school depends almost entirely on donations to operate. The gift money will likely go to scholarships for students, he said.

Happy New Year!...

Greg Toppo takes a look back at education in 2008 in this morning's USA Today. His verdict is bleak: slashed budgets, scant attention paid by campaigns, depressing report findings, and warring manifestos. But at least education made it into popular culture--on FOX's King of the Hill.

In response to the Washington Post's unfair article about a pseudo-scandal at the D.C. Public Charter School Board--for which the Post editorial board has since tried to make amends --yesterday's paper ran an op-ed by charter supporters Kevin Chavous and Robert Cane . They make a number of good points. Perhaps most perceptively, they note that the city has not always played fairly with charter schools, creating a need for the facility loans that the Post decried:

D.C. law requires that charters be given first crack at empty school buildings, before condo developers or non-educational city agencies can bid for them. Yet the city has in most instances denied charters unused school facilities, forcing them into the commercial loan market to pay high costs for spaces that are often inadequate.

The issue of these bank loans was raised recently in The Post , leading some to confuse the freedom that charters enjoy with a lack of accountability and oversight. Charters do have overseers: They are accountable to parents who choose them for their children and to their regulatory body, the Public Charter School Board, a nationally renowned model of

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Amy Fagan

Fordham President Checker Finn discusses Fordham's Open Letter,??new research, school funding, and more Bill Bennett's Morning in America??radio show this morning, December 30. You can listen to the interview here.

I feel like we've turned reporting on the shenanigans in the Big Apple into a weekly event. The latest? Overfunding schools that are slated to close in 2010. Sure, we can't just rip the mats out from under these schools as they head for the exit, but let's not also give them double the average per-pupil student funding. That's right, at least five schools are getting as much as $28,000 per kid . The NYC average is $14,000. According to the NY Post , all of this is due to some funding glitch that creates a lag in budget cuts for schools with declining enrollments to temper the shock. Adlai Stevenson High School in the Bronx, for example, kept an extra $2 million even though student enrollment dropped from last year's 687 to this year's 303. What are these schools doing with the extra dough? Spending it of course--on SMART boards, copies of Obama's memoir Dreams of My Father for the entire school, and a grand piano, to name a few. As one teacher put it, "I have no clue why this is going on." Neither do I....

No, that's not a typo. According to this front-page Washington Post article from Saturday, that's what Ohio governor Ted Strickland is preparing to request, along with Democratic governors from Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts.

Surely the group doesn't intend this to be??an annual??payment; the entire education system spends about $550 billion per year, so their proposal would amount to a 45% increase in per-pupil spending, overnight. They can't possibly be that crazy. But even if they mean this to be spread out over, say, five years, $50 billion per year would more than double what Uncle Sam contributes now. This is big, big money.

But it's not inconceivable. Some sort of "revenue sharing" for the states is practically a foregone conclusion (Paul Krugman argues that those cutting state spending now amount to "Fifty Herbert Hoovers," ), and admitting that most of that money will go to the schools (which suck up the majority of state funds) would be a bit of truth in advertising.

Writing yesterday in the New York Times , Matt Miller offers some ideas about the strings that should...

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