The Education Gadfly

Checker's weighing in on The Gates Foundation's new education strategy with an op-ed on While Checker lauds the emphasis on high school completion, college readiness, national standards and strengthening education data, some areas are left wanting.

Two cheers are surely deserved. It's too early to know, however, whether a third is warranted. For what was emphasized in Seattle, and in the materials released so far, is mostly an educator's (and student's) version of education reform, not a parent's, taxpayer's or policymaker's version. Indeed, the word "parent" scarcely appears, nor "choice," "charter" or "governance," nor much by way of politics, policy or finance.

Read the whole column here.

Democrats for Education Reform is circulating a document with its wish list for the transition, including suggestions for key education jobs in the Obama Administration. I read this as a guide to the positions the folks listed below would like for themselves. (And, for the most part, education reformers should be thrilled to see them get their way.)

  • White House Policy Czar: John Podesta
  • Domestic Policy Director: Jon Schnur, James Kvaal, Roberto Rodriguez, or Michele Jolin
  • OMB (position unnamed): Michael Dannenberg
  • Secretary of Education: Arne Duncan (strong preference), Wendy Kopp, Jon Schnur, Hugh Price, Alan Bersin, Mike Easley, Kathleen Sebelius, Janet Napolitano, Roy Barnes, or Bob Wise
  • Deputy Secretary/ Under Secretary: Andrew Rotherham, Russlyn Ali, James Shelton, or Ted Mitchell
  • Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education: Michael Bennet, Anthony Alvarado, Patricia Harvey, or Bart Peterson
  • Title I Director*: Zollie Stephenson or Brad Jupp
  • Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education: Kevin Carey, Barmak Nassirian, or Bob Shireman
  • Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation: Robert Gordon, Kevin Hall, Alice Johnson Cain, or Andrew Rotherham
  • Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs: Roberto Rodriguez
  • Assistant Secretary for English Language Acquisition: Peter Zamora
  • Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement: Kim Smith, Kevin Chavous,
  • ...

It looks like Jim Hunt convinced our panel that he doesn't want to move to Washington, because he's back in a distant second place behind Chicago schools superintendent (and FOBO*) Arne Duncan. But the word on the street is that this is an old-fashioned head-fake, and that Hunt and his associates are campaigning hard for the job.

Meanwhile, it looks like Joel Klein's star is falling. And notice the growing number of women and minorities making the list. Conventional wisdom is that President-Elect Obama might name white men to a few of the big cabinet jobs, which means he'll need women, African-Americans, and Latinos to balance his team's diversity.

Other folks mentioned today include Peter McWalters, Caroline Kennedy, Jon Schnur, Erskine Bowles, and Susan Castillo.

* Friend of Barack Obama

The Washington Post has a front-page story today about the Republican Governors Association meeting being held in Florida this week. Not surprisingly, the guvs are gloomy, and they are pointing fingers at their colleagues in the Administration and Capitol Hill for making a mess of the Republican brand.

But governors, get a grip. Don't expect salvation from Washington. While Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America deserved much credit for bringing the GOP back from the abyss in 1994, its arguments to devolve power to the states and limit the federal government were salable only because people could point to bold, reform-minded governors who were really shaking things up. Think John Engler on education, Tommy Thompson on welfare, and on and on.

Who are the reform governors now? Tim Pawlenty is good on pay-for-performance, and Bobby Jindal got a small voucher program through his Southern legislature. That's an OK start. But??it's not much to brag about.

What the GOP most needs are at least a handful of governors to make bold, competent moves in policy areas voters care about, including education. So who's it going to be?

Photograph of...
Guest Blogger

From Fall intern Molly Kennedy:

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the faltering economy is forcing schools to tighten their belts. The number one cost-saving step school districts have already taken? Altering thermostats. That's according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators. Other steps include hiring reductions, fewer supplies, larger class sizes, and a decrease in extracurricular activities. Read media coverage of the survey here, here and here.

Thermostat photograph from midnightcomm on Flickr...
The Education Gadfly

(Due to technical difficulties, we're giving everyone another chance to enter the name-the-next-education-secretary contest. If you already entered, please enter again).

Think you know your who's who in education policy? Well here's your chance to prove it. Don't wait! Cast your vote by 6:00 p.m. Friday and enter to win an autographed copy of Checker Finn's Troublemaker! Just email us your best guess to [email protected]. If multiple people pick the eventual nominee, books will go to the first three entrants. So vote today! Winners will be announced as soon as the nomination is made.

So reports the Associated Press. Will our Washington Insiders believe him? Diane Ravitch will be disappointed if he's serious. (So will I.)

I attended an advisory panel meeting today for a study looking at how to retain talented Gen Y teachers in the classroom. I was rather skeptical from the beginning, as I doubt that it's possible to keep talented young people in any job for more than a few years. The nature of most young high-achievers is that they want a variety of challenges and experiences.

Still, two profound insights surfaced today, both of which were new to me. First, one participant (a former teacher turned district official) argued that one of the most powerful levers for keeping great people in the classroom is to let go of ineffective teachers. Survey data from Education Sector's recent report on teachers, Waiting to be Won Over , backs this up. Great teachers are endlessly frustrated by watching colleagues who are burned out, putting in minimal hours, and doing harm to children. And if they don't see leaders address these underperformers, the high performers are going to go someplace else. (I think that's true in any workplace, by the way.)

So that leads us to a conversation about tenure reform, right? No, not necessarily. The...

Maybe it was Diane Ravitch's strong arguments, or perhaps our insiders took a peek at this document, but former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt has taken a tiny lead over Chicago schools superintendent Arne Duncan in the race for 400 Maryland Avenue (previous results here and here). Meanwhile, NYC Chancellor Joel Klein is hanging tough, and has now moved into third place. Which I can't quite understand. Don't you have to assume that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have a veto over any Obama nominees for the ed sec job? And wouldn't she use it when it comes to Klein? (Especially in light of this petition which urges Obama to go in another direction.)

Still, our ten insiders have spoken:

Keep your eye on Atlanta superintendent Beverly Hall; David Hoff, for one, says she's a real contender. Other folks mentioned today: Peter McWalters, Jon Schnur, Susan Castillo, Tom Payzant, Kathleen Sebelius, Erskine Bowles, Bob Wise, and Roy Romer.


Laura Pohl

The Los Angeles Times reports that several charter schools in California are outperforming traditional public schools in the state when it comes to serving children in poverty. Ben Chavis, the head of American Indian Public Charter said it's easier to teach poor students because they are more motivated than affluent students. "It's the opposite of what everybody says," he said. "It's easier to do it with the poor kids and the minority kids because they have nothing, so they should be the highest." Read more here.