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."

(Editor's note: Beginning today, Fordham's Ohio team will be blogging on Flypaper. This first post is from Terry Ryan, Vice President for Ohio Programs & Policy.)

Ohio has long been known as the cradle of presidents. The Buckeye State has seen eight of its sons serve as the nation's top executive. More recently Ohio has been the incubator of education reformers.

Three national newsmakers with roots in Ohio and a passion for fixing schools are Michelle Rhee (raised in Toledo and a graduate of Maumee Valley Country Day School), Adrian Fenty (a graduate of Oberlin College in Lorain County) and Michael Bennet (former assistant to Ohio Governor Richard Celeste). All three have been at the forefront of American education reform over the last three years, and all three are Democrats.


An op-ed in today's Indianapolis Star??argues for a statewide weighted student funding (WSF) system to deal with the state's budget challenges.

Headlined "Less on overhead, more into classrooms," its author argues:

...research by management expert William Ouchi and colleagues that indicates centralized budgeting is not a good idea. "Schools perform better on fiscal and academic outcomes when there is a) local control of school budgets by principals and b) open enrollment, which allows per pupil funding to follow the child."

The latter idea, known as Weighted Student Funding, is being piloted around the country and gaining acceptance. In its purest form, students could choose any public school in their region and per-pupil funding would go with them. The allotment would be higher for students with special needs, and school buildings would have flexibility to spend as they deem fit. Because parents could choose their child's school, a competitive environment would force principals to spend wisely, thus more money for instruction.

[Incoming superintendent of public instruction] Bennett is philosophically behind the idea. What's encouraging is that he understands the next wave of education reform: spending more effectively.

There are two interesting questions here. One is whether states...

Amy Fagan

In case you're perusing Flypaper to gather some interesting, timely info with which to wow fellow party-goers tonight?????? here are two interesting AP stories involving funding and schools:

The first piece discusses President-elect Obama's plan to resuscitate/modernize schools across the nation as part of his economic stimulus plan. I'm pretty sure Fordham experts will have a lot more to say about it as days and weeks unfold! According to the AP story, Congress begins work on the economic recovery program on Wednesday.

The second is a story about one very lucky school. According to the piece, Oprah Winfrey recently donated ??$365,000 to a private school in one of Atlanta's poorest areas. The school is run by Ron Clark, who opened a letter from Winfrey last week and saw a piece of paper flutter to the ground. The gift was ???incredible,??? said Clark, whose school depends almost entirely on donations to operate. The gift money will likely go to scholarships for students, he said.

Happy New Year!...

Greg Toppo takes a look back at education in 2008 in this morning's USA Today. His verdict is bleak: slashed budgets, scant attention paid by campaigns, depressing report findings, and warring manifestos. But at least education made it into popular culture--on FOX's King of the Hill.

In response to the Washington Post's unfair article about a pseudo-scandal at the D.C. Public Charter School Board--for which the Post editorial board has since tried to make amends --yesterday's paper ran an op-ed by charter supporters Kevin Chavous and Robert Cane . They make a number of good points. Perhaps most perceptively, they note that the city has not always played fairly with charter schools, creating a need for the facility loans that the Post decried:

D.C. law requires that charters be given first crack at empty school buildings, before condo developers or non-educational city agencies can bid for them. Yet the city has in most instances denied charters unused school facilities, forcing them into the commercial loan market to pay high costs for spaces that are often inadequate.

The issue of these bank loans was raised recently in The Post , leading some to confuse the freedom that charters enjoy with a lack of accountability and oversight. Charters do have overseers: They are accountable to parents who choose them for their children and to their regulatory body, the Public Charter School Board, a nationally renowned model of