The Education Gadfly

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Flypaper is a finalist in the 2008 Weblog Awards education category. Polls opened yesterday and will be open until 5pm EST on January 13, with voting allowed once every 24 hours in each category. Spread the word!

In the running for worst idea of the year, the National Head Start Association is pressing its members to lobby hard in coming days for Congress??and the Obama administration to include $4.3 billion for Head Start in the forthcoming economic stimulus package. Among other things, they want higher pay for Head Start program directors.

Head Start is, of course, an iconic program revered by many. But it's no education program. Forty years of evaluations have demonstrated that Head Start does next to nothing to prepare its young charges--needy three- and four-year-olds--to succeed in kindergarten and beyond, and that whatever gains it??yields quickly dissipate once the kids enroll in school.

The major reason it's ineffective as a pre-school program is because it has no curriculum and little cognitive content, because most of its staffers are "child care workers", not teachers, and because the National Head Start Association itself has defied every effort by policymakers to transform it into the pre-literacy program that it ought to be and that these kids truly need.

Dumping more money on it--flooding the Congress with pleas for?? that--is, to put it mildly, a genuinely ineffectual...

Like many of you, I'm still getting back into the swing of things after a nice??New Year's??break. One of the joys of this holiday season was visiting good friends and??their kids--and watching my son Nico (14 months old, adorable, brilliant, did I mention adorable?) play with them too.

And what did??I learn from spending time with little kids? Among many other things (such as, don't pick your toddler son's nose if you don't want him to pick yours), I noticed how tech-savvy they are. Not a second after I unveiled my iPhone (did I mention I have an iPhone? I'm on Facebook too!) did our 9- and 7-year-old friends attack it with knowledge and skills befitting a systems engineer. "Download Spore! Download LineRider! Can I play? Can I play?" It took me weeks before I even figured out I could download applications onto my phone. How did they know all of this?

Now, this is surely a banal observation, but hello, 21st Century Skills people, do we really think we have to teach our schoolkids how to use technology? My wife and I reminisced with friends about the computer courses we had to take back in the...

Amy Fagan

Fordham experts (and our many studies) continue to garner excellent media hits. As previously mentioned, many journalists turned to Checker and Mike for comment on the nomination of Arne Duncan to be Ed Sec. To add to that list--Checker was quoted in the Economist and Mike was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor.

In this National Review Online piece, Checker and Mike discussed the current education policy landscape, what they see as the proper federal role in education and a possible basis for compromise (as detailed in Fordham's letter to the President-elect Obama, Education Secretary-designate Duncan and the 111th Congress).

Meanwhile, a Fordham study on Catholic schools is cited in this article in The Tennessean and this article in the Las Vegas Sun.

Fordham Fellow Laura A. Bornfreund discusses school choice in this Orlando Sentinel op-ed.

And Fordham's Ohio point-man Terry Ryan discusses the problems with the current teacher pay system in this Columbus Dispatch article.

Nice work all!...

It's no secret states are struggling to make ends meet. For fiscal year 2009 alone, 31 states face a combined $30 billion deficit. Balancing budgets in 2010 and beyond will prove even trickier. Nowhere is this truer than in Ohio where Governor Strickland is predicting a $7 billion deficit over the next two years. That amounts to a whopping 25 percent of the state's discretionary spending, which includes K-12 education. No wonder, then, that Strickland is out front in seeking a $5 billion bailout from the federal government.

As a popular Democrat who worked hard to deliver his once-red state to Obama, Strickland isn't wrong to seek favors from the new administration. But despite Ohio's budget woes, it's not clear how an infusion of federal cash would improve the education sector.

President-elect Obama recently announced his intent to...

Visiting the LBJ Ranch in the Texas hill country this weekend, our ad hoc tour group included a gaggle of high-school students from??"south of Houston." They generally seemed pleasant, self-conscious, goofy and teenager-ish. They also seemed entirely ignorant of the 1960's,?? even??the basic timeline of 20th Century U.S. history. At least one??couldn't quite remember the name of the 36th President whose ranch this was. Standing in front of the Western White House (a lovely spot on the banks of the Pedernales, by the way, shaded by 400-year-old live oaks), this lad asked the National Park Service ranger, "When did he die? Was it??1993?" The ranger looked slightly puzzled, perhaps because he had already mentioned 1973 as the year of Johnson's death and because all the biographical material in the park conveyed that key fact. So the kid decided to clarify the??subject of his query: "The guy," he said, evidently either unable to call LBJ's name to mind or truly unaware of where he was and why he and his pals were taking this tour in the first place.

That was the first of a grand total of two questions posed by...

Amy Fagan

The ranks of home-schooled children seem to be growing, according to a USA Today story that examines numbers from the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). About 1.5 million kids were taught at home in 2007, up 74% from 1999 (when NCES started keeping tabs), and up 36% since 2003, according to the story. Overall the percentage of the school-age population that was home-schooled increased slightly from 2.2% in 2003 to 2.9% in 2007.

According to the piece, moral or religious reasons remain a top motivation for home-schooling, but there are also "unschoolers"--those who regard standard curriculum methods and standardized testing as counterproductive to a quality education. And the category of "other reasons" rose 12% -- from 20% in 2003 to 32% in 2007 -- and included family time and finances.

With contract negotiations still stalled, Michelle Rhee has revealed the other prong of her DCPS overhaul: professional development. Rhee had hoped to let go (either by buyout or simple firing) a significant portion of DC teachers and overhaul the PD program for those that remained. But the new union contract stalled (and, notably, as yet to go up for a vote) and Rhee was left with "Plan B." It seems Plan B has been put in motion and her PD changes will go into effect in 2010-2011. Details are scant so far but we've gotten a few hints at what's to come:

--DCPS no longer supports National Board for Professional Teacher Standards certification. It's unclear whether this means that having NBPTS certification will no longer hold the salary increases usually associated with it (which, presumably, would have been eliminated under the stalled union contract) or if this move is more symbolic. DCPS argues that having national certification has only weak ties to demonstrable improvement in teacher effectiveness.

--Creating a PD program based on the experience of DC's suburbs, specifically Montgomery County. This would include an apprentice-master teacher system, where effective teachers mentor new teachers, and the...

Seemingly upholding her "mom-in-chief" moniker, Michelle Obama took her two daughters to their first day at Sidwell Friends this morning. The first family moved to Washington this weekend--two weeks before the inauguration--so that Malia and Sasha could start the spring semester along with their classmates.

Laura Pohl

"School" is out in Sheffield, England. The singular term has so many negative connotations that a new school there has dropped the offending noun from its name, according to a report in The Guardian. Instead, the institution will be called a "place for learning," said headteacher Linda Kingdon.

"We decided from an early stage we didn't want to use the word 'school'," she told local newspaper the Sheffield Star. "This is Watercliffe Meadow, a place for learning. One reason was many of the parents of the children here had very negative connotations of school. Instead we want this to a be a place for family learning, where anyone can come."