If President Obama was miffed when his daughters' school closed because of "what, a little bit of ice" earlier this winter, I wonder how he feels about Sidwell being shut down for Washington's six inches of snow today. (Maybe a little better--it really IS coming down around here. I just walked by the White House and took in the view. I hope the Obamas are enjoying it; it's gorgeous. But I digress.)

It's one thing for the Obama girls to miss a few days of school because of inclement weather, but some of their classmates are going to miss school every single day, at least if David Obey and other House Democrats have their way. This morning the Washington Post editorial page relays the story of Deborah Parker, whose two children also attend Sidwell Friends thanks to a voucher from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

"The mere thought of returning to public school frightens me," Ms. Parker told us as she related the opportunities -- such as a trip to China for her son -- made possible by the program. Tell

Laura Pohl

Girl Scouts badges are so 20th century. Moms as troop leaders for teenagers? Also pass????. But educating young women and providing the public with yummy cookies? Well, those Do-Si-Dos and Samoas will never go out of fashion. So says the 97-year-old Girl Scouts of the USA as it freshens its image to counter an 8% slip in membership over the past 10 years. "We took a step back and asked, 'What do girls need from us right now?' " said Eileen Doyle, the Girl Scouts' senior vice president of program development. "There is consistency in our goals throughout our history, but we can maintain that while being fun, edgy and challenging for modern-day girls." Read the full Washington Post article here.

Photograph from Girl Scouts website

If the state of Ohio were a charter school, it could see its public funding frozen and lose its authority to open new offices and agencies. According to the Columbus Dispatch:

State Auditor Mary Taylor says she can't conduct the annual State of Ohio audit for the 2008 fiscal year because Gov. Ted Strickland's administration has failed to provide the necessary financial records.

The delay raises questions about Ohio's financial condition, Taylor said. Had the situation involved an entity smaller than state government, Taylor said she would have declared the state books unauditable.

???????Unauditable??????? is a big deal here in the Buckeye State, especially for charter schools. Provisions in Governor Ted Strickland's first biennial budget, enacted in 2007, raised the stakes for unauditable charters so that the state can immediately cut off their funding and a school's authorizer loses the ability to open additional schools until the school in question's books are in order. Strickland's pending budget proposal would seek to make that law permanent. Charter supporters haven't fought the provision except to point out that unauditable school districts don't face similar sanctions and that the law still doesn't solve the financial woes of struggling charters....

I think possibly the biggest mistake we've made in K-12 urban education is elevating the importance of a school's sector (traditional public, charter public, or private) above its academic quality. That is, rather than distinguishing schools based on how well they serve disadvantaged kids, our politics and policies distinguish them based on who operates them. Think of all of the ???????us vs. them??????? arguments you've heard over the years. Think of all of the urban superintendents who measure their success by how much money, power, or market share their sector has.

I've quietly had a dream of becoming an urban superintendent and beginning my tenure by saying, ???????From this point on, we will be driven by a single principle: Getting as many students into great schools as possible. I don't care if it is a neighborhood public school, a charter school, a Catholic school, a Lutheran school, or any other type of school. My position is that we love great schools no matter who runs them. Let me be clear. I am not in charge of protecting a system; I'm in charge of making sure all kids are well educated.???????

Well, I've been beaten to the punch, and...

By my calculations, it's been more than three weeks since the Obama Administration announced a new appointment for the Department of Education. Secretary of Arne Duncan is in place, of course, and people have been nominated for three Assistant Secretary positions: Peter Cunningham for communications; Carmel Martin for policy; and Russlynn Ali for civil rights. But that's it. We still don't know who the Deputy Secretary or Undersecretary or Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education will be. Tick, tick, tick.

So in the meanwhile, let's turn our attention across town to the Obama White House. As any veteran of the Bush Administration can tell you, the people staffing the President can wield enormous power. So White House personnel are key, a 6 out of 10 in terms of importance.

