Flypaper

I'm heading out of town this evening for a spring break, but before I do I thought I'd check in and give our Reader Reform-o-Meter a check. As loyal Flypaper readers know, whenever we put someone or something through the Reform-o-Meter treatment, you get to voice your vote, too. To see how readers have reacted to recent Obama Administration decisions, check out these posts on Arne Duncan's statement about school vouchers, the appointment of Charlie Rose as Education Department General Counsel, and the selection of Robert Gordon and Roberto Rodriguez as Obama's White House education staff. (Click on "view results.")

Mostly the readers and I are simpatico, with a cumulative rating of "Luke Warm" for the Obama team so far. But one anomaly stands out: Our readers LOVE Charlie Rose. He's off-the-charts "Red Hot" with 42 votes for that rating. I believe that's a record. Which makes me wonder: is there just a whole lotta love out there for Charlie, or did someone organize a stuff-the-ballot campaign?

Have a great week, and enjoy the posts of my Flypaper colleagues while I'm away....

In his classic book, The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them,??E.D. Hirsch describes the education "thought-world," born from schools of education but dominant throughout the education system. Its??ideas are nicely summarized??in this book review in Commentary Magazine, as:

The American fondness for romanticism, with its feckless assumptions about human nature, about the innocent perfection of childhood, and about the "unnaturalness" of formalized pedagogy. That romantic background melded nicely with the Progressives' "child-centered" educational agenda to produce two "fundamental tenets." The first of these Hirsch calls "formalism": the belief that the acquisition of factual knowledge is less important than the acquisition of formal tools (like "critical thinking") that will enable future learning. The second is "naturalism": the belief that education is most effective when connected to natural goals and dispositions, rather than being tied to the forced and artificial setting of the classroom.

Now, you might expect to find such fuzzy notions rampant in liberal bastions like Takoma Park, Maryland, where I live. But in truth they extend to every corner of this country, or so it appears from a report I got from my sister. She lives in a solidly Republican exurb of...

The Cincinnati Public Schools have been praised (including by yours truly) for embarking on top-to-bottom overhauls of the district's most persistently underperforming schools. Student academic performance was seen as driving the district's tough decisions to dismiss whole staffs and fundamentally redesign one elementary school last year and three more schools this year. Today, however, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the "professional atmosphere" in the schools also played a part in the decision making:

Under the federal law, 10 city schools fit the bill for a total overhaul. Those schools failed to meet mandatory improvement goals for six consecutive years or more.

But districts have several options to comply with the law, and the total staff replacement is only one option.

Rothenberg, Mount Airy and South Avondale schools, in addition to the poor test scores, also had teachers and workers who weren't responding to management directives and didn't work as a team, according to the notes.

Seven other schools, while statistically similar, were spared the radical redo, thanks in part to what CPS leaders saw as good attitudes and "cohesive" and "positively focused" staffs.

For instance, Rockdale Academy, just four blocks from South Avondale, scored

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The Wall Street Journal editorialized????today on the DC Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) Program, echoing points Mike and I made late last week:???? Secretary Duncan's support, which some consider good but????insufficient and others rate as ???????warm,??????? was welcome; and President Obama's silence is conspicuous and less welcome.

This morning, the Center for Education Reform released a new charter schools report.???? You can find it here along with some supporting material, including information on state funding showing that charters receive less per student, typically much less, than traditional public schools in every state.???? (A superb Fordham study found the same thing back in 2005.)???? The CER report also has new state-level information on school closures.

Overall, it's an accessible document????????short introduction and then one-page summaries on each state (student performance, number of schools, authorizers, funding, etc.).???? They've gathered some interesting, useful information that makes this a good document to have by your desk, especially if you follow charters closely.???? To be clear, it's not a university-style scholarly study with regression models and p-values.???? But it is classic CER: one part new data and one part strong advocacy.

This weekend, the US Department of Education made more information available on stimulus funding.???? I haven't made my way through it all yet, but it's not at all what I was expecting.???? Folks had been using the term ???????guidance??????? (which has a specific meaning) for what was coming out, but that's not what we got.???? What was made available is more about logistics than content. ????So you'll find worthwhile information on when different streams of funding will be made available, what entities have to do to become eligible, etc.???? What you won't find is specific, meaty stuff on how the Department expects funds to be used.

If you're an ED insider, reporter, savvy DC operator, or anyone else for that matter, and you have more information or think I'm off base here, reach me at [email protected].

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Amy Fagan

So here's an inspirational article about a once-struggling Florida school that pulled itself up from a "D/F" rating to an "A" rating two years in a row (and they expect a third "A" this year). The article explains just how Blanton Elementary--one of the poorest schools in Pinellas Park--managed to make the shift. A large part of the piece showcases the motivation and leadership of the principal, Deborah Turner. And the piece argues that the school actually isn't alone--apparently "nearly 1 in 4 elementary schools across Florida with poverty levels above 70 percent have improved as much if not more than Blanton in the past five years," according to a St. Petersburg Times review of FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) scores. Of course it isn't easy at all--it takes time to get the right people and processes in place, says Oscar Robinson a former area superintendent who originally broke the F news to Turner. But looking at Blanton's story, it does seem to be very possible....

First, I'm thrilled to be affiliated with TBFI and have the chance to contribute to Flypaper.???? Thanks Checker, Mike, Eric, and team.???? It's been great.

Like many others, I'm waiting for ED to release its guidance on the stimulus.???? It's late already, but that's no surprise.???? One big lesson I learned during my time at ED is that official documents like this take forever to get out.???? There are countless drafts, an internal clearance process, OMB input, White House/DPC input, and on and on and on.???? Add to this that lots of senior positions at ED are still unfilled (and many of the folks in place are new to DC), and you can see that this may take a while???????

Terry Ryan has already written about the charters challenges out in Ohio, but the proposal is even worse than I expected????????less funding, more reporting, messing with facilities, and banning for-profits.???? Take a look if you're interested in charter stuff.???? And incidentally, didn't somebody recently write about being optimistic about the future of charters????? Egad.

Be sure to check out Mike's thorough treatment of the Duncan-voucher news.???? Two quick...

The New York Times reports on the state legislature's pending decision on renewing mayoral control in the Big Apple.???? Unfortunately, and maybe unsurprisingly, the debate--or at least the article--is not so much about student performance or reforming New York City Public Schools; it's about the reaction to????Joel Klein's penchant for aggressively pushing for change at the expense of political niceties.

One other reason you might consider reading the article:???? You'll want to see for yourself how the reporter makes eating pizza with Alan Alda relevant to education reform.

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The Education Gadfly

Check out our long-overdue "The Accountability Illusion" event video. You can read the full report here. Don't forget to check out our "Fix That Failing School" video game!

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