Those of us in the education world are used to thinking about "competitive effects" thusly: The public education system will do nothing to reform itself unless forced to do so. So we try to force it to do so by threatening to take away students, dollars, and union members by offering parents options outside of the system (via vouchers, charter schools, etc.). With enough competitive pressure, it is hoped, the system will accept true reform as its least worst option.

Now turn to today's New York Times column by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. He's talking about health care, and writes: "History shows that the insurance companies will do nothing to reform themselves unless forced to do so."

Sound familiar? Except where does he think that competition should come from? "A public plan that Americans can buy into as an alternative to private insurance."

Now nobody is proposing that Americans be forced to get their insurance from the government. The "public option," if it materializes, will be just that - an option Americans can choose. And the reason for providing this option was clearly laid out in Mr. Obama's letter: It will give Americans "a better range of


This week's Gadfly is a must read. Starting us off are Checker's thoughts on the bankruptcy of the public education system--and it's not just financial insolvency. But unlike the large broke companies who've recently toppled, there is no "Chapter 11" for the school system. That won't stop Arne Duncan, though, who is convinced he can give this industry a fresh start, too. Then, discover how charter schools really pay for performance. Just because they don't follow the positive incentive model, i.e., financial bonuses, that typical teacher merit pay schemes espouse, doesn't mean they don't have an incentive program of their own--or that we should scrap merit pay for traditional public schools. Then, learn more about the 46-state national standards pledge, math-test folly in Minnesota, voucher regulation reform in Milwaukee, the end of Abbott v. Burke, and the silly flip-floppery of a few students in Ohio. Plus, read up on TNTP's evaluation of teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluation systems, how teachers sort themselves according to student demographics, and what we can learn about content standards from our international neighbors. Don't forget the podcast, wherein Rick and Mike...

Ohio is in the midst of a heated debate about the future of school funding. The governor, supported by House Democrats, has presented an "Evidence-Based Model" of school funding that is based largely on the work of professors Allan Odden and Lawrence Picus. This model has been roundly criticized by professor Paul Hill, professor Eric Hanushek, Fordham, and Republicans in the Senate who dismantled the governor's plan in their version of the state biennial budget.

Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth write in their new book on school funding that such evidence-based models are "simply not credible." As an alternative to the evidence-based model, Senate Republicans have proposed moving closer toward a system of school funding that funds the child. This has triggered calls from groups like Education Voters of Ohio for "a list of citations that suggest per-pupil funding does a better job than the evidence-based model in determining what an excellent education looks like."

In response to such calls following is a list of some of the most recent and thoughtful pieces on the advantages of funds following the child:

1)???????????? Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools from...

The state's Supreme Court has ruled in the stimulus-induced SC civil war:????Sanford loses.

AEI study reports on the????staggeringly low graduation rates????at some US colleges.????

New NYC charter paying teachers $125k to start.

Some info on the WH's new Social Innovation Office.

OK, maybe it just seems that way. ????Clayton Christensen, the renowned Harvard business prof comes down on turnarounds in the same way I do (though he's more sanguine about technology than I am). Here's the best blurb:

Third, don't fund the institutions that are least likely to change. Our research shows that institutions are good at improving what they are structured to do, but that transformative innovations that fundamentally change the trade-off between cost and quality -- disruptive innovations -- come from start-up institutions.

That's what Steve Barnett charged. He thinks Checker is arguing to "hold back" the middle class so that poor kids can catch up and close the achievement gap. Needless to say, Checker doesn't agree with that characterization, but admits that he agrees with (not-so-far-left) liberal Bruce Fuller, who believes in targeting resources on poor kids rather than spreading them around.

Sara Mead points to evidence from Oklahoma that universal preschool is helping poor kids the most. And anyway, what's so wrong with giving middle class parents a way to help their kids?

Checker responded: Sure, if funds were unlimited, it's not such a bad thing to use tax dollars to subsidize middle class parents who are already putting up the funds. But if resources ARE limited, why not start by providing intensive programs for the children who need it most? (Is that a far-left view? Your call.)

Steve admits that there's nothing wrong with "starting" with targeted programs and going from there. "But we've been starting with targeted programs for 40 years." It's straining his patience. There are ethical, educational, and economic reasons to serve...

Sara Mead of the New America Foundation is taking her turn. She started by holding up Checker's book and commenting (correctly) how similar its cover looks to that of her favorite children's book, The Little Engine that Could. (Still, trust me, don't show Checker's book cover to a small child. It will make them cry.) See for yourself.

Sara agrees that we need to beef up programs targeted at the poor, but that we also need to go universal. That's because as long as we only have small, targeted programs, k-12 educators won't view them as important and highly relevant to their work.

She's also increasingly optimistic that policymakers are developing metrics around pre-k programs and are starting to hold them accountable for results.

Neal McLuskey from CATO is up and he mostly agrees with Checker. (This is more surprising than you might think. We don't generally agree on much.) But he has two additional points:

1. Over time, programs like Head Start get captured by the people who are employed by them.

2. The political reality is that it's very hard to keep programs targeted on the poor, and not to expand them to the middle class. Consider federalaid for college students, for example.

Steve Barnett, the co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, ceded no ground to Checker. He came out of his corner swinging and never stopped. The book is "inaccurate and poorly reasoned," "cherry picks" the evidence, and is full of "errors and exaggerations."

An even-handed read of the evidence shows that preschool for all is a better policy.

And this was an instant classic:

Like Jay-Z, Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut has 99 problems. I'm not going to list all of them and I'm not going to rap.

He went on to argue that high-quality preschool programs like the Chicago Parent-Child Center are a lot less expensive than Checker claims. And that rigorous research studies show universal preschool programs to be more effective than targeted ones because of "peer effects." (He didn't quite spell this out, but I assume he means that poor kids are better off if they get to go to preschool with middle class peers.)

Sparks fly!

Image of Jay-Z from

We're fifteen minutes into Fordham's big debate on universal preschool, designed to discuss Checker Finn's latest book,??Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut.??Here's the line-up:


Chester E. Finn, Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute


Steve Barnett, Co-Director, National Institute for Early Education Research

Neal McCluskey, Associate Director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute

Sara Mead, Director, Early Education Initiative, New America Foundation


Richard Colvin, Director, Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, Teachers College, Columbia University

Checker is using his opening comments to restate the same arguments he made in this Washington Post Op-Ed. In short: universal preschool provides a subsidy to people who don't need it, and doesn't provide enough intensive preschool to the poor kids that need it most.

Here are a couple of Checker Finn originals, though:

Pre-school is pre-Coleman. It's still focused on resources and inputs instead of outcomes and results.


Head Start has spent four decades denying it's a pre-school program.

The gauntlet has been laid down....