Here the staff is on board, and is rock solid. Two key individuals are worth mentioning: Robert Gordon, who has the Orwellian title of Associate Director for Education, Income Maintenance, and Labor at the Office of Management and Budget; and Roberto Rodriguez, the education policy staff member on the Domestic Policy Council. By all accounts,...

As reported by Steve Sawchuk at Education Week's Teacher Beat blog, Philadelphia superintendent Arlene Ackerman has moved to turn some of her lowest-performing schools into charters. And for one primary reason: to get out from under the onerous teachers union contract, which keeps her from starting fresh with a new staff in these buildings.

The president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Jerry Jordan, called the plan "irresponsible" in a news release. The district, he said, should invest in smaller class sizes, providing resources and hiring certified teachers. Its district-run reconstituted schools with these features showed improvement, he argued.

But according to my colleague Dakarai Aarons, who spoke to Ackerman this week, she thinks that progress hasn't been enough.

"There were contractual constraints that prevented them from putting teachers where they were needed," she told Dakarai. "Give me the right as superintendent the right to transfer teachers. Give me some release from the contractual constraints. In an in-district charter school, we can start all over again. The students have to stay. Everybody else has a choice."

As Eric wrote last week, there's a lot that other would-be reformers could learn from Ackerman. Anyone up for...

Suzannah Herrmann

After explosive growth in online learning options in Ohio and nationally, the state could soon be poised to take a huge step backward. Governor Strickland's proposed budget would cut funding substantially to Ohio's charter schools, including cybercharters. His proposal would burden existing cybercharters with all manner of punishing new requirements and limitations. They would include outlawing the for-profit firms that appear to be running the best of those schools; thus battle lines are being drawn about cyber-education policy in Ohio.

Whether????called e-learning, virtual schooling or cyberschooling, online learning offers huge potential. Lawmakers have caught on. At the same time the governor wants to all but abolish some of the state's most successful online-learning efforts, Ohio legislators just this week introduced House Bill 4 to create the first state-led online-learning initiative to be piloted in high schools. It would offer Advanced Placement courses via teleconferencing equipment to every Ohio high school, providing access to classes that students wouldn't otherwise have because those classes are too costly. It also would make experts in advanced science, math, foreign languages, history and other specialized subjects accessible to...

Laura Pohl

This week's Education Gadfly should have you riveted: Checker and Mike respond to President Obama's address to the nation (in which he talked tough about everything...except education) and panelists at an event for the release of our new report, The Accountability Illusion, agree that national standards are a must. You can read up on a failing charter school principal's quest to misrepresent thriving charter schools and learn about the fate of a high schooler who ignored demands to stop texting in class.

And don't forget about this week's Education Gadfly Show podcast. This week, Mike and Rick discuss increasing class size, increasing the federal role (and New York Times' na????vet????), and decreasing school years in Oregon. Then Amber gives us the low down on Tom Loveless's new Brown Center report on education and Rate that Reform explains the death of fun at school dances. Don't miss this week's Education Gadfly Show!...

Guest Blogger

(This is the first guest post to come from Andy Smarick, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education where he helped manage the Department's research, budget, and policy functions. From 2007 to 2008, Andy served at the White House in the Domestic Policy Council.)

At the recent Fordham event on school accountability, Fordham trustee Diane Ravitch made what I thought was the most provocative comment of the evening. While discussing interventions for struggling schools, Dr. Ravitch said that urban superintendents should be punished??????receive demerits??? I believe were her words???when they close a school. Dr. Ravitch would prefer for districts to apply serious interventions in an effort to turn these schools around.

I'm of the exact opposite mind. If I were a state chief, I'd try to find some way to reward urban superintendents who regularly close persistently failing schools and replace them with new schools possessing the building blocks of success. I'm opposed to relentless efforts to fix failing schools for three reasons.

  1. There's a good bit of research on
  2. ...