ED Senior Advisor Mike Smith voiced some contrarian views????on national or "common" standards yesterday. ????It's nice and highly uncommon to see a high-ranking administration official critique arguments made by his bosses, especially on an issue where a consensus is developing around a position embraced by the administration. ????Though Smith ultimately comes down on the side of President Obama and Secretary Duncan (and Fordham for that matter), it shows thoughtfulness to address both sides of the issue fairly and publicly. I suppose a certain degree of independence comes with long experience and a personal request of service from the Secretary.

Amidst all of our adult arguments about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, we seem to forget that there are 1,700 living, breathing children involved. Here's a reminder video from the Heritage Foundation:

On Saturday, the Washington Post's editorial page????again????wrote in favor of the threatened DC Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) Program. ????The Post's editors have been a sympathetic and level-headed voice on this issue for some time. ????While supporting the program's intentions--helping disadvantaged kids in low-performing public schools access higher-performing nonpublic schools--they are also arguing that we all allow evidence of effectiveness drive the ultimate decision on the program's fate. ????The key data will be made available shortly in the form of the final program evaluation report, which is due this spring. ????(The second-year report, can be found here.)????

The Baltimore Sun's editorial page weighed-in this morning in favor of the bold school reform plan announced by that city's superintendent. ????The plan is excellent and the editorial is very well done. ????This line was particularly striking to me: "To turn around the whole system, you have to maximize the number of good schools and minimize the bad." ????Right on, I say. ????Close bad schools, open new schools, replicate great schools, and--I'm hoping more people start adding this final one--make successful nonpublic schools accessible to kids as well....

Another couple recommendations from my finally shrinking to-read stack.

This superb 2006 Brookings teacher quality report????from Gordon, Kane, and Staiger graphs the influence teachers have on student learning. ????The whole report is worth reading, but if nothing else, check out figures 1, 2, and 4. ????They clearly make the case that we ought to be agnostic about what type of preparation program a teacher comes from and instead focus on his/her achievement effects. ????The variation among the products of different preparation programs is much greater than the differences between the programs. ????(The very same thing can be said of school types.)

This interesting Education Next article from West and Woessmann finds that Catholic populations a century ago in various countries have a bearing on the number of Catholic schools still operating in those nations today. ????More importantly, the competitive pressure generated by these schools appears to have improved student achievement and school efficiency in both public and private schools. ????Lots of interesting implications but the one that springs to mind first is that this suggests that America's urban school systems would be even lower performing and more expensive today were it not...

This morning, NYT columnist David Brooks turns in an uneven????analysis????of President Obama's education speech. ????His opening hook (the president's anecdote about studying early in the morning with his mother) takes him off the rails a bit. ????An extended discussion about the importance of "relationships" culminates in this curiosity:

Most important, it would increase merit pay for good teachers (the ones who develop emotional bonds with students) and dismiss bad teachers (the ones who treat students like cattle to be processed).

Both parentheticals are inapt.

After reviewing the president's support of high standards, good assessments, and quality data, Brooks ends by properly chastising Mr. Obama for being "shamefully quiet" about????the DC scholarship program, which congressional Democrats have all but killed. ????But then he writes the following:

But in the next weeks he'll at least try to protect the kids now in the program.

We don't know that. ????The president hasn't said as much, and he signed legislation that does quite the contrary. ????While his press secretary provided a small ray of hope, this problem now cannot be easily solved through the budget or appropriations process. ????Due to language in the omnibus, reviving the...

Amy Fagan

Our friend Rick Hess also offered his thoughts (pasted below this entry) on the Obama education speech earlier this week. Rick wasn't entirely optimistic. On one hand, he praised the fact that Obama "explicitly endorsed performance pay, (eventually) removing lousy teachers, and the need for more charterschools. All to the good, and none of it easy."

However, Rick was rather skeptical about some aspects--"the President sent up worrisome signals that he may champion faddish "21st century skills" pablum in lieu of strong content standards, was so vague on performance pay that the unions said they shared his vision, and remained silent on the effort of congressional Democrats to choke off the D.C. voucher program even as he touted the need for "innovation.""

To sum it up? "The president can give a great speech and his heart seems to be in the right place. But will his administration's actions match his handsome words? The speech gives cause for optimism; the early

signs, cause for skepticism. Classic Obama."

We've copied Rick's post from the National Review Online's The Corner since his thoughts are now buried about halfway down the page:

Edu-Reform . .


It's short on details, but yesterday's White House press briefing transcript offers a tidbit about President Obama and the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program:

Q: Robert, what does the President think about the D.C. scholarship program? The spending bill zeroes out and cuts the money for it.

MR. GIBBS: The President--as I've said I think last week, the President doesn't believe that vouchers are a long-term answer to our educational problems and the challenges that face our public school system, where the vast majority of students are educated in this country. The President laid out a fairly robust education reform plan yesterday. But the President I think understands that there are--it wouldn't make sense to disrupt the education of those that are in that system, and I think we'll work with Congress to ensure that a disruption like that doesn't take place.

Q: So will he propose in his full budget to restore that funding for those kids already in the program?

MR. GIBBS: I'd certainly look through the budget stuff, but I think, whether it's in the budget or in the appropriations process, that we look for a way to work with--work with Congress to ensure, as I said, that


Many were caught off guard by this press release from the US Department of Education today. ????Jo Anderson, head of the Illinois Education Association (an NEA affiliate), was named "senior advisor" to Secretary Duncan. ????

I checked with my trusted sources in Illinois, and they only had positive things to say about Mr. Anderson. They reported that he's been a pleasure to work with and, in the words of one, "he's a terrific guy." Apparently, he's also been supportive of charters in the suburbs and downstate (evidently his organization mostly stays out of Chicago issues).

Congratulations to Mr. Anderson. ????We wish you good luck.

Here's my analysis of the Obama education speech in National Review. ????Lots of comments elsewhere:????Eduwonk weighs in here, Diane Ravitch here, Jeanne Allen here.

I spent yesterday guest-lecturing at a reputable education school about the role of the federal government in education. These last-semester teaching candidates appeared bright and interested, yet I walked away feeling as if they knew far too little about the policy issues surrounding the profession they were about to enter. To be fair, I probably delved more deeply into the nuances of the ed policy landscape than their limited experience warranted. But about a quarter of the way into the talk, the professor politely interrupted me to ask the class if anyone knew who Arne Duncan was (whose name I had already mentioned several times at this point). None of the 84 pairs of hands in the auditorium went up. Cat or shyness got their tongue? Maybe. But blank stares abounded.

Now, I completely understand that these individuals are going to be classroom teachers--not the next generation of education policy wonks--but something about their unawareness illustrated a larger problem inherent in the teacher/policy divide. And that's this: Teachers often complain that policymakers are out of touch with what's happening in classrooms and they thrust upon them all manner of ridiculous federal, state, and local education statute. However, many...