The Education Gadfly

Arne Duncan loses 7 percentage points today, but it hardly matters given his substantial lead. Caroline Kennedy scoots up the big chart today, inching past Ray Mabus, whose support is increasing ever so slightly. Word on the street is Freeman Hrabowski doesn't want the job . John Deasy's name was mentioned for the first time today, but no one gave him enough votes to get him on the board. Given that he recently accepted a position at the Gates Foundation , it seems unlikely to us that he will be tapped, but stranger things have happened.

Who has retired from the spotlight? These names have had their moment on stage and have been heard from no more: Napolitano, Huckabee, Richardson, Canada, Lomax, Oprah. Powell, who is now at 2% of the vote, falling from 13.5%, may be about to join the group.

I'm not siding with those who fear the red pen, but colors can matter ??? here's a description of a study which found referees in fencing were biased toward those wearing red (rather than blue), and the same writer points to other research showing that hockey and football players wearing black uniforms act more aggressively, and are perceived as being more aggressive. But what I really want to know is, does the color of school uniforms affect test scores?

Field hockey photograph by KamalSell from Flickr

Jeb Bush must be tiring of the grueling hours and thankless hard work of life in an education think tank, as Politico reports that he may seek a Senate seat. And Florida's outgoing (Republican) House speaker says, "I think Jeb Bush should run and if he does I think he'll win." It would be interesting to see whether education would continue to be a central issue for him there, as it has been in the past.

Jeb Bush photograph from
Amy Fagan

Over at the AP, Libby Quaid is reporting that Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan is supposed to have coffee with outgoing education secretary Margaret Spellings tomorrow morning at the Education Department! According to the story, Duncan's camp says he's in town for a dropout prevention meeting and simply wants to stop by and invite Spellings to a Chicago schools event. Hmmmm??????perhaps. But perhaps there's more to chat about?????? Duncan's name, of course, is being floated for the next education secretary, and he is the clear leader in Fordham's daily tracking poll on the matter.

Margaret Spellings picture from Department of Education website

Dunkin' Donuts coffee picture from Dunkin' Donuts website

Arne Duncan picture from Chicago Public Schools website...

Amy Fagan

Teachers in Australia are being told to avoid using red pens to mark their students' work, because the color can be seen as aggressive. Huh? I had to re-read that one, just to make sure I understood. Apparently the advice ??? given out to about 29 schools as part of a Queensland Health kit ??? has caused quite the brouhaha. Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle called it a ???kooky, loony, loopy, Left policy.??? And Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations President Margaret Black made an impassioned plea to scrap it. ???We're calling for our children to grow up normally, including their work being marked with a red pen," she said.

The intensity of it all sounds like a debate over global warming or financial bailouts ??? not the use of a red writing implement.

The Courier-Mail of Brisbane and Queensland actually put together a photo gallery of ???red pens in action,??? warning that ???images may disturb some users.???

Some see the red pen situation as no laughing matter, though. According to the courier mail article:



The daily tracking poll grinds on, as our Washington Insiders* beg for President-Elect Obama to announce his domestic policy team, and in a hurry. The fatigue is clearly setting in, as today's results look strikingly similar to yesterday's. (Though the Big O is gone.)

One surprise (to me at least) is that our gang thinks New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein still has a shot. Really? Maybe Randi wants him out of the Big Apple. Still, by my reckoning, it's going to take some fancy dance moves for Mr. Chancellor to get the nod.

Others mentioned today: Colin Powell, Mike Easley, Hugh Price, Tom Vilsack, Beverly Hall, Jim Hunt, Freeman Hrabowski, Erskine Bowles, Roy Barnes, Ronnie Musgrove, and Jim Shelton.

* As a service to one of our readers who is suffering memory loss (not to mention fading fame and glory), the ten insiders are: me; Joel Packer, NEA; Michelle McLaughlin, TFA (Formerly AFT); Kevin Carey, Education Sector; Fritz Edelstein, Public/Private Action; Brooks Garber, National Alliance of Public School Choice; Nina Rees, Knowledge Universe; Dave DeSchryver,...

In light of the current financial calamity, was this really the best location for this speech? From Education Daily:

Spellings to speak today in Las Vegas

In the wake of several high-profile moves to secure the federal student loan market, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is scheduled to address the Federal Student Aid Conference today at Bally's Hotel and Ca??sino in Las Vegas.

Spellings is to discuss recent action taken by the Bush administration to promote college accessibility, af??fordability and accountability.

The education secretary will speak at 9 a.m. PST and will hold a media availability at 9:45 a.m. PST.

Las Vegas photograph from LaserGuided on Flickr
Amy Fagan

Harvard economist Roland Fryer made an appearance on The Colbert Report last night to discuss his new system of incentivizing students to learn more by paying them for good grades. (Check out their chat here). During the interview, Fryer said the achievement gap in America is "our biggest civil rights concern" and that it's time to "try innovative strategies" to correct it. On the lighter side, though, Fryer placed a bill (I believe $50) on the table for Colbert - but only if he asked good questions. And I chuckled (as did Fryer and the audience) at Colbert's query: "What is wrong with the older generation's way of doing things, where they paid kids to do well in school by not opening a can of unholy whup-a**?"

Photograph by ralphunden from Flickr...
Amy Fagan

In a City Journal review of the new Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Laura Vanderkam praises his prose and calls it an "engaging" read. But she also quite bluntly calls out the author on his insistence that "it's the best students who get the best teaching and the most attention." She strongly disagrees - calling this "patently untrue." And what does she use to back up her argument?

"A recent study from the Fordham Institute found that in the era of No Child Left Behind, teachers say they focus far more on their slower students than their quicker ones. Few American elementary schools group students extensively by ability, leaving the brightest students coasting through without ever doing the hard work that would allow them truly to excel later on. Many get bored and underachieve."

That's right! Fordham's "High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB" indeed found that low-achieving students receive much more attention from teachers than do advanced students. Read more about it here.

Overall, Gladwell's Outliers is an exploration of the complex forces that makes some people wildly successful -- including "hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies." Extremely...

It's week four of Fordham's name-the-next-education-secretary-daily-tracking poll, and yes, Arne Duncan is still in the lead. By a lot. Which means, according to one colleague of mine, that he probably won't get the job. If not, maybe another Chicagoan will: Oprah Winfrey. While she was first mentioned last week, she makes the big board for the first time today.

Why is Duncan such the heavy favorite? First, he's good friends with the President-Elect, which is no small matter. Second, he has been smart to reach out to both the reform camp and the establishment camp within the Democratic Party, for instance signing the Broader/Bolder manifesto but also the Education Equality one. And third, the diversity of President-Elect Obama's Cabinet picks thus far means that he can go with the white guy from Chicago for the education job if he wants to.

Other folks mentioned today: Colin Powell, Michael Lomax, Hugh Price, Ray Mabus, Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, Tom Vilsack, Freeman Hrabowski, Erskine Bowles, Roy Barnes, Ted Mitchell, and Jim Shelton....