Yesterday in the Ohio Senate Education Committee, school funding expert and Buckeye (OSU class of '66 and '72) Paul Hill offered testimony about how Ohio can go about reforming its system of school funding while at the same time raising student performance. Dr. Hill's comments were in stark contrast to the presentation last week in the Ohio House by Allen Odden and Lawrence Picus in support of Governor Ted Strickland's proposed ???????evidence-based??????? funding model (which actually differs pretty significantly from what Odden and Picus are selling). While the governor is attempting to provide all the answers (with spending restrictions and top-down mandates on things like staffing levels, class sizes, and new operating rules for schools), Hill admits that we don't always know the answers when it comes to how to best educate our students. Further, the answers are different for every child. And that's okay. Hill (based on five years of solid research) argues funding systems shouldn't seek to mandate how schools educate children.???? Instead, they should be flexible, promote innovation, and reward success through a system of continuous improvement:

This gets me to my


Maybe the Obama administration has brought bipartisanship to Washington...just not the kind they had in mind. In this letter, a bipartisan group of US Senators chastises Secretary Duncan for denying DC scholarships to new students and urges ED to reconsider.

While these elected officials are trying convincing arguments, it looks like the DC advocates are finally bringing the scorching iron. Though I'm personally fond of the city's leading voucher advocates and know that they care deeply about the program and the children it serves, their save-the-program tactics have come up short. Instead of launching massive protests and organizing sit-ins over the last several months, they decided to lobby "behind the scenes," hoping persuasion and reason would turn the tide. It didn't work; the opponents remained opposed and those on the fence stayed there.

But the charm offensive may have come to an end. Next Wednesday, they are holding a????rally????on Freedom Plaza. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a more aggressive strategy.

A????couple years ago, I learned the hard way that behind the scenes lobbying when coming from a position of weakness is a recipe for failure. ????Because we didn't go...

NAEP long-term trend scores were released yesterday, and the results are quite positive.

The report shows reading and math comparisons for 9-, 13-, and 17-year old going back to the 1970s. That's historically interesting but for those primarily concerned about current public policy, the comparisons between 2004 and 2008 are most noteworthy. Overall scores in both subjects are up with nearly all gains reaching statistical significance (save 17-year old math scores). In many cases, all-time highs were hit.

The disaggregated data had some very encouraging news as well. ????Low-performing students made significant gains.

In a number of cases racial achievement gaps got smaller (though not reaching statistical significance). In most cases when gaps didn't close, it was the result of both White and minority students making gains.

In total, the improvement among 9- and 13-year olds is pretty strong and convincing; gains among 17-year olds less so. ????My former ED boss, Margaret Spellings touted the influence of NCLB, saying, "Accountability is working. Where we've paid attention, grades 3 through 8, we are getting the best results. Where we have paid less attention, high school, we're not."

Some of my Fordham colleagues will likely disagree,...

The Education Gadfly

Great Debate: What Should Republicans Seek in Education? , taped Monday, April 27, 2009, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Video from Education Gadfly on Vimeo .

Yesterday's debate about the future of the Republican Party on education, sponsored by Fordham, left me feeling depressed. (See my live-blogging here, here, here, here, and here. The video will be available this afternoon.)

It's not that our participants didn't have thoughtful things to say. They did. Senator Lamar Alexander argued for a Lincolnian approach to education-one that focuses on providing "opportunity" to parents and students and teachers, rather than the Rooseveltian "Command and Control" system we have today. Senator Jim DeMint spoke eloquently about the need to "customize" our education system for the individual child by expanding choices. And Representative Mike Castle demonstrated his deep substantive knowledge around issues such as growth models, graduation rates, and assessments. (He also helpfully expressed his view that national standards and tests are "worthy of discussion.")

As far as "the vision thing," buzzwords like "opportunity" and "customization" and "choice" aren't bad. And for sure it makes sense to adopt growth models, common grad rates, and so forth. But none of this strikes me as particularly fresh, or all that different from what Democrats are saying.

