By Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli

Reasons for Cheer

1. In a year when the Democratic nominee was practically guaranteed to win the White House, the most reform-minded Democratic candidate won. While his education policies are inchoate and imperfect, Barack Obama's positions on charter schools, merit pay, and even No Child Left Behind point toward a thoughtfulness and willingness to buck the status quo that were strikingly different from the postures of his closest competitors.

2. Support from the teacher unions was not essential to Obama's sweeping victory and frees him--if he's so inclined--to advance policies and programs that they don't love, perhaps starting with charter schools (one of the few issues enjoying bipartisan support during this election).

3. As the first African-American president, Obama will be uniquely positioned to use his bully pulpit to exhort parents, particularly minority parents, to uphold their responsibilities to foster their children's moral and intellectual development. Done right, this could be a powerful complement to whatever formal policies he puts forward.

4. Republican Senators will maintain a hedge against Democrats' worst impulses, keeping as they did the potential for filibuster.... that Andy Rotherham is giving advice to Republicans. On education, he thinks they should "promote sensible middle of the road ideas and rhetoric," as President Bush did during his 2000 campaign. In other words, New Dem Rotherham likes it when Republicans adopt New Dem ideas. You don't say?

Furthermore, he warns the GOP from embracing "the slash and burn and culture war approach of the 1990s" by promoting "a lot of ideas to effectively eviscerate the federal role in education, cut spending, devolve authority to the states and so forth." Hold on, Andy. It's true that the Republicans are always tempted by "culture war" politics, but calling for a more workable federal/state relationship in education is hardly akin to gay-bashing or pushing school prayer.

He then calls Fordham's idea of flipping the federal role in education a "moonshot" which has "little chance of becoming policy." I don't know; a law like NCLB would have once been considered unlikely. But more importantly, shouldn't we think tankers judge education policies by their effectiveness, rather than just their popularity? The Great Society was awfully popular in its day, yet...

Two years ago I complained about the ???apple ballot??? that the Montgomery County Education Association distributed with its election-time endorsements. Well, it's back this year, with ???Teachers Recommend??? still emblazoned prominently (and, in my view, somewhat misleadingly) at the top. But that's nothing compared to this year's great display of teacher union power: Montgomery County schools are not only closed today (purportedly to protect students from intruders, as most schools are used as polling places) but were also closed yesterday.* Which means that MCEA's 12,000 members could spend a long weekend campaigning for Democratic candidates (most likely, across the Potomac in Virginia), and then volunteer at polling places today, all without taking a single hour off of work. That's pretty smart politically, but what's the justification for students to miss two days of school in the middle of the fall semester?

* Update (3:20 p.m.): Fordham Fellow Catherine Cullen tells me that yesterday was a "professional day" for teachers in Montgomery County, meaning they had to work. She's right; this calendar confirms it, though it's still not clear to me if teachers had...

Amy Fagan

As the country decides who'll be the next president, Marylanders may take a gamble for even more ???change??? ??? quite literally. They're deciding whether to legalize slot machines! Supporters, of course, argue that there's a direct link to education -- that the infusion of revenue the machines would create is critically needed in the state, especially for schools. I'm very curious as to whether the majority of Marylanders will agree. And what about the rest of the country ??? do you think it's generally a ???win-win??? situation for a state to use revenues from slots (among other uses) to help educate their children? From previous posts, it seems our own Mike Petrilli (a Marylander!) leans towards a yes, though I refuse to ask him how he voted. Privacy is important, you know ??? that's why the booths have curtains!

Photograph from

It's no secret that some of us (though not all of us ) at Fordham* think that "religious charter schools" is an idea worth exploring. I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel about this very topic?? on Monday at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers conference, where, I must admit, I failed to convince the audience of my point of view. But an interesting twist came to light during the discussion: it turns out that some charter school authorizers--the quasi-public bodies that oversee these schools and are charged with holding them accountable--are themselves religious.

Exhibit A is the Minnesota Education Trust, the subject of a recent post by Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten .

"Minnesota Education Trust" sounds pretty generic, but the name seems to convey a clear sense of the organization's mission. Or does it?

MET's "principal goals" are set forth in its articles of incorporation, filed with the secretary of state in May 2007. The first goal listed is "to promote the message of Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims and promote understanding between them." Other goals include building a virtuous society


The recent NCLB regulations focus on high school graduation rates. Mark Schneider (as in former Bushie and now at AIR Mark Schneider), however, wants to know??the stats on college graduation rates. And that's exactly what he set out to discover in his new paper, "The Costs of Failure Factories in American Higher Education."

His main conclusion? The ratio of federal grants aid to colleges and college students to actual diplomas is deplorably low. In fact, 408 four-year institutions graduate fewer than one-third of their students. And we thought a 70% high school graduation rate was bad. But the cost to taxpayers is even more astounding:

To assess the "cost" of these "failure factories" to society, Schneider calculates the amount of federal financial aid received by the 158,000 students who enrolled in a given year in the 408 institutions that graduated fewer than a third of their students. About 44 percent of those enrollees received federal grants averaging $2,405, and the average graduation rate at the institutions was 18 percent. He determines the total federal grants given to non-graduates from those institutions to be $120 million, and drops that figure to $90 million by assuming that 25

The Education Gadfly

(Left to right): Fordham staffers in costume: Alice takes a peek through the Looking Glass, Sleeping Beauty catches some Zs, Snow White hums to the birds, Concert Goer #1 chills and a Wake Forest track star stretches.

Following the national trend set by 10-year-olds, some women of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute are opting for modest and traditional Disney princess costumes this year and staying away from -- what shall we call them? -- decidedly more revealing outfits. An expected $5.8 million is to be spent on Halloween this year, up a half-billion dollars from 2007, and this money is being spent on more fabric and less-revealing costumes. As Erica Noonan of The Boston Globe points out, ???An era when Halloween costume shopping for girls could be confused with exploring a Victoria's secret lingerie trunk may be fading??? as more consumers opt for ???bumblebees, ladybugs and superheroes.??? We are all disappointed that Mike did not dress up as the Gadfly.


Guest Blogger

Fall Intern Molly Kennedy offers up this reading:

With 25,000 students enrolled in charter schools and an additional 21,000 on waiting lists, charter schools in Boston are putting the burn on public schools .?? As a result, public school officials are seeking a change in funding practices, arguing that the cost of sending their pupils to charter schools is a burden. Some say the districts should learn a lesson about competitiveness; others wonder why the public should be supporting students outside the regular public school system. School superintendents are supporting bills to be filed in January that are designed "to change the charter school funding formula and make it rely less heavily on regular school districts."?? Read more here .

The Education Gadfly

The National Education Association headquarters in Washington, D.C.