Kurt Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore, has been chosen to mediate contract negotiations between Michelle Rhee and the DC teachers union. Schmoke, who's been the law school dean at Howard University since 2003, had a mixed record on education (by his own account and many others) while in Baltimore. ????One interesting wrinkle: Rhee was an elementary school teacher in Baltimore during Schmoke's tenure.

As a Maryland guy, I've wondered about Schmoke's possible reemergence into public/political life. ????Maybe this is the beginning of something?

Sam Dillon from the NYT turns in an????article that speculates on the contours????of an NCLB/ESEA reauthorization. There's no new news to report, and I doubt that we'll see any real movement on legislation this year--ED is too busy with the ARRA and too short-staffed to push this hard themselves. ????Overall, the piece tries to provide a sketch of what the administration would want in a new bill by looking at the stimulus package, Duncan's comments, Obama's speeches, the positions of the NEA and AFT, etc.

Update: ????Andy Eduwonk accurately points out that there's a difference between the reform people want to get out of the ARRA and the reform the legislative language is likely to get us. ????And his final dig is brutal and funny.

Mike points out that the Obama administration isn't in full control of the fate of the D.C. voucher program, as the appropriations bill funded only current students--and, we are to assume, the program's opponents on the Hill could have cut that funding too were Duncan or Obama to fight them. To which I say: hogwash. If President Obama wanted to pick a fight with Democrats on the appropriations committee (starting with Dave Obey, presumably), he could--and my money would be on Obama. Imagine the post-partisan, reformer, "change-we-can-believe-in" bona fides he would earn by standing up for this program--he would look tough, rational, compassionate, and consistent with his campaign message all at once, while his opponents would look petty and partisan. And imagine the PR nightmare Congress would face if it actually ended the program and sent current students packing.

This is a fight Obama could win easily if he wanted to pick it. The fact is, he chose not to pick it, and he and his administration shouldn't get a pass for that.

Amy Fagan

Ok, so last week we saw a story or two out of New York describing how the teachers union gave city council members cue cards telling them what questions to ask during a hearing on charter schools. Yes, that definitely makes for an interesting discussion. But a colleague of mine here at Fordham caught something that made us chuckle a bit, with disturbed amusement. Gotham Schools's Flickr page displays some of these actual cue cards. Sadly, slide #6 uses the term "steakholders." That's right. Now granted, someone had penciled it in, and we obviously don't know who. But....if it's true, it's pretty disturbing. I mean, yes there ARE INDEED actual steakholders, as we can see here. But I don't believe that's what the cue-card author was attempting to say.

Cue cards slideshow by Gotham Schools from Flickr...

So there was this report written to help a major US city improve its public schools. Local leaders had gone to Boston to learn about a number of????groundbreaking reforms that had generated????some pretty impressive results. They came back particularly impressed by Boston's new types of schools, well-trained teachers, and well-respected administrators.

The most controversial part of the report was its recommendation to make it easier to fire bad teachers. The report noted that while most of the city's teachers were "faithful, well-educated, and conscientious," "too many ... are incompetent and unfit for their work."

To solve this problem, the report recommended an extended probationary period for new teachers and a tough examination for those who made it through to ensure that all of the city's classrooms were led by highly qualified educators. The report conceded, however, that no written exam could ever fully reflect all of the "essential qualities for successful teaching."

The report was attacked by "organized teachers' groups." "The educational reformers applauded it, but they were as yet too few to muster political support for drastic changes." The report was turned into legislation, which ultimately failed; the city's superintendent remarked: "There is little probability of...

With all of the attention directed toward the DC voucher program, we could be misled into believing that this represents the current and future of the private school choice debate. Not so.

For my money, this story from Cleveland captures the logical--and exciting--next phase of not only choice but also urban education reform.

A few of the city's highest performing charter operators have teamed up with a high-performing Catholic school in an effort to create more great schools and collaboratively tackle issues like human capital. Their motivation? They don't care who runs excellent schools serving poor kids; they just want more of them.

This story is even more intriguing because the consortium is planning to apply for a slice of the $650 million "scale up what works" fund in the stimulus package.

While the ARRA's legislative language forbids using funding for private school vouchers, it doesn't prohibit innovative ideas like this one, where funds would be used to help a team of traditional public, charter public, and private schools create more high-quality seats. As a matter of fact, groups of schools are eligible applicants for this pot of money.


Former DC mayor Anthony Williams and former DC councilman Kevin Chavous channel Malcolm X in a Post op-ed on the DC voucher programs.

We should learn from the legacy of Malcolm X and the civil rights movement. In the long term, let us continue to reform, recalibrate and reenergize our education system. In the short term, however, we cannot afford to lose any more children to bad schooling. We must be willing to allow innovation and creativity to flourish so that all children benefit today. "By any means necessary" is a calling. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is a necessary means of educating children who otherwise would be lost; it must be maintained and allowed to flourish.

I've given Arne Duncan and the rest of the Obama Administration a hard time today for its decision to rescind "opportunity scholarships" from 200 needy District of Columbia students. But it's only fair to say that this decision didn't happen in a vacuum. Take a look at this language about D.C. from the Congressional conference report that accompanied the recently passed Omnibus Appropriations Act (it's on page 29 if you want to see for yourself):

The bill includes $54,000,000 for a Federal payment for school improvement, an increase of $13,200,000 over the fiscal year 2008 enacted level. Within this amount, $20,000,000 is for public schools, $20,000,000 is for public charter schools, and $14,000,000 is to provide opportunity scholarships.

Funding provided for the private scholarship program shall be used for currently-enrolled participants rather than new applicants. (Emphasis added.)

Now, these conference reports are non-binding; they don't carry the force of law. But they do express the will of Congress (or, in this case, whoever the weasel was that inserted this language on behalf of the NEA and AFT).

Arne Duncan could have told the Hill to take...

I've already told you that reading this letter will get you worked up, but it will also provide confirmation that Jim Shelton is, indeed, the new head of the Office of Innovation and Improvement. (I speculated as much a month ago; Russo: that's one less big job left to fill.)

For those of us who worked with Secretary of Education Rod Paige to create OII, this turn of events isn't too surprising. We always suspected that a Democratic Administration would embrace most of OII's mission (of promoting charter schools, alternative teacher certification, smart uses of technology, etc.) but would shun vouchers. And so it is.

Maybe it's just as well; school vouchers aren't that "innovative" anyway. In D.C. at least, they merely help poor kids get access to good schools that have been around for a long time. In today's education reform world, that's not enough of a "game-changer." Never mind the difference it makes for several thousand children....

So concluded the Washington Post's editorial page on Saturday with a piece aptly subtitled, "Politics is driving the destruction of the District's school voucher program."??Here's the news:

EDUCATION SECRETARY Arne Duncan has decided not to admit any new students to the D.C. voucher program, which allows low-income children to attend private schools. The abrupt decision -- made a week after 200 families had been told that their children were being awarded scholarships for the coming fall -- comes despite a new study showing some initial good results for students in the program and before the Senate has had a chance to hold promised hearings. For all the talk about putting children first, it's clear that the special interests that have long opposed vouchers are getting their way. has been??plenty more here. But if you really want to get yourself worked up, read this letter from the U.S. Department of Education's Jim Shelton and D.C. deputy mayor Victor Reinoso (both of whom deserve a strong reputation as reformers, which makes the letter all the more sickening) to the affected families. Here's the opening paragraph:

We deeply regret the confusion