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.

In his first major education speech since taking office, President Obama made the case for charter schools as incubators of innovation and excellence in public education. The president's remarks are music to this charter supporter's ears but I'm afraid they still won't be enough to save charter schools in places like Fordham's home state of Ohio, where our governor (along with the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and powerful teacher unions) has launched a frontal assault on charter schools:

  • While Obama acknowledges that charters need "broad leeway to innovate," the governor is seeking new operating rules such that Buckeye State charters would be forced to do business within the cookie-cutter mold he has prescribed for traditional district schools.
  • While the president believes that decisions about charter school openings and closures should hinge on how well they prepare our students, Strickland wants an arbitrary ban on for-profit school operators.
  • While Obama calls for upholding the charter school bargain of autonomy in exchange for greater accountability, Strickland wants to saddle charters with regulatory compliance burdens that, coupled with deep funding cuts, would effectively strangle the schools.

President Obama rightly warns that the "expansion of charter schools must not...

With Mike away on vacation, I get the keys to the vaunted Reform-o-Meter. Certainly President Obama's big speech today deserves to be taken for a spin.

On the up side, the President supports tough standards, strong assessments and accountability systems, performance pay, new pathways into teaching, getting rid of bad teachers, high-quality data systems, charter schools, and linking teachers to student performance. Also, he understands the complications arising from 50 different state-based accountability systems (though he didn't take a position on national standards).

On the down side, he failed to take a position on the DC scholarship program, his teacher initiatives lacked clarity, he's using the "21st century skills" language (which could be benign or serious depending on what's underlying it), he's pushing more money into the ineffective Head Start program, and indexing Pell Grants above inflation and making this mandatory spending could prove very expensive over time.

Although a number of the minuses are concerning, most of the pluses are quite encouraging not to mention significant. It deserves a solid Warm.

As for significance, this was a big speech. While these positions could lose their character...

President Obama delivered a major, long (over 4,500 words), and substantive speech on education this morning. Transcript here; coverage here and here.

The media will likely focus on the several issues certain to raise the ire of unions, such as performance pay, firing weak teachers, and strong support for charter schools. But there are many other noteworthy points throughout the speech as well as some standard fare and a few passing references that will need more filling out.

The speech had familiar anchors: achievement gaps, personal responsibility, and international competition. It also made use of the common Obama tactic of framing his positions as inhabiting the sensible middle ground between polarized parties and being beyond the ideological battles of the past. Interestingly, he twice made the point that money alone would not solve our education problems.

As for the substance, it was built around ???????five pillars???????: 1) early childhood, 2) standards and assessments, 3) recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers, 4) promoting innovation and excellence, and 5) higher education

In early childhood, he touted funding in the stimulus for Head Start and child care programs. He also challenged states to raise...

The NYT turns in a very good article about the recent charter conversion of seven Catholic schools in Washington, DC.???? This topic combines two extremely interesting issues: the loss of faith-based urban schools (especially Catholic schools) and the proliferation of charters in America's big cities.

There's much to chew on here, but two matters are of particular interest to me.???? First, can you take the Catholic out of these Catholic schools without reducing their effectiveness? So, is faith a thread that runs through the entire fabric of the school, which, if removed, will cause the entire garment to unravel????? Or is faith just one of many pillars supporting the school's work????????one that can be removed or replaced without significantly threatening the school's structural (educational) stability?

Second, why can't we rewrite our charter laws to allow for faith-based charters????? These schools would get to keep their faith components while receiving public money in exchange for public accountability (state assessments, open enrollment, etc) like all other charters.

My opinions on this are driven by two pragmatic beliefs.???? Given the paucity of great urban schools, it doesn't make sense to allow...