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The Education Gadfly

Arne Duncan still dominates the field in our pick-the-next-education-secretary poll. Our ten Washington insiders are sticking with the likely nominee, but some voters are looking for the unexpected choice. If not the basketball extraordinaire from Chicago, who might it be? Well, we haven't seen the likes of Graham Spanier or Roy Barnes on the Big Board in quite some time, so maybe some of our insiders have inside information. Spanier is the President at Penn State and Barnes is the former governor of Georgia. Caroline Kennedy, Jon Schnur, Michael Bennet, and Ted Mitchell are still mentioned, but haven't garnered enough support to make it to the top few. Stay posted as the week goes on. We hope this week (5) is the last one.

The Trends in??International Mathematics and Science Study results are out. Here's Fordham's official take:

The latest results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) include a few good pieces of news for the U.S. economy. (And these days, we'll take any good economic news we can get.) American students have made steady gains in mathematics performance over the past decade. This progress was especially noteworthy at the eighth grade level, where the U.S. made gains since 1995 that were at least as strong as all of our major economic competitors. (The news was not as good in fourth grade, where several countries, including England and Hong Kong, made dramatic gains far outpacing ours.) Considering that researchers have found a strong correlation between performance on international exams such as TIMSS and long-term economic growth, this progress bodes well for the American economy. (Of course, we still have a long way to go before we close the gap with top-scoring countries.)

However, the story on science is much more discouraging. American students actually lost ground in fourth grade science, seeing their scores slip three points over the past decade while seven countries (including Singapore, Hong Kong,...

Here's the official Education Week take on Margaret Spellings's legacy. And here's the unofficial, unauthorized version, thanks to former deputy secretary (and a star at Thursday's ???Great Debate???) Gene Hickok.

The 2007 results of the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study are to be released officially this morning (and I haven't managed to get my hands on a copy, darn it!), but some of the news is already starting to leak out:

  • ??? According to this Michigan State press release, the United States "saw a small increase in fourth-grade math scores from 1995 to 2007 - remaining in the middle of the pack among the 16 countries that participated both years." (This article from Australia pegs that increase at "11 points over the past four years," compared to a 17 point gain for Australia. The land down under is already in a tizzy about falling in rankings compared to other countries (not including
  • ...

She's been in DC but a few weeks and already the pull of New York is calling her home--as a New York State Senator? Current president of the American Federation of Teachers and New York's local United Federation of Teachers, Weingarten has expressed her interest in Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacated Big Apple Senate seat. Apparently she told Governor Paterson, "You know me well enough to know if you want me." Well, we've always said she's a consumate politician so maybe this is her true calling. Now, the question is who will replace her at the AFT? She's no Al Shanker but we could certainly do worse when it comes to reform-ish minded union leaders (ever think you see those two words in the same sentence--or in reference to Weingarten?). Stay tuned.

(Apparently, Fran Drescher of the 1990s sitcom The Nanny is also interested in the position. The New York Daily News reasons that though her voice "could strip the rust off an engine block," it "might come in handy during a Senate filibuster.")

Randi Weingarten picture from United Federation of Teachers website...

Jay Greene takes the measure of the auto industry's bailout bill in Congress and finds it wanting:

It's now becoming clear that rather than moving K-12 public education to look more like a competitive market, we are moving the competitive market to look more like K-12 public education.

(That's not meant as a compliment.)

Perhaps the news that yet another governor has taken herself out of contention led our Washington Insiders to put even more of their chips on Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan in the race for the education secretary job. He now has a 50-50 shot at taking the helm of the U.S. Department of Education, according to our experts. Most candidates in two-way races would like odds like those; how remarkable that Duncan has them in a wide-open field.

Joel Klein and Linda Darling-Hammond keep getting mentions too, but I doubt few people seriously believe that President-Elect Obama will go for either of these contenders, considering how polarizing they both are. Otherwise our Big Board shows a smattering of former Southern governors that few people in the real world have ever heard of.

Mr. Duncan, pack your bags...

This Washington Post analysis is a nice cut on the school comparison genre. It looks at elementary schools in the Washington, DC area and ranks them on the percentage of students reaching the "advanced" level on state tests. It doesn't help policymakers know which schools are closing the achievement gap or otherwise serving poor students well, but it does give upper middle class parents a sense of where to buy a home if they want Junior to be surrounded by high-scoring peers. (And I say upper-middle class for a reason; what I know of the neighborhoods surrounding most of these schools is that they are EXPENSIVE, even amidst the housing crisis.)

It's heartening to notice, by the way, that these schools have made impressive gains in boosting students to the advanced level, even if No Child Left Behind's incentives don't give them any reason to do so.

Advanced Scores on the Maryland School Assessment

More D.C. Area Scores: D.C. | Virginia |

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Rank Elementary school School system Percent rated advanced in 2008 Advanced percentage

I've been quite transparent about my interest in seeing the education secretary job filled by a sitting or former governor. I think governors tend to make great cabinet secretaries, in part because they understand politics, in part because they are seen as equals by the big egos on Capitol Hill, and in part because they appreciate the limits of federal involvement in education. That's why I liked Jim Hunt, and then Bill Richardson, for the job.

But Hunt took himself out of contention. So did Tim Kaine. Richardson went to Commerce. Napolitano took Homeland Security. And now Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius has taken herself out of contention, too.

Sure, there are a handful of gubernatorial contenders left, but none are perfect. Former Georgia governor Roy Barnes staked his political future on a big fight with the teachers unions on tenure (and lost, poor guy)--so he's appealing. But his work on the NCLB Commission left us wondering if he wanted to be Minister of Education and had missed the key lessons of the NCLB era. (See: hubris...

The news media is clearly anticipating the announcement of an education secretary pick soon, because the k-12 issue hasn't gotten this much attention since George Bush and Ted Kennedy teamed up to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. First David Brooks and the Washington Post editorial board made the Democratic Party's education schism official, and then The New Republic turned up the temperature on Linda Darling-Hammond. And now Newsweek's Jonathan Alter is telling us to buckle our seatbelts because Bill Gates is becoming an education reformer full time. All in the span of a few days!

There's plenty to like about Alter's piece; I love the quote by House education committee chairman George Miller that "the debate is between incrementalists and disrupters, and I'm with the disrupters." (Alter must have sat in on an editorial board meeting with his Post colleagues because they used that terminology too.)

But Mr. Alter, you ought to be ashamed about this line: "We know by now what works for at-risk kids. The challenge is trying to replicate it." Sure, this is true in the simplest sense. KIPP works. Achievement First works. Cristo Rey works....

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