The Education Gadfly

Panel 2: Innovations and Promising Practices

The Education Gadfly

Panel 1: Why We Don't Have the Data We Need

I may have been the first person to predict that the ed sec job will go to Bill Richardson, but I'm no longer the only one who thinks it's a real possibility. He's moved into the bronze medal position in our daily tracking poll of Washington insiders. Still, Arne Duncan has a commanding lead, with almost a one in three chance of getting the nod.

Other folks mentioned today: Janet Napolitano (come on folks, don't you read the papers, not to mention this blog?), Colin Powell, Hugh Price, Caroline Kennedy, Tim Kaine, Peter McWalters, Erskine Bowles, Ted Michell, Linda Darling-Hammond, Jim Hunt, Jim Shelton, Alan Bersin, and (ha!) Mike Huckabee....

I'm still waiting for my invitation, but a source passed this along to me:

Please Save The Date

The Portrait Unveiling of Secretary Spellings

Date: Thursday, December 18, 2008

Time:?? 3:00 P.M. - 5:00 P.M.

Location: Lyndon B. Johnson Building, Barnard Auditorium

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20202

My my. Is this really the best use of taxpayer dollars in a time of economic crisis? The Washington Post reports that these ego-enhancers can cost the public up to $35,000. Wouldn't a snapshot do? Still, if she's going to have a portrait, and if it isn't too late, maybe the artist can add a background relevant to her time as Secretary. Here are some suggestions:

  • Rod Paige, getting pushed under a bus
  • Buster the Bunny, and his lesbian friends, "threatening" America's children
  • A piece of Ivory soap, with "NCLB" carved into it
  • Chris Doherty, getting pushed under a bus
  • Sketches of all of the tourist spots she visited on her international junkets

Got more ideas? Post ???em!

Photo of Margaret Spellings from U.S. Department of Education website...

There's a growing consensus among conservative smarties that the key to the GOP's renewal is getting things done at the state level. Mort Kondracke adds his voice to this chorus in a Roll Call article today:

GOP governors [should] use their posts to show the country how conservatives can solve problems, especially the dismal state of American education and its menacing cousin, lagging American competitiveness. If one governor would fully implement a widely circulated proposal to transform U.S. education -- based on having most children graduate after 10th grade and using the savings to pay teachers like professionals -- it could serve as a model for the nation and bring the United States back to world standards.

He's right that the "Tough Choices or Tough Times" proposal to which he refers would be a good start, though there are other ideas too. But the sentiment is unassailable. GOP governors: stop complaining and start a revolution.

Photograph of Mort Kondracke from

Fordham Board member Diane Ravitch takes to the (web)pages of to discuss the Gates' small schools movement. It was a well-intentioned effort, she argues, but ultimately not the "silver bullet" the Gates Foundation had hoped. But, she concludes, kudos to Gates for realizing the error of their ways (Checker weighed in on this in last week's Gadfly).

Nina Rees and Doug Mesecar, both former leaders of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement, respond to Ted Mitchell's and Jon Schorr's Ed Week commentary in this (longish) letter to the editor. And yes, they throw down the voucher gauntlet:

Innovation and politics don't play well together. Take the District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Program as an example, since Messrs. Mitchell and Schorr forgot to mention it. If innovation should break the mold, this program truly meets the test. Some Democrats and Republicans consider empowering low-income families with the option to enroll their children in well-established private schools an innovation worth exploring; many more, however, do not.

The scholarship program is part of a unique "three sector" initiative designed and championed by local leaders


As I predicted, Arizona governor Janet Napolitano got a big bounce on the education secretary front from the news that she's not likely to get the nod for the Attorney General job. United Negro College Fund president Michael Lomax is now viewed as the most likely higher ed alternative. And New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's star is rising too (my campaigning is clearly paying off).

Other mentions today: Colin Powell (out of the "top contenders" race for the first time), Hugh Price, Caroline Kennedy, Peter McWalters, Wendy Kopp, Tim Kaine, Ted Mitchell, Linda Darling-Hammond (with her first mention today), Jim Hunt, Erskine Bowles, Jim Shelton, and Alan Bersin....

The Institute of Education Science's final Reading First evaluation report is out today, and the news is mixed. Schools receiving funds from the program saw their students' decoding skills improve, but not their comprehension skills. Not surprisingly, Margaret Spellings focused on the former, and the press focused on the latter. And in his last hurrah, IES director Russ Whitehurst, the subject of a new Education Next feature, sided with the naysayers: "It is a program that needs to be improved," he told the Washington Post. "I don't think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension."

Well, let's keep a few things in mind. First, children can't learn to comprehend if they don't first learn to decode, so we shouldn't minimize the real gains made there. Second, as Whitehurst has admitted before, this is a study about the impact of Reading First funds, not its instructional methods. The schools in the "control group" may not have received federal dollars for reading, but many likely borrowed Reading...