Amy Fagan

I ran across an informative interview with Washington Post's Jay Mathews about his new book, Work Hard. Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America. The book explores in depth the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and tracks the career paths of founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. The interview with Jay was conducted by Check it out!

My initial reaction to the news (here and here ) that teachers at a KIPP school in New York City have voted to unionize included several variants on four letter words. But now, with the perspective of some time, I can offer a more refined view. You have to give it to the people who work at the American Federation of Teachers. They are good at their jobs.

Remember ??the AFT's impeccably-timed plant of a New York Times story about how charter schools performed worse than traditional public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress? It was August 2004???August being a perfect time to catch members of the charter school community napping away their summer vacations, and 2004 being an election year with an incumbent Republican president who strongly supported charter schools. (If you don't remember this episode, you can read a whole book about it.)

And now? The incoming Democratic president is a strong charter supporter, so frontal attacks are out. Instead, go after the most prized jewel of the charter movement (KIPP) and strike right at the heart...

The news that teachers in the KIPP AMP Charter School in Brooklyn have decided to unionize shook the charter school world. In Ohio, this movement toward reconciliation between charter schools and teachers unions does not come as a complete surprise. There is movement here away from the era of ruthless charter/district competition toward more partnerships and collaboration between the sectors.

The most innovative of these efforts in the Buckeye State are voluntary and include efforts like the Dayton Early College Academy in Fordham's hometown. DECA is a free-standing charter school that has close ties to both the Dayton Public Schools (its authorizer) and to the University of Dayton (which provides much of the school's organizational and academic leadership). In Cleveland, the district and a handful of charters have, according to Catalyst Ohio, been "meeting to discuss...

In case you'd like to go to the movies today, take a cooking class, get some exercise,??or simply enjoy a long nap, here's what we can expect from the Arne Duncan confirmation hearing.

1) Roughly 70% of the time will be taken up by Senators giving their own statements, riding their own hobbyhorses, putting down their own policy markers, extolling the importance of education, and cozying up to (and/or warning) Duncan. After delivering their opening remarks (at considerable length), most Senators will leave.

2) 20% of the time will be taken up by Duncan's plain-vanilla and totally non-committal prepared statement which will break no new ground, make no commitments, start no controversies, but be full of comments about the importance of "working with" Congress on just about everything.

3) the remaining 10% will be consumed by questions from the few Senators who remain in the chamber; the gist of every reply will be?? "I'll look into that" or "I'll surely work with you on that" or "I'll get back to you on that"??from the Secretary-designate.

4) at the end, or soon after the hearing, Duncan will be handed...

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As Amy implies below, Arne Duncan's Senate confirmation hearing was by all accounts a smashing success-if you define "success" as making no waves, upsetting no constituents, and sending no signals about the Obama Administration' intentions in the education sphere. Nor was it a honeymoon attended only by Senate Democrats; once-Secretary-of-Education Lamar Alexander told Duncan that he was Obama's "best" cabinet pick. (Take that, Hillary!) Duncan was happy to play along, with risky statements such as "never before has being smart been so cool" and "we must build upon what works and we must stop doing what doesn't work." Eventually Duncan and his boss are going to have to make decisions that will frustrate either the establishment or reform wings of the Democratic Party, but don't expect that day to come anytime soon....

Just think if this idea made its way to the k-12 system: ???A&M to base bonuses on student input???!

The New America Foundation beat me to the punch with its "20 Questions for the Secretary-Designate." They are pretty good, if somewhat leading. Example: "Would you say that universal pre-k education is (a) the best idea to come along in 100 years; (b) the key to America's future prosperity; (c) such an obvious solution that we shouldn't even be having this debate; or (d) warm and fuzzy like a new puppy?"

So I'm going to be both more modest and more ambitious. More modest by only offering one (timely!) question, and more ambitious by just coming out with the answer, too. Here goes:

Question #1: Mr. Duncan, by all accounts it appears that the Congress is about to spend upwards of $750 billion of taxpayer money to stimulate the economy. $200 billion of this will likely go to bail out the states, and, since one-third to one-half of state budgets go to the schools, $75-$100 billion of that will end up in k-12 education coffers. As Secretary of Education, are you going to have any involvement in that part of the bailout? If so, will you attach any strings to that enormous infusion of cash?


I spent yesterday afternoon on Capitol Hill and it confirmed what I already suspected: Washington is in complete paralysis around the No Child Left Behind act.

Republicans are commencing their stampede away from the law, particularly in the House, now that moderate Republicans have been all but eviscerated. Consider the new GOP Members of the House education committee, for example. Here's what Representative Tom McClintock has to say about the federal role in education:

Returning control and decision making power to our local communities and families regarding our children's education is crucial in making our education system work again. It is not the federal government's role to force every school district into a predetermined one-size fits all formula.

Or Duncan Hunter, Jr.:

The federal government has no business poking its nose into our local schools, telling parents and teachers what is best for our kids. Our public schools suffer from too much bureaucracy that eats up resources. We need more resources in the classroom, where they will do the most good.

These are not Margaret Spellings Republicans, to say the least.

Meanwhile, a sizable chunk of...

Amy Fagan

According to the New York Times coverage of Arne Duncan's Senate confirmation hearing this morning, the education secretary-designate told Senators he'd work for "real and meaningful change" in the nation's schools, but he didn't shed much more light on how exactly that would be done, or how he'd handle the No Child Left Behind law.

When Duncan did mention NCLB, seems (to me) he walked a middle line.

According to the NYT blog post:

"I have seen the law's power and its limitations," Mr. Duncan said, but he provided no examples of concrete changes he will seek. "I agree with the president-elect that we should neither bury NCLB nor praise it without reservation."

Duncan pledged to do "anything that works" to raise academic achievement in public schools, according to the NYT, and said the new administration plans to expand early childhood programs, foster the opening of more charter schools, improve teacher training and recruitment, and increase access to college for low-income students.

The Senate seems ready to give quick approval to his nomination, according to the NYT post. You can watch Duncan's Senate confirmation hearing here and read the transcript here....