The Education Gadfly

Having a slow work day as everyone takes off for the holidays? Then sing along to this new classic set to the tune of "Frosty the Snowman" with lyrics by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. You can peruse more Fordham videos here, including our open letter to President-elect Obama and our popular "Byte at the Apple" event highlights. Happy Holidays!

This weekend the Post also published a letter of support from D.C. Public Charter School Board member Will Marshall, whose day job is president of the Progressive Policy Institute. He wrote:

The Dec. 14 front-page story "Public Role, Private Gain" labored to concoct a conflict-of-interest scandal at the D.C. Public Charter School Board . All it lacked was evidence of wrongdoing. As members of the Charter School Board, we regret that the target of this journalistic drive-by was our highly effective chairman, Thomas A. Nida .

Particularly offensive was the insinuation that Mr. Nida voted to shut down a charter school to benefit the bank that employs him. Every time our board has closed a charter school it has done so because that school was demonstrably failing to serve its students and D.C. taxpayers.

Members of the board are volunteers; we are paid nothing for the many hours we devote, on top of our day jobs, to ensuring that all District children have access to good public schools.

With supporters from Fordham and PPI, not to mention the Post editorial board , I'd say there's a bipartisan...

We lambasted WaPo last week for its inappropriate and overly harsh treatment of DC Charter School Board Chairman Tom Nida (here and here , too). This Saturday, the Post amended its position with the following:

Much of the credit for the success of the charters must go to the volunteer public charter school board, which, in the span of a dozen years, has overseen the growth of a sizable school system. The Post investigation raised questions about whether its members, in particular??Chairman Thomas A. Nida , paid sufficient attention to conflict-of-interest rules. It's important that the matter be investigated, and both D.C. Attorney General??Peter J. Nickles and the city's campaign finance office are looking into the situation. The board should revise its practices to bring better transparency to its actions. But calls for a purge of board members are premature. Consider, for instance, that there were sound educational reasons for some of the actions that have been called into question (such as closing schools that were failing to adequately educate their students). It would be wrong to discount the important work done by the


Usually school districts see themselves as competing with charter schools for students. Not the Recovery School District. Superintendent Paul Vallas plans on increasing the market share of charters in New Orleans by converting more schools to charter schools. The schools under consideration for the switch are mostly low performing--and Vallas hopes that their new found charter status under private leadership might be the ticket to seeing test scores rise. Higher performing and career schools are also under consideration. The plan has the support of State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, too, which is key since all charter switches will require state approval. Vallas explains:

"This is the tide. You're swimming against the tide if you don't embrace this approach. That's why I came down here," Vallas said. "If you create a district of charters and independent schools, you insulate the district from the adverse effects of having a monopolistic education system."

The next step is figuring out an accountability system for schools serving K-2. Since students don't take the LA test, iLEAP, until third grade, there's little way to evaluate charter schools serving younger students.

I like the sound of this plan, if only because of Vallas' attitude about...

According to an op-ed in this morning's Wall Street Journal, Pennsylvania has the highest incidence of teacher strikes in the country. In fact, 110 school districts are at risk of teachers going on strike in the next 6 months. PA apparently has the ninth highest average teacher salary in the country--$54,970 in 2006-2007. Other interesting facts: 42% of the country's teacher strikes occur in the Quaker State and carry no consequences for teachers or unions (some states fine unions for strikes or make teachers give up salary for days missed). Worst of all, in 2007-2008, kids who were chucked out of classrooms while teachers were on strike were on these strike-vacations for an average of 13 days. That's a lot of school days to miss!

The Education Gadfly

Leaders here at Fordham praised the report Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education, released today by The National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers and Achieve, Inc. Fordham president Checker Finn said:

Though America's belated moves toward international benchmarking and ???common' state standards face many perils--done wrong, they could reignite ???culture wars' and sacrifice vital??U.S. curricular values on the altar of nebulous skills--this is a tremendously important initiative," said Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr.. "That it's happening outside the federal??government avoids some hazards. Now the partner organizations must move expeditiously but wisely through those that remain. I applaud their willingness to do so.

Read the Fordham press release here and read the full report here....

They said it was an impossible dream. But look: a coalition of state organizations has announced that they will work toward common standards in reading and math in grades K-12. This is the "Let's all hold hands" strategy to creating national standards that we outlined over two years ago--and probably the one approach with the greatest likelihood of success. Today's announcement won't get much press attention but it sure will be noticed by historians some day.

Photograph by (nutmeg) from Flickr

What's the cosmic significance of the Arne Duncan pick???The Wall Street??Journal's Gerald Seib, channeling Checker, says that it proves President-Elect Obama's pragmatism:

The real prototype of Obama appointees, though, may be Mr. Duncan, the Chicago schools chief who is to become education secretary. A Harvard graduate, onetime professional basketball player in Australia, and friend of the president-to-be, Mr. Duncan has managed to build a reputation as a school reformer without winning the enmity of the teachers unions that often resist school reforms.

How did he do that? "He's a little bit of a Rorschach figure; you can read into him what you want," says Chester Finn, a conservative education expert who served in the Reagan education department yet praises the Duncan selection. He calls Mr. Duncan a "rounded-edges kind of guy" who has "closed some schools but hasn't had mass layoffs" among teachers. "He's a pragmatist, I guess," Mr. Finn concludes. At this point, at least, that seems an apt description of much of the emerging Team Obama.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, channeling (Fordham trustee) Diane Ravitch, says that it shows that you can be pro-union and pro-school reform:

To declare that the only test


Governor Patterson has proposed cutting nearly $88 million over two years in aid to private independent and parochial schools. The funds, specifically, are $44 million a year that is given to private schools to track and report to the state attendance rates throughout the day (apparently NY state counts noses more than once throughout the school day).

The reactions to this announcement have been pointedly negative:

TEACH New York State balked at the announcement, issuing a release headlined: 'Governor to religious and independent school students: Drop dead.'

"Our families cannot absorb any more strain, and the state cannot afford to continue allowing our schools to close--which will only exacerbate the financial crisis lawmakers are desperately trying to solve," said Richard Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference.

Two things. First of all, sure, families are strained financially...but so is the state...and the state gets (most of) its money in taxes from those same families. I've seen this government-must-keep-paying-because-our-families-are-struggling sentiment again and again over the past few weeks. Where do these people think governments get their dollars? Trees? Sure, the federal government can keep printing more cash, but that's not sustainable in the long term....

The Education Gadfly