The debate is about to begin. What to watch for?

  • Will Mike Smith and Peter Edelman make it clear that they support test-based accountability? Or will they argue that since "schools alone" can't close the achievement gap, "schools alone" shouldn't be held accountable?
  • Will Smith and Edelman say conservatives are Scrooges for not willing to pay more for social services initiatives?
  • Will Gene Hickok and Doug Besharov point out that pre-k initiatives and other "broader/bolder" approaches don't have a great track record of going to scale at quality?
  • Will this be a real debate or will everyone say we have to focus on school improvement AND rebuild the social safety net?

Stay tuned. It's starting NOW.

This afternoon at 4:30 Fordham is hosting our second "Great Debate," this one on the "Broader/Bolder" manifesto. (Video of our first Great Debate is here.) Combatants (I mean participants) include:

  • ???Mike Smith, former deputy secretary of education in the Clinton Administration

  • ???Peter Edelman, former assistant secretary of health and human services in the Clinton Administration

  • ???Gene Hickok, former deputy secretary of education in the George W. Bush Administration

  • ...

Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennet* is racing ahead of his competitors for the Arne-alternative spot in our pick-the-next-education-secretary daily tracking poll of education insiders. With Arne's numbers down noticeably, it looks like the Blago-scandal is taking its toll, after all.

Jon Schnur is also back on the Big Board; maybe this Associated Press article is the reason why.

* An anonymous reader wrote in to provide more insight into why Jonathan Alter might have been promoting Michael Bennet so eagerly--or at least how he might have come to learn about his work in Denver. We already knew that Michael Bennet is the brother of James Bennet, the editor of the Atlantic. What I didn't know was that James Bennet and Jonathan Alter once worked together at the Washington Monthly. As I said before, small world. (Update: Wait, they didn't actually work together, my little birdie tells me, but they are both alumni of the clubby Washington Monthly.)...

Last week's spate of articles and editorials clarified Linda Darling-Hammond's role as a lightning rod on the Obama transition team. Not surprisingly, her friends and backers are pushing back against the current "narrative" that she's anti-reform. Consider this letter to the editor, from Sam Chaltain of the lefty (George Soros-funded) Forum for Education and Democracy, printed in today's Washington Post:

The claim that Ms. Darling-Hammond represents the "status quo" is ludicrous. Indeed, she has been an articulate advocate for young people throughout her professional life.

She was the founding executive director of the National Commission for Teaching and America's Future, a panel whose work catalyzed major policy changes to improve the quality of teacher education. She has been a powerful voice for the fundamental principle that all children deserve a well-prepared and properly supported teacher. She has advocated for strong accountability and has offered thoughtful alternatives -- a balanced system of measures to evaluate higher-order thinking skills. And she has urged federal policies that would stop the micromanagement of schools and start ensuring educational equity -- an issue only the federal government can tackle.

OK, let's take these claims that...

Laura Pohl

Checker recently visited schools in the slums of Hyderabad, India, where low-budget private schools are educating kids--and doing a pretty good job. Here are some of his thoughts, from a commentary just published on

In America my efforts to widen education options and promote school choice for poor kids, like the efforts of most U.S. reformers, have always assumed that, at day's end, the government must pay for this. Perhaps that's true in the Western world, perhaps it's not. But elsewhere on the planet, I can now attest, poor families are paying for it themselves and education entrepreneurs are responding to their demand (and their governments' failure) by starting, managing and growing such schools.

Most of them occupy sketchy facilities, sans playgrounds, labs, libraries and fancy technology. Many teachers are themselves just high-school graduates. The kids bring their own lunches. Parents provide transportation and go to the bazaar for textbooks and uniforms. Sports and extracurricular activities are scarce to nonexistent. Neither schools nor families have any money to spare.

But teaching and learning are occurring in those cramped and sometimes ill-lit classrooms. Eager youngsters, prodded by determined parents, are drinking in whatever knowledge and skills

Laura Pohl

Stats stud Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research graced our studio for the latest Education Gadfly Show podcast episode, now available here. You won't want to miss Mark's pontifications on the latest TIMSS results and his take on "advanced topics" courses. Also: Amber dishes on a charter school study and Stafford reports on yet another way schools are cutting costs (hint: caffeine addicts won't be amused). Listen to all this and more on the Education Gadfly Show!

Guest Blogger

From our intern Charlotte Underwood:

Looks like our earlier post on Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennet had some impact on today's pick-the-next-education-secretary vote. Though Arne Duncan still leads our poll, the Illinois governor's troubles may have sullied the Windy City, hurting Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan's chances of becoming the next education secretary. President-elect Obama is distancing himself from the Gov. Rod Blagojevich controversy, so maybe he will keep it no-drama-Obama and look to Bennet after all. ??Yesterday's boy-wonder Graham Spanier is still quite popular, as is Linda Darling-Hammond.

The newest addition to our Board? Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year and current CEO of Be The Change inc. A different kind of pick, but Obama did run for president with a community organizer background, so it could make sense.

Where is our money? Still on Duncan...

It's week FIVE, day three. Mr. Obama, if you are listening--we don't know how much longer we can hold out!


The Education Gadfly

The Department of Education released its long-anticipated undated FERPA regulations yesterday, to be analyzed by the Data Quality Campaign in the coming weeks (and covered by the Wall Street Journal here.). But don't read those without first turning to Chrys Dougherty's excellent analysis of FERPA - its flaws, history, and possible reforms - in Fordham's A Byte at the Apple. (And for a little humor, check out our FERPA music video - the tragic tale of one education researcher's quest for data.)

We still think Arne Duncan is the likely pick for education secretary, but what if, for whatever reason (say, the stench of scandal emanating from the Windy City), Team Obama decides to go in another direction? Could Michael Bennet, the Denver superintendent, be the go-to guy? According to this Denver Post article, he's well-liked by reformers and the teachers union (or at least his local teachers union) and politically savvy. He's non-traditional (he used to work in business) and he recently got a nod from Jonathan Alter at Newsweek. (Maybe Alter is friends with his brother James, who edits the Atlantic. It's a small world.) Of course, as the Post points out, he has yet to be mentioned prominently in Flypaper's pick-the-next-education-secretary-daily-tracking-poll. Maybe that will change today!

Photograph of Michael Bennet from The Denver Forum...
Laura Pohl

Mike was on the air again yesterday! NPR's All Things Considered interviewed him for a story on the Trends in??International Mathematics and Science Study results. You can listen to the whole report here; Mike's quote begins at 1:27.