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. ...

I hope you enjoyed my live-blogging of the Common Core event on 21st Century Skills on Tuesday, but for a more coherent overview see this lucid post from Core Knowledge's Robert Pondiscio. (Common Core, Core Knowledge, it's a conspiracy!) And follow his links to the presentations by Diane Ravitch, Don Hirsch, and Dan Willingham which unmask the "21st Century Skills" movement for what it is: a big fraud.

Hooray for Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, who has conditioned his (praiseworthy) support of D.C. voting rights in Congress on the extension of the city's federally-funded school voucher program.

This move will please no ideologues. Conservatives think the Constitution's framers meant for District of Columbia residents to be disenfranchised. And liberals think that any public support for private schools is anathema. And yes, there's some irony in conditioning voting rights on the continuation of a program that is opposed by D.C.'s??representative in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton.

But I quite suspect that this move pleases one key constituency: the 1,700 children receiving vouchers under the program, and their families. A ticket to a good school and full representation in Congress? Now that's change we can believe in.

Note: The Wall Street Journal editorial page has a great piece on the plight of the DC voucher program here.

And neither was the headline, but you can find??Checker's and my??National Review Online article about President Obama's education agenda here.

I've just finished reviewing the latest Brown report from Tom Loveless at Brookings for this week's Gadfly. And it's a good one. It's a three-parter and I suggest you read the entire trio, but I was most interested in his PISA (Program of International Student Assessment) study, which is the real headliner. That's because NGA and other national groups are looking to the test as the holy grail of international standards and assessment*. Loveless's study, in a nutshell, presents a stinging indictment of PISA's fascination with political ideology and student attitudes???neither of which belongs in a test of science (he doesn't go so far as to say that, but I am???.).

PISA, you see, asks lots of questions about self-efficacy in science, as opposed to science content itself. Added up, these questions give us measures of students' ???self-concept in science,??? ???enjoyment of science,??? ???interest in scientific topics,??? and ???future motivation to learn science,??? to name just a few. PISA finds a positive correlation between these things and student achievement, but Loveless finds otherwise--the more confident kids are in their science abilities, the lower that nation's scores.

But one question: Who cares either way? This isn't...