Of course, the best those of us at Fordham...

Congressman Mike Castle is arguing that there's a lot of common ground in education. Education politics aren't so much about Republicans and Democrats but about the NEA. He wasn't thrilled about what he saw in the stimulus bill, but he's waiting to see what the Administration has to propose in terms of other pieces of legislation.

Senator Alexander also??likes to look for places where we can work together. He really disagrees with adding $40 billion for education for "more of the same." And really disagrees about cancelling the DC voucher program. But we can work together on charter schools, higher education, and other issues, he says.

He came from a marketing background, and it's well-known in the private sector that you have to have specialization, competition, lots of choices. Why can't we use that model in education? Nothing more different than our children: different learning styles, aptitudes, and family situations.

We're starting with a one-size-fits-all model and trying to help people on the edges. That's the opposite of what we want to do if we want to meet students where they are and help them move forward.

No business could produce quality with a system like the one we have in education. "It cannot work." When you're losing ground, losing market share, you have to try something different.

Why is there such resistance to change in education? The answer is political. Not what works for children, what works for unions.

Consider Medicare Part D: Because of the influx of funds for prescriptions, the private sector invested, built new pharmacies, offered new services. What if we made even half of k-12 education's funding available for parents? Imagine how the private sector would respond.

Then he promoted his A-Plus Act: Allow states to experiment and try to find out what works....

Congressman Castle??just said??that national standards and assessments are "worthy of discussion." This is big news; few Republicans have been so open about considering supporting national standards. He worries that too many state standards are "dumbed down" and that encourages schools to "coast along."

He addressed other ideas for NCLB reauthorization, including implementing a growth model, allowing computer-adaptive assessments, ensuring standardized graduation rates, encouraging merit pay and charter schools, supporting Teach For America and other routes to alternative certification, funding education research, and especially promoting parental involvement. "If there's one thing I could do, it would be to uplift our culture" to focus more on education.

Senator Alexander is up and is arguing that the GOP should follow President Lincoln's lead. He provided opportunities through laws such as the one creating Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. That "Lincoln Approach" was later followed by the GI Bill, Pell Grants, etc. That contrasts with the FDR "Command and Control" approach, which is dominant in k-12 education policy today.

The federal government should be involved in education, but??Senator Alexander is??in favor of the Lincoln opportunity model, not the Rooseveltian command and control model. It's virtually impossible for lawmakers and regulators to make schools better.

What can feds do to confer opportunities on parents? Pell grants for kids: $500 to spend after school. A federal tax system favoring parents raising children. Pre-natal care. Nurse visits in homes. Home schooling. Help adults learn English. Work-site day care. Higher standards and data collection. Pay good teachers more by expanding the Teacher Incentive Fund. Encourage charter schools. Teach For America. Award peer-reviewed competitive research grants to ed schools. UTEACH. Summer academies for teachers of history and sciences. Train school leaders.

Republicans should create proposals and policies that create opportunities for students, parents, teachers, etc. But we should stay away from "command...

In just a few minutes, the DC policy scene will be gathering here at Fordham for our third "Great Debate" on pressing education issues of the day. (See my live-blogging of the last one here.)

Today's debate will focus on the future of the Republican Party as it pertains to federal education policy. Squaring off will be Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who also serves as the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. (Of course, he was also the secretary of education and even made the cover of TIME.) And Senator Jim DeMint of South Caroline, described by National Journal as the most conservative member of the Senate. And finally Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware, who also served as a two-term governor of??his state.

The focus of the debate (we hope!) will be Fordham's "Open Letter" to the new Administration and Congress, released in December, and more specifically its call for policymakers to embrace "Reform Realism."

In a nutshell, Reform Realism seeks to advance education reform but with realistic expectations about what Uncle Sam can accomplish from Washington. It contrasts with the "extend NCLB" camp within the GOP,...