Amy Fagan

What would help Jim Shelton--at the Education Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement--do his job better? Clearer standards in this country. Shelton spoke this morning at the conference we're hosting, entitled: International Lessons About National Standards.

Clear, rigorous standards actually encourage more innovation in education, Shelton said, because ???by being clear about end goals, you free people,??? to try many different ways to get there. He said ???while we argued??? as a nation about whether fewer, clearer standards were needed, other countries moved ahead. You can read about other countries' experiences with education standards in the new policy brief released today. Bill Schmidt, Michigan State University professor and author of that brief, also spoke earlier. He said we cannot improve education standards in this country without some sort of national center to direct the process. That doesn't mean federal standards, he stressed. Focused, coherent, rigorous standards can and should be built from the bottom up, by states and others on the ground, he said, and they should be voluntary . But ???we need a national institutional center to pull this off,??? he said.

The day continues as experts from South Korea, Germany and Australia discuss the...


It started at 9 am this morning and Jim Shelton is currently giving his remarks. Watch it live via webcast here.*

*The webcast is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Stay tuned for more information. A video of the event will also be available later this week.


In the midst of the school-funding battle here in the Buckeye State, it is easy to lose sight of the other major education reforms on Governor Strickland's agenda, including revamping the state's academic standards and assessments. The governor says the revisions are necessary in order to incorporate the teaching of "21st century skills" in Ohio's classrooms. I don't agree, but I also don't think it matters much what Ohio's schools are expected to teach or students are expected to learn if the bar by which we judge student and school performance isn't raised.????

Ohio's low cut scores on our state reading and math tests were brought to light in 2007's The Proficiency Illusion, and an Education Trust report out last month highlighted the gap between proficiency levels on Ohio's state achievement tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Akron Beacon Journal columnist Laura Ofobike picked up on EdTrust's findings today:

Are we basking in an illusion of progress under the state assessments? Is the achievement bar set high enough that our students can match up outside Ohio? Draw your own conclusions. Here's what the state report showed, comparing proficiency rates on


If you're like me, you're generally skeptical of this Twitter business. ????It seems kind of like LoJack but for people. ????But I've come around lately, thanks in part to my colleagues here at TBFI.

I wasn't able to make it to their international standards conference today, but because I'm following Fordham on Twitter, I was able to keep up all day. ????And some really interesting stuff happened--it was a great event.

If you're interested in TBFI's work, just go to your Twitter account and search for educationgadfly and then choose to follow. ????You'll be glad you did.

And while I'm at it, props to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for their twittering. ????They're excellent at it--updates are germane and timely but not incessant. ????It's particularly interesting this week since it's NCSW. ????You can find them at charteralliance....


If you've ever hired anyone, you know that that colleague you get is nearly always quite different than the candidate you interviewed--sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always different.

This interesting paper about teacher quality adds to the substantial but far-from-conclusive literature on what makes for a great teacher. In short, a few previously unstudied teacher characteristics appear to correlate with improved student achievement, but nothing revolutionary.

If you're looking for something on the same subject but with a reduced wonk factor and more talk about college football (seriously), check out this New Yorker article by author of all things curious, Malcolm Gladwell. Other professions face the same recruitment challenge, but they address it differently than those in the teacher-hiring business; instead of big barriers to entry and few back-end check-ins, they open up the floodgates on the front-end and then weed out along the way.


It's National Charter Schools Week, and the Alliance has all kinds of activities planned and news to share. Here are a couple highlights:

Lots of information and resources can be found here.

I'm reminded again and again of America's need for an independent education-achievement "audit agency" to sort out the claims and counterclaims about student performance and school achievement and when it has risen and when it has flat-lined or fallen--and why.

In today's Washington Post, former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, relentlessly defending the No Child Left Behind act over the implementation of which she long presided, tries to attribute NAEP gains since 1999 to the impact of NCLB. She doesn't exactly remind us that NCLB was proposed in January 2001, signed into law in January 2002, and the first school year on which it could conceivably have had an influence would be 2002-3. The most recent (long-term)??NAEP results come from spring 2008, meaning that five years is the longest period for which any student gains could even be ASSOCIATED with NCLB, much less attributed to NCLB. (Because this was no random experiment, any gains could equally have been caused by global warming or whatever.) Unfortunately, the long-term-trend??NAEP wasn't administered in 2003, however (or 2002 for that matter), so one faces a challenge in deciding what to use as the baseline. The assessment was given in 1999, then...


Ohio's governor and House of Representatives are supporting a state budget bill that would add billions of dollars in state spending on public education over the next decade and would mandate more decisions about public education at the state level. Yet a new Fordham Institute & Catalyst Ohio survey released today, Checked Out: Ohioans' Views on Education 2009, indicates that 74 percent of Ohioans believe that if the Buckeye State decided to spend more money on the public schools, the money would not get to the classrooms and improve education and instead "would get lost along the way." Further, just 3 percent of Ohioans want the governor making "decisions about how to spend tax money allocated to Ohio's public schools" and a meager 4 percent trust the state legislature with the task. Read our take on the survey's results in today's special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly.


Interesting column by the Post's Colbert King on a speech given by the President of Morehouse College, namely about ???????a critical ingredient that bonds Morehouse men: a fundamental discontent about mediocrity.???????????????King's summary of the speech makes it sound like the principal of????a high-performing, high-poverty charter would've been equally comfortable giving it.

Jay Mathews reports on a sparsely attended but potentially portentous press conference.???? Apparently, Broad and Gates are giving the AFT $2.8 million to launch "innovative programs."


Jack Kemp, former congressman, cabinet secretary, and VP nominee????????and one of my favorite politicos of all time????????passed away on Saturday.???? Kemp had a stellar professional football career and then turned his preternatural energy and good humor toward public service.???? He understood civil rights and social justice issues as well as anyone on the Republican side of the aisle and fought for them vigorously.???? But unlike many with these leanings, he believed that conservative policies were likelier to bring about dignity, freedom, and prosperity than well-intentioned but hulking and expensive government programs.

Accordingly, this self-styled ???????bleeding-heart conservative??????? fought for empowerment zones in urban neighborhoods and school choice for disadvantaged boys and girls.???? On this second point, Kemp was particularly important to conservatism.???? Though many on the right, from Friedman on, saw a choice and competition-based system as an economically sensible way to delivery public education, Kemp realized that the true virtue of school vouchers lie in their ability to empower low-income families and enable disadvantaged kids to access schools that were otherwise out of reach.

Mike recently lamented the state of the Republican Party's thinking on education reform issues.???? The GOP could do...