Amy Fagan

Harvard economist Roland Fryer made an appearance on The Colbert Report last night to discuss his new system of incentivizing students to learn more by paying them for good grades. (Check out their chat here). During the interview, Fryer said the achievement gap in America is "our biggest civil rights concern" and that it's time to "try innovative strategies" to correct it. On the lighter side, though, Fryer placed a bill (I believe $50) on the table for Colbert - but only if he asked good questions. And I chuckled (as did Fryer and the audience) at Colbert's query: "What is wrong with the older generation's way of doing things, where they paid kids to do well in school by not opening a can of unholy whup-a**?"

Photograph by ralphunden from Flickr...
Amy Fagan

In a City Journal review of the new Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Laura Vanderkam praises his prose and calls it an "engaging" read. But she also quite bluntly calls out the author on his insistence that "it's the best students who get the best teaching and the most attention." She strongly disagrees - calling this "patently untrue." And what does she use to back up her argument?

"A recent study from the Fordham Institute found that in the era of No Child Left Behind, teachers say they focus far more on their slower students than their quicker ones. Few American elementary schools group students extensively by ability, leaving the brightest students coasting through without ever doing the hard work that would allow them truly to excel later on. Many get bored and underachieve."

That's right! Fordham's "High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB" indeed found that low-achieving students receive much more attention from teachers than do advanced students. Read more about it here.

Overall, Gladwell's Outliers is an exploration of the complex forces that makes some people wildly successful -- including "hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies." Extremely...

It's week four of Fordham's name-the-next-education-secretary-daily-tracking poll, and yes, Arne Duncan is still in the lead. By a lot. Which means, according to one colleague of mine, that he probably won't get the job. If not, maybe another Chicagoan will: Oprah Winfrey. While she was first mentioned last week, she makes the big board for the first time today.

Why is Duncan such the heavy favorite? First, he's good friends with the President-Elect, which is no small matter. Second, he has been smart to reach out to both the reform camp and the establishment camp within the Democratic Party, for instance signing the Broader/Bolder manifesto but also the Education Equality one. And third, the diversity of President-Elect Obama's Cabinet picks thus far means that he can go with the white guy from Chicago for the education job if he wants to.

Other folks mentioned today: Colin Powell, Michael Lomax, Hugh Price, Ray Mabus, Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, Tom Vilsack, Freeman Hrabowski, Erskine Bowles, Roy Barnes, Ted Mitchell, and Jim Shelton....

It's hard not to root for Michelle Rhee, the butt-kicking, straight-talking, no-nonsense Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. (Consider this piece of straight talk, from a related article on the incoming Administration, regarding her reluctance to vote for Obama: "It was a very hard decision. I'm somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education.") So I can't help but say hooray for her making the cover of TIME this week. (The story, by Amanda Ripley, is very good too.) According to our intern Charlotte's quick research, the last time TIME put an education official on its cover was September 1991; it's nice to see the issue getting some national attention. Call this the last great success of the Ed in 08 campaign.

Still, let's admit that Rhee's tenure in DC is just in the very early stages, and as such she can't claim much by way of results yet. Furthermore, her most farsighted reforms are being stymied by the teachers union, and they don't appear to be letting up anytime soon. Consider this quote from the article...

Former IBM head Lou Gerstner, no doubt building off his appearance at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Forum, argues in today's Journal that we should, basically, nationalize k-12 education.

I recommend that President-elect Barack Obama convene a meeting of our nation's governors and seek agreement to the following:

-???????????? Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula.

-???????????? Establish a set of national standards for a core curriculum. I would suggest we start with four subjects: reading, math, science and social studies.

-???????????? Establish a National Skills Day on which every third, sixth, ninth and 12th-grader would be tested against the national standards. Results would be published nationwide for every school in America.

-???????????? Establish national standards for teacher certification and require regular re-evaluations of teacher skills. Increase teacher compensation to permit the best teachers (as measured by advances in student learning) to earn well in excess of $100,000

Guest Blogger

From Emmy Partin, Fordham's writer and researcher in the Ohio office:

Four years ago, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation went from talking the talk of school reform to literally walking the walk when we signed an agreement with Ohio's State Board of Education to become a charter school authorizer (called a ???sponsor??? in the Buckeye State).?? To our knowledge, we are the only think tank in the country that has taken on such a role.?? Urban education is hard work and sponsorship has been a humbling experience.?? But it has also been an enlightening one, and we are constantly learning lessons worth sharing.

One way in which we share what we've learned as a sponsor is through our annual sponsorship report. To say the least, 2007-08 was a year of major change to Fordham's small portfolio of schools: we helped close three schools, parted company from two, and helped open two more, including Ohio's first KIPP school.?? Similar to their peers in Ohio's major urban cities, our schools...

The Education Gadfly

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute presents A Thanksgiving Video Menu stemming from our latest book, A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era.

If you're short on time, and just want a small but filling appetizer, we offer you...

A Byte at the Apple Panel highlights

But of course, there's always the main course... Up first, the turkey...

Panel 1: Why We Don't Have the Data We Need


Paul Manna, Assisant Professor, Department of Government, College of William & Mary

Chrys Dougherty, Senior Research Scientist, National Center for Educational Achievement

Nancy Smith, Deputy Director, Data Quality Campaign

Discussant: Mark Schneider, Former Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics

Moderated by: Chester E. Finn, Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Which would be nothing without the stuffing...

Panel 2: Innovations and Promising Practices


Jon Fullerton, Executive Director, Project for Policy Innovation in Education, Harvard University

Macke Raymond, Director, Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)...

The Education Gadfly

Arne Duncan carries nearly 40% of our Insiders' votes, soaring high above even his closest competition - Klein, Sebelius, Canada, and Darling-Hammond. But which one of these contenders will dare to pluck his wings? It might be Klein, given that our Insiders increased their support for him today, changing his percentage from 6.3% to 9.8%. Caroline Kennedy, Tim Kaine, Michael Lomax, Hugh Price, Tom Vilsack, Ray Mabus, and, yes, Oprah Winfrey, are all tied at 2%.

With the holiday lull, we don't expect to see many changes, but next week could bring some surprises - maybe even announcements. We will wait with bated breath here at Fordham.?? Enjoy the holiday - and Happy Thanksgiving!

The Education Gadfly

The Education Gadfly

Panel 3: The Way Forward