Amy Fagan

Our friend Rick Hess also offered his thoughts (pasted below this entry) on the Obama education speech earlier this week. Rick wasn't entirely optimistic. On one hand, he praised the fact that Obama "explicitly endorsed performance pay, (eventually) removing lousy teachers, and the need for more charterschools. All to the good, and none of it easy."

However, Rick was rather skeptical about some aspects--"the President sent up worrisome signals that he may champion faddish "21st century skills" pablum in lieu of strong content standards, was so vague on performance pay that the unions said they shared his vision, and remained silent on the effort of congressional Democrats to choke off the D.C. voucher program even as he touted the need for "innovation.""

To sum it up? "The president can give a great speech and his heart seems to be in the right place. But will his administration's actions match his handsome words? The speech gives cause for optimism; the early

signs, cause for skepticism. Classic Obama."

We've copied Rick's post from the National Review Online's The Corner since his thoughts are now buried about halfway down the page:

Edu-Reform . .


It's short on details, but yesterday's White House press briefing transcript offers a tidbit about President Obama and the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program:

Q: Robert, what does the President think about the D.C. scholarship program? The spending bill zeroes out and cuts the money for it.

MR. GIBBS: The President--as I've said I think last week, the President doesn't believe that vouchers are a long-term answer to our educational problems and the challenges that face our public school system, where the vast majority of students are educated in this country. The President laid out a fairly robust education reform plan yesterday. But the President I think understands that there are--it wouldn't make sense to disrupt the education of those that are in that system, and I think we'll work with Congress to ensure that a disruption like that doesn't take place.

Q: So will he propose in his full budget to restore that funding for those kids already in the program?

MR. GIBBS: I'd certainly look through the budget stuff, but I think, whether it's in the budget or in the appropriations process, that we look for a way to work with--work with Congress to ensure, as I said, that


Many were caught off guard by this press release from the US Department of Education today. ????Jo Anderson, head of the Illinois Education Association (an NEA affiliate), was named "senior advisor" to Secretary Duncan. ????

I checked with my trusted sources in Illinois, and they only had positive things to say about Mr. Anderson. They reported that he's been a pleasure to work with and, in the words of one, "he's a terrific guy." Apparently, he's also been supportive of charters in the suburbs and downstate (evidently his organization mostly stays out of Chicago issues).

Congratulations to Mr. Anderson. ????We wish you good luck.

Here's my analysis of the Obama education speech in National Review. ????Lots of comments elsewhere:????Eduwonk weighs in here, Diane Ravitch here, Jeanne Allen here.

I spent yesterday guest-lecturing at a reputable education school about the role of the federal government in education. These last-semester teaching candidates appeared bright and interested, yet I walked away feeling as if they knew far too little about the policy issues surrounding the profession they were about to enter. To be fair, I probably delved more deeply into the nuances of the ed policy landscape than their limited experience warranted. But about a quarter of the way into the talk, the professor politely interrupted me to ask the class if anyone knew who Arne Duncan was (whose name I had already mentioned several times at this point). None of the 84 pairs of hands in the auditorium went up. Cat or shyness got their tongue? Maybe. But blank stares abounded.

Now, I completely understand that these individuals are going to be classroom teachers--not the next generation of education policy wonks--but something about their unawareness illustrated a larger problem inherent in the teacher/policy divide. And that's this: Teachers often complain that policymakers are out of touch with what's happening in classrooms and they thrust upon them all manner of ridiculous federal, state, and local education statute. However, many...

The Senate passed its $410 billion budget bill yesterday and rejected an amendment that would have restored funding for the DC voucher program (vote was 58-39). This means that the 1,700 students enrolled in the scholarship program will likely have to return to the failing schools they left. Sen. John Ensign (R) offered the amendment, while Sen. Richard Durbin (D) provided the anti-voucher rhetoric.?? Durbin's justification for shutting the program down?

"Those on the other side" have "completely given up on D.C. Public Schools" and Mr. Ensign's amendment "would further the schools' destruction."

Oh please. Giving 1,700 poor kids the option to leave their failing schools means destruction for DC public schools? I'd say we need to be more worried about destroying kids than institutions. If anything, high-quality choices strengthen the DC system. Forcing students to return to dismal schools that don't meet their needs is hardly right by them. Patricia William, parent of a voucher student, understands this all too well: "It's not a competition between public schools, charter and private. Not all schools work the same for all children and we, as parents, should have the right to choose the school that works for them." Mrs....

I agree with Amber's post on the demise of the DC voucher plan. ????I'll add four quick things.

First, I can't imagine how sad and frightened thousands of DC kids and parents are today. ????Safe, high-quality schools that are serving them well are soon to be taken away. ????As Andy Rotherham, no voucher zealot, recently????wrote, "the spectacle of forcing the kids to leave their schools????before they age out????is pretty????cold-hearted." ????Policy implementation is slow work, so it's seldom that elected officials have the opportunity to see the full impact of their ideas. ????This is one exception. ????The scuttling of this program will have a swift and severe influence on about 1,700 low-income boys and girls.

Second, as Amber pointed out, at least one US Senator believes continuing the program is an attack on DC Public Schools. ????That position cannot be sustained in light of Chancellor Rhee's opposition to the program's immediate termination.

Third, by launching this unnecessary attack, voucher opponents are about to cause both sides to expend enormous amounts of energy battling this out--energy that could be directed toward????other????pressing????issues.

Finally, the politics of this could get ugly. ????There are going...

The schools chief in Baltimore unveiled a laudable????plan last night to close low-performing schools, expand high-performing schools, and continue opening new schools. Very exciting stuff. Andres????Alonso, the schools CEO, is a former Joel Klein Deputy. The education reform world buzz on Baltimore is lagging behind that city's efforts.

Guest Blogger

(Guest blogger Laura Bornfreund is a Fordham Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute)

President Barack Obama just wrapped up an education speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Reaffirming his commitment to improving the quality of education, the President says (with my emphasis):

America will not remain true to its highest ideals--and America's place as a global economic leader will be put at risk--unless we not only bring down the crushing cost of health care and transform the way we use energy, but also do a far better job than we have been doing of educating our sons and daughters; unless we give them the knowledge and skills they need in this new and changing world.

And, here:

So let there be no doubt: the future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens--and my fellow Americans, we have everything we need to be that nation.

Obama also called out the "partisanship and petty bickering" surrounding education reform issues:

Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make...

Amy Fagan

Just a quick sidenote about the speech this morning. Obama complained pretty emphatically about state standards and the current system--50 different sets of standards, from the lowest-of-the-low to the highest-of-the-high. Nothing illustrates this mess more clearly (we believe!) than Fordham's latest study, The Accountability Illusion, which "moved" a set of 36 real schools from state to state to see how many of them would make "adequate yearly progress" under the different rules set by each state under the No Child Left Behind Act. It found great variation. In some states, nearly all of the sample elementary schools failed to make AYP, while in other states, nearly all of these same schools cleared the bar just fine. So, the way that schools are currently rated seems to be rather idiosyncratic, random and opaque. If you'd like to read more about this, Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli (who both happen to be out of the country at the moment!) just penned a related op-ed for Education Week's March 11 issue. You can check it out here.